Fastpacking is defined as a cross between ultralight hiking and trail running, the idea being you powerwalk up the hills and run down them. In practice this is a niche activity mostly enjoyed by nutters trying to break speed records on long distance trails in the US, but the gear that has evolved for fastpacking is also useful for any hikers trying to save weight.
The North Face's Ultra Fastpack IIIs are light (436g each, size US8.5), flexible and supportive mid-cut boots that are perfectly appropriate footwear for single or multi-day small to medium pack hikes on almost any terrain. Sadly my testing phase did not include through-hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I did get out and about in the Victorian Alps on a variety of surfaces (soft single track, granite scrambling, gravel and tarmac road) and was impressed with the comfort and performance of these boots. (NB: They also come in a low-cut model.)
Straight out of the box I found the UF111s to be quite wide. I have a narrow foot and had to go half a size smaller than usual, but these should suit the classic wide Aussie foot well. Once properly sized they felt immediately good with only a little stiffness obvious around the ankles, but this disappeared after the first couple of kilometres.
The boots gripped my feet properly both uphill and downhill and I didn’t experience any heel lifting or toe bumping, and the proprietary FastFoam EVA midsole gave a good combination of cushioning, responsiveness and flex. I even jogged for ten minutes to test the fastpacking concept - they performed adequately but won’t be replacing my trail runners anytime soon.
The nylon uppers seem like they would be able to take a bit of punishment, although the lightweight nature of the model does require some sacrifices e.g. fabric lace loops rather than metal cleats and a flimsy insole that you might want to replace. The Gore-Tex membrane passed the bathtub test and the dual-density Vibram Megagrip outsole offered good traction, although I didn’t get to test it in wet conditions.
Overall I was happy with the TNF Ultra Fastpack IIIs and I’m looking forward to taking them on a longer walk.