Tim’s been trail testing the Flight VECTIV carbon-fibre-enhanced trail runners from The North Face since their release, now he’s ready to share his thoughts.
Back in March, The North Face dropped the Flight VECTIV, the first trail runner to feature one of the carbon fibre plates that have become so common in road running shoes. That’s right, we’re race cars now.
The new VECTIV range of shoes signal a complete rethink of the shoes that The North Face offers. The platform features across all of their trail running shoes and lightweight hiking boots and offers varying levels of tech for your needs and budget.
I was lucky enough to be sent a pair of their flagship model, the Flight VECTIV, to review, so I gave them a right proper thrashing. I don’t think I expected to use this shoe so often, after all, it’s pitched as a top-tier racing model, but I just kept slipping them on for everything from casual yogs to races. Now 160km in and 2 races later I’m happy to tell you what I really think.
The Carbon Plate
Let’s get right to it eh? How good’s that carbon fibre plate? In a word: sweet. Now in a few words…
It’s always gonna be hard to break this down scientifically, I don’t own the tech to tell you exactly how it performs and I’m dedicated to the review, but not enough to go and time myself sprinting down various bits of single track in different pairs of shoes.
What I can say is that it feels good, really good. For about the first 30km the Flight VECTIVs were definitely breaking in, the carbon plate was a bit too firm, tugging the heel down and keeping me away from really technical terrain (read: bumpy) with their platformy feel.
But once they loosened up oh boi were they nice. The shoes are light (285g), yet stable, cushioned, yet responsive and very fast.
In terms of trail feel, having a firm plate beneath the foot definitely limits the flexibility of the shoe over rough terrain. This is a double-edged sword; pushing off a solid foot placement, you lose minimal power to flex and spring into the next footfall, but place your foot badly, whether through lapsing concentration or really rough terrain, and the shoe is less forgiving and more susceptible to rolling.
The speed of this shoe no doubt comes from the plate, which definitely helps spring you forward into each step, but a silent winner is the shoe’s rocker. Rocker means the shoe will literally see-saw on flat ground, there’s extra foam under the midfoot in a nice curve and it takes a sec to get used to.
But when you do it’s lovely. I run on my forefoot, so I only get some of the benefit, but it still feels like the shoe is propelling me forward into the next stride. My calves simply don’t get as sore when I run in these shoes. For heel strikers they’d be a blast, on downhills, especially ones too steep to run leaning forward, I found the heel striking to be super smooth and low impact.
The grip is probably the most overlooked part of the Flight VECTIV. It’s not showy and it’s made from pretty straightforward 3.5mm triangular-ish lugs. But it’s good reliable traction that does exactly what it says on the tin.
I haven’t properly slipped at all in these shoes, despite running some questionable trail, and the direct feedback from the firm carbon fibre and TPE (a kind of rubbery polymer) footbed lets you know exactly what’s happening underfoot. Grip is grip and these shoes have loads of it.
The Flight VECTIV comes with a knitted upper that’s super comfy for such a hardcore shoe. The knit is functional too, it breathes well and drains water very efficiently. Stylistically it looks more like a road running Nike, with a lightweight integrated tongue that gives the shoe a booty feel. Despite this, slipping on the shoes is easy, which is refreshing for this style. They also look hot.
Performance-oriented running shoes are generally on the narrow side and the Flight VECTIV fits the bill, with a ‘European’ fit. I have narrow feet and while the fit is snug, there’s more room than in my Salomon trail runners. The knitted upper will stretch and the base is fairly wide, so I see the shoes working for a wider foot, but worth trying on in store.
Lacing is traditional laces, which is also refreshing, but I reckon there’s room for improvement on this front. The laces go directly through double eyelets in the kevlar and polyimide MATRYX panels that pair with the shoe’s knitted upper. While this gives a clean look, in reality when pulled tight the top of the tongue bunches.
