Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Arc’Teryx Norvan SL Review: Feathery Light, Fast Climbing Trail Runner

Article by Jeff Valliere

Arc’Teryx Norvan SL ($150)
Arc’Teryx Norvan SL men's color
  • LIGHT!
  • Responsive
  • Ground feel
  • Vibram Outsole
  • Airy and Ventilated
  • Quality
  • Style

  • A bit thin for rocky trails
  • Minimal cushioning
  • Niche shoe, lacking versatility

Estimated Weight US M9: 6.4 oz / 181 g
W8:   6.0 oz /171 g
M 10 6.75 oz./193 grams
Stack Height: 22mm heel / 15 mm forefoot, 7 mm drop
Arc’Teryx Norvan SL women's color

First Impressions and Fit
Jeff: Impressively light and airy with a see through upper, the Norvan SL provides a very impressive blend of light weight and protection.  Heck, not many road racing flats weigh this little. Though there are many shoes that have more protection, I would be hard pressed to think of any shoe that is this light and offers this much protection for the weight.  Though I have used many Arc Teryx products in the past, these are my first shoes and so far, I am impressed.

Jeff:  The single layer hydrophobic TPU mesh upper of the Norvan SL is paper thin and bare bones, essentially see through (as I can read the logos and see the color of my socks no problem).  
Needless to say, ventilation is very good, so good that I was reluctant to use them in the winter (though some of that decision involved the minimally treaded outsole).
Structure and foothold however are surprisingly good despite the minimalism.  
With the upper being so thin, it appears that the .4mm TPU protective film structural overlays of the shoe are also “innerlays” as well, integrating with the mesh in such a way to be exceptionally thin, yet effectively holds the foot in place comfortably with no hotspots or discomfort.  Though protection is quite minimal, the lack of upper protection will go essentially unnoticed on smoother, buffed out terrain, however becomes quickly apparent when negotiating trails with consistent technical rock hopping, talus or anything off trail. In rough and rocky terrain, I find myself dancing a bit and looking for very strategic foot placement.

The synthetic toe cap is very thin and flexible and wards off only the most minor bumping/scuffing.

Fit is true to size with an overall slim feel and while the toe box is not expansive, I feel as though I have adequate wiggle room and enough space for splay and swelling while maintaining good foothold.

Lacing is very positive and snug, easy to achieve proper fit on the first try.  The laces however have a knack for unlacing easily, even when snugged up with my normal double/triple knots.
The tongue is papery thin as well for minimal weight, but protects well from lace pressure.
The heel counter is very flexible with essentially no padding, but is reasonably secure and very comfortable.  There is also a clever notch for attaching to your pack with a carabiner.

Per Running Warehouse, the Norvan SL EVA Midsole uses 85% compressed EVA and 15% polyolefin blend to provide an optimal underfoot experience that absorbs shock and vibration and returns long-lasting comfort. The midsole also includes a 0.7mm TPU forefoot rock plate and higher density anti-fatigue insert in the midsole.

Jeff:  The SL EVA midsole is on the thin side and while the cushioning and protective properties are remarkable for a sub 7 oz. shoe, the Norvan SL is not plush or generously cushioned by any means.  Running fast downhill on hard surfaces is a bit harsh and especially in technical terrain, I find myself running cautiously. Response is excellent and the Norvan SL is particularly adept going uphill (greatly aided of course by it’s feathery weight).  Cushioning is sufficient for long uphills and for running on soft forest trails, but for longer distances on harder surfaces and particularly long downhills, I prefer more cushion. The .7mm TPU forefoot rockplate coupled with the higher density anti-fatigue insert in the midsole does a remarkable job taking the edge off of sharp rocks and harder hits underfoot.

Jeff:  Overall I am impressed by the Vibram Megagrip outsole.  The 3.5 mm lugs provide a reasonable level of traction and versatility.  For such a light shoe, the Norvan SL is impressively protective and durable.  
The lugs are not particularly sharp or pronounced, but instead more broad and low profile, providing a lot of surface area to make contact with the ground.  The rubber compound is sticky and excels on hardpack, slabby rock and are remarkably good in the wet. In sloppy mud, slush, snow and loose gravel however, the Norvan SL’s lugs do not provide enough bite, but are sufficient for short sections if using caution.

