Review: Arcteryx Norvan SL Trail Running Shoe by Chris Price

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What Arc’teryx say about the Norvan SL:

At 185 grams, the Norvan SL is one of the lightest trail running shoes ever developed. It features a highly breathable, exceptionally hydrophobic (fear of water), hardwearing TPU mesh upper that easily folds down for compact packability. Designed to perform across a range of terrains, the Vibram® outsole with Megagrip rubber compound provides enhanced grip on wet or dry trails.

In summary:

  • High-performance trail shoe for challenging terrain.

  • Super light materials emphasising packability and durability.

  • Focus on freedom of movement and moisture management.

While I like Arc’teryx’s attempt to sell a shoe that does it all I, unfortunately, have to disagree with some of their claims. This may sound like I am disappointed with the Norvan SL but in fact, my feelings are quite the opposite. Worn in the right environment the shoe can really excel.

The Arc’teryx Norvan SL is a performance shoe. It’s weight and mesh upper allow for fast and very responsive traversing. Its stripped-back design does not affect comfort and quite easily transitions from road to trail to street. It performs best on dry, non-technical trail and at the slightest hint of moisture or loose gravel/rock the shoe suddenly loses its performance edge and you really need to back off the intensity.

As soon as I walked into Find Your Feet and saw the orange glow of this shoe I knew I had to get a pair. We all have a little vanity, but as I learned more about its build and purpose the superficial urge became more of a performance drive.

At 185grams the shoe is extremely light and its stripped-back finish is very appealing. For me, the fit is very comfortable with plenty of room in the midfoot for toes to splay without the feel of lateral slipping when changing direction.

With such a thin upper mesh I was sceptical about its durability but I have been very impressed thus far. Kunanyi is not a forgiving mountain but the Norvan has shown no signs of defeat. 

With such a light and soft upper, there was no need to “wear the shoes in”. I hit the trails with everything my training required and was instantly impressed with the responsiveness of the shoe.

The claim of being “highly breathable” is true and your feet will reap the benefits, but it does come at a cost which is explained later.

The material’s hydrophobic nature has also meant the shoes is very versatile. I competed in the Kunanyi Trail Series Tolosa Half Marathon wearing the Norvans then got home, washed the shoe, and within the 40mins it took me to pack, had them back on my feet to wear on my flight to Melbourne with no sign of dampness. Arc’teryx promotes the packability of the shoe but when it transitions from trail to travel so easily there is no need to pack them!

In the last 30 days since purchasing the shoes, I have run over 160km and this distance has taken me on every terrain that I felt suitable/confident.

The Norvan SL perform extremely well on the groomed, non-technical surface of Kunanyi’s Fire Trails. You can really let fly and be confident with your foot strike. However, if you are looking for high performance on gradients greater than 10%, such as Old Farm Road Climb, then you may find you lose some momentum on the looser sections with slippage. 

On single track such as North-South Track, the shoe also holds its own but once you get into the deeper valley sections where moisture is more prevalent the shoe, unfortunately, starts to come unstuck.

At the slightest hint of any moisture, the “Megagrip” lugs on the Vibram® sole cannot withstand high-velocity cadence. The breathable mesh also opens the door for excessive water seepage and I was very surprised at how wet my foot got when running over damp terrain with no visible puddles.

After my experience thus far I would conclude by saying this shoe is one for those looking to perform wilder in the summer or dryer environments on less technical trail. When used in these favourable conditions then you will not be disappointed. The Norvan SL is stylish, fast, responsive and feels great. I’ll be happily clocking up a further few hundred kilometres on the lower slopes of Kunanyi in no time.


Photograph: Danny Byas

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