If I had to reduce this review to a tweet it would be: The Arc’teryx Norvan VT trail running shoe has tenacious grip and minimal cushioning.
Luckily there’s room here for more than the abbreviated nature of social media.
So first know that the Norvan VT is a hybrid. It’s not precisely a trail running shoe, because it’s built with a less-elastic forefoot, the better for edging grip, like an approach shoe. The 17mm stack height and 9mm drop are statistically mid-pack for the breed, but the EVA midsole isn’t as plush as you’ll find in a shoe from Altra or Hoka. Arc’teryx, true to its alpine roots, has built a scree-scrambler as much as a trail runner with the Norvan VT, and to get stability and edging grip capable enough for the random Class 4 ascent they’re sacrificing the pillowy ride you might be want for loping down a trail like Legolas.
The build also features some key building blocks of Arc’teryx’s relatively new footwear line. One, the Norvan VT’s upper is a screen-porch of perforations, which keeps the otherwise burly shoe cooler than you’d expect; I’ve been testing on some steamy New England summer days without suffering hot feet.
Two, that mesh is paired with a non-removable sock liner; I’ve tested these with and without wearing socks and they’re comfortable either way. And both the upper and liner are profoundly hydrophobic, so even after running through inundated coastal Maine trails that have turned to ankle-deep bogs, 20 minutes later my feet would largely be dry. The liner will be offered in Gore-Tex and non Gore-Tex versions. Regardless, the construction keeps grit from sanding down your soles. Speaking of which, the included footbed is a cheap throwaway. No surprise there, as that’s how much shoes are; if you need legit support you’ll have to turn to the aftermarket. But even with high volume feet, there’s enough room in the Norvan VT to accommodate both Superfeet and ExoSoles footbeds.
So, why was the Norvan VT photographed on a pile of kelp?
Because that’s the only surface the Norvan VT didn’t stick to. The Vibram outsole otherwise stuck everywhere, on loose-over-hard grit, on rock wet or dry, on wet roots and while scrambling up and down low-grade bouldering problems. I even used the Norvan VT as a water shoe for some sea kayaking because it drains so well and provided a ton of traction while portaging a tandem kayak across some dicey, rocky beachfront. No, that’s not how it’s billed, but I found few limits to the capability of this not-just-a-trail-runner.
Finally, there’s also a cool “scrambling” feature to the lacing. You can create a “runner’s loop” at the ankle to prevent heel slip when you’re climbing, and you can also cross-lace the forefoot using the lace lock above the big-toe mound of each shoe. This allows double threading at that eyelit, but you don’t have to re-lace the shoe; there’s a small cleat there that holds the lace so you can tighten the forefoot before an ascent, then loosen it instantly once you return to level ground. It seems like a gimmick but it really did work.
Caveats? I haven’t been testing that long, and despite the Vibram name I wonder how well an outsole this supple will wear. Also, Arc’teryx isn’t kidding when they say this is a hybrid shoe, targeted at runners who weave in a lot of steep up and down to their cardio. If you just run doubletrack or low-key dirt, you won’t need the climbing capabilities, and it’s both heavier and less comfortable than you’d want for long miles. But for a one-shoe scrambling quiver…bam.
The Arc’teryx Norvan VT will be available in spring 2017 and cost $170 for the tested version, $200 for the Gore-Tex model.
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