New Balance MT101 Review

Flying New Balance logoI’m an unfit Popeye and the New Balance MT101s are my spinach. The year’s not quite over, but I can’t imagine anything but the MT101 as my favorite new shoe of the year. Seriously, that’s no hyperbole. For anything shorter than marathon, there’s no other shoe I’d rather run in right now. The New Balance MT101/WT101 (MT101 from here on) is light, low to the ground, and fits like a glove. All the issues I had with the original MT100 have been ironed out.

New Balance MT101

Meet the New Balance MT101

Since being launched last autumn, the New Balance MT100 has been the talk to the minimalist trail shoe world. (“Barefoot shoes” are their own thing.) Originally designed with the help of Anton Krupicka and the Skaggs brothers, there aren’t a lot of extras on these shoes. The MT101 is merely an evolution of the MT100, but the changes that were made make it a much better shoe.

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Here’s a summary of the changes before jumping into an in-depth review:

  • Better foot lockdown by the addition of midfoot and rearfoot overlays
  • Improved ankle collar construction that saves your Achilles
  • Slightly more expensive – it costs all of $5 more
  • More flexible rockplate
  • Slightly heavier at 7.48 ounces versus 7.09 ounces for a US men’s 9
  • Less odiferous glue

Below, we’ll examine the MT101’s upper, midsole, outsole, and weight before taking a look at my own experience with the shoe. Read on to find out why I love the MT101 so much!

[BTW, if you have an interest in minimalist shoes, New Balance, or Anton Krupicka, check out our preview of the forthcoming New Balance Minimus line designed with input from Anton.

Upper
New Balance made its two biggest improvements to the MT100 by adding overlays and fixing the ankle collar in the MT101. In addition, they tweaked the tongue a bit. Otherwise, it’s the same great upper as the MT100. Here’s more on the upper.

Additional Overlays
The MT upper continues to be primarily mesh backed by lightweight fabric, but now with significant and well-deserved additions. In our MT100 review, Travis Liles noted, “the upper… does not offer much lateral support, which can be problematic on technical or switchbacking trail.” This observation was echoed by many others.

In response, New Balance completely redesigned the upper’s overlays. Most notable is a significant metatarsal wrap that expands from an inch wide at its attachment point in the center of the arch to five inches wide at the top of the shoe. That results in a wrap stretching from the foremost eyelets to one and a half inches back on the ankle collar. This is a huge improvement that really locks down the entire foot as well as providing a small amount of support.

New Balance MT100 MT101 upper medial

The insteps of the New Balance MT100 (top) and MT101 (bottom).

On the lateral (outside) portion of the midfoot upper, New Balance added one midsole-to-eyelet band (from four to five), but, more significantly, the company spread out the connection points of those bands from two center eyelets to five eyelets, which gives broader metarsal lockdown.

New Balance MT100 MT101 upper lateral

A comparison of the lateral uppers of the New Balance MT100 (top) and MT101 (bottom).

Finally, New Balance added both a medial (inside) and a lateral band connecting the midsole and the ankle collar. This change, along with all the others, makes for a much cleaner ride on technical terrain. The MT101 is better connected to your foot, which means you are better connected to the trail.

[Update: Following 2 paragraphs added 11/20/10] In investigating the MT101 even more closely, I noticed a barely detectable polymer mesh over the fabric mesh on the lateral side of the heel and ball of the foot. I contacted New Balance to get the scoop on this. I asked, “Is the purpose of this polymer mesh primarily to provide structure to the upper, to prevent blowout of the fabric mesh in these areas, or something else?” Product Manager Brian Gothie responded,

You are correct on both assumptions. Tony was blowing out the MT100 right at that spot on the lateral forefoot so we needed to strengthen it. Also, felt like we needed a way to add some structure to the heel and this did so in a lightweight, “barely detectable” manner.

Ankle Collar
With the MT100, a  small, but significant number of runners experienced severe chafing of the Achilles tendon area. I was one of those sufferers in the MT100 when the skin over my Achilles sawed to pieces in less than 3 sockless miles. For some, the problem even persisted while wearing socks! The culprit? A 2 mm high ridge of thin EVA at the top of the ankle collar. That ridge served no purpose and was merely a relic from the manufacturing process.

Well, I’m happy to report that New Balance successfully revamped its manufacturing process. I can now deem the MT100’s ankle collar problem completely eliminated in the MT101. Sure, I still get some light rubbing in the Achilles notch, but it’s minor and what I’d expect given these are the only shoes I’ll wear sockless.

