There is a type of trail shoe that I refer to as a battleship: those durable all-day cruisers with enough cushioning and protection for 100 miles. The long-term mainstays include shoes like the Brooks Cascadia and the Montrail Mountain Masochist. Newcomers include Pearl Izumi’s N2/M2, Nike’s Wildhorse 3, Altra’s Lone Peak, and the Montrail Bajada. These shoes are all a mainstay at any 100 miler in the U.S., and they seem to be favorites of the veterans with drawers full of buckles. When I review a shoe like this, I expect fantastic durability, a moderate amount of cushioning and protection, and a smooth ride that can be on my foot all day without blisters or fit issues. The New Balance Leadville v3 ($125) has become a shoe that fits these criteria perfectly.
The aptly named Leadville v3 improves on its predecessors by adding a bit of stack height while retaining its middle-weight status at 10.8 ounces. Otherwise, New Balance has essentially stuck with what has worked for them with this shoe in the past but with some material simplifications.
The fit of the past MT1210s is retained in the Leadville, and New Balance has tried to strike a balance between the use of laminates versus synthetic overlays which are much more durable. The Leadville has a more breathable mesh upper than past versions, and the aforementioned laminates are eschewed in favor of a more durable rand around the entire upper. This acts as a toe bumper and provides protection from rocks and low-lying vegetation as well as additional insurance against blowouts.
The tongue is amply padded and gusseted without feeling bulky against the top of the foot. Sausage laces are effective and stay tied, and the ankle collar is highly padded. I would describe the fit of the upper as roomy throughout which may turn off some runners looking for a more locked-down feel. However, I never experienced my foot sliding forward on steep downhills. Fast lateral movement and side trailing did cause my foot to feel a bit unstable, though. The Leadville has a wide forefoot with ample toe-box height and plenty of room throughout the upper to accommodate swollen feet, which is a regular problem in most ultra races beyond 50 miles.
I have read on some retail sites that perspective buyers should size down 1/2 size to get a good fit in the Leadville v3, and it all depends. As someone who likes a little bit of extra toe room in front of my toes, I was fine with my true size. But, if you like a bit more of a snug fit, size down.
This is really where the Leadville shines, as the midsole provides a smooth and unobtrusive ride from heel to toe off. Being a mid-foot striker that craves forefoot cushioning, I found that the Leadville provided plenty for long runs in excess of 20 miles. When inadvertently heel striking going downhill, the Leadville again feels sublime without ever crossing the line into the unstable feel of excessive or mushy cushioning. I was really pleased at the ability to run on concrete, dirt roads, and technical trails all in the same run, with every surface feeling smooth and protected.
New Balance uses both N2 and Revlite cushioning and medial posting consisting of higher-density EVA foam is utilized to decrease overpronation. What I like about this degree of stability is that it doesn’t feel like it interrupts a neutral gait, and it seems to work great with both early and late-stage overpronation. Even the most neutral runners have been shown to have some overpronation tendencies at the end of the 100-mile distance when one’s form breaks down, and I think this can be a valuable protection in a true ultra-distance shoe.
Revlite foam especially continues to impress, and the amount (29mm heel, 21mm forefoot) feels semi-firm and responsive without ever feeling dead throughout a longer run. The platform is also fairly wide resulting in a stable ride that allows for proprioception as well.
While nothing new here is employed, New Balance sticks with what works. What surprises me about this Vibram outsole is the effectiveness of the low lugs. While trail shoes this year have all seemed to jump on the bandwagon of super-deep lugs, the Leadville’s lugs are approximately 2mm of very sticky Vibram rubber that shed mud and clay better than most soft-ground shoes I own. While that isn’t to say that they have better traction, the spacing and lug height seem to be really effective in all kinds of conditions, from mud, to hardpack, to snow. The Vibram outsole also shows absolutely no wear throughout all the winter/spring torture I put it through.
New Balance uses their Rock Stop midsole, which is surprisingly flexible for a shoe this burly. In fact, I had initially guessed that this shoe didn’t have a rock plate at all prior to doing any research. This rock plate is effective without getting in the way of the ride, and the material used is not so rigid that it feels hard on very rocky terrain.
If I were looking for one shoe to wear for a season of ultrarunning, in different types of conditions and terrain, the New Balance Leadville v3 would be a leading contender. Its not a flashy shoe that screams of speed or tech features, but it is simple and effective. Most of the time when folks are having difficulty in ultras, it seems that they change into these battleship type shoes and eschew the lightweight sexy shoes that they fantasized they could wear to the 100-mile finish line. The New Balance Leadville v3 is not one that will wow you out of the box or on the showroom floor. It’s the kind of trail shoe that sneaks up on you and ends up in your drop bag at mile 50. Something predictable, dependable, and durable to get you to the finish line.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in this shoe? Did you find it to be as multipurpose as our reviewer did? What was your overall impression of it?
- Do you have any questions about the New Balance Leadville v3? Fire them off in the comments section!