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. Chin Wui Mon

    Really hope and prayed that I could win this shoe.

    Doubt that I will get this in my country.

    Just started trail running and got hooked to it.

    Looking for a suitable shoes for trail run.

    NB MT 101 is rocking.

    Great review and enjoyed this website.

    Mon

    I'm in Petaling Jaya,

    MALAYSIA..heard of this country?

    Thanks.

  2. Chip Trimmier

    I have the MT100s and I can understand how the improvements truly are improvements. There are several things that I love about the MT100: they are the easiest shoes to pack in luggage that I have ever worn, they shed water instantly, they keep the pointy rocks from stabbing my feet and I feel like I instantly run faster when I put them on. On the other hand, I have a few gripes. The tongue bunches up and is constantly in flux and never in a good way. The Achilles thing hasn’t bugged me yet, but the foot-slipping-inside-shoe thing has. The more flexible rock plate may or may not be welcome depending on whether it continues to keep pointy things from stabbing me quite as effectively as the MT100s. I too can’t wear them on every run, so I swap up with a pair of Cascadia. I ran The Big Schloss 50k in the Cascadia and I think that was a good move on my part. Maybe next year I will be ready to wear the lightweights on a long run after some good transition time.

    Baltimore, MD

  3. Luis Cardona

    I am currently looking at purchasing a set of 101's but I am not too sure. I currently used New Balance's 070's as my main running shoes, I usually run 3-5 miles in the morning every other day. I want to transition to trail running once I move out of Active Duty Army and go back home to the beautiful city of Chicago, Illinois!

    I know the 070's were labeled as trail running shoes but they are over all really rough and they seem more of a walking/casual shoe. Thank you for such a great review!

  4. Glen

    Been through a few pairs of MT100's, both developed large holes in the uppers after several hundred miles. Looking forward to the new improvements!

    SLC

  5. Vojta

    Hi, I dindt win them, but I would like to order them, I have a question about sizing? Do they fit with same size as normal NB running shoes?

    Thanks for answer

    Vojta

    1. Bryon Powell

      Vojta,
      If you plan on running sockless in the MT101, you should take the same size as your normal New Balance shoes. Otherwise, go one size (1/2 size US or UK, or one size EU) up. If you find yourself wearing two different size shoes, depending on the manufacturer, going with the larger size in the MT101.

  6. Joe R.

    Hello –

    I've been running in the MT series (100 and 101) for a year and a half and really like them. I completed a 25K in the 100s and am scheduled for my first 50K at the end of March. I read your review on the MT series and came away concerned that running in a 50K in these shoes is not advisable. Maybe I'm over-analyzing your opinion. I use the 101 for all my runs, i.e. pavement or trail, and really like the shoe. I'm particularly concerned because my training program now has getting into distance I've never run before, i.e. >15 miles.

    Any insight you can provide regarding my concerns is greatly appreciated.

    Thank You

    1. Bryon Powell

      Joe,
      If you're using the MT101s for all your runs, then, by all means, continue to do so as you build toward and run your 50k. There's nothing wrong with the shoe that should stop one from running in it after a certain distance. I merely wished to suggest that most people can't and probably shouldn't just jump right in and log really long runs in such a shoe.

  7. steve nairn

    I love the 101 and i run everything in them. I think that the protective mesh on the outside perhaps should be put on the inside as i have blown out a few pairs at the heel and toe area in short time. some potential for more aggressive lugs. what are your thoughts?. reasons for this is that the trails here are tearing them up and some rock types they have less grip (volcanic rock). happy trails

  8. George O

    I am on my second pair of MT101's and I love them! The design in my opinion is near perfect! If I could change one thing about this shoe, it would be to start the lacing further up the foot (actually more around the midfoot) as to leave more room in the toe box and allow for swelling. That said, my feet swell nicely into this shoe as the mesh material expands nicely. As for traction, WOW! I actually did not expect much traction from these but I have taken them on some of the gnarliest trails in the NW where it rains allot and big wet slippery rocks cover the trails descending 2000 feet within 2 miles without any issues at all. I actually take the insoles out just to make them that much lighter and my foot rests nice and flat. Due to the LOW profile that this shoes provide, I have yet to sprain any ankles! A number of times I have felt my heel ready to turn but since my foot is so darn close to the ground, ankle rolling is a non issue!

