The North Face is incorporating some pretty cool technology into their new ultra-runner lineup. Unlike the carbon fiber flagship of the fleet, the Vective Infinite LTD instead opts for a Pebax shank. This design change helps cut costs a bit, despite the shockingly high price tag relative to most of the market. The 3D molded plate incorporated into the heavily-rockered VECTIV platform is designed to transfer downward energy from each foot strike into forward propulsion. And it works, offering superior foot protection and a gliding ride over rolling terrain. But as soon as the going gets tough, the specially designed outsole doesn't afford the level of grip we were hoping for on technical uphills, steep downhills, or loose terrain. We look forward to the future of this exciting new platform but plan to hold off wearing it for long-distance runs until the feedback from real-world performance catches up with its innovative design.Editor's Note: We added this review for the The North Face Vectiv Infinite LTD to our lineup on May 11, 2022, and included an unbiased take on value and suggestions for other comparable products that may better suit your needs or budget.
The North Face Vectiv Infinite LTD Review
Cons: Uncomfortable upper, lack of traction and stability on downhills, pricey
Manufacturer: The North Face
Our Analysis and Test Results
There is a ton of new technology incorporated into the Vectiv Infinite LTD. First and foremost, The North Face's new VECTIV design layers a deeply rockered midsole with a 3D plate that "turns downward pressure into forward momentum." The material of this 3D plate varies. While the flagship Flight VECTIV has a carbon-fiber shank, the one on the Vectiv Infinite LTD is molded from the exciting new Pebax polymers. This shoe is rounded out with two additional proprietary designs: the Matryx upper is a weave of Kevlar and polyamide with an exterior TPU film; the outsole is a Surface Control rubber that was designed specifically for trail running.
The North Face is riding the wave of ultra-running mania, and the Vectiv Infinite LTD is designed specifically to withstand the rigors of running 50 to 100 miles at a time. Like many similar ultra-runners we tested, this shoe has a highly cushioned midsole dropping from 27mm in the heel to 21mm in the forefoot. But the real star of the show is The North Face's new VECTIV technology that combines outsole, midsole, and shank to add protection and propulsion to every step.
While the flagship of the VECTIV fleet is at the forefront of incorporating carbon fiber into running shoes, the shank of the Vectiv Infinite LTD is molded from Pebax. This material is a stiff and responsive polymer commonly used in the base of cleats. The combination of Pebax and a dual-density midsole helps absorb the impact of the miles accumulated during an ultra-marathon — not to mention adding protection from all of the other hazards underfoot.
Our concern with foot protection often starts and ends with the shoe's outsole, but the design of the Vectiv Infinite LTD makes a statement about protecting your entire foot. The upper wrap is an ultralight weave of polyamide and Kevlar — it feels very similar to the TPU mesh utilized on the impressively durable Arc'teryx Norvan SL 2. Although Kevlar is best known for stopping bullets, it is also notoriously difficult to rip, ensuring that your shoes are entirely protected from punctures or tears from sharp rocks or sticks.
The third component of the VECTIV design is the outsole. The North Face created their Surface Control rubber to specifically integrate into the purpose of this new technology: to capitalize on the kinetic energy of every stride and transfer it into propulsion. This proprietary rubber is soft and responsive and certainly helps with locomotion. The issue is that the 3mm lugs are not particularly deep, nor are they shaped or canted in any way that aids traction. Perhaps these shoes perform better in the rocky loam of the high alpine, but we consistently found ourselves slipping in the dry and loose conditions of the high desert. It's hard to maintain momentum when you can't gain your footing.
This shoe is simply not designed to feel the trail. Instead, it's designed to protect your feet while running dozens upon dozens of miles at a time. It is very difficult to maintain proper form when running those distances. We're thankful that the Vectiv Infinite LTD favors support over sensitivity when we're just trying to push through a long race. Even though the Pebax shank is stiff, the substantial drop in this shoe translates to a significant difference in sensitivity between the midsole and forefoot. A tight taper of the toe box to a point allows you to precisely touch down your toes, making it much easier to navigate technical terrain nimbly.
Even though the Vectiv Infinite LTD is explicitly designed with stability in mind, that stability seems to be situationally dependent. On flats and slight inclines, the VECTIV midsole performs beautifully. The rockered design and absorbent platform provide a forward energy transfer that enhances each push-off with a boost of energy, giving you the feeling of gliding. But if we may pull an analogy from backcountry skiing, on uphills we couldn't help but feel like we were running with heel risers up. This feeling of being on stilts only gets worse on downhills. The rockered propulsion of the midsole and lack of heel lugs almost forces you to run fast downhill or entirely pump the brakes and slowly and strategically pick your path of descent.
The avant-garde design of the Vectiv Infinite LTD certainly takes some getting used to, but after a few dozen miles, we settled into the stride of this ultra-runner. Despite the relatively wide platform, the last is fairly narrow — especially in the toe box — and doesn't allow much room for swelling or toe splay, making these shoes feel rather confining over long distances. Even though the heel pocket is padded around the Achilles, the thin upper doesn't offer much ankle support. Unfortunately, the stiff Kevlar upper is cut so high that it cut into our ankle bones, specifically the lateral malleolus (the outside ankle bone.) Perhaps it's just the shape of our main tester's foot, but we read many reviews complaining of the same issue.
For a shoe that packs in so much technology, the Infinite LTD is surprisingly lightweight, tipping the scales at just under 21 ounces per pair for a men's size 9.5 US. That's good news for ultra-runners, who don't want to carry any extra weight than is necessary. The ultralight upper is an elegant balance of durability and airiness and drains well if your route involves a creek crossing.
Should You Buy The North Face Vectiv Infinite LTD?
It can be difficult to be on the cutting edge of technology, and this shoe certainly has a ton of potential. But in the case of the Vectiv Infinite LTD, it may be best to wait until The North Face addresses the critical issues that significantly hurt how this shoe stacked up against the best Trail Running Shoes. This current iteration is dialed in for ultrarunners whose feet fit them well and whose race routes don't include much technical climbing or descents. The stiff VECTIV shank also offers an incredible level of arch support, which may be a draw for those with flat feet or high arches.
What Other Trail Running Shoes Should You Consider?
If you plan to make the big step into ultra-running — or to run a mountain marathon, which is still a very impressive feat — it is worth your while to check out the HOKA Torrent 2, our top choice for maximum cushioning. Shoes like the La Sportiva Bushido II and Brooks Cascadia 16 are also mountain-running machines with a wide fan base for their combination of foot protection and traction.
— Aaron Rice
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