Did I just kick a skunk? Or eat licorice allsorts and throw up on my feet? Or did someone just inject heroin between my toes?
Without wanting to glamourise drugs of addiction, it must be the latter because 1. I love animals (so I would never kick one, plus there are no skunks in Australia to kick); 2. I hate licorice allsorts (especially the black and white ones that would have resulted in such a vomitus display); and 3. my feet feel so damn gooooooood…plus, they look a little swirly in my ecstasy-affected state.
Okay, so this testing happened without the use of any narcotics (hold the jokes regarding what I may have been on while writing some of my past reviews). I’ve simply slipped a pair of The North Face Flight RKTs on my feet and I swear plonked straight into trail junkie footwear heaven. At least, that’s the immediate visceral reaction: an instant trail-crush on how they make my feet feel, a hit so noticeable I equate it to a podiatric hit of smack.
For the record, I’ve never ‘done’ heroin, so the comparison is (honestly) based on projected imaginings of what it’s like. Suffice to say, when you slip these on, they are silken in their comfort, even if they do look like I have, once again, and against repeated advice, mixed my darks and lights in the washing machine.
Story goes that the shoe’s co-designer and ultra-run legend, Rob Krar, took a photo of clouds which became the cloak of fashion seen plastered across the upper. To paraphrase another reviewer, as a stylist, Rob makes a great ultra runner. But while I am no fan of the Pepe le Pew camouflage they are just gonna get filthy dirty, so what’s a book’s cover even matter, right?
The Flight RKT (Rob Krar Trail) are the result of when an athlete is actually allowed to step into the design studio to tell the boffins what’s what. And while there’s some marketing fluff and bubble to it (remember the power Michael Jordan had over teenage basketballers’ footwear choice in eighties and nineties?*), I’m still a staunch advocate for experienced athletes actually being allowed to have real-world input into a product, as opposed to simply slapping a name on something for a pay cheque. Krar undoubtably copped extra coin in his pocket for his efforts here, he also undoubtedly got dirt on his hands and feet in the creation of the RKT.
Going beyond the grey-sky duco, the big splash in the RKTs is the new FastFoam midsole, which actually gives a cloud-like suspension under foot. That’s the firm but floaty marshmellow feel you get with these, reminiscent of the Hoka approach – especially in the heel – but without the bulk. Speaking of Hoka, a similar bathtub construction on the inside helps deliver that plush, yet highly responsive underfoot feel, delivered by a core of energy-returning EVA. There’s also a perimeter of firmer, more-resilient EVA that prevents compression set and packing out. The overall ride is pretty sublime for it, with a definite super soft counter in the heel moving down to a slightly firmer – but still comfy – landing under the forefoot. Feedback benefits up front, without too much deadening of what’s lies beneath.
While the shoes weight in under featherweight (227g), their heel to toe is back into the middle-ground with an 18mm-10mm stack height offering 8mm of drop.
The upper mesh gives great breathability – good for warmer days, not so for colder – with a TPU-welded architecture at the midfoot. Overall the upper features excellent support and stability, keeping the foot firm in place. The downfall here is the tongue. Constructed of mesh and tender suede it feels good but performs appallingly: thin and un-attached it folds and scrunches and annoys. The simple fix would be – as all trail shoes should feature – a gusseted design. So every time you slip the shoes on it’s a battle against smoothing the tongue across the forefoot before lacing. Then it moves during running anyway and lets debris in.
The small surprise in the RKT is the grip. It’s pretty average if you’re going into soft ground territory, but the multi-directional lug design (look closely – it’s there) provides better traction on groomed dirt and rock than you’d give credit. Although it’s far from the “superior” traction claimed and wet or muddy surfaces are Kryptonite. Upside? This is a great door-to-trail shoe that performs well on buffed single track, fire trail and road.
These are in no way technical mountain munchers: without any form of rockplate, and with that smooshy-mushy (technical term right there) undercarriage, the sharp, rocky stuff bites. Further, with only 120km put into these on test, there was early signs of quick wearing on the pad-grips, the ‘podular’ sticky rubber. This approach to grip has been to lessen weight by only whacking lug zones where there is foot strike. Hopefully the designers accounted for all of our various strike zones, not just Rob Krar’s!
While the upper holds the foot in place well, adding to confidence and responsiveness, a toe bumper is not existent, so be careful when belting through bitey terrain.
I’ll admit it, though, I’m more than a little addicted to these, to the point I find myself planning on here I can find more packed-out, slick trails, just to warrant another hit of clouds on my feet.
*Maybe Rob Krar can influence trail running shoes as long as Jordan has in the basketball sphere – the Air Jordans are up to edition 32 and are still on sale!
UPDATE REVIEW NOTE: update on the shoes pro and con having worn them for approx another 150km since the review was written. Pro: they are as silky sweet as ever. Con: one of the red/orange grip pads on the rear heel has come away/unglued, which is annoying as it unbalances the shoe and makes it unwearable. A quality issue when it comes to rough and tumble trails that do tend to tear at your shoes and thus ALL trail running shoes need durability as a core focus.
The Low Down
Great for: speedfreak racers, door to trail, buffed trails, nimble feet
Not-so-great for: mountains, super technical, protection, grip, durability
Test Conditions: mixed singletrack, door-to-trail, a few short races approx. 20km
Tester: Chris Ord, TRM Editor,
Tester Mechanics: midfoot striker, prefers technical
Conditions: shoes were provided for wear test by True Alliance