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11.9 oz. (337 g) for a US M10.5
30 mm in the heel, 24 mm in the foref00t (6 mm drop), midsole only
Long hauls on anything from road to moderate trail
Dream supercritical EVA midsole, seamless engineered mesh upper, Surface CTRL rubber outsole
TAYLOR: Girl Scout cookie season is an annual celebration in our family. Every year, we order an assortment of family boxes so that each member can pick their own poison. Without fail, I’m the first to down all my boxes and lick the internal plastic cookie carrier clean. It’s a tradition that plays out the same way each year. That is, every year except … the year of the pairings.
Maybe it was the height of COVID mania or maybe it was a spark of pure genius in a time of dire need. But at some point in the last several years, someone (who was clearly very bored) created the ultimate Girl Scout cookies/beer pairing guide (there are now several variations of this guide on the internet). Never again will I see a Samoa and a Bent Paddle Cold Press Black Coffee Ale as exclusive. The sweet caramel and crunchy coconut flavor of the cookie perfectly complemented by the bitter and robust coffee flavors of the brew.
Such a harmonious relationship has become more popular in the running shoe world. Where we once had daily trainers and race day shoes, It is now a regular thing to see full training to racing lineups in the road running space, and we are now seeing that specificity trickle down to dirt diggers as well.
Over the last couple of years, The North Face released its Vectiv line, which acted as a quiver of running shoes for various purposes. Overall, we’ve had positive feelings about their offerings, but they were all mostly geared toward supporting what is now The North Face Vectiv Sky (direct descendant from the Flight Vectiv).
Things were elevated when carbon-plated, race-ready Vectiv Pro debuted last year (and is still very underrated IMO). Many of TNF’s athlete’s race and train in this shoe but wanted a less aggressive version to stack up the miles in. That’s how the Altamesa 500 and Altamesa 300 were born.
The number attached to the Altamesa name denotes the amount of stack within the shoe. The 500 is The North Face’s highest stack shoe to date. It’s a relatively simple design that utilizes a thick slab of their Dream foam (also in the Vectiv Pro), which is a supercritical EVA blend and nothing else. No posting, no rock plates – nothing. That type of recipe on the trails typically means one of two outcomes: a frolic through fairyland or nightmare on Elm Street. Let’s see how the Altamesa 500 stacks up.
TAYLOR: I’m not going to keep you in suspense too long. My experience in The North Face Altamesa falls much closer to the dreamy end of the spectrum. I put a bunch of miles on this shoe to further test the foam resiliency and simply because I enjoyed getting miles in this shoe.
For comparison, I found that the Altamesa 500 is jumping into the same pool as shoes like the Asics Trabuco Max 2, Speedland SL:PGH (sans Carbitex plate), Brooks Caldera 7, Saucony Endorphin Rift, Nike Zegama, Salomon Glide Max 2, and Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3. You may be saying, “Duh, you babbling buffoon!” I say this to define this high stack category where all are similar on paper but not equal in performance… like, at all!
All of these options have a mound of uniquely blended foams and a noticeable forefoot rocker.
In the Altamesa 500 (30/24mm stack without counting outsole, strobel, and insole), the rocker is moderately aggressive and does just enough to keep the shoe rolling forward through the toe. The subtle stability via a wider forefoot footprint/Dynamic stability zone adjusts to a variety of terrain; gravel roads feel just as good as light to moderate trails. Same goes for ups and downs. The rocker allows for a continued forward motion rather than jutting off to the anterior side of the toe box, something that I experienced every now and then in the Asics Trabuco Max 2 and Saucony Endorphin Rift.
To no one’s surprise, it’s the Dream foam that brings home the bacon. Smoked Applewood thick-cut pork belly at that. This stuff is delicious. Without any sort of rock guard or plate in the foam, you get the full character of the midsole rather quickly.
Overall, this Dream foam is a medium soft experience that offers both the cushy comfort and reactive nature that I would hope for in a supercritical midsole. Somewhere between 10 and 15 miles in the shoe, the foam settled slightly but held on to a nice amount of squish and zip thereafter.
