Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 Review
Cons: Expensive, tight-fitting, trail-specific
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Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2
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|Pros||Ultra-lightweight, grippy, surprisingly durable||Super flexible, amazing feedback, spacious fit, breathable, optional insole||Superlight, exceptional natural feel, flexible, affordable||Super low-profile sole, comfortably padded, designed for durability||Tough exterior, stable, snug lacing system|
|Cons||Expensive, tight-fitting, trail-specific||Heavier than most, potential durability issues, short laces||Diminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky laces||Tapered toe box is a bit restrictive, traction is compromised by dirt, lack of versatility||Odd flex pattern, decreased sensitivity, lack of dexterity in toes|
|Bottom Line||Super light, durable, and responsive, this shoe offers excellence in technical terrain||From its airy fit to its free range of motion, this barefoot shoe offers the best in lightweight running performance||A barefoot trainer that continues to define the category, this shoe’s ultra-thin outsole helps deliver superior natural feel||An incredibly thin outsole, supportive padding, and reinforced sidewalls make this an ideal barefoot gym trainer||Run in comfort and confidence in this tank of a FiveFinger shoe|
|Rating Categories||Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2||Xero Shoes HFS||Merrell Vapor Glove 5||Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3||Vibram V-Trail 2.0|
|Natural Feel (40%)|
|Specs||Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2||Xero Shoes HFS||Merrell Vapor Glove 5||Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3||Vibram V-Trail 2.0|
|Best For||Trail Running||Road Running||Road Running||Gym||Trail Running|
|Stack Height||19mm (heel)
|5.5 mm (w/o insole)||6.5 mm||1.5 mm (w/o insole)||5.7 mm|
|Heel to Toe drop||7 mm||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm|
|Weight (per shoe)||5.7 oz (size US 8.5)||7.9 oz (size US 9.5)||5.8 oz (size US 8.5)||6.8 oz (size US 9)||6.9 oz (size EU 42)|
Vibram Megagrip w/ LITEBASE
Vibram Megagrip Rubber
8.5 - 15.5 mm
|None||None||None||2 mm EVA|
2 mm EVA
|3 mm High Density EVA||Integrated
4 mm EVA
|3 mm Power Footbed||None|
|Upper Material||TPU Mesh||Mesh and TPU||Mesh and TPU||Mesh and Rope-Tec TPU||3D Cocoon Mesh|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Norvan SL 2 is really unlike any other trail runner on the market. As a part of their superlight — or "SL" — line, this shoe utilizes an ultra-thin, 1mm TPU-mesh that is as durable as it is breathable. This innovative use of TPU also allows the upper to fold completely flat. Similarly, the Vibram Litebase cuts the thickness of the sole by 50% and the overall weight by 30%. The result of this combination is a full-fledged trail runner, at half the weight.
In terms of ground feel, it will never be a fair fight when lining up minimalist runners directly against true barefoot shoes. The Norvan SL 2 — with a more conventional construction, including a heel-to-toe drop and tighter toe box with a touch of lift — is solidly within the minimalist camp. But that does not mean that this trail-specific shoe does not excel in some key aspects relative to natural feel.
But when compared to other technical trail runners, these shoes really stand out as something exceptional. The superlight design is mainly the result of a sub-1mm, single-layer TPU mesh that makes up the majority of the upper. Despite its tighter-fitting shape, the simple structure and comparative lack of an upper make the Norvan SL 2 flexible and breathable. Rather than feeling restrictive, you hardly even notice that your foot is wrapped.
As minimalist shoes go, the Norvan SL 2 is about as minimalist as they come. Aside from the innovative upper, the Vibram Litebase reduces outsole weight by 30% by cutting thickness in half. This feature particularly shines in terms of swing weight — aside from a true racing flat, this is one of the lightest shoes we've ever tested.
The 5.7-ounce weight per shoe is incredible considering that the Norvan SL 2 is a full-fledged trail running shoe, complete with a 12mm EVA midsole, anti-fatigue insert, and deep lugs on an abrasion-resistant outsole. The only other shoes to fall into a similar weight category are essentially a padded toe-sock.
Besides weight savings, this shoe has exceptional grip — two features that will likely appeal to competitive trail runners. More ideally a trail shoe than a roadrunner, the Norvan SL 2 is designed with a tacky Vibram Megagrip outsole featuring stiff, directional 3.5mm lugs. Uphill and down, this combination of soft rubber and thick lugs makes these shoes particularly nimble over techy trails. Though the deep lugs are a bit aggressive for exclusive road running, the tackiness of the Megagrip outsole helps them perform in this capacity with equitable deftness, comfortably flying over pavement.
The Norvan SL 2 is primarily designed as a trail runner. Specifically, it is a highly technical trail shoe for those looking to move fast and light over demanding terrain. For those looking to set FKTs on climbs with long approaches, this is the shoe you should plan to take along — it even comes complete with a carabiner clip. Efficiency in running is based on economy of motion and swing weight, and in this case, every gram possible has been shed to improve speed and performance on technical trail runs. The ultra-thin mesh and airiness of the upper are also particularly welcomed for those looking to run miles over hot pavement in the middle of the summer. However you spin it, this is a superior running shoe, but certainly not a cross-trainer.
Despite the less-than-paper-thin design of the upper, the Norvan SL 2 is surprisingly durable. Normal mesh is apt to puncture, rip, and fray over time. Designers approach these common issues by spinning TPU — or Thermoplastic Polyurethane — into a thin membrane that feels like mesh yet protects like rubber. Even through rough, sharp, and rocky terrain — clearly identified by abrasions on the midsole — this innovative upper has withstood any damage. The benefit of the Vibram Litebase is that the entire sole is repairable and replaceable, making these shoes much more reasonable relative to their potential longevity.
There is a bit of sticker shock with these shoes — though that may be nothing new to those familiar with Arc'teryx products. For those competitive athletes, the performance advantage of a superlight shoe is clearly worth the investment. And for more recreational runners, the performance coupled with apparent durability and availability of product service make this a more reasonable proposition.
For those mountain runners — both competitive and recreational — that love to run highly technical trails, the speed and agility of the Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 is tough to match. As a truly minimalist option that can help with the transition from more conventional running shoes, this superlight shoe is sure to deliver superior trail performance across a range of abilities.
— Aaron Rice
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