Ride and Conclusions
Jeff:  Overall I am quite impressed with the Norvan SL, as I have said throughout the review, “for its weight” which is quite important to clarify and also that I don’t mean in any way to take away from the Norvan SL.  It does an impeccable job performing as a minimally pared down racer, providing enough protection, grip, security, cushion and performance in an incredibly lightweight shoe to race shorter distances without as much compromise as one may expect.  I can easily run for around 2 hours over intermittently rocky, technical terrain without feeling too beat up and I feel confident in their handling. Running downhill fast, I find them a bit too minimal and for sustained descents on hard surfaces would look for a more cushioned shoe . Rock protection is, again, good for the weight, but for a day of dedicated rock bashing, I prefer more protection underfoot.  Uphill and especially fast uphill, the Norvan SL is a dedicated speedster and is what I will set this shoe aside for. All out efforts where I am counting grams and looking to eek out every little bit of advantage that I can, this shoe is quick, agile, responsive and feels weightless with each upward step. If I were running the Pikes Peak Ascent, the Norvan SL would for sure be my first pick. Also, given that the Norvan SL is so light, slim and can clip to the outside of a pack, they would be a great choice as an extra pair of shoes to bring along on a backpacking trip to wear around camp or tossing in your luggage when travelling light.
Jeff:  9.7/10
-0.1 for protection. Primarily the upper, though hard to deduct given the minimal nature of the shoe. Seems like a little protection could be added with little compromise. -0.2 for traction. Again, hard to take away given the weight, but I think that the lug shape could be configured for better traction on loose surfaces.

Arc Teryx Norvan SL vs. Salomon S/Lab Sense 7 SG (RTR Review)
Both shoes are relatively close in weight  (with Sense 7 at 7.6 oz / 215 g so a bit more than an ounce or 28 g more) , performance and handling with the weight advantage going to the Norvan SL.  The Salomon however does have better protection/traction for very little weight penalty and a more precise and less vulnerable upper.  For soft ground or slightly more downhill, then Salomon, but if uphill only on dry, more compacted trails or slabby rock (especially wet) then Norvan SL.  Norvan SL outsole is also much more durable. Unfortunately I did not run the non soft ground S/Lab Sense 7, an equivalent very light trail racer which weighs 7.5 oz /  213 g so about 1 oz / 28 g more than Norvan!

Arc Teryx Norvan SL vs. The North Face Flight RKT (RTR Review)
The RKT is a “heavier” at 8.3 oz/235 g, but still one of the lightest and the most feathery feeling shoes I have run in.  The RKT is more cushioned and better for fast running on hard surfaces and downhills, though somewhat limited by the almost road like outsole, so not as good on more technical trails.  The Norvan SL will last longer than the RKT, which is pretty vulnerable to wear and should be considered a race day only shoe.

Arc Teryx Norvan SL vs. Salomon Sense Pro 3 (RTR Review)
Sense Pro 3 is heavier at 8.9 oz by over 2 oz / 57 g, although still relatively light). It has more aggressive tread and thus better traction in snow, mud, soft ground (though not on wet rock/dry rock and slabby stuff). Sense Pro 3 has overall better protection and a more precise and dialed upper, but I found the Sense Pro 3 to be very tippy and had trouble with them in technical terrain.

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 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he has recently worked in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 8 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.
Photo Credits: Sally Reiley and Jeff Valliere
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Jeff Valliere said...


Anonymous said...

The Norvan LD shoe has been selling well in our store and we're looking at putting a couple people in the SL before we commit to a full size run. Hopefully it gets good feedback but it's certainly more of a niche shoe than the LD.

How would this shoe compare to, say, the La Sportiva Kaptiva or the VK (which is itself a very niche shoe), or the Hoka Torrent?

Σπύρος said...

Maybe the bost breathable trail running shoe. I hate all these shoes with bootie-like internal (isofit,sensifit, etc)that don't let air pass through. It needs deeper lugs in the next version.