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The Rundown: The North Face Flight RKT

The North Face Flight RKT is a lightweight, race-day trail shoe for when speed outweighs protection.

THE RUNDOWN: The North Face Flight RKT is a lightweight, race-day trail shoe for when speed outweighs protection.

Surface: Trail                  Pronation: Neutral               Stack Height: Medium

The North Face Flight RKT is like a track shoe for the off-road. The first thing you will notice is that it is lighter than most road shoes, offering just enough cushion and favoring a quick stride. There isn’t much shoe here; a thin mesh upper, patches of low tread and the insoles have Swiss cheese holes. That minimalism makes for a race-weight shoe that excels on all but rocky, technical trails. Precision footwork is crucial however, as there is little protection on the sides or sole to minimize the impact of sharp rock edges.

Weight: 6.5 oz. W, 8 oz. M
Offset: 8mm
Heel/Forefoot: 18mm/10mm
Midsole: Dual-density FastFoam; cushioned EVA
Outsole: Multidirectional podular traction outsole
Upper: Mesh upper
Price: $150

Photo Credit: M.T. Elliott
Photo Credit: M.T. Elliott

The North Face Flight RKT gets its initials from sponsored athlete Rob Krar, who collaborated on the design. Krar just won this year’s Leadville 100 trail race in under 16 hours and after running in the shoes he donned, over the same distance (during the month), his feat was even more impressive. Or perhaps, I should say his “feet” are even more impressive. Mine ended up bruising while running in the RKTs.

I consider these off-road shoes more than trail shoes. They perform best on flat, hardpacked trails where there are options for clean foot strikes and worry-free strides. The low, multidirectional lugs bite into small loose grit to provide great traction. In fact, I wore these for a 10K road race because they grip well on rough asphalt, too.

The midsole isn’t springy, it offers some give yet stays firm against the road. For runs longer than 10 miles, however, that took a toll on my feet and calves. The offset felt flatter than the 8mm drop, yet the listed 18mm heel height felt a little higher. During testing, the midsoles held up but were noticeably softer toward the end.

A knit mesh upper allows for foot splay and its low volume toe box did not crowd my feet or tug on toenails during descents. The TPU weld around the midfoot gave mild support and reinforced the mesh upper, which held up during testing. The mesh is highly-breathable, even if it lets in some fine trail grit.

That grit pools into holes cut out of the Ortholite insole—which looks like a White Castle slider patty—and shaves off some material weight. At times it feels like the durable insole is providing most of the shoe’s cushioning. The insoles take some getting used to, as will be addressed in the next section.

Another weight saver that didn’t compromise performance was the tread design on the outsole. Patches of low-profile, multidirectional lugs grip just enough without dampening the foot strike. During steep climbs on hardpack the sole’s spots of tread felt very secure. The tread also held up while scrambling up rock slabs, though my strides weren’t as confident there.

Photo Credit: M.T. Elliott
Photo Credit: M.T. Elliott

This is a lightweight trail shoe that is almost in its own category where minimalism trumps protection. That isn’t a critique of the design as much as a reiteration for readers more accustomed to a cushioned ride. Krar is an elite among elites, and unless you are a lean racer, this may not work for you as more than a race-day or speedwork option.

The streamlined design calls for precise footwork on chunkier trails: You get a great feel for the trail as well as the occasional ouch when rocks jump up underfoot. One misstep during a descent awarded me a nice bone bruise. The upper is thin, offering very little sidewall protection. The toe bumper is likely for aesthetics and was the first part of the shoe to come apart.

The laces were less impressive. In this time and age, no shoelace that comes undone so easily and consistently as these should have made it to the market. The thin tongue doesn’t cushion the thin laces and it often requires adjusting to keep it from doubling up along the edges. Most runs required un-bunching the tongue at its base before tying the shoes.

While the holes in the insole are a nice weight saver, they require some getting used to. Most runners are fussy enough about the feel of their socks, so imagine the feel of holes under your toes. I wore thicker socks during the early runs until I had broken in the soles some and grown accustomed to the feel.

Another reason these are race-day shoes is because that minimal tread doesn’t last very long. After 100 miles, two sections of tread on the toe and one on the heel were bald. That’s problematic for a shoe at this price.

These are fast, responsive, featherweight trail shoes that excel on hardpack and grip well on chunkier trails. For being so slight, the tread spots really impressed me with their grip, which feels more like surface tension than digging in with a cleat. If I trained in these I’d be injured by race day. But I’d gladly set these aside for race day and then lace up a pair (with a double knot of course). The North Face Flight RKTs are impressive for how much they deliver in such a slight package. Some of the negatives are frustrating because they could easily be rectified. Hopefully the next version can bring down the price from what right now costs about a dollar a mile.