The North Face is a storied brand with a history inseparable from mountain sports. Founded in San Francisco by Doug Tompkins in 1968, the company spent its first few seasons selling predominately climbing equipment. As the years progressed, The North Face’s success widened its breadth, and the brand graduated from harnesses and ropes to backpacks, expedition tents, outerwear, and eventually their first line of run-specific apparel, “Flight Series,” which launched in 2006.
Though The North Face has made trail shoes for quite some time, they’ve been viewed by many as secondary to their performance apparel. Still, as a brand, The North Face has a reputation for producing paradigm-shifting pieces of gear, like their Ruthsack, which was one of the first internal frame backpacks, or their Oval InTENTion shelter, a tent that changed the way designers thought about A-shaped tents. As players in the trail space witnessed the sport’s emphatic rise over the last decade, it was only a matter of time until creatives at The North Face directed their inventiveness in the direction of running shoes.
In 2021, The North Face launched 3 new trail shoes to showcase their “VECTIV” technology, a patented platform uniting all of their disparate models. VECTIV is more of an approach to shoe design than a piece of hardware; it essentially consists of combining a performance plate made from either carbon fiber, Pebax, or TPU with a rockered midsole. This pairing was central to The North Face’s first 3 models, and each shoe — the VECVTIV Enduris, VECTIV Infinite, and VECTIV Flight — was then tuned for different types of trail running. A framework like this preserves similarities across their line while still offering specialization for things like distance, terrain, and speed.
In general though, North Face VECTIV shoes still keep a pretty narrow aperture in terms of their design. Heel stack heights range from 25 mm to 31 mm, lug depths hover around 3.5 mm (except waterproof versions of shoes, which use 5 mm lugs), and heel-to-toe drops settle in at 6 mm for most of their models. While every North Face shoe has a pronounced rocker geometry, it’s more subtle in models that use less rigid materials for their performance plates. Those models tend to have better ground feel, but offer less protection. The North Face VECTIV shoes also have a habit of running on the narrow side, similar to examples from some European brands like Salomon and La Sportiva.
The North Face’s VECTIV line is still relatively new. After only a couple of years in the game, the five principle models they currently have on offer boast an impressive amount of features, indicative of the brand’s recommitment to making high-performance footwear. In this breakdown, we’ll go through the design of each of The North Face’s shoes and speak to their intended purpose.