Tuesday, January 26, 2021

The North Face Flight VECTIV Review: Rock 'n' Roll-TNF Brings Carbon Fiber to the Trails

Article by Brian Metzler

The North Face Flight VECTIV ($199)


Editor’s Note: We are thrilled and honored to bring you Brian Metzler's first RoadTrailRun review. Brian’s tester profile is below with his full run bio at the end of the article.

Brian Metzler is a longtime running journalist and shoe-tester. He’s the author of “Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes” and has wear-tested more than 1,500 models of running shoes since the mid-1990s. He’s been averaging about 35 miles of running per week this winter (but rarely records his runs on Strava), while also skate skiing and swimming several times each week.


Brian: The North Face has had a stake in trail running for more than 20 years, but, perhaps oddly, it has struggled to gain a foothold in the trail running shoe market. And that’s despite sponsoring a wide range of top-tier athletes for years, starting with Topher Gaylord and Dean Karnazes and all the way up to the current crop that includes Dylan Bowman, Hillary Allen, Coree Woltering, Kaytlyn Gerbin, Mike Foote, Rob Krar, Stephanie Howe, Seth Swanson and Zach Miller. The North Face has long been one of the premier outdoor apparel and equipment brands and it’s had success with trail running apparel and accessories over the past decade. But despite having accomplished people on its footwear teams, it’s never hit a home run with any of its trail running shoes. But the launch of the Flight VECTIV and a new line of trail running and hiking shoes looks like it will have the ability to change that. Under the guidance of Global Footwear VP Jean-Marc Dijan, The North Face is innovating to be disruptive. The Flight VECTIV, two years in the making, is the marquee shoe in the new line of off-road models The North Face is unveiling in 2021.



The Flight VECTIV is a well-balanced trail running shoe with a carbon-fiber plate technology similar to what the road running “super shoes” have utilized for marathon runners in recent years.


It can put a serious spring in every step, as the carbon-fiber plate provides a noticeable energetic boost on roads, hard-packed dirt paths and even on semi-technical trails as the foot rolls from midstance to toe-off phase of a stride.


After running 150 miles in it, it’s obvious how well the rocker geometry of the midsole/outsole chassis blends with the energetic boost from the plate and secure connection of the elastic upper to create a flowy, synergistic ride. While the carbon-fiber plate is interesting and certainly integral to the performance, it’s really the systematic interaction of the entire shoe (outsole, midsole, plate, upper) that make the Flight VECTIV a notable new model.  


The Flight VECTIV has a cushioned but stiff demeanor, meaning you only really feel the softness at the initial heel-strike. From there, the foot rolls through the firm plate and the rocker until the toe-off phase. The midsole cushioning is part of that process, but it’s less about foam decompression than it is about an undercarriage of the carbon-fiber plate.



The Flight VECTIV is a go-fast shoe, so naturally it is lean on protective elements and is not as well suited for technical routes or off-piste endeavors. It has a modestly reinforced toe bumper to offset toe bang and abrasion-resistant lower side walls but, runner beware, your pinky toes will be left exposed.


There’s a decidedly stiff sensation that contradicts the squishy foam feeling and shock absorption of most shoes. That’s not necessarily a con, but it is decidedly different that the trail running shoes you might be used to.


The Matryx section on my wear-test sample creased in an awkward place on the lateral side of both shoes at the point it meets the lower sidewall abrasion guard. It didn’t affect the fit or feel, but some of the synthetic fibers poked out in tiny loops by 1mm or so.



Weight: 10.05 oz (285g) men's / (US9)  /  8.64 oz (245 g) women's / (US8)

  Sampl: 10.95 oz (309.1g) men's / (US10.5) 

Stack Height:25mm/19mm, 6mm drop

Available: Available initially at 1/26 launch, with rollout to various channels over the next few weeks.


First Impressions and Fit

Having run in every version of road shoes with carbon-fiber plates in 2019-2020, I was eager to test out the Flight VECTIV to see what it would be like running with that kind of propulsive technology on the trails. I had taken some of the road shoes on hard-packed trails, but none had the traction or protection for much more than smooth dirt trails. When I got the Flight VECTIV shoes in September and pulled them out of the box, they felt about the midweight range I figured they might, not heavy but not light either. As I slid my foot inside, I noticed it took some additional effort to open the elastic heel collar in order to get my foot fully inside. Most of the meshy upper has an elastic tension that creates a sensation similar to an interior bootie that would normally come from a gusseted tongue. There is no gusseted tongue on the Flight VECTIV because the tongue is part of the unique, one-piece upper design.

