“You’re going running in those?” asked my wife as I strutted into the kitchen in my highlighter-green Norvan Shell Pants. She glanced out the window to the 70-degree sunny spring afternoon, rolling her eyes.
“I’m testing the breathability,” I said, now feeling overdressed for a simple trail run in phenomenal weather. But I wasn’t about to change. I had some miles to put down in the Arc’teryx Norvan Shell Pants.
I ran all over the place with these pants — on gusty ridgelines, my favorite road routes, rocky trails, plenty of soggy bushwhacking, and even kicking back around camp in these neon knickers.
Even still, the Arc’teryx Norvan Shell Pants were overkill for 90% of the conditions that I tested them in. But that gave me an intimate understanding of their breathability, functionality, and versatility. I also jumped at several opportunities to put them through the wringer in downright nasty spring conditions in the central mountains of Colorado.
In short: The Norvan Shell Pants from Arc’teryx are purpose-built for trail running in wet conditions. Yes, they seal out the precipitation, but their breathability during high-output excursions makes them shine. The design is absolutely minimalist to maximize packability, meaning they’ll stash in your running vest or saddle bag without fuss. While not particularly versatile for a spectrum of outdoor activities, runners and cyclists will be psyched to have them along when weather rolls in.
Arc’teryx Norvan Shell Pants
- Weight 190g / 6.7 oz.
- Sizes XS-2XL
- Materials N70p 3L GORE-TEX fabric; GORE C-KNIT backer
- Very breathable for waterproof running pants
- Fit is ideal for both running and cycling
- No stretch
- No internal stuff sack
Arc’teryx Norvan Shell Pants: Review
I’ve been unenthused trying to run in rain pants on more than one occasion. The four or so versions I’ve tried were baggy, yet somehow restrictive, and breathed like trash bags. They simply weren’t designed for the demands of trail running. Arcteryx embraced the design challenge for its Norvan Line.
The Norvan Shell Pants caught my eye not because of the neon green color, but the purpose-built running design. Specifically, the close-fitting tapered legs and featherweight fabric piqued my interest. My primary criteria for gold-medal running shell pants? Exceptional breathability and unrestricted motion.
The main fabric is a lightweight three-layer GORE-TEX with reinforcement added to the seat. The inside is covered in C-Knit, a soft face fabric backing that is pleasant on the legs even after a long day on the feet.
The GORE-TEX is phenomenal at keeping the water out, as you’d expect from GORE-TEX. Perhaps more importantly, it does a fine job of keeping the inside of the pants from turning into a swamp. Even on longer runs in warmer weather, the breathability was evident. I was warm, but not dripping sweat underneath.
I haven’t found another waterproof membrane that breathes as well as lightweight GORE-TEX. You pay a premium for the stuff, but man it makes a difference, especially when you run as warm as I do.
Even post-run, I could lounge around in these pants all day without getting clammy. That’s saying something about dedicated waterproof pants. As breathable as travel pants? No, but I was comfortable nonetheless.
The legs are fitted and anatomically shaped for trail running motion. There’s very little restriction in a normal stride, and you can squat without blowing a seam.
They’re not stretchy, however. If you don’t nail the sizing, you’ll feel some restriction. I’d err on the larger side, knowing that you’ll typically be adding the Norvans on top of your running shorts or hiking pants, depending on the outing. The non-GORE-TEX version of the Norvans do feature a four-way stretch material. But they are not waterproof — only water-repellent (coated in DWR). They retail for $130.
The GORE-TEX Norvan’s cuffs are tight and somewhat short, again, ideally suited to running. It’s virtually impossible to trip over the cuff, which is awesome.
It also means that these pants won’t get sucked in by your chainring on your gravel or commuter bike. This is a distinct design element that sets the Norvans apart from other rainpants. However, the short cuffs also mean there’s no rain protection for the tops of your shoes or socks. Dribbling rain tends to flow down onto your sock or into your shoe unless you’re wearing a gaitered shoe like the SCARPA Kalibra G.
The leg shape dictates which types of activities the Norvans excel in. Even with the cuff zippers open, I could not fit hiking boots like my La Sportiva Aequilibriums through. So, crossing over to hiking requires you to remove your boots to put them on. Not an insurmountable barrier. But it is something to keep in mind when the clouds start rolling in.
As I ran miles and miles in these pants on hot days, cold days, wet days, and windy days, it dawned on me. These pants have the shape for gravel riding and commuting, so I started testing that angle, too.
The Norvan’s are slim-fit enough that they’re fairly aerodynamic at high speed. They don’t flap around like baggier rain pants. The coverage is ample and I can confidently walk into my office without checking the back of my pants for tire spray. For that reason, they have found a long-term home in my saddle bag for commutes that go awry.
The fit for cycling isn’t flawless given the crotch isn’t skin-tight. But it’s definitely close enough for emergency rainwear. When layered over cycling tights, the shell added just enough protection for cold, windy days too.
Being this lightweight (190g) and packable comes with tradeoffs. For the Norvan pants, that’s pockets — but I think the designers at Arc’teryx made the right call here.
Typically if I’m bringing rain pants along on a trail run, it’s because I’ll be way out there for a while. That means I’ll probably be wearing a running vest like my RAB Veil 6L, which has plenty of pockets. For shorter runs, I layer with pocketed compression shorts to fit my phone.
I’ve waffled back and forth on whether ventilating side zippers would improve these pants or not. I’m leaning toward not. I tried to overheat in these pants and I barely could. They breathe well and the material is so thin that they aren’t oppressively hot. Plus, you typically won’t be wearing these pants unless the weather is wet and chilly, anyway. To that end, I’ve been impressed.
No pockets or superfluous zippers means these pants take up minimal space in your running vest or backpack. Still, an integrated stuff sack wouldn’t hurt. It’s the one additional feature that I think would improve these pants significantly.
The only other design element on my wishlist would be the slightest amount of stretch, if only in a few key areas. It would increase sizing flexibility and versatility across different activities.
Arc’teryx Norvan Shell Pants: Conclusion
The Arc’teryx Norvan Shell pants are a highly specialized and effective trail running hardshell. Unlike most gear from the brand, they don’t transition well to a wide variety of outdoor activities. However, the slim fit and tight cuffs make them an excellent emergency layer for gravel riding and bike commuting.
The Norvan Shell Pants provide superb leg protection above the ankle for runners and cyclists in any weather condition that won’t restrict your motion if sized correctly. Packing down to the size of a Honeycrisp, you won’t hesitate to bring them along when the forecast looks iffy.