I first saw this shoe on a display in The North Face store amongst some trendy activewear and sci-fi looking trekking gear. My first thoughts were that it was a fashion shoe or a minimalist hiking shoe.
White leather trim, a minimalist outer sole and very little external armour. No bulging toe protection, no heel supports. The lightweight materials used for construction of this shoe are non traditional. Smooth 3d moulded heel cup and almost translucent carbon kevlar threaded upper that resemble modern yacht sails. They are actually not that far from a road shoe which had me pondering why an iconic mountain wear brand would design a trail shoe that didn't scream rugged.
So it was with low expectations that I set out to test the relatively lightweight, premium priced (R3000) VECTIV-Infinite from The North Face. The fit, right out of the box, is great. A snug heel counter despite minimal collar and toe wiggle room, despite my relatively broad feet. The heel cup could be marginally high for those that prefer no contact around the ankle bones. The flat light laces with thin gusseted tongue don't look sturdy but are surprisingly solid in design, they kept my midfoot locked in place.
Looks wise the white outer and charcoal upper with orange pebax plate lugs look fresh and pretty cool. I had to pack 1 bag on a congested trip and had no qualms wearing them with jeans in airports.
The first test run was uphill. I met the group at the base of a long climb, which as a big fella (90kg) with a slow to warm up diesel engine, was even more concerning.
I was immediately impressed. This shoe weighs 302 grams but the expert runner influenced design & construction, matryx material and perfectly placed rocker make this balanced shoe feel noticeably light, like the feeling when you put on a racing shoe, yet the stability was solid. Tick ☑️ Typically in South Africa trail runs involve an unavoidable percentage of tar or concrete getting to and from the trails. Normally this is where trail shoes make noise like tractor tyres or are so stiff you feel like you're running in wooden clogs. This shoe is extremely happy on hard surfaces. If I didn't know it I'd think I was in road shoes. ☑️ So, can a shoe that looks this sleek and feels this light, stable and this comfy on tar perform in the rough? Yes. So far I've run on rocky and wet trails without ever slipping, rolling over or feeling rocks through the soles. Nor has a stone banged my big toe, the minimalist vectiv toe bumper quietly does its job. The dual density 6mm drop midsole shape and well placed pebax plastic energy return rocker seem to breeze over obstacles, and that's under my somewhat clumsy clydesdale frame. This performance is really surprising and my conclusion is that the torsional stability with quality midsole elastic plastic vectiv plate has genuinely nailed the weight vs comfort vs stability combo. This shoe is the real deal.
A trail shoe needs to focus you on moving forward despite constantly uneven surfaces. Toe flex is great but a shoe that twists will leave you wanting to stop after 10-20 kays. It's just too draining, stabilizing your feet or lifting a heavier protected shoe 100 x minute. Any issues with ankle stability or tendonitis are exposed when trails get gnarly and long. One negative is that this lightweight, scratch resistant durable fabric is quite porous, so your feet will get wet. That said, they breathe well and don't feel waterlogged. How these butterfly shaped, multi directional knobblies provide such great traction, despite minimal 3.5mm depth, makes me wonder how they fight above their actual weight. That said, they are not sufficient in muddy conditions, we would avoid muddy trails in these.
It's no real surprise that a runner of the calibre of Johardt van Heerden, who recently won both the Otter and Cape Town marathon trail run within 1 week, chooses these shoes to earn his living staying upright at pace over ultra distances off road.
In Summary. These eye-catching, sleek sports models pack an unsuspected punch. You may call them game changers which is not surprising from a brand that specialises in extreme gear. If quality and speed are your motives, these are for you. At R3000 you'll probably want to look after & keep the white trim clean.
Check them out yourself at https://www.capeunionmart.co.za/c/brands-thenorthface/ and let us know what you think!