Part of me wishes there was a little bit more of both characteristics; however, I think the durometer hit a happy medium to hold onto these qualities for longer (fingers crossed). I love the fact that shoes can offer both protection and performance in the same foam these days.
With such a high stack, it’s pretty obvious that underfoot invaders will be kept at bay. There is very little ground feel in the Altamesa 500.
This shoe is built for long hauls. Even though the ride in the Altamesa 500 is neutral, its simple construction with a wider forefoot and moderately pronounced arch will allow for more support the longer you spend in the shoe. These extra measures are like field goals on those long runs and ultra-distance races – they don’t make up the bulk of points, but they add up over time.
As for the outsole, it has received criticism for taking on a strikingly similar design to some former Nike shoes. We all know the woes of Nike outsoles (until they finally implemented Vibram this year), and I’m pleased to say that performance is much better than they appear. The North Face has a very solid Surface CTRL rubber compound that is tacky and durable. I do admit that the Altamesa 500 outsole is the least “bitey” of any of their trail shoes. The 4 mm depth, more rounded lugs, and less rubber coverage is intentional for road-to-trail versatility.
The engineered mesh upper is the least notable of the Altamesa 500 construction. Don’t get me wrong, it’s simple, and I love simple.I found the upper to be a crowd pleaser that hits the middle of the road in terms of durability, breathability, and structure.
For those with a higher-volume foot, the roomy fit is something to get excited about. The shoe is accommodating (width and overall volume) through both the midfoot and forefoot. A very padded heel collar and gusseted tongue allows you to dial in the fit in both areas quite nicely. It took some work, but I was able to achieve solid lockdown in the heel and midfoot for light to moderate trails with the classic runner’s loop.
TAYLOR: While I enjoyed the roomy comfort of the upper, the combination of both is a slippery slope. Too much of either can get sloppy pretty quickly. Though I wouldn’t say this is a sloppy job, it does need some attention. Even though the midfoot has some nicely placed overlays and structure, I’ve found the upper did stretch slightly, leaving me in a predicament when figuring out how to lace this shoe. It became a particular challenge when I wanted to hit moderately technical singletrack.
Keep in mind that the North Face Altamesa 500 is not meant to be a technical terrain shoe, but I loved the underfoot feel so much that I wanted to use it for everything. I just needed to be mindful of any corners or quick-footed segments with lateral movements.
With most any trail shoe of this stature, weight makes a difference. My men’s 10.5 came in at 11.8 ounces, which isn’t crazy, but it’s not light. Other shoes in this category like the Asics Trabuco Max 2 and new Brooks Caldera 7 are about a half an ounce lighter. I’d argue that the Altamesa 500 runs smoother than both of those shoes. So weight is a bit of a give and take with this one.
As mentioned previously, the Dream foam midsole did settle a little bit in the initial miles. I’m up to nearly 100 miles in my pair and that feeling has been consistent after the break in period. As we’ve seen with modern supercritical foams, they tend to break down quicker than the traditional EVA. I do have slight concerns as 100 miles turns into 200 and 300 miles what this midsole will feel like without the support of plates like in the Vectiv Pro 2 and Altamesa 300. Time will tell.
For what it’s worth, I’ve put more miles on The North Face Altamesa 500 than any other shoe in recent memory. Part of that is out of pure curiosity in its durability, however, most of those miles were because of an unfiltered love of the underfoot feel. That slab of Dream foam is a uniquely performing sensation that brings a slew of positives and minimal concerns.
The North Face Altamesa 500 is currently my top choice to throw on for anything from daily miles to long runs on trails that are on the mellower end of the spectrum. Heck, given the overall comfort, I would easily consider this one for long ultras where most of the terrain is in that same range. As designed, The North Face has created a spectacular complementary shoe for the Vectiv Pro line.
You can pick up the The North Face Altamesa 500 in January 2024 for $155 by using the shop link below.
Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.More from Taylor