Boxers or briefs? While I doubt the question has started any wars, it is certainly one that forms strong opinions. Perhaps this is because the way someone answers says something primordial about that person… or maybe it’s just too personal. If you ever engage in a serious discussion on the topic (which I highly encourage after 30-plus miles and a couple of beers), you will find that it boils down to two things: comfort and style.
The same kind of argument can be heard going on in the trail running world at the moment. How we, as runners, choose to wrap our feet has become a hot and diverse topic. We have folks going commando (barefoot). We have people wearing red long-johns (Hokas and their offspring). And, there are many places in the middle where one can find his or her niche and particular style in the trail-shoe world. One such niche is the innovative shoes from Newton Running. While the majority of their offerings have been road shoes, Newton has tried to break into the trail scene… first with the Terra Momentus (later renamed the Momentum) and, now, with the Newton BOCO AT ($129).
The BOCO AT (which stands for ‘Boulder Colorado All-Terrain’) follows Newton’s overall design strategy of encouraging forefoot running through the use of a ‘break-over’ point in the sole located near the ball of the foot. The construction of the outsole and midsole is built around this idea.
The outsole has high-density rubber at both the front and rear of the tread with an exposed midsole section in the middle of the shoe. Both the rubber and the exposed midsole provide excellent traction on the full gamut of surfaces (snow, ice, rock, dirt, mud, pavement). The combination of sticky rubber and excellent ground-contact assure this. However, as is the case with most rubbers of this type, the sole wore quicker than I had hoped and showed wear at a relatively low mileage.
The BOCO AT has four lugs that run directly underneath the ball of the foot where the ‘break-over’ should occur. In their more recent road offerings, Newton has used a five-lug design, which is meant to correspond with the five metatarsals in the foot. The BOCO AT doesn’t reflect that design, but does have sufficient stability through the midfoot with the four lugs and two half/auxiliary lugs on the outside edges.
The midsole is where the magic happens in the BOCO AT’s. Directly underneath the ball of the foot (if the shoe is sized correctly), a runner will notice a spot in the midsole that is meant to act as a fulcrum. As your foot moves across this point, it encourages the foot to tip forward and propel the runner onto the forefoot. And, I can attest that it does this. I noticed a slight improvement in my cadence while wearing the BOCO AT’s and my calves let me know I am up further on my foot than I usually fall.
This ‘break-over’ apparently requires a fair bit of foam to occur as the stack height on the BOCO AT’s is sizeable (28mm and 25mm). But, the cushioning is there to make up for that additional height.
However, it’s awkward. At least for the first 50 miles, I didn’t especially relish putting on the shoes and going for a run. The ‘break-over’ is a significant change from your usual running-shoe mechanics and a significant departure from the tried-and-true midsoles that most of us have experienced. In other words, we’re not in boxer OR brief territory anymore. After 50 miles, I found that the ‘break-over’ compressed some and my footfalls didn’t feel near as awkward. Still, I found that the style of the midsole and its change to my biomechanics was not my top choice.
I will say it clearly: Newton makes a beautiful trail running upper. You can tell that they know how to design a shoe when you start picking at the BOCO AT’s construction. Small points like a gusseted tongue and metal-reinforced eyelets make big difference when it comes to comfort and durability. I found the materials and construction to be the best I have worn in a while.
While the sides sport some mesh portions for breathability and minimal drainage, the majority of the upper is constructed from ripstop nylon and vinyl overlays. While being incredibly durable, the nylon is further treated with a DWR (durable water-repellent) finish. This choice of materials and treatment meant that the upper stayed relatively clean through mud and slush and my feet stayed warm and mostly dry through the nasty parts of the winter and spring.
The 9.7 ounce (US men’s 9) Newton BOCO AT’s are a well-conceived and well-executed pair of trail running shoes. They weathered some of the wettest and coldest runs of the year for me and, aside from a little outsole wear, came through looking and performing great. The materials, construction, finish, and fit are all top shelf. And, if the features/review ended there, I would recommend them without reservation.
However, you have to figure out if the Newton-style of mechanics works for you. And, this is truly a personal decision. I believe that you can’t fully appreciate what these shoes have to offer until you put them on and take them for several runs. And, after all that, you may still end up deciding that you like the old, comfortable style of midsole better. But, you have to try it. With a design as unique as this, you can’t let someone else determine something as intimate as what you will wrap around your feet.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in the BOCO AT’s? If so, share your thoughts on your experiences with them.
- For those of you who have run in any Newton Running shoe, what do you think about their unique mechanics? Does your body like it? What do Newton mechanics actually feel like to you?