2020 was a year that will go down in history for many things, but, when it comes to running it was carbon plates that dominated the road shoe release schedule. Now, in 2021 we see the launch of the first trail shoe to join the party: The North Face Flight Series Vectiv.
The phenomenon of carbon plate race shoes has seen a vast number of victories for road athletes around the world. The technology has since become a standard for recreational and professional runners alike, and now it's time to see if it offers the same benefits on the trails.
As well as a full-length carbon plate, the Flight Series Vectiv features midsole rocker geometry, reinforced toe caps, a breathable knit upper, and SurfaceCTRL grip on the outsole.
We've spent the past few weeks putting The North Face Flight Series Vectiv through its paces to see if it's worth including in your trail shoe collection.
Price: $199 | Weight: Men 285g/10.1oz (Men), 245g/8.6oz (Women) | Type: Trail | Stability: Neutral | Heel to toe drop: 6mm | Sizing: Fits true to size | Alternatives: Hoka One One Speedgoat 4, Saucony Peregrine 11, Brooks Cascadia 15, Merrell Rubato
It's no surprise after a year of brands releasing their own versions of a carbon plate race shoe that eventually someone would apply the concept to the trails, and many runners have debated how a carbon plate trail shoe might actually work and if it would be a benefit on surfaces other than tarmac or concrete.
The benefits of a carbon plate on the road largely focus on the combination of lightweight cushioning, a rocker to assist in a smooth heel to toe transition and a plate to add a spring-like bounce with each step – all features that the Flight Series Vectiv has included in its design.
Trails are, by their very nature, inconsistent surfaces and the demands of heading off-road require specific design aspects. This includes additional grip for varied terrain, tougher materials to help protect the feet and add durability, and greater stability.
The Flight Series Vectiv has addressed these needs, incorporating a SufaceCTRL grip on the outsole, reinforced toe caps, a combination of Kevlar, polyamide and MatryxEdit fabric across the shoe, as well as a 6mm toe-to-heel offset.
The North Face states that the shoe is designed specifically for ultra running and, based on the fact it's being used by a number of athletes to take on FKT records, it's built for speed over longer distances.
The term 'trail shoe' is one that covers a wide range of different shoes, and in testing the Flight Series Vectiv over multiple distances and terrains it was clear that it's a shoe with a focus firmly on hard surfaces.
When used for this purpose, whether that's road, gravel or rock, the Flight Series Vectiv delivers an impressive experience. Like many road carbon plate shoes, it feels lightweight and there's a noticeable energy return in each step which, although subtle in comparison to a shoe like the Nike Vaporfly NEXT%, feels fast and conducive to picking up the pace.
It isn't quite the same as what you would expect from a road shoe, however, due to the added need for stability in a trail shoe. The midsole is significantly firmer than a road counterpart, but there's still noticeable propulsion that becomes increasingly evident the further you run.
With its 3.5mm lugs, the Flight Series Vectiv is not a shoe built for wet mud and offers little more grip than a road shoe when used on water-logged paths and fields. On wet rock and gravel, it's a different story, and you can see that it's a shoe made for mountains; the rubber outsole offering excellent grip at speed.
Those energy return benefits are also lost when you hit soft mud, with any responsiveness from the carbon plate offering no clear value when there isn't a hard surface to respond to.
For those runners covering trails that incorporate road sections, the Flight Series Vectiv does a very good job. In fact, in testing out on road sections we found it feels similar to what you would expect from a road shoe.
The North Face Flight Series Vectiv is a trail shoe designed specifically for ultra running and races taking place on hard ground. For that purpose, it does an impressive job and manages to showcase how carbon plate technology can be applied to the trails, delivering a light, comfortable and responsive experience which clearly has benefits for long distance events.
It is, however, an option that lacks versatility on the trails. If you're looking for a shoe to hit the British countryside (or similar), the lack of lugs will mean you'll be reaching for another pair of shoes on wet days.