The first Arc’teryx Norvan SL was considered by many to be ultralight to a fault. While I didn’t run in that shoe, I have put a lot of miles in the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 ($160) and frankly, besides its weight, I don’t find anything minimalist about it.
A chunky midsole combined with 3.5-millimeter lugs makes the shoe something I use on short and long runs without discrimination. The upper is indeed shockingly thin but overall the shoe is very robust. The men’s version weighs 6 ounces (170 grams)—that’s 20 grams lighter than the first version.
Fitting an Arc’teryx shoe is very similar to Salomon. Arc’teryx uses a last that is reminiscent of the S/Lab range. (Perhaps they are sharing factories with their Amer Sports brand sibling?) I’ve found the snugness and overall shape to be on par with Salomon’s. Unfortunately this comment might disengage readers for whom this shoe shape doesn’t fit, but if not please proceed!
See our Best New Trail Shoes of Spring-Summer 2021 for more recent trail running shoe releases.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 Upper
During late winter and spring testing, there have not been a lot of opportunities to test the breathability of the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2. Though with plenty of running in mud and sloppy snow, the shoes certainly don’t let a lot in.
What mud it doesn’t shed can be easily removed with a post-run clean and they shine right back up without a lot of residual staining. Why is the appearance a feature in a trail running shoe? Aren’t they meant to get dirty? The less mud, grit, and dirt a shoe holds leads to better overall wearability and durability and slower material breakdown. I clean my shoes often! But it’s really the hydrophobic thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) which not only keeps the shoes free of materials but also packs down very small—they can practically be folded in half—that does the work in keeping the shoes dry and relatively clean.
The “bendiness” of the uppers is a reason that the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2’s have also been my “approach” shoes for rock climbing. I wore them on the steep climbers’ trails in Eldorado Canyon where I live in Colorado before stashing them in my pack, not even noticing any bulk as we climbed a multi-pitch route. This isn’t the only overlap the mountain-oriented Arc’teryx running shoes share with climbing shoes. The upper is snug and there isn’t a lot of give. I believe I sized mine correctly, but my feet are wide and in the middle section of laces where my foot is at its widest, the laces don’t lay flat. This hasn’t resulted in any problems and it’s otherwise a comfortable fit. The upper hasn’t shown any additional wear spots at those wide edges.
A final climbing comparison: there is even a cutout in the medial aspect of each shoe to attach a carabiner for storage during a rock climb.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 Midsole
Despite the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 weighing as little as some road flats, the midsole doesn’t compromise from the pounding of someone my size—I weigh 180 pounds. I wouldn’t designate the shoes as minimal at all, as there is 7mm heel-to-toe drop. This is the same as the original version, but the stack is reduced from the original by 2mm. The stack height is 19mm at the heel and 12mm at the toe, whereas the original model was 21mm and 14mm.
There is no rock plate, but there is what Arc’teryx calls an Anti-Fatigue Insert. Ground feel is great and the shoe is so peppy that I didn’t feel a rock plate was necessary—you can point your feet and pick up your legs quickly such that landing feels very precise. That said, my trails don’t beg for a rock plate since they’re well buffed or slabby; you might want to consider the specifics of your own trails before investing in these, as other people have noted the ground feel is harsh.
The collar on the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 has been redesigned to prevent debris from getting inside. The ground has been quite wet over my testing period and not a lot of loose stuff is around to sneak inside. I will be interested to see how this feature performs during our very dry summer.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 Outsole
To confront the minimalist reputation again, the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 outsole is burly! Unlike Salomon and others using proprietary rubber compounds, Arc’teryx uses the rock climber’s favorite, Vibram.
The Vibram Megagrip is very sticky and I love the lug depth at 3.5mm; it does a good job of shedding mud and snow. Importantly, the grippiness and overall light weight of these shoes make them a dream for running fast downhill. It’s a joy to move nimbly and quickly when you might otherwise push the brakes on shoes of a different cut.
The toe cap works well to prevent stubbing, but the shoes really beg to be lifted so I don’t find any issue with its robustness or lack thereof.
According to Arc’teryx, the outsole is now 30% lighter than the original, owing to Vibram’s Litebase technology, a rubber-reduction compound that doesn’t sacrifice grip.
Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 Overall Impressions
I’m doing a lot of VO2max and tempo workouts these days and I reserve the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2 for these runs. I feel fast and nimble yet protected all at the same time. I love the variety of uses these shoes provide. They are indeed extremely light and yet they aren’t relegated to just fast running and racing, or even just running, period. The shoes stand out for applications like rock-climbing approaches and hiking, too.
Arc’teryx is not cheap but you get what you pay for: a very versatile shoe with extremely high quality materials and you can even see where in the world and in which factory they are produced. Visit the product page to learn more. Buying from transparent brands like Arc’teryx and Patagonia adds to the price but reduces the toll on the humans who make them.
Call for Comments
- Are you running in the Arc’teryx Norvan SL 2? Share your overall thoughts, as well as your comments on specific parts of these shoes.
- Did you also run in the original Arc’teryx Norvan SL? How do you compare the two versions?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]