Shoe Review: The North Face Flight RKT

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.  

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.59.29 amOkay, 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. 

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.17 am

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.   

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.28 amGoing 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.   

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.53 amThe 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!  

Screen Shot 2019-01-19 at 11.58.39 amWhile 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 

RRP:  $230 
Conditions:  shoes were provided for wear test by True Alliance 

TRM Web Banner 29

Money can’t buy (shoe) love

We probably all know it: more money doesn’t necessarily buy you better performing running shoes. So next time you roll up to your local running store and assume that the higher the price tag, the more likely the shoe will fit your expectations of durability, comfort and ability to transform your 20 hour trail ultra into a 10 hour blitz, think again. 93pBIWY

Nope, money can’t buy you shoe love… that’s the finding of online shoe guide portal, which bills itself as the “TripAdvisor for running shoes.”

Based on 134,867 reviews and 391 running shoes from 24 running shoe brands, concluded:

  • The higher the list price of a running shoe, the lower the rating
  • The 10 most expensive running shoes (avg. list price: US$181) is rated 8.1% worse rated than the 10 most affordable running shoes (avg. list price: US$61). Same for top/bottom 30.
  • Running shoes from running specialist brands are rated 2.8% higher than running shoes from broad sports brands (Nike, Adidas etc.).
  • Skechers, Saucony and Vibram FiveFingers are the best rated brands while Reebok, Adidas and Hoka One One are bottom performers.
  • Skechers, Vivobarefoot and Puma are the cheapest brands and Hoka One One, Newton and On are the most expensive ones.Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.05.15

Of course, as a study based in Europe, this doesn’t necessarily reflect local (Australian / New Zealand) prices nor our brand market. For instance, anyone caught wearing and running in Skechers in Australia are instantly disqualified from any running club they claim to be attached to. And Vibram Fivefingers while still in market (check a review of a recent model in the current edition of Trail Run Mag HERE) have been off the boil for a while as everyone swings the other end of the meat on bone pendulum, to the Hokas (perhaps indicative of the current focus on ultras road and trail Down Under). And to be fair, while they are expensive, Hokas tend to get a good wrap from the converts (I haven’t heard anyone whinge about the high price tag, meaning we assume they got what they paid for).

Also, there seems to be no distinction as to road or trail, and while we assumed the study was road-centric, here is a list of trail models that were included as part of the 391-shoe study. Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.05.33

So what’s the push behind such a broad ‘buying satisfaction’ report? says it remains noncommercial with the stated purpose of helping runners choose the right running shoes.  The purpose of the study, the site says, is to create transparency.

“We did this study to spread the word that ‘the higher the list price the more value’ does not apply to running shoes,” says Jens Jakob Andersen, the founder of

He says: “Brands have strong incentives to promote high-end running shoes, but our study very clearly outlines that runners buying more expensive running shoes are less satisfied than runners buying mid-range or cheap running shoes.”

“Unfortunately, brands [and their marketing budgets] dictate [or at least influence] what shoes are popular. Our vision is that runners choose running shoes based on what others liked and rated highly instead of what is promoted the most.”Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.05.44
So, in some ways this study tells us a bit about road runners, prices and perceptions of value (or lack thereof) in Europe (the study came out of Copenhagen, although reviews included may have come from anywhere in the world).

Jens does acknowledge some chinks in his study armour:

“No study is perfect. Here are some pitfalls of this study:

  1. One might expect that if a runner buys and expensive shoe, he will have higher expectations for the quality of the shoe and therefore he will more easily get disappointed. True, the more you spend, the more you expect. Though, the list price should reflect expectations. If you spend more on a running shoe, you would logically expect to get a better product.
  2. The reviews are from the aggregator, which attracts a certain type of runner, which might bias results (in both directions).Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.05.51

That being said, we still believe our conclusion is right put, and that the potential biases have not influenced the data in any very significant direction.”

So the question for us trailites remains: do you buy your trail shoes influenced at all by price (you know that point in the purchase decision cycle between two shoes, you can’t quite split them nor afford both, so you lump for the more expensive one the assumption the extra dollars must get something extra in terms of.. performance, comfort, prettier colours? Ummm).

Perhaps, however, we’re smarter than the road running mob: we’re much more about function than form or the prestige of a high price tag. And thus we hone in more accurately on shoes that simply do a damn fine job on dirt, without the flash. It’d be interesting to know…Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.05.58

[Case in point, Saucony Peregrines – long been lauded by those in the know as a killer trail shoe, has slight problems with degradation (they wear and tear like brown paper bags sometimes) but are cheap enough that, well, the value prospect is actually still pretty good.]