Once the foot is inside, the entire shoe feels like it’s hugging the foot, so snug, in fact, that it might stay on without tying the laces. But tying the laces just completes the athletic fit and immediately gives a sense of agility. 

The reinforced heel counter and elastic heel collar keep the rearfoot in place, while the upper and laces keep the saddle/arch secure. (There’s a low arch inside the Flight VECTIV that’s supported by the slightly protruding medial midsole.)  

The forefoot has just a little bit of extra room for toes to wiggle and splay, but not much. Overall, the Flight VECTIV produces a locked-down sensation that makes your foot feel at one with the shoe and that converts to a better proprioceptive sensation and agility on the trails.

I have narrow feet and there is a decidedly low-volume and narrow-fitting feel to the Flight VECTIV, though I suspect runners with medium-width feet would feel as if the stretchy upper material would accommodate those too. The shoe fits true to size, but some runners might consider trying on a half size up if warm race conditions could lead to foot swelling.


Honestly, I didn’t initially notice the intricate design of the upper of the Flight VECTIV until after I had run in it for the first time. What I did notice immediately was the locked-down sensation it provided even before I laced it up. The unique, multi-material upper blends a Kevlar-enhanced, abrasion-resistant Matryx panel (integrated with Kevlar and high-tensity Polyamid), a 3D-molded heel counter with the carbon plate actually extending around the lower heel as a stabilizing cup and a stretchy, breathable knit material that encompasses the vamp, toe box, tongue and heel collar. 

It’s not quite a bootie construction (as explained earlier), but it simulates that snug, secure sensation. There’s some extra padding at the back of the heel collar and also in the tongue, but otherwise there’s a comfortable but not extravagant interior feeling. Despite the numerous materials comprising the upper, there aren’t any seams that should ever impact a runner’s foot negatively.


At first glance, the dual-density midsole of cushy and responsive foam compounds looks thick under the heel and very thin under the forefoot, but the dramatic difference was never really felt due to the rocker shape of the chassis. There is sufficient cushioning for a heel-striking gait, but the rocker helps quickly melt the impact into a rolling sensation. After the soft touchdown at the heel, you don’t really feel the midsole foam in a cushy kind of way because of the rolling sensation from the rocker geometry and the transition into the carbon plate embedded in the midsole construction. 

That shapeliness of the midsole helps reduce downhill impact and ease the effort of uphills. Overall, the feeling is slightly more soft than firm, but it’s definitely different than traditional trail running shoes that are based on midsole foam decompression.

If you've never run in a shoe with a carbon-fiber plate embedded in the midsole, you might be in for a bit of a shock. The forefoot doesn't flex very much and you don't compress the foam midsole nearly as you do in most shoes. Instead, you ride the wave from just after the time the foot hits the ground to the moment it leaves the ground at the toe-off phase. The carbon-fiber plate helps the foot roll and returns some of the downward energy into forward propulsion. (The plate also happens to act just as a trail-specific rock plate would.)

One of the unsung traits of this shoe is its inherent stability. The carbon-fiber VECTIV plate has a 3D design with curled up flanges that cradle the heel and each side of the forefoot for added stability that helps keep all momentum moving in a forward direction. The overall footprint of the shoe is relatively wide (114.3 mm in the forefoot, 91.4mm at the widest part of the heel) and also helps keep lateral motion to a minimum.

One key thing to note: Although the 3D carbon-fiber VECTIV plates are tuned differently for men's and women's shoes (along with the durometers of the midsole foams), the plates are not tuned differently for different sized shoes within genders. That means runners with varying foot sizes and other anatomical details (body weight, foot and lower leg strength, stride length, cadence) will likely result in different experiences in this shoe. Runners will naturally also experience different levels of energy return when fatigued deep into a race if they cannot continue to apply the same amount of energy into their stride.


The outsole has a matrix of low-profile, directional 3.5mm lugs that provide excellent traction on a wide variety of surfaces, including roads, snow, dirt and even sloppy mud. On smooth, hard-packed surfaces the outsole allows the Flight VECTIV to feel more like a road shoe, while on varying degrees of dirt and debris it feels more like a durable trail running shoe with good hold and security. The only traction issues I had were running across sheer ice, but that had more to do with the ice than it did with the outsole of the shoe.



