The north face:
Vectiv Exploris Futurelight
Heavy on tech, light on weight.
(This story originally featured in Wild #180)
I like hiking boots. Big ones. Big leather ones. Big heavy leather ones. But one reason I’ve usually opted for them is that, in my experience, shoes aren’t robust enough to handle what I throw at ‘em. I’m what you’d call a ‘clumsy’ hiker, and it results in two things. One: me tripping over and injuring myself. And two: my shoes getting holes in them.
The North Face’s Vectiv Exploris shoes, therefore, mightn’t seem an obvious choice for me. They use no leather. They’re not heavy. They’re not even boots. In fact, they look far more like trail runners’ tank boots. But when I unboxed my pair, my first thought was this: Whoa! This is some serious footwear!
It seems TNF had lightweight shoe doubters like me in mind when they designed the Exploris. Those holes I talked about my shoes getting? They normally develop around the toe, on the sides where the sole meets the fabric, and on either end of the crease line. These wear points have been reinforced on the Exploris with a protective toe cap and rand, and by integrating an abrasion-resistant Cordura upper. And then, since we’re talking about toughness, there are the soles—solid, and with enough rigidity to feel supported without being excessively flexible.
The soles are actually the shoe’s headline tech feature, the ‘Vectiv’ element of the Exploris. High-end road running shoes have recently undergone a revolution with stiff, energy-returning carbon plates being incorporated into their soles; TNF changed the game by extending this technology to trail running shoes, and now to hiking shoes, too. And to further maximise momentum, the Exploris’s sole is heavily rockered (curved); it’s not difficult to see the running shoe influence here. I’ve got to admit that, at first, the rockered sole felt different, particularly on flatter ground. But it didn’t take long to feel at home, and I actually do believe the rocker—coupled with the Vectiv plate—supplies some extra momentum to reduce fatigue throughout a day’s walking.
A few other brief points: Traction seems solid, even on slippery rock. And while I haven’t worn them in the rain yet, there’s no reason to think the Futurelight membrane would offer anything other than excellent waterproofness. In any case, they’ve proven breathable thus far. The end result is an ergonomic hiking shoe that’s lightweight, waterproof, breathable, tough, grippy and energy saving. Oh, and unlike my leather hiking boots, they never need polish.