Thursday, March 22, 2018

The North Face Flight RKT - A Screaming Fast, Plush Cushioned, Pared Down Race Machine

Article by Jeff Valliere

The North Face Flight RKT
8.3 oz/235 g US Men's Size 9  7.2 oz/204 g US Women's Size 8
27mm heel/19mm forefoot, 8 mm drop
$150, available now including at the links at end of the article.

First Impressions/Overview:

The Flight RKT is extremely light out of the box and especially on the foot, see through airy mesh upper, paper like tongue, an outsole that looks more suited to the road than the trail and a very unique looking colorway, which can either look like camouflage or clouds (as in wearing these is like floating on clouds) depending on the viewing angle.  I prefer the latter, which given the colorway is listed as "Flagstaff Storm", we'll go with that.

This shoe was designed in collaboration with TNF star Ultrarunner Rob Krar, who is known to run in fairly minimal road shoes for his Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim record setting runs, as well as victories at the Western States 100 (as well as numerous other races).  Rob is among the fastest Ultra runners out there and wanted to design a shoe that would keep up with his feet for 100 miles.  He said: "There is a whole lot of Flagstaff and the desert Southwest in the shoe." Will the Flight RKT perform?


The engineered mesh upper is very minimal and thin, almost see through thin, yet the criss cross of TPU welded overlays provide a structured "cage" for very good security and foothold.  Needless to say that ventilation is amazing and it contributes toward it being such an incredibly light, yet amply cushioned shoe.

There is no toe bumper on this shoe, so another reason not to venture into rocky, technical terrain.
Fit is true to size with just enough wiggle room in the forefoot for splay and swelling, but without compromising foot hold or security.
The heel collar is moderately padded and comfortable with no real structure to the heel counter (at least no internal plastic structure) and is somewhat malleable.  I found heel hold to be iffy at first, but then employed the back eyelet and problem was completely solved.

The mesh and suede tongue is paper thin and not gusseted, so it takes some care and practice to put the shoe on without fighting to get the tongue in place.  Putting them on as I would most shoes, the thin tongue would fold over on both sides, causing extra time and effort to adjust.  I found that if I loosen the laces more than I normally might and pull the tongue taut on both sides, then I can slide my foot in with it folding.  Most of the time.
The Ortholite footbeds are perforated to assist in breathability and perhaps shed a few grams.
The topsole is also perforated, but the holes do not extend through the shoe (so not for drainage).  This photo also illustrates how airy this shoe is.


The FastFoam EVA midsole is comprised of a dual density foam, where the top layer below the EVA board is softer and springy for greater comfort and the lower bathtub shaped layer is firmer and more resilient to reduce break down and increase response.  The combination of soft, comfortable cushion with light and snappy response is very similar to one of my favorite race shoes ever (for road and trail), the Hoka One One Huaka with RMAT midsole.  The Flight RKT is fairly stiff from the toe almost to the heel, which aids in a bit of a snappy propulsion upon toe off.  Cushion is plenty for just about any distance in my opinion and offers reasonable protection from obstacles underfoot despite the lack of a rock plate.


The "Podular" outsole comprises of 11 sticky rubber pods, each with sticky rubber and multi directional lugs.  The podular design helps the shoe to contour and conform to the underlying terrain to aid in traction.  This configuration works very well for running on mellow to moderate dry terrain, like smooth singletrack, dirt paths, dirt roads, double track and paved roads.  The Flight RKT can easily handle sections of moderately technical terrain, but since there is no rock plate, protection from sharp rocks or roots beneath is not ideal, but the good cushioning helps take the edge off in small doses.

Of course with an outsole resembling a road shoe, the Flight RKT struggles on snow, ice, mud and anything particularly loose and technical.  An all mountain shoe it is NOT.

Overall Impressions/recommendations:

Upon opening the box, I was cautiously optimistic (or was that reservedly skeptical?).  Either way, I was pleasantly surprised with the Flight RKT, despite it's unusual look and road shoe appearance.  The Flight RKT is a pared down, light, well ventilated, responsive race shoe for putting in your best effort on mellow terrain, well groomed trails, buffed out singletrack or even on the roads.

Though the upper is minimal, it is comfortable and does a wonderful job keeping the foot in place while running over terrain the shoe was meant for (less than technical), but still does a good job when pushing corners at speed, going uphill, downhill and some minor sidehilling.  I initially experienced a little bit of heel lift, especially when running uphill, but once I remembered to use the very back lace eyelets, that solved it completely.

The FastFoam EVA is a great descriptive name, as it is fast and foamy, a great dual layer solution that provides fast, yet comfortable running with no compromise.

I do not really see this shoe as a trainer, I guess you could, but I question the durability because of the minimal materials, especially for trail use.  At $150 a pop, I would suggest keeping this shoe set aside for race and fast days.

The Flight RKT is not really my type of shoe given the rocky, mountainous technical terrain that I frequent, but this shoe is a real sleeper hit and top notch for it's intended purpose!

Jeff's Score:  9.85/10

- .05 for slightly difficult to position tongue, would be nice if it were gusseted, or at least a little more structured or sewn in.
- .05 for lugs.  It would be nice to have a little more to add some terrain versatility.
- .05 for thin static laces that cause a bit of rope burn while snugging.


TNF Flight RKT vs. Hoka One One Huaka (RTR review here):  OK, the Huaka is a way outdated shoe, but out of all the shoes I own and have reviewed, it is the only one that I can compare directly.  Both have paper thin, yet effectively comfortable and appropriate (for their intended use) supportive uppers.  Both have plush, pillowy soft, yet really fast responsive midsole materials, both have minimal tread and they are about the same weight.  The Huaka handles technical terrain a touch better, with a little better protection in the forefoot and slightly more significant tread.  But, this is all neither here nor there, as the Huaka is long out of production.  If you liked the Huaka, I strongly suggest giving the Flight RKT a go.

The Flight RKT was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 2d Masters in 2015. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the Colorado 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several. 
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

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Jeff Valliere said...


Anonymous said...

Had my eyes on these ever since they have been announced. However, TNF stated that the midsole is only supposed to last for about 100miles before breaking down - which is kinda off-putting considering the 150$ price tag.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan said...

Jeff, did you run in the old Patagonia Everlong? Care to offer a comparison? I loved that shoe and still looking for one similar as this one looks alike.

Jumbo said...

Yeah, like Dan said, I'm wondering how much this is like the late, beloved Everlong. The Everlong had a great fit and surprisingly good traction on technical stuff. I really have my eye on the RKT, but I'm a little worried about the lack of a toe bumper.

Jeff Valliere said...

Unfortunately, I have never run in the Everlong, so am unable to even speculate. Sorry.

Fredrik, Sweden said...

I once had the idea to buy a Vibram Megagrip Trail sole on ebay and put it on a pair of Hoka Hupana...thoughts? A bit less outdated than Huaka and same RMAT :) TNF looks nice thou

Jeff Valliere said...

Fredrik, hold out for the Hoka Torrent instead of trying to mix and match, review yet to come, but this could be the shoe you have in mind!

Stefan said...

I have run a lot in Patagonia Everlong. I tried the TNF shoe in a store today and it felt more narrrow than Everlong.

Anonymous said...

Love that North Face is pushing the envelope and trying something new here... but $150 for a shoe that delivers 100 miles is no bueno.

Trail runners will frequently complain about getting 300 miles out of $70 shoes - I just can't see this product doing well

Fredrik said...

Great! Looking forward to that review. Currently logging miles in the Salomon Pro Max, felt nice but a bit hard in the heel in the freezing winter, maybe the EVA will soften in spring/summer? Did you like the Pro Max for long runs?