Shoe of the Week: The North Face Flight VECTIV
The first super shoe for the trail, The North Face's VECTIV promises to channel energy toward propulsion, particularly on downhills.
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The North Face Flight VECTIV Review
Weight: M10.1, W8.6
Offset: 6mm (25mm heel /19mm forefoot)
The North Face disrupts the trail running shoe world by incorporating carbon fiber technology into its top-shelf rocker, reducing impact and maximizing energy on all surfaces.
Everything is completely new and it took The North Face two years of development to bring the VECTIV online. The Flight VECTIV brings “mid-cushioned, disruptive rockered technology” to the trails . This summer’s ultra-distance races will be the true test to see if the Flight shakes up the trail scene the way carbon super shoes did for road racing.
This is the shoe for you if…
You want a shoe that is optimally suited for those who run smoother trails and need some impact reduction — but don’t want the absorption that plagues other maximalist shoes, which suck up the impact of descending or heel striking without returning energy. These rockered shoes are not overly cushioned and, although stiff, they provide a smooth roll-through to toe-off, akin to carbon-plated road shoes.
To say that the Flight VECTIV is a stiff shoe is an understatement. And, for trail runners who have never had the pleasure of trying a road super shoe, the carbon plate’s rigidity may come as quite a shock. But, for those who have, they’ll understand the performance benefits that come from the energy savings that these shoes offer.
The question — one that will be determined as the Flight VECTIV is worn in many races we are hoping to see go back online in 2021 — is whether carbon fiber’s performance enhancement translates from road to trail. Prediction: they’ll fare well on Western State’s relatively smooth course; not so much on the Hardrock 100’s technical terrain.
When Dylan Bowman was asked if he could feel the energy transfer and forward momentum of the Fight’s carbon plate, given his weight disparity over teammate and fellow Wonderland Trail FKT record-setter, Kaytlyn Gerbin, he answered that he didn’t necessarily notice the direct propulsion but that it showed up in his Strava times, especially on flatter, smoother segments. Both Gerbin and Bowman were involved in the development of the VECTIV and are excited to have a shoe they can race in while representing their sponsor.
The hard-to-flex forefoot of the Flight VECTIV is designed to maximize energy efficiency and uses a 3D plate to add stability, while the shoe’s dual-density midsole of lightweight and rebounding foams helps reduce downhill impact while the rocker shape creates a dynamic roll on uphill and responsiveness on descents.
TNF cites third-party studies that report the Flight providing a 10% reduction in descending impact, based on VO2 max and accelerometer readouts. The shoe is purported to convert downhill force into forward momentum. TNF hopes the Flight VECTIV will help reduce leg muscle fatigue, a malady attributed to by 40% of those who drop out of UTMB, a full 39% of the race’s entrants. The UTMB course, which circumnavigates Mont Blanc, is particularly brutal for its technical, rocky descents and it will be great if the touted impact reduction counters the instability of the shoe’s stiffness and rocker profile.
The upper offers a very secure hold, thanks in part to a Kevlar and polyamid-woven saddle woven into the midfoot and the TPU-infused and engineered knits for durability and breathability. The midsole is like a sandwich with multiple layers. Just below the insole, the carbon plate wraps around the foot and provides a firm platform that isolates from underfoot sensation while the dual-density rocker foam below cushions and offers mild energy return. On the bottom, the outsole features 3.5mm lugs for traction and control on all surfaces.
In addition to the Flight, there are two other VECTIV running styles: the Infinite VECTIV (more protective) $169, and the Enduris VECTIV (cushioning) $139, which incorporate a PEBAX or TPU plate, respectively. There will also be a women’s-only version: the Hypnum VECTIV $139.