New Balance MT101 MT100 Achilles notch

The Achilles notch on the MT101 (left) and MT100 (right). Note the absence of a ridge on the MT101.

The Tongue
The MT100’s tongue was a single layer of the fabric-backed mesh that is used throughout the rest of the shoe. This thin mesh had a tendency to fold and collapse. New Balance found a way to provide structure with a minimal addition of material. On the rear of the tongue, they sewed on a thin, second layer of fabric that extends two inches down the backside of the tongue at the tongue’s edges while tapering to an inch at the center of the tongue. On the front of the tongue, New Balance bonded a half inch-wide ribbon that extends vertically two inches down the center of the tongue. These two additions can hardly weigh a thing, but they do keep the tongue laying flat against the top of your feet.

New Balance MT100 MT101 tongue

The tongues of the New Balance MT100 (top) and MT101 (bottom). I did not adjust either before taking this picture.

Other Upper Features
The MT101 still has the slipper like feel of the MT100, while retaining plenty of toe box wiggle room. The mesh upper is highly breathable, but does let in quite a bit of dust. The MT101 also retains the “sausage-like” Sure Laces.

Midsole
If you can feel an underfoot difference between the MT100 and MT101 you’ve got some pretty sensitive feet.

As with the MT100, the MT101 lacks a post for pronation control. However, the midsole is raised on both the inside and outside of the midfoot, which provides a modest amount of support.

Once again, there’s a Rockstop TPU-rockplate sandwiched between the outsole and midsole that offers decent push-through protection in the forefoot and midfoot. New Balance made the MT101’s rockplate slightly less dense, which results in more forefoot flexibility. While I’ve not been able to feel the difference in flexibility while running (Yes, I’ve run with the MT100 on one foot and the MT101 on the other.), the MT101 is hands down the more flexible shoe in manual testing.

I don’t feel that the decreased rockplate density detracts from its push-through protection. In fact, in side-by-side “jumping ’round the yard” tests, I felt the MT101 offered better rock protection as the MT100.

One other thing… according to some, the MT100 had a “horrible, long-lasting VOC stench.” This smell came from the cement that glued the rockplate to the midsole. New Balance corrected this problem with the MT101.

Outsole
New Balance didn’t change the MT100’s trail-specific outsole one bit for the MT101. Why mess with a good thing? The outsole is a scant 2mm (or so) thick at the midfoot with lugs ranging from 1 to 3 mm in the forefoot and midfoot with 5 mm lugs in the heel. There are still circular cutouts in the outsole to reduce weight. These cutouts expose the Rockstop rockplate in the forefoot and midsole foam from the midfoot through the heel.

New Balance MT100 MT101 outsole

The identical outsoles of the New Balance MT100 (top) and MT101 (bottom).

The MT101’s outsole remains perfect for packed dirt trails; however, it’s not the shoe of choice on sloppy trails. That said, the heel does provide some grip, which is why Anton didn’t shave it off before the snowy start of the 2010 Western States 100. I’ll note that, every once in a blue moon, a piece of pointy rock will stick into the heel’s exposed foam.

International Outsole
Note that in some international markets where trail runners demand more traction, such as the UK, New Balance uses a more aggressive NB 840 outsole for the MT101. (iRunFar contest winners will receive the US version no matter where they live.)

New Balance NB 840 outsole MT101

New Balance uses the NB 840 outsole on some international MT101s.

Weight (or lack thereof)
I found the light weight of these shoes to be exhilarating… especially, because I still consider the MT101s to be full-fledged, if stripped-down, shoes. My used MT101s in US men’s 9 weigh 7.48 ounces (212 grams). While that’s pretty darn light, it is a bit heavier than my used MT100s, which weigh in at 7.09 ounces (201 grams). Given that the MT101s still weigh in at less then 7.5 ounces, I can live with an extra 11 grams on each foot.

New Balance WT101

The New Balance WT101 is black and silver with a hint of pink.

My Experience With the New Balance MT101s
As noted at the top, I love the MT101. I get to slip my feet into more trail shoes than I can keep track of and, at the moment, there’s no other shoe that I’d rather slip into for a quick run. These shoes feel fast and make me want to run fast. In fact, while I’m not sure if it’s a placebo effect or my need to be a midfoot runner in the MT101s, I think they do make me run faster. When I want to bust out of my running doldrums, the MT101s are a stiff breeze at my back.

