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.

[If you enjoy this review, please consider subscribing to iRunFar via RSS or via email. You can also follow iRunFar on Facebook and Twitter.]

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. Kevin

    I wear my New Balance when I need to scoot. Thanks for the sweet review. I like that the design uses runner input and preferences. Skaggs certified is good enough for this guy. I take mine in size 10.5. Come on lucky blog comment. Cheers.

    Kevin

    Santa Fe, NM

  2. Stuart

    Yes please!

    I have a pair of MT100 which I bought a half size large as the toe box was too narrow. However, the overall width of the larger size has made for a sloppy fit. I definitely would like to try a free pair of the MT101 in a proper size.

    Stuart

    Hong Kong

  3. John R.

    I have been getting into minimalist footwear for running and the MT101's seem to be the talk of the town. John Rife Los Angeles CA

  4. Neil Bryant

    Hi guys,

    Thanks for such an informative, honest site with well respected reviews. The MT101's look to be awsome. Currently running with the Inov8 f-lite 230's which are amazing, but I'm always wanting to experiment and I have yet to try New Balance. NB being my initials, I'm suprised I haven't tried them before! Unfortunately, I haven't seen these in the UK, so to win a pair would be just amazing!

    Cheers,

    Neil Bryant, UK

  5. Michael Raines

    After making the transition to the Kinvara's for the road, this sounds like a possible solution to my trail running dilemma. I'd love to win a pair!

    Michael

    Winston Salem, NC

  6. Milson Jenkins

    Been waiting for one of my favorite shoe companies like new balance to come out with a minimal trail shoe with some actual research behind it; right on new balance! I'm really excited about this shoe. Milson Jenkins- New York

  7. Zach Smith

    I currently run trails in road shoes – Brooks Launch and Saucony Kinvara. I like what New Balance is doing with their trail shoes. They seem to be the first company to really "get it" as far as design goes for these types of shoes. They understand we don't want to run in shoes that feel like boots – give us flexible light, and low offset shoes!

    Half the fun of trail running is the feeling of being light and nimble, looks like New Balance is hitting the nail on the head with these 101's and Minimus lines.

    Zach

    Louisville, KY

  8. Joel

    Joel, Austin, TX

    I am a really huge fan of these shoes and picked up a pair on day one of them arriving at the store. I'd worn the MT100s for probably around 500-600 miles, and the tread was essentially gone on the forefoot. I plan on doing the same with these. One word of warning – be careful about wearing them without socks. I had skin rubbed off in 3 different places (heel, top of foot -the tongue bunched and scraped, and worst of all, my little toe on my right foot). A thin pair of Drymax socks and I was back in business.

  9. Cameron

    I've heard great things about the 100s. I am running my first "mini" ultra in April (35 miles), and would like to start incorporating some trail mileage into my training. These would fit the bill perfectly! Thanks for the chance to win!

    Cameron

    Memphis, TN

  10. Sagar

    Thanks for the review. Minimalist running shoes are far and beyond in India (though there are canvas shoes with minimal rubber available). Will definitely get a pair when available here though I hope to get a pair faster through this giveaway! Thanks,

    Hyderabad,

    India

  11. S Brindle

    These New Balance give you the best of the old and new. In the seventies a low profile shoe like this was pretty common. So no we have all the new technology with the simplicity of the seventies. Great shoe.

    S Brindle

    Longwood, FL

  12. SFH

    I still have the first iteration of these shoes, the MT790. I've been running in these since I first transitioned to more minimalist shoes and running style last year. I haven't had a chance to try the MT100. But I would love to try out the new MT101 (as well as the Minimus when they come out). Please send me a pair!

  13. brenda

    Thanks for the thorough review. I've been wondering how they would stack up on paved roads. I just found your site on a link from Running and Rambling, and I will be back often.

  14. Jordi Ramot

    I've been running with Salomon XT Wings for a long time and believe are a great pair of trail running shoes but I like radical approaches like the MT101. I live in Spain and I bet I won't find them in the stores yet, so hey NB throw me a 9'5 pair and I'll show them off in the upcoming races! :)

    Jordi

    Girona, Spain

  15. Torkel Skogman

    Have been running in the 100 for some time now and they are my main off road shoe. Am definitely going to get a pair of 101's one way or the other…

    Torkel

    Stockholm, Sweden

  16. Brendan

    Great review. I've been running in the MT840 for a little over a year and love them, with a few minor quips which I think are addressed squarely by the 101. My only hesitation in buying the 101s is that I know I'll want the Minimus come Spring. But maybe both can find a place in my closet…

    Brendan

    Pittsburgh, PA

  17. Tim Ensor

    The Mt100s were ace and with the improvements I cant see there being a shoe I would rather be in. The thing is you cant even get them down here!

    Tim Ensor

    New Zealand

  18. Raby

    I am a newbie on the NorCal trails (though not on the roads) and have been scouring the net to decide on my first pair of trail shoes. this review made me salivate.

    I think if I don't win these shoes I will expire in a puddle of longing

    please please send me some shoes!!

  19. Amy FH

    Training for multiple ultras in the coming months. Have found some great minimalist options for road running but need something better for the trail… would love to try these

    Amy F-H

    Mentor, OH

  20. Steven Wray

    Would love a pair of these. I currently run in virams on the roads but need someething more substantial for the trails.

    Steve

    Burleson Texas

  21. Nancy

    I became a New Balance trail convert with my first (of many) pairs of WT790s and this year have enjoyed the 100s even more. My only complaint is that the uppers of both models are less than robust — the uppers of the 790s tend to tear at the flex point near the ball of the foot, and the lateral fabric on my first pair of 100s (both left and right shoes) tore the full length from ball to heel just above the midsole after not too many hundreds of miles, and it makes sense to ShoeGoo them only so many times. I'm hoping the new construction of the 101s will help alleviate this weakness, because the 100s are otherwise a perfect match for my body type and running style. In addition to shorter distances, I've raced several trail 50Ks and one 50-miler in the 100s (and many more in the 790s), and I don't see myself ever reverting to "more" shoe. I'm also looking forward to trying out the Minimus.

    Nancy

    Trumansburg, NY (Finger Lakes)

  22. Al Torres

    Can't wait to get my feet into a pair of MT101's. Slowly getting into the trails and a pair of these would be fabulous!

    Al Torres

    Irvine, CA

Post Your Thoughts