The North Face's Flight Series Vectiv trail running shoes pack some innovative tech designed specifically to reduce impact and improve energy return. Aimed at experienced long-distance trail runners, these sit at the premium end of the brand's Vectiv footwear range.
While The North Face shines in many aspects of outdoor apparel, it has thus far failed to compete with today's best trail running shoes. The Vectiv range aims to change that.
At the crux of the range is a new sole architecture that uses the kind of carbon fiber and composite plate technologies you'd typically see in road running shoes, but harnesses its power for trail running and hiking use. That Vectiv sole combines a 3D carbon fibre footplate, midsole rocker geometry and SurfaceCTRL grip; together designed to maximise energy return and capable, apparently, of reducing downhill tibial impact by 10 per cent.
The North Face invested two years of research and development, plus lots of athlete testing, into honing these designs to perfection. I tried out a pair to see how they perform in practice – read on for my full North Face Flight Series Vectiv review. Or, if you're looking for more general-use shoes, check out our best running shoes guide.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv review: the sole
The sole of the Flight Series Vectiv running shoes is made up of multiple layers. Underfoot is a 3D carbon fibre plate and rocker, the midsole is lightweight foams, and finally the 'SurfaceCTRL' outsole is engineered specifically for grip. Together, they're meant to offer stability, propel you forwards, and absorb shock so you can run comfortably for longer.
I'm a regular runner but fairly new to trail running – because of where I live, road running is just more convenient. The North Face Flight Series Vectiv shoes offer a very different experience to running in regular running shoes, mainly as a result of that rocker sole and carbon plate. The thinking behind this kind of shoe is that it actively propels you forward – Carbon plates are designed to 'snap back' when they bend, which gives you a bit of extra forward propulsion at each step. The midsole absorbs the shock and keeps things comfortable.
I've not run in this style of running shoe before, and it's a strange experience. While the foam midsole, which is as lightweight as TNF promises, works well to cushion impact with the ground, and the outsole with 3.5mm lugs deliver reliable grip, I found the rocker shape tough to get used to.
Your ankles and feet have to work to keep you stable, especially when tackling uneven ground (I found they worked better on flatter, compacted routes). I assume this will get better as the muscles involved get stronger and more used to the sensation, but I think they're unlikely to become my top choice for long distances.
To check it wasn't just me, I spoke to T3's fitness editor, Matt Kollat, who has tested dozens of running shoes, to get his thoughts on this style of shoe. He had this to say: "I generally don't recommend shoes with integrated carbon plates for training, only if you're trying to smash your PB or for racing. That's because running in these shoes can be very taxing on some of the lesser used muscles in lower leg which might result in leg pain or strains. Using them occasionally is fine, though."
The North Face calls these 'elite trail running shoes', and they do indeed seem to really shine amongst very experienced trail runners (the headline is that Pau Capell partnered with TNF and wore them on his solo Tour du Mont-Blanc run). On the North Face's own site, at time of writing, there were 10 five-star reviews. Most are from North Face athletes, who praise the traction, efficiency, and ability to tackle a wide range of terrains.
There are also a couple from regular customers, both of which are hugely positive ("My runs with this shoe and more comfortable, lighter on the feet and faster. My running buddies cannot believe I'm the same person. All I've changed is my shoes…", reads one). So while they're not for me, if you're a more experienced trail runner used to this style of shoe, they're absolutely worth a look.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv review: the upper
The mesh upper, strengthened with Kevlar, really is lightweight but still feels very robust and protective. The North Face has pared things right back with a seamless sock upper that removes excess bulk, minimises the number of things that can get snagged on your run, and keeps debris out of the shoe effectively. I found the minimalist lacing a little tricky to tighten effectively, though.
There's a 3D-moulded heel counter to help keep these in place, which I found sat unexpectedly low (a read through other reviews suggests how comfy you find these varies depending on your foot shape). Personally, I also found these fit narrow but long – I usually wear a UK10 in running shoes, and for these I ended up in a UK8.5.
In terms of colourways, you can choose between a vibrant, minty green, fluoro yellow or – in a bizarre design decision – white. I had the foresight to get some photos before taking these out for a spin; they absolutely no longer look like this.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv review: verdict
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv shoes seem to illicit slightly Marmite responses. While there are some glowing reviews from hardcore long-distance trail runners – and if you fall into that camp, they could be well worth a look – amongst less experienced runners the responses are more hit-and-miss. I found they worked best on flatter, hard-packed routes, and if you're new to the rocker midsole style you might also want to start with shorter distances to begin with, to avoid sore feet.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv review: also consider
The Brooks Catamount was one of the best trail running shoes released in 2020. It delivers an amazing running experience, is comfortable and creates the perfect balance between performance and comfort. The DNA Flash midsole is light and springy but thanks to the additional safety features underfoot, the Catamount also feels secure and under control.
The Adidas Terrex Speed Ultra – similarly to the Vectiv – is a racing trail running shoe that performs extremely well on technical trails. It's lightweight and offers an awful lot of control over your stride, even on more demanding surfaces. It might be a bit tight for runners with wide feet but if you're happy to put up with the snugness, you'll be in for a treat.