    There is one con: If you are doing lots of steep downhill trail running, and it really wet conditions, you will blast the mesh material away from the sole of your shoe from the constant pressure of your foot. But hey, I managed to get a little over 600 miles out of my old pair so I guess that is not too bad! :)

    New Balance, you guys have got a crazy awesome shoe here. Please do not change anything (well perhps the lacing part as described earlier) on this shoe!

    For those of you who question if this shoe can survive a 50k? HELL YES! It will survive 50 milers, and 100 milers!

    George

  9. George O

    Glen, the uppers still delevope holes in the MT101 but that is the price to pay for such thin, lightweight material. The thin mesh material allows for super quick drying and flex of the forefoot, the price to pay is that the mesh is not super strong! I got around 600 miles from my old pair of MT101's so I am confident I got my money's worth from the shoe.

  10. mjhisey

    After dabbling in minimalist/barefoot running in the Vibram Five Finger KSO's, I decided I would try the MT101's as sort of a "happy medium". As of today I have 370 miles on my MT101's and I think they are the best shoe I have ever owned. They are light, the fit is great, and they are low to the ground. 75% of my miles have been on asphalt, the rest has been in hard-pack trails. My runs have averaged 15+ miles with never a problem (aside from break in that lasted all of 4 or 5 runs.) I don't think this shoe can be beat, especially for the price!

  11. mjhisey

    Still a great shoe with no problems after 550 miles. I'm transitioning into the Merrell Trail Glove now and have a pair of the Minimus Trail shoes on the way as well. I just can't make up my mind about what shoe I like the best.

  12. Nick

    Hi Guys,

    I love those shoes too and been using them for nearly 3 months now and have wearing them for most (90%) of my runs. However, I've had a sudden pain the other day on a cool flat run, on my left foot. More precisely it started hurtig vividly on the external side and sole of my foot where the sole of the shoe is the most narrow (the mid part of your foot that touches the ground between the heel and the ball of teh metatarsals basically). I thought it could be due to teh fact that the sole is quite narrow, maybe too much fort my foot and that the nerve in that area got compressed. which gives me that pain and faint numbness….Don't know if it's because of the shoe or maybe I should get a size larger…

    Has anyone else had that before?

    Cheers

    Nic

    1. George O

      Nick, I would guess that if you have never had this pain in the past with the shoes, then the pain/injury was or is caused by something else. I would recommend going a size larger and seeing how the shoe fits. I would wait until you are healed so that you can tell more acurately how the shoe feels. Unfortunately, buying the right shoe is trial and error.

      Run free

      George O

      1. Nick

        Hi George,

        Yeah I found it weird to have that sudden pain on a flat easy run especially after a few months running with them…might be due to the rather not so hard but busy previous running week… My physio told me I should alternate and maybe run a bit less with these for a while..she thought my cuboïde was compressing the tendon or something like that….dunno what to think.

        Thanks for your help!

        N

  13. KenZ

    I have a few hundred miles on mine, including several 20+ mile trail runs, with the longest at 35 miles. Not sure I'd do more than a 50 miler on them, and not a rough trail (or road) 50. One comment I have: Traction may be good on wet SOLID conditions such as rock and sandy-based mud trail coverings, but I recently had a race in the UK that was a disaster with the 101s. Think extremely slippery ankle deep mud (without firm base beneath it). Think steep slippery wet grassy slopes down (and up). I think anything short of an innov8 wouldn't have helped, but the 101s were like sliding on butter, to include a slip near a gate and impaling my hand almost all the way through (2" deep) on a gate latch.

    Summary: I love my 101s; they're my favorite shoe. But for muddy slop conditions, I'll look elsewhere.

    1. George O

      Kenz,

      I agree with you on this. Wet rock, and trails not an issue. But you get into some slippery mud or grass going up and down hills then you are going to have issues. The MT101 does not have the lugs that the inov8's mudclaw has for example. I do all of my 50k utras in the MT101 and I cannot see myself doing a 50 miler in them. I would probably turn to the Brooks Cascadia for anything longer than 50k.

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