In truth, most of my running in the MT101s has been on a roughly even mix of paved roads, dirt roads with some gravel, and soft shoulders. I admit I love running short road runs in these shoes. No, they are not well-cushioned, but I like the firmness. I can’t see myself ever logging 20 mile all-pavement runs in them, but I have logged up to 5 or 6 miles of pavement in a run without regretting it.

The MT101s also kick butt in the water. The mesh upper instantly takes in water, but it also sheds it like a sieve. Plus, there’s not much in the shoe that can absorb liquid. Within a minute of completing a recent half hour run in the rain, I weighed my MT101s and they weighed in at under 10 ounces. They picked up a scant 2.3 ounces (65 grams) of water for a wet foot total of 9.74 ounces (277 grams). Meet my new stormy weather trail shoes!

In my few proper trail runs, I forced sharp turns, leaped onto pointy boulders, and otherwise pushed the shoes as best I could. They’ve not failed me yet. I do find that, if I’ve not worn them in a while, I find gravely roads to be intermittently painful. However, over a series of runs, I quickly adjust to block out this transient, nuisance-level pain.

Both the MT100 and MT101 have a 10mm drop from heel to toe. Although the drop is a little less than the 11-12mm drop found in many shoes, it is not small. The numbers would lead me to believe that I could train at will in the MT101s. That would be wrong. If you have been a heel striker or have suffered from foot or lower leg issues, please slowly transition to the MT101! The MT101 has a much lower than average 18mm heel height and an 8mm toe height, so there’s not much cushioning. As a result, you will run more on your toes than many of us are used to. The shoes are an awesome tool to help build foot and leg strength and I believe they would make a great transition shoe for long-time runners who later plan on incorporating barefoot running into their running regimen.

As an aside, I speak of the above gradual progression from experience. In November 2009, I was hit with plantar fasciitis. I spent 6 months in extremely supportive shoes while mostly sticking to relatively flat runs. By the time I was symptom free in May 2010, my calves had atrophied from the lack of miles and hills. This summer, even my initial, short 4-5 mile runs in the MT101s left my feet and calves tired the next day. I loved the shoes, but couldn’t wear them more often than every other day and for no more than 5 miles at a time. A few months later, I’ve now worn them for up to 10 miles at a time and I’m holding up much better on 6-8 mile runs in the MT101s. They remain, at most, an every other day shoe. I look forward to continued progression with my new favorite trail running shoes, the New Balance MT101s.

Price and Availability

The MT101s are available now! It’s true that New Balance did up the MSRP $5 from the MT100s to the MT101s, but I think MT1010s are still a steal at $79.95! Note that you can find the MT101 and WT101 for $74.95, the same as previous MSRP for the MT100 and WT100.

Call for Comments/Questions
While the contest is as simple as noted above, we’d love some more info from our readers. If you’ve previously worn the MT100 or WT100 or if you’ve had a chance to try the MT101/WT101, please let us know what you like about them.

As always, please ask any questions you might have about the shoes.

New Balance MT101/WT101 Giveaway
We held a worldwide contest to give away five pairs of the MT101/WT101. Winners were announced here.

[Disclosure: The Amazon link in this article is part of an affiliate program that helps support iRunFar. New Balance provided the sample MT101s as well as the five pairs of MT101/WT101s awarded in the contest.]

There are 842 comments

  1. Tim Corliss

    Enter me in the MT101 giveaway. That is the exact shoe I have been looking for for a long time!

    I’m in Livermore, Ca.

  2. Kevin

    Great review. Thanks for the heel to toe drop and cushioning measurements. I really wish shoe companies would be more forthcoming with all the specs of their shoes. I have the old 790s, but I'm really looking forward to trying out the 101s.

    Kevin

    Los Angeles

  3. Scotty K

    I'd absolutely love to get my hands on a pair of these puppies. By the time I could afford to buy the 100s I couldn't find 'em in a sz 14 anywhere.

    Scott

    Alamosa

  4. Mike

    Hi Bryon,

    Great review, you never cease to amaze me with the amount of work and detail you put into iRF. Keep it up!

    I have not been bitten by the 'minimalist' trail shoe bug (yet) and I do my trail running (including this year's Pikes Peak Ascent) in Saucony Xodus shoes, which I love (on my 3rd pair – each a newer model as they keep updating them!!).

    I do some road running in Nike Free and have some five fingers for general use (not running).

    I currently live in the UK and the NB 100/101s don't seem to be available here but I may test some Saucony Kinvaras (that you recently reviewed) – if I can track some down!

