Review: Arc’teryx Trail-Running Shoe, A Real Scrambler

This spring, Arc’teryx announced its first trail-running shoe, a premium $170 offering called the Norvan VT. We tested a pre-release pair for this review and can see the brand’s mountain heritage strongly influenced its design.

the-arcteryx-norvan-trail-shoe

The Arc’teryx Norvan VT is a precise trail-running shoe with moderate foot protection. It moves fast across an array of terrain, from talus to singletrack trails, but what sets it apart from the crowd is a new lacing system.

Wearers can change the lace configuration on the go, making the shoe fit (in my case) either snuggly, or REALLY snuggly. See the photo below, with the lacing variability noted in red.

arc'teryx trail running shoe

In the photo, the bottom shoe is snugged for climbing or scrambling; the top shoe is looser for running. It’s a smart design I liked in the mountains, especially on days where bagging a peak might entail miles of running followed by a technical ascent.

Overall, this is a solid shoe and an immediate contender in a crowded space. One thing: The Norvan VT fits average to narrow feet; if you have a really wide foot, stop reading now and look elsewhere.

Arc’teryx Trail Running Shoe

The Norvan VT is about as technical as trail-running shoes get. They come into their own on steep, rocky, technical trails that transition into near-vertical rock.

The sole does double duty. With a 9mm drop (26mm – 17mm) – slightly lower than a traditional running shoe – the Vibram outsole transitions to rubber on the forefoot for traction on slick rocks and scrambling in steep terrain.

arc'teryx trail running shoe review

I tested the Norvan VT, which has a mesh material upper. The brand will also sell the VT GTX, a waterproof Gore-Tex version.

Both weigh around 11 ounces (in size 9), with the Gore-Tex model a bit heavier. Both men’s and women’s models will be available Spring 2017.

Norvan VT Review

I put the Norvan VT to the test on technical mountain trails in the Canadian Rockies and Colorado this summer and found it a very snug, secure shoe. For anyone looking to zip over tricky ground, fly up class-three and class-four mountain routes, or run through minefields of loose rock, this shoe gives confidence-inspiring traction and accurate foot placement.

Arc'teryx norvan VT review
The Arc’teryx Norvan VT is right at home on talus

The modest stack height results in great proprioception and lets runners transition to hands-and-feet scrambling quickly and comfortably. The shoe won’t roll on thin, steep placements, so you can mountain-goat up seriously sketch terrain.

The VT (non Gore-Tex) version is quite breathable, although the upper is only part mesh. It got wet when hiking through soggy grass but dried fast.

After camping overnight on a recent high-route, the shoe dried in about a half-hour in the morning with nothing more than a change of socks and a little strenuous hiking.

Technical Lacing

Here’s the big kicker: The Norvan VT lets you snug the shoe right over the instep thanks to a unique, adjustable lacing system. Basically, when running normal trails, the laces sit wide over the midfoot.

When things get technical, you reach down, grab the middle of the lace pattern, and pull one side over to the little hook across the tongue. This snugs the shoe over the midfoot, providing a more technical fit.

And it works. This re-lacing gives the shoe a more technical fit. But for me, it was overkill. The “snugged” fitting gives almost the fit of a climbing shoe, which will be great for really steep terrain and those with narrow feet. For my wider foot, it really wasn’t needed.

Narrow Last

I didn’t need this adjustment because I have wide feet. Much like many European brands, the Norvan’s last is narrow, and if you’re like me, even the wide-open lacing configuration will be more than technical enough for any terrain where a running shoe is appropriate.

On descents, I found the forefoot of the Norvan VT too narrow. It caused hot-spots on the outside of my forefoot merely after a couple miles of technical descending and left my foot squeezed tightly into the wedge-shaped upper.

For hiking and scrambling, I can see this shoe becoming part of my quiver. For running, it’s just too narrow for my foot, but this is personal preference and sizing. Try it on yourself to see if it’s a magic slipper.

Norvan VT: Who Should Buy?

My gripes aside, the Norvan VT is a great shoe…if you have a narrow foot. Runners and mountain hikers looking for a precise, moderately protective shoe with great grip and snug, secure fitting will be well served with this shoe.

Norvan VT trail running shoe review
Testing on a summer snowfield

It excels in steep, rugged, rocky terrain and is a solid entry to the running world by a brand born in the mountains.

The Arc’teryx Norvan VT hits the market in spring 2017 for $170. For those with narrower feet looking to get steep, it’s worth a serious look.

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Editor-in-Chief Sean McCoy is a life-long outdoorsman who grew up hunting and fishing central Wisconsin forests and lakes. He joined GearJunkie after a 10-year stint as a newspaperman in the Caribbean, where he learned sailing and wooden-boat repair. Based in GearJunkie’s Denver office, McCoy is an avid trail runner, camper, hunter, angler, mountain biker, skier, and beer tester.

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