The excess friction caused by so many eyelets also means I generally have to pull the lace at every eyelet to remove any slop. When you get it right the fit is brilliant, but it took a while to work out how to get there without going too loose or too tight first. It also wouldn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyelets closer to the ankle to help counter heel lift, especially during the break-in period.
This is an area where the Flight VECTIV excels. The shoe features a dual-density midsole with lightweight, high rebound foams. They manage to simultaneously feel light and responsive whilst taking the shock out of each footfall. In fact, The North Face said that in testing their VECTIV platform reduced tibial (the main bone in your lower leg) impact by up to 10%. I reckon they’re taking inspiration from Bunnings.
Anecdotally, I was struggling with shin splints before these shoes came along, and they quickly disappeared. I’d introduced some light strength training around the same time, but it’s hard not to think that these shoes played a part when I started running in them almost exclusively.
As for distance, the farthest I’ve run in them is 23km. For longer distances you might want something less aggressive (I’ve heard some pros are using the VECTIV Infinite) but it’s really a question of preference.
First up, my shoes are, were, white, which is a crazy colour for a trail running shoe as discussed in my review of the Salomon Sense Ride 3. As expected, they got hella dirty quickly, but they didn’t look as bad as expected.
Let’s look at the good first. The shoes are still responsive and springy, the carbon fibre plate broke in around 30km and has stayed the same ever since. The grip is showing minimal wear for 160km and I reckon I’ll be comfortably past 600km when the grip’s starting to go. The knitted upper and laser cut detailing has held up remarkably well too. I particularly love the reinforced toe cap. Not only is it bombproof, it’s saved me a badly stubbed toe at least twice!
So what’s the bad? Well the MATRYX side panels, those meshy tough bits on either side of the foot, have experienced some cracking of the fibres. So far they’ve cracked outwards and it hasn’t been a problem, but it has me a little worried to see this early in the shoe’s life. I’ve also noticed some white paint on the midsole flaking off, which made me feel bad about littering and seemed unnecessary.
Overall, the Flight VECTIVs feel super tough – the core components and detailing has held up to some heavy abuse. There are just a few small parts that need an update to justify the fairly steep $330 price tag.
Damn The North Face make cool looking kit. The Flight VECTIV looks fast, it feels fast and it bloody well is. The style reminds me more of an Adidas than a Salomon or Hoka and it’s sure to appeal to the fashion-conscious trail runner (if that exists).
Obviously the white doesn’t hold up to dirt (and I never wash my runners) but the green and black colourway might be better. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more relaxed colours on offer though!
The only time I feel that form outweighs function is around the ankle. The fabric extends beyond the shoe and its padding, creating a 5mm gap around the sides and back of the leg that can easily catch sand and rocks. I’d love to see an integrated gaiter – in a shoe designed for racing, even amateur racing, you don’t want anything to happen that can slow you down.
Did you make it this far? Congrats you get a chocolate belt buckle. You must really like either me, shoes or The North Face.
Personally, I like all three, and I’m super stoked that The North Face have put in the work with the VECTIV series to upgrade their shoes. They’re a big step up from the last trail runners I owned from them and representative of a brand known for its quality gear.
With the Flight VECTIV The North Face have put together an incredibly fast, responsive and capable shoe – it’s no surprise that FKTs (Fastest Known Times) and races are dropping like dominoes beneath their lugs. I’ve been drawn to them week in week out for training, relied on them in races and plan to take them into a trail marathon next month. After that we’re planning to move away to the country to spend more time with each other.
At Ultra Trail Australia on the weekend I saw Flight VECTIVs on more than a few fast runner’s feet, and there’s no better advertisement. If you’re running 22, 50 or even 100km, it doesn’t matter how good the marketing is, you won’t have it on your feet if it can’t perform.
To sum it up, the Flight VECTIV is an incredibly good shoe, and with a few tweaks to the materials and laces it’ll be bloody great.
Tim was sent the Flight VECTIV trail runners by The North Face and was allowed to keep them afterward, the views are his own.
We Are Explorers uses affiliate links. If you buy anything through our Wild Earth links we earn a small commission, which helps keep our site free!