Sunday, October 20, 2019

ARC'TEYRX Norvan VT 2 Review - Supreme Wet Traction and All Mountain Performance

Article by Jeff Valliere

ARC'TEYRX Norvan VT 2 ($170)

I have only run in one other Arc Teryx shoe, the Norvan SL, their extremely light trail runner which is exceptional for uphill use and lightweight travel.  I found quality to be exceptional and was intrigued by the other more substantial models in the Arc Teryx line, as the SL is a bit light for daily use.  After conversing with a Arc Teryx sponsored athlete early in the summer about the Norvan line, he clued me in to the upcoming VT 2 update and strongly suggested that I obtain a pair for review, given my preference for all mountain and technical terrain.

Traction (specifically wet traction and slab traction), Protection, Quality, Durability, Comfort, Fit, Security
Price, Ride/Cushion, require a break-in period to get a secure fit and become more flexible.

Estimated Weight 10.5 oz / 298g (US men's 9)
Sample:11 oz / 314 (US men's 10)
Stack Height: 24/16mm (8mm drop)
Available now $170

Tester Profile
Jeff runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 

First Impressions and Fit

I was initially struck by how different the shoe looks in person than in the photos.  Photos of this colorway look somewhat yellow, but in person, the color is a much more appealing (at least to me) light green.  Styling is very reminiscent of an approach shoe, very all mountain purpose driven with a bomber toe bumper, bathtub style wrap around rand, medial midfoot padding/protection and an obviously grippy Vibram Megagrip outsole.  They are not particularly light in the hand or on the foot, but that is a small price for all of the protection and all mountain performance they provide. Upon initial step in, it was clear that the upper materials are a bit stiff out of the box and would require a break in period.

The single layer mesh upper is called Evertex, striking a good balance of lightweight breathability, durability and protection.  The 0.4 mmTPU overlays provide good structure while maintaining flexibility. I find fit to be true to size with a secure fit, but not overly tight or compressing.  Though the toe box is not wide or voluminous by any means, I find it to be spacious enough for foot swell without compromising security. Midfoot hold is very good, with excellent lace/eyelet integration, though I found the heel collar to be a touch loose and I needed to employ the extra lace eyelet.  Lacing that extra eyelet helped, but I still struggled with adequate lockdown for several runs. As the upper eventually broke in, fit improved with each run and I eventually had no issues whatsoever.
The synthetic toe cap is very sturdy and protective, integrating nicely with the TPU rand that wraps the shoe aiding in moisture deflection and especially providing added durability.

The fused lace pocket on the tongue is a nice touch, especially if scrambling, however when I tie the shoes, the laces lay over the pocket, requiring some forethought of pocket/lace maneuvering (which I often forget and have to re-do, or just skip).  Either way works fine.
A nice pull tab on the tongue aids entry and while not necessary, is handy.
There is full wrap around protection and I love the logo!
The gusseted tongue is booty style for easy step in and added security.  The heel collar also has a handy pull tab. The heel collar padding is somewhat on the thin side and I found the cuff to be stiff and require several runs to soften to the point where I wasn’t thinking about it.
Nice touches such as the padding/protection above the medial instep enhance protection in rough terrain and bashing through talus.

The midsole is described as EVA/Polyolefin, comprised of 85% compressed EVA and 15% polyolefin blend to provide comfort, as well as absorb shock and vibration.  I find these claims to be mostly accurate, though the cushioning is for sure on the firm side. This firmness is not necessarily conducive to racking up cruiser trail miles, nor will please those looking for gobs of cushion, but is remarkably appropriate for all around mountain use, off trail, talus hopping and scrambling.

There is also a 0.7mm TPU film chassis in the forefoot that provides excellent protection underfoot, which combined with the sturdy Vibram Outsole, is remarkably effective in protecting the foot from any pokes and jabs from even the sharpest rocks and roots.

The penalty here however is flexibility, as I find that the Norvan VT does not contour well, specifically side to side flex when rock hopping, and can feel tippy at times.

