Gear | January 27, 2021 10:30 am

The North Face Just Dropped the First Carbon-Plated Trail Running Shoe

Controversial speed is coming to a mountain near you

tnf shoe
The North Face

I’ve tested out carbon-plated shoes from a variety of running brands over the last 12 months. A movement that began with Nike’s NEXT% line — which propelled Kenyan legend Eliud Kipchoge to a mind-boggling sub-two hour marathon back in late 2019 — has now firmly taken over the sport.

For the skeptics out there, these shoes are legit. There’s a reason the success of Nike’s shoe led to allegations of “gear doping,” new rules from the World Athletics body, and a call to arms for competitors like Adidas, ASICS and Saucony. The shoes generally combine tall, lightweight foam (which running journalist Amby Burfoot once compared to having extra leg muscles), with a carbon insert, meant to facilitate maximum energy retention — to “propel you froward” as the brand copywriters like to say.

After all that initial noise, they’re not only here to stay; they’re poised to take over other sub-sections of the sport. Yesterday, The North Face dropped a first look at its VECTIV series, the world of trail running’s first official carbon-plated running shoes.

I have zero complaints about my carbon-plated shoes. (Lately, I’ve been running in the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%s and the Saucony Endorphin Pros.) In a year without races, they’ve helped me to log some benchmark times I’m proud of. That said, those shoes are noticeably reliant on dry, clean surfaces. They like asphalt, they prefer track. Whenever either is slick from rain or snow, or — god forbid — roots or leaves get involved, they have a ton of trouble gripping the ground.

The North Face, a brand as synonymous with all-elements gear as any on the planet, has designed a carbon-plated shoe that can actually handle unforgiving trails. Most running brands have their athletes come in and test out prototypes on a treadmill; TNF trail runners logged up to 600 miles in a single pair, and much of them on punishing terrain. One runner ran 93 miles around Mt. Rainier in them this past summer.

The premier release in TNF’s line, the FLIGHT VECTIV, aims for stability and strength, like any other reliable trail running shoe. It has a high-grip outsole, while its mesh fibers are literally reinforced with Kevlar. But it’s built for speed. The shoes contain a 3D plate directly underneath the foot, alongside a rocker midsole. Ultrarunner Pau Capell described the shoes as a “downhill weapon.” Trail runners often have to slow down due to practical concerns, not for lack of spirit. These shoes are designed to let them fly.

And, crucially, to avoid injury while doing so. The maximalist foam included in carbon-plated shoes blunts the impact of runners logging so many miles. Ultrarunners are on another level entirely; they’re incessantly susceptible to stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, sprained ankles, cramps, and broken toes. But the VECTIV line — which also includes the INFINITE and the ENDURIS, two shoes less concerned with speed — promises 10% less “impact shock.” It could bring more newcomers to the sport, and keep around those who already love it.

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