New Balance Minimus Trail Review

Flying New Balance logoThe New Balance Minimus Trail is here… at least at iRunFar headquarters. Unlike most iRunFar reviews, we’re so excited to share this shoe with you that we reviewed this shoe as soon as we could

Please feel free to ask away about the shoe and we’ll either share our personal experiences with the shoe or attempt to get you an answer. First, we highly recommend reading the comments, where we’ve answered many questions about the Minimus Trail.

Below, following an overview of the Minimus Trail, are my initial impressions, thoughts from my first run, and a look at the shoe’s components before some final words of caution. Without further delay, we present the New Balance Minimus Trail.

New Balance Minimus Trail
Minimus Overview
New Balance Minimus logoIn case you’re unfamiliar with New Balance’s forthcoming Minimus line, it’s a series of low-profile, minimalist shoes inspired by and designed with significant input from Anton Krupicka. While the Minimus line will include a Trail, Road, and Lifestyle shoe for both men and women, the Trail model is the one with the closest ties to Anton. New Balance and Anton have been keen to share the inspiration behind and development of the Minimus line. We previously shared some of this with you.

First Impressions
First off, the NB Minimus Trail is visually stunning. I sit here entranced by the flashy orange, black, and silver. When I can focus on the details, I’m absorbed in the materials used in the shoe’s upper, many of which are striking in their uniqueness in a trail shoe. Flip the Minimus Trail over and it’s an outsole unlike any that I’ve seen before with nooks and crannies where I would expect lugs. I touch the shoe. I indulge in its plush interior. I want to put on this shoe rather than have it sit on my desk.

The scale doesn’t lie and the Minimus Trail in a US men’s 9 weighs in at 7.45 ounces (212 grams). Yes, there are lighter shoes out there. Even my slightly worn New Balance MT101s (iRF MT101 review) come in a gram or two lighter. Still, these shoes will not weigh down your feet. Your feet, however, will be down close to the ground. The Minimus Trail has a heel height of 9 mm with a toe height of 5 mm for a heel/toe drop of 4 mm.

Slipping my feet into the shoe, I quickly notice the natural constriction point – the ball of the foot. That’s where the outsole rises up both medially and laterally. Those protrusions onto the upper are connected by what appears to be a brushed rubber strap. The feeling of having your foot connected with your shoe at such a low point, just at the transition between metatarsals and toes, is quite different, though not uncomfortable.

New Balance Minimus Trail
The Minimus line’s “natural last” is also quickly apparent, particularly in the toe box. My toes have tons of space to wiggle around and ample room between toe’s end and shoe’s end. In testing the toe box, the shoe’s flexibility shows off a bit, too. In raising my toes, the front of the shoe, including the outsole, easily rise. What’s more, I can see any movement I make with my toes. Ahead of the brushed rubber strap, there is no structure to speak of in the Minimus Trail’s upper.

Before I proceed, we suppose you’ll want some details about when you can get a pair of New Balance Minimus Trails for yourself. Well, they’ll be available for $100 in March 2011.

First Run Impressions
To start, I’m not a full-on minimalist trail runner and definitely not a barefoot runner. There’s nothing wrong with either, I just haven’t gone in those directions. Since college, the lowest heel/toe drop that I’ve run in with any consistency is a 10mm drop as found in the MT101 and numerous other trail shoes. Therefore, it’s not surprising that I immediately felt tightness in my left calf, which has given me various issues over the past year and half. There was no pain, so I continued on.

What struck me most during this first run was how much the Minimus felt like a shoe. I mean that in a good way. My foot was protected from trail encounters with rocks, brush, downed tree limbs, and snow. I didn’t have to worry about where I placed every footfall. I could just run, which, I guess, is what I enjoy most.

New Balance Minimus Trail

The NB Minimus Trail out for their first run.

Despite being a “shoe,” the Minimus Trail always left my body to do its own bidding. When climbing, my feet had to work. When I’d step on an obstacle, my foot would would drape over it. I was oft reminded that I have long neglected many lower leg muscles, which have atrophied even more over the past year while dealing with plantar fasciitis. These reminders weren’t a bad thing. They were a wake up call. Fortunately, I see the Minimus Trail (and MT101) as perfect tools to regain the trail strength I need.

