The Norvan 2 is a very versatile shoe, completely at home on everything from sealed surfaces to rugged trails. Although Arc’teryx are pitching these are long distance runners, in all honesty, they’re just as good for a 5 or 10km quickie as they are on an ultra-distance event. They won’t keep your feet very toasty in mid winter, but we regard these as very solid, and pretty sexy, three-season all-rounders.
Versatile and comfortable
Super grippy on most surfaces
Doesn't perform well in slippery mud
Not waterproof (GTX version also available)
Low thermal qualities for cold conditions
Potential durability issues after heavy use
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Lighter and tougher than Arcteryx’s original Norvan LDs, the Arcteryx Norvan LD2 trail running shoes immediately impress with their luxurious straight-out-the-box comfort levels, high-end construction and well-considered stylish looks (all to be expected from this top-quality Canadian brand).
Our test pair were a lovely lurid green (‘pulse/paradigm’) colour which, if they were football boots, would lead spectators to expect the wearer to knock in a hat-trick most matches. Once we’d got them dirty we discovered they genuinely do facilitate prolific goal scoring, but for those who prefer to run under the radar from the get go, there are a couple of extremely classy darker colour options.
The LD in the name stands for Long Distance, and a lot of emphasis has been placed on keeping the weight of these shoes down, while maintaining high comfort and performance levels. The gram-shaving is achieved with the use of mesh material in the upper, which also helps with airflow and drainage, but does mean they’re not overly warm in wintry conditions. You can’t have it all.
Laces are standard flat-lace, but a neat little feature is the downward-opening pocket on the outside of the tongue, just below the big branded pull loop, in which you can tuck the laces away once tied – this prevents them coming undone mid run, which is always a source of annoyance (especially for competitive types). The tongue is also fully integrated to the chassis, connected right down to the midsole by elasticated wings that create an inner sock, which very effectively prevents the ingress of grit and gravel.
The understated ‘all-season Vibram Megagrip’ outsole looks, at first glance, like it might lack the lugs to keep you upright on the lumpy and slippery stuff, but don’t be deceived. The Norvan’s grip is impressive – on most surfaces at least (including wet rock and wood) – on sloppy mud, however, these shoes really struggle.
There’s a re-enforced rand around the footplate, which affords some protection to both the runner’s toes and the lighter material used in the upper, and an internal rockplate is in place to prevent punctures. In a small-but-positive nod to sustainability, the insoles are made with recycled EVA.
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• RRP: $160 (US)/£140 (UK)
• Weight (per shoe): 260g/9.2oz
• Materials used: EVA/Polyolefin midsole; Vibram outer sole; Polyester mesh and thermoplastic polyurethane film upper
• Drop: 9mm
• Colours: Pytheas and trail blaze/Exosphere and Yukon/Pulse and paradigm
• Compatibility: Long-distance runs on tracks and technical trails up to lower level mountain tracks
On the trails
We trail tested these shoes on various parts of the South West Coast Path, in the woods and over the coastal cliffs and wet rocks of Devon, and along many miles of singletrack in the Mendip and Surrey hills Areas of Outstanding Beauty.
For us, the standout performance-enhancing feature on this shoe is the outsole, which is waaaaay more grippy than we expected it to be, given the low-profile lugs. Although these teeth look more like molars than incisors, there’s plenty of them, they are strategically placed and positioned, and they genuinely bite and hold hard onto almost any kind of terrain, including notoriously slippery surfaces such as wet wooden footbridges. In this regard, the Norvan have outperformed several far more aggressive-looking shoes we’ve been testing. However – they do not cope with really wet and muddy trails well at all, and we skidded and slid around a lot while testing the shoe in such conditions.
A secondary bonus of these low-lying lugs is that these shoes continue to feel comfortable when you come off the rough stuff and spend some time padding along sealed surfaces. Time will tell if these little lugs rub away altogether over time, however, or if their performance level drops (check back in and we’ll let you know).
The midsole strikes a good balance between offering adequate cushioning and trail feedback, and an internal rockplate provides extra protection from sharp sticks and rocks. The 9mm drop is, perhaps, a tad more than necessary, but that’s very subjective, and we didn’t experience any stability issues.
The standard issue Norvan are not waterproof (and neither do they claim to be – there is a Gore-Tex equipped version for $195/£170), but they drain rapidly after getting wet during stream crossings, and dry out quickly after use. The lightweight mesh-like material used in the upper does allow your feet to breath freely, and these are a very comfortable pair of shoes right from the first wear, with adequate upper heel cushioning and no hot points or areas of rubbing.
As to how durable that thin upper is – again, more time and further beastings will tell. We’ve run nearly 100km in these so far, in all sorts of conditions and very varied terrain – including on some properly lumpy landscape – and they’re showing no signs of distress yet, but we’ll keep you updated.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.