arc'teryx norvan sl trail shoe
Shoe ReviewsTrail

Arc’teryx Norvan LD Performance Review

This is the first shoe I’ve worn from Arc’teryx, a brand with deep roots in the mountains but not a long history of making trail running shoes. I mostly know the brand as it seems to be popular with the more moneyed New Yorkers during the winter, probably due to their simple, functional designs and subtly rich yet neutral colors. Oh, I also see it out in the mountains, and while it’s pricey AF, Arc’teryx is truly functional, thoughtfully designed gear (to wit: their Norvan SL Rain jacket. Press on to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.

 

The Good

I was surprised by how forgiving the fit of this shoe was, especially given that Arc’teryx is owned by Salomon, which I find fit very precisely. The toe box is nicely rounded, providing enough room to accommodate swollen toes, but not so much that you’re constantly kicking rocks and roots. The height of the toe box is also perfect, with nothing pushing down on my piggies, but not so much room that I feel a lack of security. It actually might be my favorite toe box of the year, which is admittedly a very niche award (TBOTY 2019?).

The foot wrap feels eerily similar to Salomon’s EndoFit system, with a fully gusseted tongue that snugly holds the foot in place. The interior materials are crazy smooth and comfortable, and I while I didn’t spend more than 3 hours in the shoe during any single run, I have no doubt that my feet would remain happy for longer outings. The flat laces held tension really well and the lacing system features a simple design that allowed me to keep the right amount of tension. Overall, it’s a snug fit that allows for some swelling. It’s not racing-flat tight, nor is it Altra baggy. I dig it. 

The upper is a mixture of closed-cell mesh, TPU overlays, and rubber and doesn’t don’t hold water after you submerge your foot. It also does a great job of keeping out dirt (aided by the fully-gusseted tongue). It’s not so much that the shoe drains quickly, but that it just doesn’t absorb much to begin with. The materials are also really tough and abrasion resistant, and despite putting them through some technical terrain they still look brand new after a quick cleaning.

 The midsole hits the right combination of comfort and capability for me. It’s supportive, yet not too firm; well-cushioned, but not mushy; and I get no sensation of the midsole packing down during testing (what I like to call the Altra effect). It feels inherently stable, thanks to the blend of compressed EVA and polyolefin, and I feel like I can still feel the trail without worrying about the bottoms of my feet getting beat up (it has a very thin forefoot rock plate that does the trick).

The outsole is Vibram MegaGrip, which is my favorite rubber in terms of grip and longevity. It’s maybe not as a clingy as La Sportiva’s FriXion XT and Saucony PWRTRAC, but it is still really grippy on a variety of terrain, wet or dry, and shows almost no wear. The lugs are flat on the bottom, so they transition to the roads pretty well too.

 Unsurprisingly, I’m digging the looks of these shoes. I have the all black everything version (except for the reflective heel logo) and even though they’re meant as a long distance shoe (LD, get it?) the streamlined looks make them feel fast. And DANG y’all, this is one well-made shoe. I was gonna say that at $195 it should be well made, but given how well it’s holding up, in addition to solid technical components (Vibram MegaGrip, etc) and sweet design, I actually think this is pretty well priced. While I can’t call them a bargain, you are getting a premium product at this price.

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The Bad 

There’s not a ton I dislike about the Norvan LD, but there is some room for improvement. The designers thoughtfully included a lace garage on the top of the tongue so you can stow your laces after you tie them; however, they positioned the opening of the garage too far down the tongue, so you cant actually use the bloody thing. Given how much thought was put into the details of this shoe, I’m surprised they botched this, especially as Salomon is the king of the lace garage. Also, the tongue is a bit longer than it needs to be, perhaps to allow for the inaccessible lace garage.

The outsole is grippy for sure, but I can’t help feeling like the design could use a bit of rethinking. To start, there are either too many lugs, or they’re too large, which means this shoe doesn’t shed mud that well. It’s obviously not meant to be a soft-ground specific shoe, but I after one muddy run I spent a lot of time trying to de-gunk the bottoms. The shape of the lugs themselves could use a little tweaking. They’re sort of slanted squared, with some being notched and others being solid. They feel a little big overall and the lack of contour of the lugs leads them to sometimes miss catching on certain terrain features. I only noticed this on more technical, rocky terrain, and again it wasn’t terrible, but I think this is an area for improvement. 

This shoe feels stiff out of the box for sure; not Uncle Bernie’s joints in polar vortex stiff, but it definitely requires some breaking in. There are three flex grooves in the forefoot that provide some flexibility, but overall I wouldn’t mind seeing this shoe be a bit more flexible, as it will help to contour technical terrain even better. I noticed the lack of torsional flexibility the most, and although they did loosen up over time, a bit more flexibility would help.

While the shoe’s upper doesn’t hold water, the shoes don’t necessarily drain that well. Once I got my feet submerged, I noticed it took a bit longer for my socks to dry out than in some airier uppers. The closed-cell mesh also runs a bit warm, but my feet don’t get sweaty so that generally doesn’t bother me. Overall I was net happy with the upper, but if you have very sweaty feet you might want to know this up front.

The last issue is more of a case of user error than a problem with the shoe. I opted to go with a 12.5 in the Norvan LD (I usually take a 12.5 in Salomon) and really could have gone with a 12, as I had a bit more room up front and a bit of ankle slip as a result. Nothing terrible, and nothing that kept me from enjoying the shoe, but if you’re thinking of pulling the trigger, I’d go with your normal size. I tried on a 12 locally and the fit is perfect, so stay with your normal size. Again, not an issue with the shoe, but I’d definitely go true to size.

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Arc’teryx Norvan LD Conclusion

Overall I’m really happy with the Norval LD. It’s a versatile, well-built, and high performing shoe that I think might fly under the radar because of Arc’teryx being such a niche brand. Yeah, it runs a tad warm, would benefit from a little flexibility, and isn’t the best choice for very muddy courses; but it’s a simple yet elegantly designed shoe that performs well in a variety of terrain for a variety of distances. I particularly love that even after a bunch of miles, the cushioning feels the same when I put them on, and the flexibility has actually improved over time. Arc’teryx doesn’t put out a lot of gear, but what they do is generally top quality. The Norvan LD is no different and I’d definitely suggest trying them out.

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Matt is an ultra-runner who lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter. He is the founder of Brooklyn Distance Running, a coaching practice to help runners become fitter, faster, and more focused. When he’s not tearing up Prospect Park, he’s out in the Catskills getting dirty on the trails.

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