The magic of this shoe is in the ride, which is decidedly energetic but not in a bouncy kind of way. The shoe definitely has a stiff flex profile but unlike some carbon plate road shoes it can be flexed by hand with effort. Still, there’s not much bending and mushing of the midsole on every stride as you get in most trail shoes. Instead, it’s a soft initial encounter with the ground that immediately flows into a technical rolling sensation. 

It doesn’t take long to get in tune with the inherent vibe of the shoe. It accommodates variability in foot-strike patterns due to the changing terrain and trail debris. (Most road shoes with carbon-fiber plates are either super soft and springy or so rigid they require finding the particular rhythm of the shoe. The Flight VECTIV seems to be right in the middle but plenty accommodating for typical trail footwork.) The combination of the outsole foam and the carbon-fiber plate also serve as built-in protection against underfoot “stingers” caused by sharp rocks, jagged roots and other trail debris. 

The ride is especially smooth and consistent on flat, hard-packed dirt trails, but it doesn’t vary much even on semi-technical terrain. However, the energetic boost of energy can definitely be felt more on flatter terrain and faster paces. I ran as fast as 5:30 mile pace on sections of downhill dirt roads and as slow as 10-minute miles slogging up steep ascents. The sweet spot for speed running can definitely be felt in the 8:00-8:30 pace on smooth, flat terrain, but less so at slower paces on more rugged terrain.


The North Face has suggested via third-party studies the Flight VECTIV results in a 10 percent reduction of descending impact force, based on VO2max and accelerometer readouts. The footwear developers have said the shoe is able to convert downhill force into forward momentum, thus reducing leg muscle fatigue during ultra-distance running events.


Conclusions and Recommendations

I ran more than 150 miles in the Flight VECTIV on all types of surfaces in Colorado, Utah and Oregon. Overall, I was very impressed with it as a speed shoe, but I also liked it for its long-haul comfort and consistency for runs in the 10 to 20-mile range. I liked the fit, agility and athletic vibe so much that I was actually drawn to continue running in the shoe well after I had thoroughly tested it. It combined the best aspects of a road shoe with the necessary aspects of a trail shoe without becoming too heavy, clunky or overbuilt. One of my acid tests of any new shoes debuting on the market is whether or not I would buy the shoe for my own running or racing pursuits, and I would definitely buy the Flight VECTIV for fast training and racing on courses without excessive technical features.

The real proof in the pudding of this shoe will be how well it performs on race day. I ran a few fast-paced time trials on smooth dirt and was impressed with the ability to keep a consistent cadence at paces appropriate for 10K to marathon-length runs. I didn’t get a chance to run them in full race simulation mode — in which swelling feet might have become a factor — and only ran through limited sandy sections of trail.

Brian’s Score: 8.5 out of 10

It’s interesting to note that Kaytlyn Gerbin, of one of The North Face’s top American trail runners, wore a prototype of this shoe en route to setting a new women’s FKT on the Wonderland Trail in Washington last summer. (Another TNF athlete, Dylan Bowman, wore a different model when he set the since-broken men’s FKT a week earlier.)

In addition to the Flight, there are two other VECTIV running styles: the Infinite VECTIV (more protective) $169, Enduris VECTIV (cushioning) $139, using PEBAX or TPU plates, respectively. There will also be a women’s-only version: the Hypnum VECTIV $139, a light hiker.

Running Warehouse (RTR partner) has Infinite and Enduris in stock, Flight for pre-order HERE


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


There aren't many similar shoes to the Flight VECTIV, but the Hoka One One TenNine (RTR Review) comes to mind with its firm flex pattern and rockered shape. 

If anything, the Flight VECTIV would be similar to a thicker, trail-oriented Saucony Endorphin Pro carbon-fiber road shoe (RTR Review). 

It feels like a fast race-day blade that's not as cushy as the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 and not as rigid and structured as the Hoka One One Carbon X 2 (RTR Review). 

While I have not run it yet the upcoming Craft CTM Carbon Ultra (RTR Initial Video Review) with more stack height also has a carbon plate and relies on a more aggressive heel to toe drop (at least 10mm) for its propulsion effect.

