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Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 Review

Super light, durable, and responsive, this shoe offers excellence in technical terrain
Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2
Photo: Arc'teryx
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Price:  $160 List | $160.00 at Amazon
Pros:  Ultra-lightweight, grippy, surprisingly durable
Cons:  Expensive, tight-fitting, trail-specific
Manufacturer:   Arc'teryx
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 23, 2021
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69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 8
  • Natural Feel - 40% 5
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Traction - 15% 9
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 9

Our Verdict

Like many products from Arc'teryx, the Norvan SL 2 is purposefully fashioned to push the limits of technical outerwear. This ground-breaking design utilizes a special TPU mesh for the upper to cut down on weight and improve durability. Similarly, the outsole uses Vibram's Litebase: a lighter, slimmer option that still delivers on Vibram's well-known performance and durability. These two technologies combine to result in an incredible 5.5-ounce weight per shoe — particularly impressive for a minimalist offering that is otherwise conventionally designed. The slim fit of this uber-lightweight mold coupled with oversized lugs on a tacky outsole make this a fantastic option for minimalist trail runners. This shoe will appeal particularly to competition runners, where saving weight can make the difference for a podium finish.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award 
Price $160.00 at Amazon$115 List$80 List
Check Price at Backcountry
$120.00 at Amazon$119.95 at Amazon
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Pros Ultra-lightweight, grippy, surprisingly durableSuper flexible, amazing feedback, spacious fit, breathable, optional insoleSuperlight, exceptional natural feel, flexible, affordableSuper low-profile sole, comfortably padded, designed for durabilityTough exterior, stable, snug lacing system
Cons Expensive, tight-fitting, trail-specificHeavier than most, potential durability issues, short lacesDiminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky lacesTapered toe box is a bit restrictive, traction is compromised by dirt, lack of versatilityOdd flex pattern, decreased sensitivity, lack of dexterity in toes
Bottom Line Super light, durable, and responsive, this shoe offers excellence in technical terrainFrom its airy fit to its free range of motion, this barefoot shoe offers the best in lightweight running performanceA barefoot trainer that continues to define the category, this shoe’s ultra-thin outsole helps deliver superior natural feelAn incredibly thin outsole, supportive padding, and reinforced sidewalls make this an ideal barefoot gym trainerRun 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%)
5.0
9.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Weight (20%)
8.0
6.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Traction (15%)
9.0
7.0
6.0
6.0
8.0
Versatility (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Durability (10%)
9.0
6.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
Specs Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 Xero Shoes HFS Merrell Vapor Glove 5 Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3 Vibram V-Trail 2.0
Style Minimalist trail Barefoot road Barefoot road Barefoot road Barefoot trail
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)
Stack Height 19mm (heel)
12mm (toe)
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
Outsole 3.5 mm,
Vibram Megagrip w/ LITEBASE
5.5mm FeelTrue 2 mm, Vibram Ecostep 1.5 mm,
Inov-8 rubber
3.7 mm, Megagrip Rubber
Midsole Tapered
8.5 - 15.5 mm
EVA
None None None 2 mm EVA
Insole Integrated
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
Best For (running, gym, etc.) Running Running Running Gym Running
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular

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.

Performance Comparison


A fully built out trail runner, and yet lighter than many barefoot...
A fully built out trail runner, and yet lighter than many barefoot options available, the Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 defines what it means to be a superlight, minimalist shoe.
Photo: Jill Rice

Natural Feel


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.

While the TPU-mesh upper is super-minimal, the tapered 8.5 - 15.5mm...
While the TPU-mesh upper is super-minimal, the tapered 8.5 - 15.5mm midsole is anything but, blurring the lines between conventional and minimalist footwear.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

The cushioned midsole miraculously doesn't add any weight to this...
The cushioned midsole miraculously doesn't add any weight to this trail-runner, allowing you to bounce up roads and glide across technical terrain.
Photo: Jill Rice

Weight


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 Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 is nearly as lightweight as a true racing...
The Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 is nearly as lightweight as a true racing flat, helping greatly improve running economy on more demanding terrain.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

The Vibram LITEBASE design helps to significantly shave weight, all...
The Vibram LITEBASE design helps to significantly shave weight, all while maintaining the same grip and durability synonymous with the brand name.
Photo: Jill Rice

Traction


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.

Not quite as tacky as an approach shoe, but not far off, this...
Not quite as tacky as an approach shoe, but not far off, this versatile trainer is able to scramble nearly as well as it runs.
Photo: Jill Rice

Versatility


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.

When you're carrying everything on your back and/or harness, a...
When you're carrying everything on your back and/or harness, a lightweight, yet supportive shoe can make all of the difference at the end of a long day in the mountains.
Photo: Jill Rice

Durability


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.

Even though it is incredibly thin, the TPU-mesh is specifically...
Even though it is incredibly thin, the TPU-mesh is specifically designed to withstand tears and prevent otherwise regular damage from abrasion.
Photo: Jill Rice

Value


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.

They may be expensive, but considering the balance of durability and...
They may be expensive, but considering the balance of durability and performance, the Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2 should be on the radar of any serious mountain athlete.
Photo: Jill Rice

Conclusion


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