There are features that will appeal to trail runners, like the 3.5mm-deep arrow-shaped lugs and the neat internal stretch liner that keeps out debris. Then there are features that will appeal to hikers and scramblers, like its slightly rigid sole, its support around the heel, and fairly tough toe cap.
What’s perhaps most worth noting is the Norvan VT’s lacing system. It extends right down to the toe where instead of narrowing (like you’ll see with most shoes) it widens.
"I found the Norvan VTs performed on every surface we ran across..."
There’s also a little hook on one of the eyelets that’s supposed to allow for quick tightening when you’re about to take on technical sections – so when you need more of a snug fit you just loop one of the laces over the hook.
A pair of size 10s weighs 630g which is lightweight for a scrambling/approach shoe but a pretty standard weight for a trail running shoe. There is a waterproof Gore-Tex lined version but I was testing out the non-waterproof style.
Arc'teryx Norvan VT | Testing
I was recently out at the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy in Chamonix, a superb adventure festival full of guided mountain activities. There, I got to test the shoe out on the trails above the town as part of a trail running workshop. I was in the company of Adam Campbell and Florian Reichert, two professional ultra runners who help Arc’teryx with the development of their products. Apparently it’s a four year process involving plenty of to-ing and fro-ing between athletes and designers.
Also with us were five other runners, all signed up to the class to glean some expert advice from the pro runners while taking on some of the finest running trails in Europe. They also were in the Norvan VTs: one of the great things about the Arc’teryx Academy is that everyone gets a chance to borrow and test out kit in the environment it’s made for.
We ran a 22-mile circuit that involved a climb right through thick alpine woodland to the snow line and then a long zig zagging descent back down to the town. There was mud, dirt, gravel and snow, and there were a few technical sections on wet boulders and scree.
I found the Norvan VTs performed on every surface we ran across. The grip in particular was very reliable, even on the wet rocks. Breathability was great thanks to the all the mesh panels across the upper and the internal stretch liner gave a very comfortable feel while also keeping debris out.
It seems a fairly basic midsole with not much in the way of cushioning, but those who like a bit of feel for the ground underfoot (proprioception) will see this as a benefit. Personally, I’d prefer it to be a little softer. The outsole had just the right amount of flex to it, being neither flimsy or too rigid.
I wouldn’t say my feet are particularly wide, but I still found the fit quite narrow. Because of this, I didn’t need to use the lace hook feature at all during the run (and I haven’t needed to since). The general opinion from the group during the session was that it seemed a little bit of a gimmick. I think you’ll probably need to have particularly narrow feet to get much benefit from this.
Arc’teryx Norvan VT | Verdict
The Norvan VT has design features that are seen on trail running shoes, walking shoes and even climbing shoes as well (sock fit, stiffened toe). But this doesn't mean it's a specialist for any of these activities – it's a bit of a jack of all trades and master of none and therefore it's hard to categorise. I guess you could sum it up as an all-purpose shoe; something for those who are going to the mountains with a load of different activities in mind.
This is why I recently decided to wear a pair for the Original Mountain Marathon Lite in the Black Mountains. I knew I'd be both walking and running and would need something to deal with extremely varied terrain and the Norvan VTs turned out to be the perfect choice for it.
If you’re after a trail running specific shoe then keep your eyes peeled for Arc’teryx’s 2018 release. One of our instructors during the alpine trail run was testing a prototype pair of them and they looked pretty darn good (see below).
And in case you were wondering, Norvan is a portmanteau for North Vancouver.