As for performance, the shoe was quite comfortable. Although the run was short, I did not experience any hotspots or any hint of irritation during my sockless run. What’s more is that despite running on lightly snow-covered trails at 30F with a howling wind, my feet were never cold. (The one tip I would give likely snow runners is to err toward a larger size so you can wear socks that cover the gap between your shoes and tights or pants.)

The Minimus Trail provided plenty of traction on loosely frozen dirt trails. It repeated the feat on snow without ever accumulating any snow in the outsole, as on the return leg of an out-and-back all my footprints were perfect imprints. Even the upper stayed largely snow free. Post run, the Minimus Trails had taken on a scant half ounce (13 grams) of water. I love that there’s precious little material to soak up water.

Components
Upper
The focus on minimalism is apparent in the NB Minimus Trail’s upper. There are structural elements, but not many. The only possible unnecessary components would be some slight branding on the tongue and outside of the shoe; however, even those elements have purpose as we’ll see.

New Balance Minimus Trail
Two meshes comprise the majority of the upper.

The mesh at the front of the toe box, the sides, and the rear of the shoe is an extremely open mesh. This mesh is most often backed by a thin, much more finely woven fabric that both keeps out dust and debris as well as to serve as much of the shoe’s liner. This open mesh with backing, while flexible, is surprisingly inelastic and serves as structural fabric.

New Balance Minimus Trail upper
A moderately open mesh with a highly elastic backing material is found through much of the toe box and all of the tongue. This mesh allows for excellent mobility for your toes and the front of your ankle. The tongue is thin, but with enough cushioning to be comfortable. It’s also fully gusseted. There’s a small, rubberized New Balance Minimus logo at the top of the tongue. Given that the gusseted tongue can’t slip down much, that tiny piece may be unnecessary, but it is useful in making slight adjustments to the tongue and could be easily cut off if you care about milligrams. Together, the upper’s mesh make it feel light, airy, and good option on a hot day… though today’s 30F temperatures make that idle speculation.

Brushed rubber makes up many of the major structural components of the Minimus Trail. In the heel, a triangle of outsole rises up to an inch onto the upper. That triangle is flanked on each side by 1/2″ strips of the bushed rubber that merge into a 1 1/2″ vertical band. Two 3/4″-wide rubber strips extend diagonally from the top of the counter the rear of the midfoot. Together, these elements for a slight heel counter.

As noted in my initial impressions, there’s a rubber strip between the toes and metarasals. This strip helps connect your foot to the shoe and, I hypothesize, keeps your foot from slipping to the front of the shoe.

In the midfoot, a pair of 1 cm strips on both the inside and outside of the shoe provide support. A light plastic “N” overlay on the outside of the shoe provides a bit more structure. (This “N” may seem purely cosmetic, but I feel it is at worst insignicant and, much more likely, useful support that doesn’t greatly interfere with your foot’s mechanics.) Wrapping up the midfoot’s structure are rubber strips along both sets of eyelets running from the forefoot’s rubber strip to the ankle collar. With little substance in the midfoot, these eyelet bands help to bond the shoes to your feet.

I’ve got two final notes regarding the upper. First, the shoes laces are standard shoelaces rather than the MT100/101s sausage links. The laces are an appropriate length that do not require trimming, tucking, or triple knotting. Second, the ankle collar is gloriously low. I often have problems with ankle collars being too high. That’s not the case here. As a bonus, there’s a thin ribbon of silky fabric ringing the top of the ankle collar.

Upper’s Interior
Great design work is apparent throughout the Minimus Trail. However, once you look inside the shoe, you see the attention to craftsmanship. This craftsmanship is notable enough for me to mention the upper’s interior, a shoe aspect I rarely touch on here at iRunFar.

I suppose that given the sockless comfort of the MT101, I shouldn’t be all that surprised that shoe fits like a glove not just in fit, but also in on-body comfort. The vast majority of the upper’s interior is made up of silky smooth synthetic fabrics with unobtrusive stitching. In the heel, there’s what appears to be synthetic suede. This, too, is plush. The synthetic suede (if that’s what it is) also adds durability for where your heel slides in and provides a tad bit of additional structure in the heel. The footbed feels like a standard felt footbed. The only surprise is that it’s not removable.

