Years of development, dozens of prototypes and thousands of kilometers of testing: the secrets of making a running shoe


In the burgeoning running shoe industry, innovation is at the heart of thinking. Every year, countless new models hit the market. Often these are only slight adaptations compared to the previous model of the same shoe. Or, worse would one be tempted to write, of a simple adaptation of a color or identity according to trends, events or simply to arouse curiosity and create novelty.

Alongside this movement essentially driven by marketing interests, there is also a desire to create a break. To unearth the innovation that will make (or not) both the difference and that will meet the expectations of runners.

On the ground, the movement has been clear in recent years. More than pure performance, the ordinary runner is looking for a mix of absolute comfort and the desire to carry the latest technologies with him, promising him to glean a few seconds. Brands are working to meet this demand and, based on the latest technological possibilities, to offer the ultimate model.

Up to 3 years of development

To offer this shoe that will make the difference, the development can be long. Very long. Up to 3 years, for example, in the case of the Flight Vectiv, the first trail shoe with a carbon fiber plate that was offered at the beginning of 2021 by The North Face. A concept that the brand specializing in mountain activities has been working on since 2018.

Today, The North Face is working on a complete evolution of its Vectiv range, which revolves around the Flight, the Infinite and the Enduris II. With the promise of releasing a Flight Pro in 2023 that its designers, inspired by certain market trends, are not afraid to define as what will be the « super shoes », or the ultimate model. A model that the brand was already working on when it released the Flight Vectiv in 2021. This testifies to the development time of a shoe…

Years of development, dozens of prototypes and thousands of kilometers of testing: the secrets of making a running shoe
©Luke Jarmey / The North Face

Dozens of prototypes

This time, which may seem extremely long for a « simple shoe », is explained by a process based on a game of trial and error. From the mind to the ground, everything is allowed at first.

To build a new shoe, brands obviously look at what the competition is doing. And are inspired by feedback, negative and positive, on their own products. « For the first Vectiv, there are several points on which we have had feedback and on which we have chosen to adapt »we admit for example on the side of All Triangle, this shoe laboratory based in Annecy where the first Vectiv was born.

A Vaporfly sole subject to the laws of trail running

To innovate, The North Face does not hesitate to torture and cut its shoes in all directions to find the best possible combination. With, as a result, a multitude of prototypes. Several dozens. Some never leave the laboratory stage, others come to meet the specific expectations of the brand’s athletes and will go no further. Prototypes that are subjected to all possible tests via machines that put the shoes to the test. Inside and outside. And the athletes who represent the brand use these prototypes on several thousand terminals in total to provide their comments before possible marketing.

“For example, we cut the sole of a Nike Vaporfly to stick it to the structure of a Vectiv”, shows Alberto Gagno, category product manager at The North Face. « Just to understand and see how it works when you put a shoe like this on the trails. After 25 km, the sole of this hybrid shoe was completely destroyed. »

A way to demonstrate that what can work on the road does not necessarily make sense for trail running. And to continue racking their brains to come up with what, in the eyes of runners, would be « the ultimate shoe ».


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