Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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The North Face Vectiv Enduris Review
After more than two years of research and many hours of elite-athlete testing, experience, and feedback, The North Face released a new line of trail running shoes with their new proprietary Vectiv technology early this spring. The goal of this new shoe line was to improve downhills, reduce tibial forces, and maximize energy preservation especially over the long distance run. They also offer three price points and performance levels to appeal to a wider variety of trail runners. The Vectiv sole unit is consistent across the three styles of shoes which features the dual-density midsole, the rocker shape, and a forward-propulsion-promoting plate.
I tested the entry-level The North Face Vectiv Enduris ($139) which has the lower price point, a 6-millimeter drop (31mm at the heel/25mm at the toe), utilizes the full-length 3D TPU plate, and weighs in at approximately 9.81 ounces (278 grams) for the women’s shoe and 11.15oz (316g) for the men’s per the website. The other two shoes in this line include the Flight Vectiv ($199) with the lightest-weight, high-performance focus which utilizes a carbon plate, and the mid-range Vectiv Infinite ($169) which has the Pebax thermoplastic elastomer plate.
With the number of running miles in my history thus far, and the long-range goals I have for mountain running and trail running in the future, I appreciate cushioned comforts in my trail shoes, as well as the technology improvements and innovations that promote ease of propulsion in my stride. Now, none of this is to say shoes can be a substitute for good, old-fashioned time in the gym, on the mat, and with your friendly neighborhood physical therapist, but there’s no doubt that “better living through technology” is a concept that may apply fairly well to some aspects of our running gear, particularly our footwear.
See our Best New Trail Shoes of Spring-Summer 2021 for more recent trail running shoe releases.
The North Face Vectiv Enduris Upper
The upper of The North Face Vectiv Enduris fits like a very comfortable version of your favorite shoe. There aren’t any pinch spots, rough patches, or strange angles, just soft and accommodating goodness. The breathable, form-fitting, “no-sew” air mesh material has a pleasant stretch to it, and accommodates the foot really well while maximizing ventilation and water drainage, making for a breezy and quick-drying running experience. Various TPU overlays are undetectable from an interior comfort perspective and provide subtle structure through the midfoot, along the lace eyelets, and are continuous in the transition to the heel region. Coupled with the dense but pliable internal heel counter, a fair amount of stability is facilitated through the heel, which helps with quick navigation on more uneven terrain.
The toe box of the Enduris is rounded with ample room for tall fourth and fifth toes rather than the longer/narrower fit of the Flight Vectiv. Strong protection against toe stubbing is provided thanks to a very dense rand further reinforced by an extension of the outsole. The rand extends all the way to the TPU overlays that encompass the heel. Per usual, I tested this protection out a few extra times as I adjusted to the tall stack height of the shoe and my usual rocky terrain, but my toes remained quite content—no blisters, no bruises. Overall, I’m impressed with the durability of this upper material in general. My trails are not the kindest to most materials, and the shoes have no obvious signs of wear, tear, or breakdown.
The padded ankle and heel are traditionally constructed and familiar in the comfort and security provided. The medial and lateral ankle cutouts were perfectly placed for my lower riding ankle bones and remained comfortable regardless of trail angles. One doesn’t have to worry as much with debris entry at the ankle compared to the Flight Vectiv, but gaiters are always a great addition especially over the long run. A large pull tab on the exterior of the heel is not really needed to get the shoe on and off given the traditional upper style, but is always helpful with carrying or attaching to gear bags via carabiners.
The highly padded tongue is very comfortable and allows excellent protection from the thin, flat, somewhat slippery laces. Double knots are mandatory with these laces, but they do provide the ability to get a snug fit. The usual extra hole is included at the very upper end of the ankle area, so if you tend to use the heel-lock lacing strategy, it’s there for you. Strangely, the tongue is not gusseted and while I personally didn’t have issues with the tongue sliding around, it seems like an unfortunate oversight as others have reported a bit of a challenge with it.
I found these to fit a quarter-size bigger than other shoes I’ve had from The North Face which means I really could have gone with my standard women’s 9.5 in the Enduris though the women’s 9 is maybe a bit better. I tried on the Flight Vectiv and found it to run at least a half-size large which rendered the 9.5 far too long. So my one bit of advice on sizing is to try on the shoe you’re considering if possible given they do seem to vary with the models.
The North Face Vectiv Enduris Midsole
The midsole is what really sets the Vectiv series apart. The North Face Vectiv Enduris midsole consists of the rocker midsole shape, the dual-density EVA midsole, and the full-length plate. The dual-density midsole is easy to delineate with the two colors (fiesta red and white, in the case of my shoe). It’s not a true medial post, but the more dense, red EVA runs further forward on the medial side versus the lateral, but also underlies the entire foot in a thin layer over the softer, white compound. I can imagine this providing much-needed support and fatigue-reduction over the long miles in an ultramarathon or all-day training extravaganza. It’s also subtle, so there’s nothing forcing my rigid and high-arched foot around from a “stability” standpoint.