Midsole
We can skip this one… there is no appreciable midsole. There’s the slightest of cushion underfoot, but no more than your standard insole.

Outsole
New Balance worked with Vibram to develop the Minimus Trail’s outsole. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s unique. In fact, it’s unique enough that it’s the design aspect of the Miminus line that New Balance kept most under wraps. We’ll skip trying to describe the lug pattern, as in this case an image is much more useful.
New Balance Minimus Trail outsole

Aside from the lugs, the outsole is newsworthy in its use as a structural component in three places. As previously noted, the outsole is curved up near the ball of the foot and the heel to provide some structure. The third structure use of the outsole is as the entirety of the arch support. That’s right. The footbed of the Miminus Trail is completely flat. Instead, the outsole curves up in the instep to provide a modicum of arch support.

Words of Caution
I generally give a word of caution when reviewing minimally structured or low heel/toe drop shoes. This time I’m lucky as New Balance has been quite responsible in attaching the following to the Minimus:

Caution: This product increases the strain on the foot, calf, and Achilles tendon. Overuse of this product or use of activities outside of running and walking may increase the risk of sustaining injury.

This product should be introduced slowly into a running exercise routine. New Balance recommends limiting initial use to 10% of overall running workouts and very gradually increasing training time and distance.

If I remember correctly, distribution of the Minimus line will be tightly controlled when it is released in March 2011. I believe the only online outlet will be shopnewbalance.com and that there will be a significant educational aspect to the purchasing experience. I’m excited to see New Balance taking such care in releasing this product.

Call for Questions and Comments
Feel free to leave any comments you might have about the Minimus. If you’ve seen these in person or run in them, please share your take.

There are 113 comments

  1. Gerald

    You are dead right. I took the minimus out on a 70km trail run and whilst they feel great and allow your foot to do its stuff after 60km those pointy stones started getting sharper.

  2. Erik Bahnsen

    I'm wondering how this shoe fits compared to MT 101's. I wear 10.5 in 101. I live in Sitka,AK and dont have a place to try shoes on. I must order online.

    Thanks

    Erik

  3. FogRunner

    I settled on these shoes because I wanted a bit more forefoot cushioning for road races than my Merrell Sockrunners offered, plus I wanted to save the Merrells for the trails. The Vibram outsole is firm but not hard, yet it is durable. I won a road 5K in these the day after I bought them. Felt like I was running on the New York Armory track. Very nice feel, great traction. The heel-toe drop could be 3mm or 2mm to help keep my heel from lightly bottoming out sometimes on flat ground. Uphills no problem, of course. Downhills are a little harder to remain forefoot and maintain smoother footplant momentum, but I was able to do it by keeping my feet well beneath my center of gravity. The toe strap was a bit snug, and I found some extra tongue material hanging down that made that area even snugger. I fixed the problem by cutting away the extra tongue material and forcefully overstretching the rubber metatarsal band. So I have the Merrell's for grass, dirt and pine trails, and the NB's for any road runs (I have four pairs of Nike Rayong I sandals for when I want to baby my feet after hard days). Great job New Balance for listening to us runners!

  4. Evan R

    I really like the NB Minimus Trails. In my mind they are an excellent compromise between protection and minimalism, and I've found that my 5fingers have gotten much less use since I bought the Minimus. Two cons, however. 1st and foremost, they are not very durable. After putting around 200 miles on them, they are beyond the point where most people would retire a shoe. I wear shoes to death, so I'm still wearing them. Granted I'm hard on shoes- I run on pretty rough terrain around Flagstaff, AZ, and I put a fair amount of off-trail miles on them. 2nd con- if you're a desert runner, avoid cacti at all costs. They will penetrate your soft foam sole. The minimalistic design might by nature decrease the durability of the shoes, but I'm used to shoes lasting me much much longer (I have thousands of miles on my old salomon's, and I still wear them occasionally). But I do really like the Minimus.

    Cheers,

    Evan

  5. Minimus Lover

    How do you take care of these shoes? They seem to smell more than most because I don't use socks when I run in them?

    1. Bryon Powell

      Funny you should ask, just this morning I put my Minimus out in the sun to help kill off some of the bacteria. If sunlight doesn't work, try soaking them in a mild detergent for an hour or two and then throwing them in the shower (or something) to make sure you get all the soap out before running in them.

