Since Arc’teryx first jumped into footwear with its Alpha FL and Bora lines, the largely outerwear-focused company has been making steady strides with its shoes. But few other products have polarized Arc’teryx customers like its footwear. Some camps decry their sizing while others laud their perfect fit and innovations.
The Norvan SL 3 is Arc’teryx’s latest release. It claims to be “one of the lightest trail running shoes ever.” And at 6 ounces per shoe, that might be true. My trusty Danner Trail 2650 Campos weigh 12 ounces per shoe. In fact, on our list of the Best Running Shoes for Men, the lightest weight trail running shoe is the HOKA ONE ONE Zinal, which weighs 8.5 ounces.
The Norvan SL 3 is the tertiary design of the SL shoe line that hit the market in 2019. Arc’teryx said that it incorporated input from its mountain athletes and climbers to better refine the Norvan SL 3, with the focus of moving fast over technical terrain. The brand’s website describes it as offering “trail running performance with climbing and scrambling agility.”
While minimalist in design and tread, the Norvan SL 3 adds welcomed ankle collars to keep out trail grit and gravel, and loops for attaching the shoes to climbing harnesses. But at a feathery 12 ounces per pair, are the Norvan SL 3s tough enough to handle gravelly mountain trails and jumbled crag approaches? We laced up a pair to find out.
In short: I ran well over 30 miles in the Norvan SL 3 trail running shoes. They reminded me distantly of my Vivo Barefoot shoes in that my feet felt better connected to the terrain. Instead of my usual clomping along, I found myself being more mindful when running and stepping, which in turn sped up my pace. For runners with wide feet, or for those who prefer more substantial soles and construction, these might not be the right fit. But if you’re willing to trade some protection and durability for a super-light running shoe, then you’ll want to consider these.
- Best use Approach/trail running
- Running shoe cushioning Moderate cushion
- Heel-to-toe drop 7 mm
- Heel stack height 19 mm
- Forefoot stack height 12 mm
- Lug depth 3.5 mm
- Footwear height Ankle (with collar)
- Footwear closure Laceup
- Upper Matryx Micro upper with knitted collar made with recycled polyester yarn
- Outsole Vibram Megagrip with LITEBASE
- Rock plate No
- Claimed weight (pair) 12 oz. (size 8.5)
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 3: Review
First Look Impressions
Pulling these shoes from the box, my first thought was, “Wow these are stupid light.”
That should have been no surprise, though. After all, SL — for Super Light — is in the name. I bounced them in my hand, half expecting them to float away. I compared them to other shoes that felt like cinder blocks by contrast.
So, OK, they’re light. The shoes themselves look great, too. There aren’t any color options for the men’s version besides black. But they fit my men’s size 9.5 feet fine, even though they look narrower and longer than my other running shoes. The women’s versions are the same as the men’s, but come in purple (“Groovie/Expanse”) and teal (“Cosmic Cyan”).
No doubt, the Norvan SL 3 is a good-looking shoe. But that doesn’t matter if it falls apart in the wilderness.
What We Liked
After miles of singletrack running and scree scrambling, I can say I trust the construction of the Norvan SL 3. Light doesn’t mean delicate. Words that came to mind as I ran and scrambled were “spry” and “nimble.”
I found myself being more considerate of my foot placement, which in turn improved my pace. I breezed over singletrack and quickly picked my way through rock jumbles, jumping confidently and sticking landings just fine. As an approach shoe, these got me to the climb without issue and I didn’t notice them when clipped to my harness. And it was awesome to have a pair of real shoes for the walk-off.
The Norvan SL3s demand an economy of motion instead of my usual chaotic stumblings because less protection means higher consequences for missteps. But the payoff is a meditative-like flow and a lightness of foot that makes for a better-connected run. The stiff toe cap does protect against stubbing toes and occasional cactus spikes, too.
Low elastic cuffs come up to the ankles to keep grit and gravel out. Tongue pockets prevent laces from snagging or becoming untied. The tight, abrasion-resistant Matryx Micro uppers allow these shoes to breathe exceptionally well and hold up to scuffs, though any side bumps and scrapes are certainly felt. The Norvan SL 3 stayed locked securely on my feet as I ran but they still felt breezy, breathable, and unrestrictive.
In short, they are fun to run in, and not noticed when climbing until I need them.
What May Not Work for Some
Just as ultralight backpacking isn’t for everyone, the Norvan SL 3 may be too minimalist for some runners. The midsole and heels handled edged rocks just fine on the trail, but it’s not a shoe I’d choose for stomping across particularly jagged terrain. Not just because you might beat them up, but because your feet will likely take a beating, too.
It’s also not a shoe I’d go with when carrying heavy packs, or in muddy conditions (although traction was good on wet rocks).
Depending on your preferences, the simple diamond-shaped 3.5mm lugs may not have enough bite. To use a bike analogy, these would be cyclocross treads compared to mountain bike treads.
Also, the Norvan SL 3s fit my feet snugly with no slop. But, they might run narrow for those with wider feet, as they only come in standard D width. So, anyone with wide feet should definitely try these on first. The less-than-plush cushioning could also be an issue for anyone with heavy step or foot issues.
Like its predecessors, the Norvan SL 3 doesn’t have a rock plate to help soften blows. For runners and hikers who prefer the feeling of more substantial, protective footwear when running, the Norvan SL 3 may feel a little too thin — at least at first. You do get used to the feeling over time. But again, this comes down to a runner’s preference.
The Arc’teryx Norvan SL 3: Who Is It For?
The Norvan SL 3 trail/mountain shoe is for athletes who put a priority on moving quickly and economically in the mountains. These aren’t bash-and-dash shoes. They’re a trustworthy tool on the trail, and they’re about as light as a trail running shoe can get. These running shoes challenge me to become a better trail runner in the same way that sports cars demand better driving.
Try them on first, as they run narrow and only come in one width. And get a feel for their minimalist construction. But for athletes willing to exchange some protection for incredible weight savings in a responsive, well-designed shoe, the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 3 trail running shoes are a perfect fit.