In the Enduris, the featured plate is a 3D TPU material that offers stability in all directions while facilitating forward propulsion. It sits on the top of the midsole and below the OrthoLite X55 removable footbed so provides excellent rock protection as well. Interestingly, you can see the plate as it peeks out just above the more dense compound of the midsole along the lateral and medial aspects of the shoe. It gives the impression of providing a bit of support up the edge of the foot if the foot sits down inside a “cradle” ever so slightly. This is not detectable while running, but more just an interesting visual. As a point of comparison within this line, the Flight Vectiv (carbon) and Vectiv Infinite (Pebax thermoplastic elastomer) have the same Vectiv unit but with the plate made of different materials, which allows for further weight savings and slight increases in performance potential in the shoes respectively.
While running, the primary thing I noticed about this setup is the ease of transition from midfoot stance to toe off, especially on flat ground and smoother downhills. I’m a tried-and-true heel striker with a tendency to brake on downhills more than I should. The rocker shape and plate make me feel like a midfoot runner with a bit more ease at push off while the cushion and moderate responsiveness reduce the pounding of longer runs on hard dirt and even jeep roads. I do enjoy downhills a bit more with the Enduris especially when on smoother trails simply because of how the shoe shape promotes that forward motion. It’s almost as if it negates some of the inherent stiffness in my foot/Achilles/ankle to keep me rolling ahead with less effort. The rock protection is excellent but I didn’t feel quite as adept at times on the rock-strewn downhills simply due to the higher stack height and resulting tipping sensation. I don’t have a history of many miles in truly maximal shoes, but if I dug back in my memory for shoes of yesteryear, I’d say the Vectiv Enduris might run in the same vein of the Pearl Izumi N3 as a point of comparison but with the added benefit of new technology, even more protection, and the 3D plate.
I’m not sure the midsole is my favorite on softer alpine surfaces or steep climbs because of the added squish of the midsole and forefoot fatigue that seemed to creep in earlier, but that’s a small subset of many people’s running, and if you’re most commonly cranking out the miles on surfaces and angles that generate more of a pounding, this midsole unit is pretty amazing.
[Author’s Note: As a physical therapist and decades-long ultrarunner, I feel compelled to add a word of caution when jumping to a new “style” shoe, such as a significantly lower drop or a rocker bottom if you’ve never run in them before. Your experience with experimentation will totally vary — not everyone will have issues — but please consider easing into shoes that are significantly different from what you’ve been wearing. It’s not uncommon with a sudden transition from “standard”-construction shoes with eight to 10mm drops to a lower-drop rocker bottom shoe to note discomfort such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles and calf soreness, or similar issues. Most of this can be avoided by instituting a break-in period where you run only a few miles at a time in the new style with a gradual increase over a few weeks or months. I know this; I preach this; I live this. But for some reason, I forgot this when I first got these shoes and ended up with a very cranky heel of the plantar fasciitis variety for awhile. I gladly share this opportunity for vicarious rather than experiential learning to you.]
The North Face Vectiv Enduris Outsole
The North Face Vectiv Enduris outsole utilizes a proprietary Surface Control rubber enhanced by 3.5mm multidirectional lugs for what I would deem as moderate traction. The lugs aren’t as aggressive as my two favorite outsoles on the market, but the butterfly-shaped lugs across most of the bottom of the shoe combine with the chevron shapes around the perimeter to provide decent confidence on everything except really rough trails and significant mud or snow. If a few miles of pavement are included in a run, this outsole cruises over the firm surface with ease as well. Wet-surface traction is adequate, but there are other outsoles I’d prefer if I ran primarily in wet and muddy climates. However, as an all-purpose door-to-trail shoe, it’s a great outsole for a lot of what I do in Colorado, Arizona, summertime U.S. Pacific Northwest, and beyond.
Diamond-shaped cutouts in the forefoot, midfoot, and laterally near the heel reduce the weight of outsole and help to improve flexibility of the more maximal shoe. The protection is still such that no pointy rocks can intrude. The shoe has a wider platform and footprint for increased stability which definitely serves that purpose well on everything but doll-head rocks, but not a lot of trail running shoes really do allow me to skate flawlessly over such terrain, so this is not a true complaint. The overall durability of the outsole will be interesting to see as I get into the “middle miles” of shoe life with the Enduris. The chevron lugs along the perimeter both medially and laterally seem to be showing more wear than the central butterfly lugs (maybe due to the rocks), and the denser compound over the heel crash pad appears to have the same wear as the softer outsole compound in the rest of the shoe. So far, I have no complaints about durability, but I’m probably only about one-third of the way into the shoe’s lifespan.
The North Face Vectiv Enduris Overall Impressions
The North Face Vectiv Enduris is a well-constructed, versatile, door-to-trail shoe that offers excellent performance and fit at a lower price point than other shoes with this new and cutting-edge technology in the trail world. It’s optimal for long runs or recovery days due to superb cushioning, the forward-propulsion-promoting, rocker-shaped system, and the presence of low-profile lugs that don’t feel out of place on smooth surfaces yet provide moderate traction on singletrack, jeep roads, and hilly mountain trails. I’m not ready to transition to this style of shoe exclusively, and I’d perhaps choose a different option for super technical trails or for seasons with significant mud or snow, but as an all-around shoe, the Enduris is a worthy entry into the maximal-shoe arena.
Call for Comments
- Do you run in The North Face Vectiv Enduris? If so, can you share your thoughts on the shoe?
- What is your experience in transitioning to a more maximal style of shoe?
[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!]