Does Ironman or, indeed, The Flash (the besuited superheroes) wear trail shoes? I don’t know, but if they do, these are it. Look at them – they scream ‘look at me’ for their sheer red radness. So confident are The North Face adventure architects that – in the men’s at least – they are only offered in three colours. Red, red and red. Women only get two: blue and grey. I almost expect them Transformer-like to unfurl into small killer robots, or heat seeking missile launchers to project from their sides. They look that mean.
But then, look closer and you’ll notice that it’s a bit of smoke and fashion mirrors, as the actual shoe presents as a very traditional shape and style of trail running shoe. A bit more Flash Gordon than the Flash? They do take a slightly modernist stand with a low-ish 8mm drop, but there’s plenty of traditional padding built in to the 20mm to 12 mm heel-to-toe differential.
The heart of this shoe is The North Face’s FastFoam midsole system, an EVA compound finely tuned to balance cushioning with responsiveness. The midsole centres around a dual-density ‘bathtub construction’ method where a thin layer of soft EVA material is at the core, surrounded by high-resiliency EVA underneath and around the perimeter to maintain a stable shape and consistent response. On test they are more springy than spritely, but there does remain enough feedback getting through from the ground to keep those who do want to stay in touch with Mother Nature appeased.
Depending on your proclivity for freedom of feet, you’ll either appreciate or not the slightly stiffer nature of these shoes, especially in the heel – this reflects most of The North Face trail running range given the Cradle set up at the rear (bar the Flight RKT shoe which was daintier and more slipper-like). The touch of stiffness assists with better stability in the rough stiff, supporting quick movements over varied terrain.
Where it does reflect the RKT (Rob Krar trail) is in the lightweight stakes, it being well down on mass compared to models such as the Ultra Endurance 2 (which this reviewer also rates highly for longer runs).
Underneath, at first glance, it seems the designers had an argument about what geometry to rely on for grip and no-one won outright. It’s a mess of shapes posing as lugs. But here’s the graft: like a mongrel sheep dog they somehow work, rounding up whatever surface they can get their bark on and keeping tabs on it no matter what the paddock conditions, dry, stormy or otherwise.
The outsole design, called EXTS (marketing wordsmiths working overtime and perhaps overtired for this one: ‘Exploration Trax System’), is a proprietary, patent-pending combo of renewable rubber compounds. It includes 40 percent plant-based (and thus renewable) rubber. With this natural material comes softness, which allows for improved traction on uneven surfaces. The North Face tinkered with ingredients until it found the right blend for grip in wet and dry conditions, as well as a dose of durability. From the biomechanics lab and athletes’ wear testing, feedback was gathered and apparently listened to that helped determine where exactly to put ‘stickier’ rubber.
For those with slightly wider feet, these give a little more room to splay up front, more so than past The North Face offerings, tapering back to a regular fit middle and secure heel counter.
These shoes were, according to The North Face, put through punishing paces by the likes of US trail legends Zach Miller, Dylan Bowman and Hillary Allen, all singletrack superheroes who punted with their opinions to push design towards being a shoe ideal for long and technical trails. And while I never approached their speed or skill in testing, I did set the Trinity out on some knarly mountain terrain, including West Ridge of Mt Buller where they rose to the occasion. This is sharp, bitey and steep territory and they wore it well.
Up top, the ripstop textile is featherweight, super-breathable yet still with some insulative properties for cold run days. On the inside, your foot feels like it’s in a sock (because it is, but you get my drift). Here’s the literal rub on this one – surprisingly – on the downhills of any distance, I started to get a top of big toe abrasion. What!? Never have I had hot spots in The North Face previously. It seemed to contradict the claim that the “fully knitted internal bootie is engineered for natural movement; provides a seamless, sock-like fit; and adapts to the unique features of your foot for customized support.” At least for my toe, there was no adaptation.
The rub zone happened just as I was falling fairly in love with these shoes, too. Devastated. Now, it occurred on one foot only, which tells me it’s less a design fault and more an issue for my particular foot; a random bit of tension between me and a shoe that I otherwise thought was worthy of superhero status.
THE LOW DOWN
The North Face Flight Trinity
GREAT FOR: comfort, long runs, traditionalists, Superheroes.
NOT SO GREAT FOR: minimalists, true trail feel, my right foot’s big toe.
TEST CONDITIONS: knarly mountain terrain, plenty of steep downhill, buffed singketrack, a touch of fire road.
TESTER: Chris Ord, Editor
TESTER MECHANICS: Midfoot striker, prefers tending to minimal drop but getting softer in old age when it comes to cushioning.
CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by True Alliance