The North Face Flight Vectiv™ is the first trail running shoe built with a carbon-fibre plate.
The past year has seen a lot of interest in running shoes with carbon plates built into the sole, but these have been designed for road or track running, not for off road use. Then in January 2021 The North Face released the Flight Vectiv™ a carbon-plate shoe designed specifically for trail running. I’ve been testing it for the past month on the Peak District trails, these are my thoughts:
First Impression – They’re white! Not what you’d expect from a trail shoe and not a colour that they would remain for long in the UK in January! To be honest I hadn’t really associated The North Face with trail running, but a bit of reading revealed that the brand is popular in the US and there are some elite trail runners wearing their shoes including Pau Capell, the winner of the 2019 Ultra Tour Mont Blanc. So they are definitely a credible alternative to the more familiar trail shoe brands.
Design – I won’t go into all the geeky technical specifications of the shoe (that’s all available here), but rather describe what I think are the most important details.
The Flight Vectiv™ are designed as a long / ultra distance trail shoe, balancing cushioning with energy return using a carbon-fibre plated midsole. Probably their most noticeable design feature is the “rocker”. That is the distinctive bend in the sole (imagine the bottom of a rocking chair) designed to enhance momentum and propel you forwards.
What you can’t see is the carbon-fibre plate which lies on top of the midsole which is claimed to help with energy return and forwards propulsion. The plate makes the shoes quite rigid and there is almost no upward or sideways flex in the sole. Viewed from the side the midsole looks thick and well cushioned although they don’t feel high and “tippy” when worn. Heel to toe drop is 6mm and the sole has 3.5mm lugs.
The uppers are made from a breathable knit material using Kevlar®, polyamide and Matryx® fabrics which should offer abrasion resistance. However the reinforced part of the upper only covers the back and sides whereas at the forefoot and above the toes the material is softer. This makes them comfortable but possibly more prone to wear in the non reinforced zone. There is a slight rand / toe bumper but this isn’t very firm and wouldn’t offer much protection if you stubbed your toe or kicked a loose rock.
Rather than a tongue the shoes feature a one piece upper that is elasticated and hugs your upper foot and ankle. This feels snug and comfortable and also has the benefit of acting as a debris sock, preventing small stones from getting inside your shoe. It does make getting the shoes on a bit more tricky than with a traditional tongue. There is no gimmicky lacing system, just the usual shoe laces, so it’s a case of double knotting to prevent them from coming undone.
Vital stats –
Weight official weight 570g / pair (my pair of UK 6.5 = 526g)
Drop 6mm (25mm – 19mm)
Sizing – I take a size 6.5 UK in most shoes and that is the size I tested. I found them a little bit roomier in the toe than normal – more like a size 7 in length, although they were snug and not too wide across the midfoot. So for me my usual size was fine.
On test – To be fair the shoes are designed more for a summer tour of Mont Blanc than the Peak District winter, and they aren’t suitable for most of the wet and muddy terrain that I usually run on at this time of year. Having said that there are enough hard packed trails close by for me to test them out on. I’ve used them for the past 4 weeks on runs ranging from 40 minutes to two and a half hours. These included easy runs, steady paced runs and some faster 10k pace intervals and strides. All of these runs were on hard ground, mainly paths and trails but also some tarmac. I also tried them on wet grass and snow just to see how they coped.
I found the Vectiv comfortable straight out of the box (although this is subjective as my foot shape and running style will be different to other people’s). I didn’t suffer from not breaking them in before wearing them for a two hour run. Although they are designed as a long distance shoe I found them snug and responsive whilst running fast too.
The grip was as expected – fine on dry and firm terrain but not great on wet grass and mud. They coped fine with wet flagstones and wet tarmac.
So, what about the carbon plate? I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to wearing the Vectivs. Would it feel like I was running on springs or a trampoline? Would my long run become effortless? Would my 1km repetitions be ten seconds faster than last time? Sadly, or maybe reassuringly, not! They felt like.. well a new pair of trail shoes. Maybe a little stiffer than some of the others that I wear but not too noticeable. If I hadn’t known there was a carbon plate in them I wouldn’t have guessed, although I did notice that when running over stones I couldn’t feel them on the soles of my feet. It felt as if the shoes had a rock plate, which I suppose is what the carbon plate is acting as.
But in terms of energy return etc. I didn’t notice anything different to my other shoes. There was certainly no feeling that I could run for ever in them and after two and half hours I had slightly tired legs and a sore knee! My interval session felt just as hard as usual, and checking the data I noted that my heart rate and split times were pretty much the same as the last couple of times I’ve done the session in different shoes.
This doesn’t mean that the shoes don’t help with energy return and forward propulsion, just that I didn’t notice anything. Maybe a faster runner will get a better return or maybe you need to be doing much longer distances for it to become meaningful.
Lightweight, comfortable (for me), might possibly give you more energy return than other trail shoes.
Expensive! Not guaranteed to give you more energy return than other trail shoes.
Verdict – The North Face Flight Vectiv™ is a lightweight trail shoe designed for longer distances and is the first trail shoe to feature a carbon-fibre plate. This is an interesting concept although I can’t honestly say that I noticed any performance benefits whilst wearing them. They are more suited to drier European and American trails than wet British ones and they are definitely not a fell running shoe. The new technology is reflected in the price.
Available here – https://www.sportsshoes.com/north-face-vectiv/