Mark BullockMark is a passionate climber, whose dream days are spent soloing easy routes in the big hills, dashing down at last light for pizza. He’s a writer, qualified Mountain Leader & Climbing Instructor, and has even won a few photography awards.
The Norvan LD3 from Arc’Teryx is a really solid, well constructed trail shoe that feels light but protective and assured, although ultra distance runners are likely to notice the firm soles.
Breathable, lightweight, Vibram sole
Snug and secure fit
Good level of protection
Sole is too firm for me
Quite a high stack (6mm drop but 29mm at the heel) meant I rolled a few times
Not as dextrous as I’d like a fell shoe to be
What I’m Looking For
Generally speaking, most fell runners are likely to have a quiver of shoes. Personally, I try and keep a minimum of three pairs to hand: something very light and dextrous like a race shoe; something ‘middle-ground’ for general off-road trots and non-technical trails; and something for the long days, something with some genuine cushioning and support.
The Norvan LD 3 is designed to fall into the latter category, a trail shoe for the extended distances. Arc’teryx says they’re designed to deliver the optimal blend of comfort, light weight, support, and grip for your longest trail runs.
I’ve always been a bit of a sceptic of Arc’teryx footwear: for me personally it just doesn’t quite look right. Slightly too urban or casual in design. Too slick and clean. Nice lines, nice aesthetic, but they don’t look or feel like a fell running shoe.
To me, the Norvans look like what I like to call ‘a technical pub shoe’, but that probably is perhaps a little mean and judgmental of me andI’m sure they are to the taste of other runners out there.
They certainly feel comfy, and lightweight, and provide plenty of support and grip. They are noticeably firm soled though, something I’d be wary of on longer distances.
I wore those out of the box onto my home trails around Dartmoor. The first run was an 8 mile loop with 1700ft of elevation. It’s a varied circuit with some technical downhill, some grassy slogs and bracken stomping, some exposed rock – God’s own granite – and normally plenty of bog. This time however ’twas bone dry apart from one shallow river crossing dash which gave me a nice opportunity to see how they fared having been submerged. They shed that moisture rapidly.
Overall, they performed well and I liked them; pleasantly surprised. I’d personally be happier using these for low level medium-long runs on relatively benign trails. On longer runs however I’d definitely want a softer feel in the sole unit for sure.
Who are these shoes for?
Arc’teryx say this is a lightweight, supportive trail running shoe for lasting comfort on extended runs, and I’d agree with two out of three of those sentiments.
They are light, durable and grippy and would serve anyone well for any of the myriad ultra-events that have come so into vogue in the UK. If you’re into more short, sharp fell racing though, these probably aren’t for you. You’d want a more aggressive lug, a thinner sole, and a softer suppler upper.
What Stands Out
They were comfy even straight out of the box with no hot spots or pressure points. The Ariaprene® foam tongue made them feel sock-like and snug.The toe box was noticeably comforting. I’d recently broken a toe on a climbing trip so maybe I was hyper-sensitive, but compared to my usual lightweight daps, I definitely felt more protected in the Norvans.
Gripwise they performed excellently, and the 4mm Vibram mega-grip lugs definitely did feel non-slip, albeit in bone dry conditions. Over the years I’ve often wondered what the best compound is for wet rock, and the answer to that is ‘confidence’. Over an 8 mile high moor run, I did trust the grip of these, including hitting the brakes down steep grassy slopes.
They’re nice looking albeit quite different from the majority of shoes used in the core fell race scene. They’re comfy, light and protective with a genuinely good compound on the outsole.
Soft Sole and large stack
My main beef is the sole just felt too hard. I don’t mind sacrificing the pure dexterity of a thin soled fell shoe for a more padded ultra shoe, but I would want a more cushioned ride. Perhaps this is a personal preference though and some people will appreciate a firm sole after 20 to 30 miles?
Added to that, I should confess that I did slightly roll over on my ankle 2-3 times and I felt perhaps the 29mm heel height was too much. Having said that, I did do my Bob Graham Round in a pair of Salomon Speedcross which have a 37mm heel stack and 10mm drop, so maybe I’m just out of practice at wearing such a well cushioned shoe.
Value For Money
Retail cost is £150 which is top end of what I’d ever pay for a running trainer. That said, I was genuinely impressed by their quality and feel. I thought they might be a bit ‘clumpy’ and actually they felt fine in practice on a fairly unforgiving Dartmoor loop.
If they proved to be really durable (they do feel quite tough wearing and high quality construction-wise), then they could turn out to be money well spent.
BASE Bottom Line
I would definitely recommend these shoes to trail and ultra runners, even if I imagine my Cumbrian friends might sneer at them.
Due to their relatively high heel stack, and very firm midsole feel, I’d probably reserve the right to say they’d perform best on flatter, hard baked trails like canal paths and bridleways, and I should also say that I haven’t actually run marathon-plus distances in them, so I might be wrong about them being too firm, perhaps that support pays off at the end of a long day.
Lots of positives though in that the upper is comfy, breathable and still feels protective from scree and rock. The grip was great both on rock and steep grass, and despite the sole pitch they still felt relatively dainty and precise.
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