    Cheers

    Mike

  5. Pete

    Great review – Question and my contest entry…

    Bryon, why do you think its purely a marathon and below shoe. I think Anton (Granted its Anton) has worn versions of the MT101 for Leadville and WS100

    Pete Rodrigues

    Yonkers, NY

  6. Glenn Kawabata

    Great review-does the size fit true? I heard that a lot of people had to go up 1/2 size with the 100s (which never made it to any local HI stores as far as I could tell). Anyway I'm looking forward to trying these out.

    Aloha,

    Glenn

  7. Kurt Decker

    Nice write up on the NB 101. I think the small updates will be a nice change for alot of people. Had a chance to try a sample on a few months ago and felt very nice ( just a bit small ). Looking foward to running in a pair.

    Kurt Decker

    Minneapolis,MN

  8. Natural1

    Great review of an awesome shoe! I still run in my 790's on occasion, even though they're completely trashed after 600-700 miles and frequent daily wear. I'd love a pair of 101's for my upcoming fall races – a lightweight shoe would make 50M that much easier. I'm not sure I'd wear these sock-less, but it's good to know that they wouldn't shred my heels if I did…

    Thanks again for the great give-aways!!

    Matt

    Chatham, NY

  9. Kovas Palubinskas

    Really indepth review – especially enjoyed the point by point comparison to problems in the last iteration. This new version is also quite a bit nicer-looking as well, in my opinion.

    Kovas Palubinskas

    Downers Grove, IL

  10. Trail Clown

    This is phase two of my "sensible" (i.e., non-FiveFingers) transition to barefootin'. Phase one was the Vasque Transistors, phase two is me winnin' these sweet 101's, and phase three will be the Minimus next year! Lady luck, be on my side!

    Charlie Mercer

    Hamilton, VA

  11. Lindsey

    Loved the review, very detailed and covered all the important points when looking for a new shoe. I'm finally getting into trail running now that the weather is getting cool. Looking for a quality trail shoe such as this!

    Lindsey

    Centerville, OH

  12. Mike

    I have loved using the 100's for trail running, my only problem with them was how the tongue wouldn't stay flat on my foot, so I'm glad to see that fixed. And since wet conditions won't stop me from hitting the trails, it's good to see the 101's shed water like the 100's. Great review, hoping to win a pair, not that buying a pair would be that bad either.

    Mike

    Charlotte, NC

  13. Rob

    Bryon,

    Thanks for the great review and great job with the website–keep it up. Please enter me in the 101 giveaway.

    Thanks,

    Rob

    Pennsylvania

  14. Jeff

    I've never been so excited for a release of a shoe thant the MT101's! I'm definitely getting these, free or otherwise!

    Jeff Lorow

    Mechanicsburg, PA

  15. David E.

    I wanted to run in the 100's, never got around to it (thanks to Chicago having more roads than trails). Now I want ot run in the 101's even more. I'd love a pair to train for/run an upcoming trail marathon in December.

    David

    Chicago, IL

  16. Benn Dunn

    Benn Dunn

    Crested Butte, CO

    The MT100 is my everyday shoe and I am looking forward to not blowing out the uppers on the new 101.

  17. Ben Hernandez

    I've been geeking out like crazy on the 101's and can't wait to get my hands on a pair. I've done a lot of running in KSO's, but when I switched to the KSO Trek for trails, they killed my feet. The lugs under my big toe just drove right into the joint every step to make it feel like stepping on a rock each time. I've been waiting for something different and better. Something that is still minimal so I can feel the trail and not turn my ankles, but also a shoe that gives me a little protection. Please, please, please enter my name in the drawing. By the way, love the site and all the cool interviews and reviews.

    Ben

    Exeter, CA

    Charlotte, NC

  18. Kevin

    Oh boy! I sure hope I can win this one! The fiance at this point will probably kill me if I go out and BUY another pair of shoes!

    Kevin

    Greenbelt, MD

  19. John McAlister

    Wore the MT100s previously, so looking forward to the improvements in the uppers of the MT101.

    John McAlister

    Toronto, ON

  20. Randy Sabin

    Shoes look awesome!! Would love to try a pair of those on. Air Force runner living in the Virginia Beach area.

    Randy Sabin

    Newport News, VA

  21. Brad Koenig

    I wish they made them in a 12.5, but they stop making half sizes at 12. The 12 is just a tad too small, and the 13 is a bit on the large side… but I'll find a way to make one of these sizes work, as I love these shoes.

    Thanks for the great write up

    -Brad

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