With that in mind, we’ll soon test the theory to the max: Dunlop KT26ers are on the gear test schedule… ($49.995AU and did you know: KT26 = Kinetic Technology + 26 Miles (length of a marathon)).

For those interested, here is’s current ranking of trail running shoes.

Interestingly the Peregrine’s are up there (#5), as are Vibram Treksports (#4) which are reviewed in current edition of the magazine (#18 downloadable for free here). Inov8s, Merrells and Salomon’s seem to rank up there, too.  That said all those names appear at the bottom, too, pointing to the fact that brands can produce as many winners as losers and that you should;t even make a choice based on brand, but rather model of shoe.

Full report from found HERE.

Screenshot 2015-09-28 21.06.03


Shoe Review – La Sportiva Bushido

The Bush Warrior

Bushido – the way of the warrior – or Bush-I-do? Choosing between an Italian shoe company appropriating a Japanese cultural concept and my misappropriation, I’d prop for the latter. And it’s an apt because the La Sportiva Bushidos do all kinds of bush, from sandy coastal scrub to high alpine snow gums and everything inbetween – the rockier the better.

The Bushidos are a ruggedly handsome, aggressive midweight trail running shoe that look chunky at first glance – they’ve got a heavily lugged sole, protective plate under the forefoot and a TPU cradle/shank – but when you pick them up they’re lighter than you would expect (298g for a size 9). While not a minimalist model, they do approach the form with a slim(ish) 6mm drop which is balanced by a leaning to more traditional 19mm of foam and rubber under the heel.Screenshot 2015-05-09 09.51.24


My first run in these shoes is forever etched in my memory: running north from Cape Nelson on the Great South West Walk (down near Portland in Victoria), kicking up clouds of a billion butterflies at every step, the Southern Ocean a gleaming blue monster on my right (if I had Anton Krupicka’s long hair and bare chest it would have been a trail runner’s wet dream). It’s a run that taught me the first lesson about the Bushidos – they’re stiff. Having been running mainly in über lightweight, soft shoes – like the La Sportiva Helios and Asic GEL FujiRacers – my feet were tender after 25km (admittedly, a big hit-out for the first time in a shoe). Even now, many more kilometres, the Bushidos remain quite rigid – pointing toward a preference for steep mountain terrain.

Screenshot 2015-05-09 09.51.42Compared to my usual trail shoes, the Bushidos are very stable to run in – more akin to heavier road shoes but without the weight – and they are a delight on rough technical terrain, where you can bound along with confidence. They are responsive, but at the same time offer plenty of protection.

A lot of my running is done in the Grampians, Victoria, on very rocky surfaces, so the extra protection was noticeable compared to the pounding you can get in something superlight like the Helios. The outer sole lugs provide good grip on both rocky and muddy terrain, while the Frixion rubber (which has its origin in La Sportiva’s long rockclimbing heritage) is extremely sticky and adheres well even to wet rock.

I’ve long delicate foot appendages, such as you find on a well-bred aristocrat or artiste, and the Bushidos – being of Italian origin – fit my feet nicely without being too snug. People with paddles for feet may find them quite narrow, while I’ve read online that they size small (so try before you buy), although I was spot on my normal size. The sock-like mesh inserts add to the nice snug feel of the shoe, although I did find that they seemed to make my feet get quite hot (I get hot feet though). My narrow foot swims around in many shoes, but the TPU cradle and lacing system held my foot nicely in place, even on really steep or snakey terrain. Perhaps because of the stiffness of the shoe, I could feel my heel rub at times, but it was never enough to cause any problems.

For anyone who loves the suppleness of many minimalist shoes, the Bushidos will feel stiff and claustrophobic, but as a heavier runner with weak ankles I have found them excellent, offering great support and protection yet light on the scales. La Sportiva spruik them as ‘sky runners’, and they definitely excel on steep, technical terrain, in the wet or dry, rock or mud.

TAKE OUTS La Sportiva Bushido

Great for: Rough technical trails, the rockier the better; steep mountains.
No so great for: Runners who like super-flexible minimalist shoes or with paddles for feet.
Test conditions: Everything from sandy coastal single track, rocky Grampians’ terrain to muddy snowgum-lined alpine trails. Approx 250km.
Tester: Ross ‘The Flash’ Taylor
Tester mechanics: heavy runner, midfoot striker.

RRP $199.95