When I found out they were starting to expand their range into trail running I was intrigued. When I heard I was going to be sent a pair of their new Norvan VT trail running shoes to review I was excited to see what they would be like.
Badged as a performance trail running shoe with enhanced climbing and scrambling abilities, they sounded like just the thing I needed for the running adventures I had lined up in 2017. The fact that also used a Vibram Megagrip sole meant that they should stick to whatever the trail laid before me. Could this be the ultimate shoe in my trail and mountain running locker?
What Arc'teryx say:
"A high-performance trail running shoe with enhanced climbing and scrambling capabilities, the Norvan VT delivers excellent traction and support on unpredictable terrain. The adjustable 360° support system instantly switches from a higher volume run mode to a precise-fitting climb mode. Fixed Adaptive Fit Technology wraps the foot and seals out debris, and the custom Vibram® sole combines a sticky Idrogrip forefoot for traction on slick rock and wet trails with a Megagrip compound for durability."
- Trail running performance with climbing and scrambling agility
- Vibram® MegaGrip™ rubber compound is durable and grippy
- 9mm heel drop
- Performance mapped Vibram® outsole combines a sticky forefoot climbing zone with a durable Megagrip compound
- 3.5mm lugs
Trail Performance Geometry delivers comfort, precision, and a dynamic ride
Light, rugged TPU film overlays protect the forefoot, heel and high abrasion areas
Light, durable air-permeable stretch mesh upper forms to the foot for a secure, comfortable fit
Durable EVA/Polyolefin blend midsole provides shock absorption and propulsion
Adjustable 360° Support System instantly switches from climb mode to run mode with a single pull of the lace
Footwear Liner Construction
Fixed Adaptive Fit Liner comfortably wraps the foot and keeps out debris
Longwearing 4mm OrthoLite™ 3D molded insert cradles the foot
Internal stretch liner seals out debris and helps secure the fit
Right, that is the marketing blurb out of the way. What did I think?
I'll hold my hands up and admit that I like my shoes to be brightly coloured, so on opening the box to be confronted with a grey shoe with small flashes of red, I was a little disappointed. Don't be put off though as this shoe also comes in a bright orange or blue as well, so all bases covered there. Bright colours for extroverts like myself and more subtle tones for those that like to run under the radar.
Holding the shoe in my hands it screamed of something that was designed to eat mountains alive. None of this super lightweight mesh here that you see on so many shoes. You foot would be encased in a tough outer that felt really robust but still not overly heavy. The soles, as you would expect from Vibram, had a set of aggressive lugs orientated in different directions on the heel and forefoot, to give you confidence when going up or downhill.
The Norvan VT also incorporates a build in sock gaiter, which securely wraps around your foot, stopping ingress of trail material between your foot and shoe. This did make pulling the shoe on a slightly more involved experience but once on it felt secure and gripped the foot in all the right places.
Arc'teryx had also taken an innovative approach to lacing, allowing you to quickly tighten or loosen the laces by use of an extra clip across the front of the toe box. In practice I never found the need to use this and left it on its looser settings but for those that like to have the option, its a useful and innovative feature.
First run out
The Norvan VT really looked the part and I was keen to get it out on the trails and see how it held up against UK winter mud. Grip wise I was pretty impressed and it held up nicely on softer ground, although I would still slip around when crossing deeper mud. The real shock for me was how much the shoe rubbed and after 8km I had to cut my first run short, with a blister forming on my right foot.
I normally think of my feet as pretty robust and have always been able to wear running shoes straight from the box without issues, even doing so on ultra marathons in the past. It was therefore a surprise and disappointing to get this from the Arc'teryx, a shoe I had such high hopes for. Never mind, I was happy to persevere. I allowed my feet a week to heal before I tried them again, this time pre-taping my feet and wearing double socks as added protection.
Longer term thoughts
I have now covered over 100 kilometres off road in the Norvan VT and finally feel I am able to draw some conclusions for this review.
In terms of terrain then I would put this shoe in the loose trail category. By that I mean it excelled when running across soft or loose ground, such as grass or rocky paths or tracks. The lugs would dig into the ground and grip well when ascending and also give you the confidence to fly on descents, especially on soft grass.
Despite repeated testing the shoe didn't cope amazingly well with thick mud and while I stayed on my feet I was slipping and sliding a lot. This is not a massive surprise as while the sole is pretty aggressive it isn't as pronounced as others that are built to target this specific kind of terrain.
Likewise pro-longed running on harder terrain or tarmac was also a little uncomfortable, as I could really feel the lugs beneath my feet.
The shoe protected my foot well while on the trail and would easily shrug off the occasional bump against a rock or tree root while running. While water could easily get into the shoe through the upper mesh, it would also drain away and dry pretty quickly, a more important measure in my mind as its near impossible to keep feet dry while trail running in the UK.
Unfortunately despite my repeated attempts I was never able to get away from the rubbing I experienced on my first run, and I am sad to say that these shoes would destroy my feet on any run over ten kilometres, without pre-taping to protect my toes.
I am at a loss as to explain why, as they were a good fit, with plenty of room within the shoe and no real sense of any problems while standing. My only conclusion is that the additional protection applied to the outer made the upper quite stiff and unforgiving, ultimately causing them to rub when running. I had hoped that time would see this ease as the upper was broken in but my last run left me with 3 blisters on my toes and a sore patch under my ankle bone where the sock gaiter was rubbing.
On the basis of this I never had the confidence to try the shoes out in a race environment, fearful of what they would do to my feet. The promise these shoes showed was replaced with one of disappointment and even minor frustration.
The features on offer and the build of the shoe is rock solid and for others this may well be the ultimate trail running shoe. For me and my feet this is not the case and I would personally recommend people try this shoe on before buying if they can.