Review: Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 | A trail shoe designed for speed

Lightweight design with enough cushioning for mixed terrain
Review: Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2

Trail running is a sport with a great deal of variety, both in terms of the terrain and how runners want to tackle it. The Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 is a shoe designed for those people who want something lightweight and nimble.

Despite its lean profile, it's more than just a stripped-down race shoe, incorporating some impressive technical features to keep you covered for anything from short distance speed sessions to faster endurance efforts.

Those features include a Vibram Megagrip outsole, a hydrophobic TPU mesh upper, and an updated collar to help minimize debris from entering the shoe.

We've spent the past few weeks putting the Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 through its paces to see where it sits in your trail shoe collection.


The specs

Price: $160 | Weight: Men 165g/5.8oz (8), Women 145g/5.1oz | Type: Trail | Stability: Neutral | Heel to toe drop: 7mm | Sizing: True to size, although is slightly narrow | Alternatives: Hoka One One Speedgoat 4, Inov-8 Parkclaw 275, Brooks Cascadia 15



Design

Review: Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2

When you take the Norvan SL 2 out of the box the immediate thing you notice is the weight. The slight 165g (Men's size 8) build feels like there's barely anything there – which wouldn't be that impressive if it was a minimal shoe, but there's actually a generous level of cushioning that sits in the midsole.

It's not a thick chunk of foam by any stretch of the imagination, but there's enough there to offer plenty of cushioning. It's also covered by an ample amount of Vibram Megagrip rubber which protects the whole length of the shoe. The lugs, like the rest of the shoe, are minimal, but there's enough there to handle varied terrain.

The upper TPU mesh upper is thin but still feels robust and hardwearing, however, there's little in the form of padding or cushioning to make the shoe more comfortable to wear. That includes an equally thin ankle collar and tongue.

The upper is hydrophobic to help keep water out and packs down to make the shoe easy to carry when not being used. That also means the shoe is noticeably flexible, with minimal rigidity or support.

Road testing

Review: Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2

As Arc'teryx states in its own product description, the Norvan SL 2 emphasizes lightweight design and packability over durability. It's a shoe that feels incredibly light and nimble when you hit the trails, to the point where it almost feels like there's nothing on your feet. The opposing side of that is they don't feel particularly sturdy or hardwearing, especially if you're used to more conventional trail shoes designed for durability and support.

That's not a bad thing, as long as you're main focus is speed and nimbleness. For faster trail sessions the shoe is a joy to wear and works extremely well if you're focus is race day.

The midsole offers enough cushioning to feel protective and responsive – which is surprising considering the weight – and manages to deliver from shorter sessions to long-distance efforts. It's unlikely to replace a thick durable trail shoe for many people, but it definitely has a place in a rotation if you vary your trail runs.

Review: Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2

The outsole does a competent job at tackling most terrains, as long as the ground is relatively minimal when it comes to obstacles or pointy things. On wet stone or light trails, it does well at protecting the feet and gripping competently, however, for more uneven terrain, like layered rocks or mud, it lacks the bulk and sturdiness that most people need, feeling unstable and lacking the protection of thicker trail shoes.

For us, the biggest area of concern is the upper, which is comfortable to a point but the lack of supportive cushioning, especially around the ankle collar, can get uncomfortable over longer distances. We found that when we got to around half marathon distance there were areas that did start to rub.

That same upper is also impressively breathable on hot days and we had no issues whatsoever with the breathability of the shoe.

Summary

The Norvan SL 2 is a shoe that delivers on its claims, delivering an incredibly lightweight and nimble experience that excels when it comes to hitting the trails fast. However, although the cushioning and outsole are surprisingly competent for such a light shoe, it's not a particularly versatile option and it's unlikely to replace more protective and durable alternatives on offer.

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