  6. Christopher Sandland

    I purchased a pair of the NB Minimus 3 weeks ago. Although review is very premature and a heavily pregnant wife precludes me from running far from the house at the moment, my first impressions were fantastic. The right hand side small toe clearance is a bit tight and had a few blisters on the left after a sockless run…(Ankle and big toe) my feet hopefully will get stronger and with socks the fit is amzaingly comfortable. After being told to rest after my first Ultra otherwise Achilles would snap :o( + I have run a few 5M and have found my achilles tendonitus has abated, whether this is due to 6 weeks rest or running in minimus (with socks on for now….till feet strengthen) I don't really care! The Brooks Cascadia will most probably go in the bin ( a likely cause of my problems in the first place which is a shame as I had them fitted specially a la treadmill and video!) and trusted battered adidas kanadia's will be used sparingly. Thanks to all your comments and reviews which helped a massive amount on choosing a pair of trail shoes that will hopefully get me running distance again. A beginner to Ultra's I will try and review over the next 6 months which hopefully will be injury free…..toes crossed.

    Chris (Hertfordshire UK)

  7. Andy

    I have been a VFF runner for coming up to 2 years now and never thought any shoe could replace them. Then I tried NB Minimus and Merrell Trail Glove and now I prefer running in both rather than VFF. I still run shorter distances in FF but the extra protection of the NB and trail glove over longer distance makes for a more enjoyable run. The minimus and trail glove are the best shoes / foot wear I have ever bought. The minimus would be the best had they had a 0mm drop heel to toe. Comfortable, great feel and sexy looking shoe. I'm always disappointed when my run ends and I have to take them off.

    Can you wash them in a washing machine?

    Chris…did I bump into you at wimpole on 10 oct wearing my red minimus?

  8. Chris S

    Yes you did bump into me…..we shall have to go for a run sometime, dont know how to get in touch but should of swapped numbers when we saw each other….went for 3-4 miles barefeet today….was a blast until I got to the car park at work and on the pebble dash surface ( bit too sharp) …that hurt, still running with the minimus 8M at the weekend and still no injuries, pick it up a bit in the next couple of months and try running in my merrels. Am thinking about some Innov8's for the mucky winter….as the merrels and minimus not much in the way of grip….anybody got any reviews or advice on them….? There is a good cross country marathon in Feb 2012 Belvoir Challenge…you should do it!

  9. Andy

    Chris…you might be interested in checking out my blog reviewing minimalist shoes inc. vff, nb minimus and trail gloves. http://www.caveman-clarke.blogspot.com have a look.

    I'm still recovering from ITBS at the moment. Iv had to stop running to let the IT band recover properly (hopefully) so when I'm running again we could head out. Get holds of me via my blog.

  10. Joel

    I finally got a pair of Trail Minimus shoes last week. Very happy with these. I've run in them three times and I already consider these to be the trail equivalent of my road shoes, the Wave Universe 3s.

    The only thing I'm not thrilled with is the fact that I had to buy the 2E wide version of the shoe in order to get a comfortable toe-box where my toes can fully splay without rubbing and blistering. I've always found New Balance shoes to be a bit narrow in the toe box (and a bit more curved than my foot actually is…but I digress), and it would be nice if they offered the wider size in all their colors, not just red.

    But that aside, I love running in these shoes. No blisters, nothing in the upper is rubbing me the wrong way, the traction is exceptionally good (in dry Arizona) and ground feel is perfect.

  11. Mud Hill Runner Mart

    These are great minimal shoes for DRY trails and if you have done the 'legwork' to crossover to forefoot strike and drills to assist with this they will give you little if any grief. Good fit without socks, drain well but they are a little stiff around the heel and may blister you. Unfortunately if you show this shoe some serious wet mud or grass, of which there is plenty in the UK, they fail miserably. They have no traction and the low profile vibram sole is very slippery. Disappointed and am back in the old chunky Trabuccos for those muddy runs till I get a new trail shoe for the dirty Cotswold Way.

  12. Dan

    Have these been discontinued? Amazon is almost always out (UK) apart from crazily priced third party sellers; apart from the odd £70 site I can't find them in the uk :/ Looking to pick up a few pairs…

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