Photo Credits: Brian Metzler and The North Face

Brian Metzler is a longtime running journalist, content strategist and the author of “Kicksology: The Hype, Science, Culture and Cool of Running Shoes.” He formerly was the editor in chief at Competitor and was also the founding editor of Trail Runner Magazine. He has wear-tested more than 1,500 models of running shoes since the mid-1990s and has written about running and running shoes for Runner's World, Podium Runner, Running Times, Triathlete, Men's Journal and Outside. After being a walk-on collegiate middle-distance in the Midwest, he transitioned to trail running in Boulder, Colorado. That led him to ultrarunning, triathlon, peak bagging Colorado 13ers and 14ers and the quirky sport of pack burro racing. He’s run the Rim to Rim to Rim adventure run across the Grand Canyon four times, including once in the middle of the night with Mike Wardian. He’s also four-time Ironman finisher and a 2018 finisher of the Leadman endurance series in Leadville, Colorado. His running shoe quiver usually includes about 25 current models and 5 holdovers from previous seasons.

The tested sample was provided at no charge for review purposes. No other compensation was received for the review of the Flight Vectiv. The opinions herein are entirely the author’s.

RTR Team's Best of 2020 Articles

Road Running Shoes HERE
Trail Running Shoes HERE
RTR Contributors Best of Run 2020, Year in Review Articles

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Darrele said...

How cool to have a review from Brian Metzler! I read the Kicksology book- it was an interesting, fun read especially for shoe geeks.

Dan said...

This is definitely a more interesting shoe to come to market in '21. Did you get a chance to run in the Skechers Trl Hyper? Wonder how it compares. That weight to cushion ratio on this shoe is pretty disappointing. Why it couldn't be in the 8-9oz range is troubling.

Bobcat said...

Wait for the Salomon Pulsar, that will be 170g and with a more flexible (rock) plate

Dean said...

Thanks for the review! Any ideas if the fit, in length, will be the same for the Infinite and Enduris? Any thoughts on similarity in size length compared to a Topo Ultraventure? I realize the overall fit and tuning will be more 'snug', but I just mean in terms of length. I wear a size 12US Men's in Ultraventure. Cheers

Tony said...

Nice review! I agree, it feels somewhat like the Endorphin Pro. An exceptional shoe after a tempo and long run.

Jeff Valliere said...

Dean, I just received the Flight Vectiv and Enduris last night in my normal size 10. Initial impressions are that the Flight Vectiv runs long and I think a 9.5 would be ideal here, where the Enduris fits exactly as I would expect for a size 10. I’ll soon be contributing to Brian’s review here, as well as a separate review for the Enduris. Stay tuned!

rms said...

I'll chip in a comment. I ordered these, then started reading about heel slippage & unexplained pains, so was a bit leery. I'll note the weight quickly: M13US 12.56oz, & 11.4oz insole removed. Looks like a quality closedcell insole btw, not a cheapo ortholite. The weight feels acceptable to me (WH6 is an ounce heavier).

Anyway they arrived, and on my left foot, which supinates slightly, has a bigtoe that curves towards the other toes, and a slightly higher arch, the fit was slightly narrow across the metatarsals, but I would say acceptable, and that there would be some room for splay, but not much. Length is a bit long, well over a thumbs-width.

However, on my right foot, slightly wider at the metatarsals, slightly longer, and with a bigtoe that distinctly does splay, the shoe is very tight across the metatarsals, starting to spill over the sides of the shoe, and I could feel my toes wanting to overlap each other. Taking out the insole improved matters somewhat, but it was marginal at best. And that's basically a dealbreaker for me, I'll be returning them. The Flight Vectiv is much narrower across the metatarsals than say the Salomon Sense 7, or Endorphin Speed.

I didn't especially notice heel lift just walking around, so can't comment on that. But I see no lacing provision for heel lock, and that's a little worrisome. Upsizing 1/2 would just not work: The shoe is already as long as is acceptable, and would almost certainly result in heel lift issues. So for me the Flight Vectiv would need significant changes; I'm not sure a looser upper would be enough either, as my wider foot is spilling out over the edges. Reviewers: Please comment on whether the Infinite is wider at the metatarsals.

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi rms,
Thank you very much for your valuable and complete comment.
Sam, Editor

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