The RW Takeaway: If you’re looking to save every second on the trails, lace up this snappy, carbon-fiber plated racer.
- Exposed carbon-fiber plate adds stability to the narrow sole
- The foam is squishy but firm enough to feel fast
- The knit upper lets your toes spread out
Weight: 9.8 oz (M), 8.6 oz (W)
Drop: 6 mm
After a proliferation of souped-up road racing shoes, it was only a matter of time until carbon fiber plates made their way to the trails. The North Face is the first to bring it to singletrack in the Flight Vectiv. TNF developed it to compete against Salomon’s S/Lab and Hoka’s EVO collections for supremacy in long, technical races.
I was skeptical when I heard TNF was putting a carbon plate in a trail shoe—the first company to do so. In previous testing, the brand’s shoes didn’t hold up to long miles of technical trail punishment. I ran my first 50-miler back in 2014 in their Ultra Trail shoe, and while it got me to the finish line and was decent enough underfoot, I regularly burned through pairs before they had 100 miles on them. To my pleasant surprise, the Flight Vectiv does hold up, and it’s actually a great option for ultrarunnerslooking for the W on race day to consider.
The top-end racer gets an upper made with Matryx—a Kevlar and polyamide weave—which is durable and creates a locked-down fit. It’s the same stuff found in Hoka’s EVO Speedgoat, which I wore for 80 miles of the Tor des Géants 220-mile race, and also withstood a winter on Pennsylvania’s rocky, icy trails. The rest of the upper is a breathable knit that’s snug in the midfoot and heel but didn’t cause me any hot spots.
While it’s definitely a narrow fit that’s not for everybody—it feels more snug in the midfoot and heel than the S/Lab Ultra 3—it’s incredibly comfortable and there are no noticeable hot spots. Up front, it’s roomier, allowing your toes to spread out, giving you a stable platform as your roll forward. That knit upper, however, doesn’t provide quite enough protection for exceptionally technical, mountainous trails. But, for anything that you’d run at “race pace,” it’s perfectly adequate.
Underfoot is really where the magic of this shoe happens, though it’s not what you’d think. The 3D-shaped carbon-fiber plate is layered directly beneath the sockliner, to give the shoe stability and enhance the propulsive feel of the rocker midsole. I expected the plate to be harsh considering how close it is to your foot, but it works well with the spongy midsole foam to provide a really stable platform—shocking given the shoe’s narrow footprint. The rocker design, however, makes for an incredibly smooth transition from heel-to-toe, which your tired legs will appreciate at the end of an ultra.
The outsole is capped with The North Face’s Surface Control rubber compound, which has impressed me on snow-dusted rocks and trails. The 3.5mm lugs are a little shallow for sloppy mud, but the stickiness of the rubber makes up for it on most terrain.
Bottom Line: Is the hyped-up Vectiv the right shoe for you on the trails? If you're seeking a responsive shoe that speeds along moderately technical singletrack, then this shoe excels. But, if your trails are muddied by rain or snowmelt, look to a toothier trail shoe like the Saucony Peregrine.