Hiking and Backpacking Boots
The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX
$170, 1 lb. 15 oz. (US men’s 9)
Sizes: men’s 7-14, women’s 5-11
Supportive, durable, waterproof-breathable, mid-cut boots that weigh under two pounds are a rare breed, so I was intrigued by the specs on The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX boots. But I’ve also worn enough lightweight boots to know that many do not measure up when it comes to delivering solid support and stability for dayhiking and backpacking mountain trails. So I took these boots on a four-day, roughly 30-mile family backpacking trip in August in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains—and they aced every test.
The North Face claims that its new FastFoam midsole “maximizes energy return so that you can cover more miles, faster.” Backpacking with about 30 to 40 pounds on my back, walking moderate daily distances at an easy pace (with my family), I found the midsoles—which sport an ESS midfoot shank to enhance torsional rigidity and guard against sharp rocks—have nice cushion and support for carrying that much weight.
But the aggressive forefoot flex, ankle height (for enhanced protection and support), and low weight of these boots—very few mid-cuts come in under two pounds per pair (for the men’s size 9)—mean they can pull double duty as a lightweight dayhiking boot for long days in the mountains and even ultra-hiking.
TNF also says the EVA midsole has a more-resilient perimeter to allow users to put more miles on the boots before the foam in the midsole gets packed out and loses its cushion—one of the two wear-and-tear points, along with the outsole, that are usually the primary reason for retiring old boots.
The medium-volume fit gave me no trouble wearing them out of the box. With ample toe space and a midfoot and heel that prevented my feet from slipping, I never felt any discomfort or developed any blisters or even hot spots. Not surprisingly, given the price point and materials, these boots don’t deliver the kind of almost-custom fit you can get with the best, high-end leather boots. But the flexible uppers and the common lacing system of loops and hooks combine to provide a smooth wrap around the foot.
While we had no rain in the Sawtooths, I stood in creeks for several minutes more than a few times to treat water and simply test the boots, and the waterproof-breathable Gore-Tex membrane proved flawless. It also breathed well enough to keep my feet from getting more than damp on sunny, hot, August days. That’s partly attributable to the breathability of the mostly woven-mesh uppers, especially in the gusseted tongue. But where mesh uppers on many low-cut hiking shoes in this weight category quickly suffer damage on rocky trails, these uppers are made more durable by TPU overlays reinforcing key wear points from the toes and sides to the heel. While dusty, the uppers otherwise look no worse from the abuse of rocky trails.
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The Vibram Megagrip outsole—found in many models of hiking and backpacking boots—has widely spaced, multi-directional, relatively shallow lugs, and deliver good traction in most conditions encountered on summer trails, from dry, packed dirt to mud and rocks.
The North Face Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX boots pull off a rare blend of traits, marrying the support, protection, waterproofness, and durability of many midweight mid-cuts with the low weight and nimble feel of ultralight low-cuts. Whether you want a light boot for standard or ultralight backpacking or dayhiking, or just a solid, all-around top performer for almost any mountain adventures in any weather, this one measures up and comes at a good price.
The Ultra Fastpack III Mid GTX also comes in versions with woven uppers in a low-cut for men and women, and a mid-cut for men and women.
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NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.