The Vibram Megagrip outsole with 3.5 mm lugs provides exceptional all around traction.  Traction is excellent on most surfaces I have run on, from loose off trail, rocky technical trail, talus, scree, cruiser trails, etc…, but have found that the shape/depth of the lugs lack some bite on very loose dirt, snow and mud, though this is a very minor nitpick, especially given how amazing the Norvan VT 2 grips on slabby rock and wet rock.  Wet traction is absolutely as good or better than any shoe I have reviewed to date, with death defying grip on rocky, slabby terrain. I have taken some steps where I was certain I would take a slide, but to my astonishment, they have always held solid.
Durability thus far appears to be outstanding.  With more than 40 rough miles on them so far, I have seen almost no visible wear.
While not as visually obvious as other shoes, there is also a “climbing zone” on the medial side of the forefoot outsole for edging (seen above), which is sturdy and effective for scrambling.

As mentioned above, the ride is on the firm side and while response is not particularly fast or snappy, that is not really what this shoe is meant for.  For its intended terrain, specifically rocky, all mountain use, the Norvan VT 2 is very solid and predictable.

Conclusions and Recommendations

While I liked the Norvan VT 2 from the very beginning, I found I struggled a little bit with fit and firmness of the upper and lack of flex in the midsole/outsole.  As I got some miles in them however, flexibility increased and the upper softened some, conforming well to my foot and they came to fit like a glove. Comfort is amazing and while cushioning is not plush, they are very supportive and I can easily wear them on the trail and off trail all day long without feeling beat up or fatigued.  Traction and underfoot (and upper) protection here is as good as it gets, allowing for very confidence inspiring movement over the rockiest, roughest terrain, on or off trail, dry or wet.

Jeff’s Score: 9.6 /10
Ride: 9.5  Fit: 10 Value: 8.5  Style: 10 Traction: 9.5  Rock Protection: 10 Weight: 9.5

It is hard to deduct points for this shoe, so the above scores factor for the intended purpose.  Ride is a bit firm, but is appropriate for this shoe and use. Points could be deducted for the price, as $170 is a lot of money to drop on a shoe, but functionality and durability/quality are spot on.

Salomon X Alpine Pro (RTR Review)   
The closest comparison, these shoes are within a few grams in weight, very similar purpose, ride, price, traction, protection, performance.  Wearing them side by side, I can hardly tell them apart. The Salomon has a slightly more rounded and accommodating toe box, even though the Norvan VT 2 is not at all confining.  The Salomon has better loose terrain traction given its slightly more pronounced lugs, but I think the wet traction of the Norvan VT 2 is slightly better (though both are excellent).  The Salomon upper requires no break in period and is a bit more padded and plush, perhaps slightly more secure. Flip of the coin on these shoes as to which one I would recommend or pick for a rough all mountain adventure.

VJ MaXX (RTR Review)  
The VJ MaXX is lighter and more sporty, but the Norvan VT is more appropriately substantial underfoot and has a superior upper with better overall protection and build/material quality overall.  Traction is comparable, with VJ better in loose terrain and Norvan better on wet. With just a $10 difference, I would spring for the Norvan.

La Sportiva Bushido II (RTR Review
Very similar in all aspects, but where the Bushido 2 shines is that it actually feels plush underfoot compared to the other shoes discussed here and to the Norvan VT 2.  The Bushido II fit is a more precise but if you prefer a bit more room in the forefoot, then X Alpine or Norvan.

Tecnica Origin LT (RTR Review
Origin is faster and more responsive with just about all the same top qualities for all mountain use and with a superior, custom, in store molded fit.  Origin is a slight step down in protection and wet traction.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Bobcat said...

How close are these to the XA Elevate?

Looking forward to the Norvan LD2 with litebase.
LD-OG was a great shoe but a bit heavy and stiff.

Jeff Valliere said...

Similar to XA Elevate in overall use/performance, XA Elevate perhaps a slightly more precise upper and better loose traction, but upper is not quite as durable/protective as Norvan. Then there is the price difference.

Looking forward to Norvan LD2, would be interesting to test.

jbv said...

seems a lot like a shoe for trail hiking, perhaps more than running. that would suit me fine.