New Balance Minimus Trail Review

The 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.


Minimus Overview
In 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.


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.

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.


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.


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.

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.

Bryon Powell: is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com. Having spent nearly 20 years as an ultrarunner and three decades as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. He calls Silverton, Colorado and Moab, Utah home.

View Comments (105)

  • Great looking trail shoe which looks almost as minimalist as inov-8's F-lite 230's and 195's. I've recently bought the X-Talon 190's and used them in a very muddy 34 miler. Awsome shoes! Would love to try the minimus' now.

    Will they be sold in the UK though is the real question Bryon?

    I'm developing a shoe fetish!

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    • New Balance has previously confirmed that the Minimus will be available in the UK!

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  • In your opinion, do you think this shoe could be a racer (50K?, 100K? 100 mile?) or is it just purely a trainer? I think I saw a post somewhere where even Anton said he'd probably still race in his 101s and train in these?

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    • Nick, I think a folks deep into the barefooting thing will be racing in these up to and including 100 miles. For the rest of us, I suspect very few will choose to race even 50k in these rather than in the MT101 or a comparable shoe that provides additional support with no added weight.

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  • So would these line up on the same level as the Terra Plana minimalist running shoes (which also come with lots of warnings, etc.), basically as "closed toe" competitors to the Vibram Five Finger line? If so, I can't wait to wear them immediately in an ultra, and cause some serious foot damage. Nah, just kidding, I will build up, I will build up, I promise (I hope)...

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    • I love the enthusiasm - the love for running and for running shoes - that comes through in this review, Bryon! I can totally relate. But I almost wish I hadn't read it: 4 months is a long time to wait!

      Thanks as always for this great blog.

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    • TC, I've never worn the Terra Plana, though I have investigated them in person. I'd say there's a bit more substance to the Minimus Trail, but not so much to remove it from the same category as the Terra Plana and VFF.

      Ps. If you where the Minimus Trail for the BRR 50, I'll come east and kick your butt. ;-)

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      • I don't know, now that you're in the 9.5 hour range for 50 milers, I should be able to hang. If, once you get the WS training ramped up, you're back in the sub-7hour range, save me a beer and a neuroma kit at the finish line :)

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        • I has thinking more in the realm of physical violence, but beating you on the trails works, too. :-)

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  • To reiterate what others were asking, why was Anton saying he wouldn't race with it? In your review, it sounded like it provided trail protection but was there something else going on like painfully thin soles or something? Given what Anton does to his shoes I'd be surprised if it was just the heel drop.

    Thanks for the fun review. I'm not normally into running toys but these look tempting.

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    • I wait to speculate regarding Anton's thinking, so I won't. Instead, I'll note that aside from the lower drop of the Minimus Trail, the MT101 does have slightly more protection underfoot and in the upper, a bit more cushioning, and more support. These are all things I wouldn't mind on race day. In addition, a heel-shaved pair of MT101s will weigh less than an unmodified pair of Minimus Trail.

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  • jealous

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  • What a review! Can't wait to see them and try them. Interesting the education NB is planning with the release, I guess they realize many folks could hurt themselves doing too much too soon.

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  • Being such a fan of the low-profile shoes already available from Inov-8, I'm anxious to try the Minimus out for comparison. It'll be quite a bit different, I think, particularly because of the wide toe box. But, perhaps not.

    Thanks for the awesome review. I can't believe they're waiting four more months to release this shoe to the public! Then again, I suppose they need that time to build more public enthusiasm in order to pay $100 for a minimally constructed shoe.

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    • There's nothing different about the timing of this shoe release. As is traditional, New Balance announced the Minimus line around the time of the summer Outdoor Retailer show last August. This is the show where shoe companies usually announce their Spring/Summer models, which are to be released between January and March of the coming year. If anything, New Balance tried to hold off on building public enthusiasm too early.

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  • Looking forward to trying this shoe out. Thank you for the great review.

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  • Thanks for the detailed review! It looks like a shoe that I would like to try. Does it come in wide sizes; as most NB models do?

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    • Yes, eventually. Here's what New Balance had to say on the subject of wide Minimus shoes back in August:

      We are working on delivering these shoes in widths for some time in the fall (2011). We built these shoes on a new last (wider in the toe box than our performance last to allow for the additional splay, and obviously less drop), and any new lasts, or additions to new lasts (such as widths) need to be proved out in fit testing, so we haven't nailed down timing yet, but once approved in fit testing, it will go to production.

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  • Thank you for such an indepth review of this shoe. I can't wait to get my feet in them.

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  • great review....but now you have to review the Hokas as well so we can all compare the opposite sides of the spectrum!...lol

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    • Our Hoka One One Mafate review is LONG overdue!

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  • hey, these look great! Thanks for the thorough review.

    Unless I missed it (haven't had any caffeine yet this morning...), you didn't say anything about how good the traction is, and I'm curious because the lugs don't really *look* all that grippy. How's the traction on wet/slippery surfaces?

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  • Holly,
    I still need to check these out on wet and muddy surfaces. Unsurprisingly, they didn't provide much traction on sheer ice. ;-)

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    • Not many shoes can handle sheer ice! One thing I love about my Raptors (even though they're tanks compared to the Minimus!) is that they will grip just about anything. I run a lot of wet rocks and wood and mud, so traction is good! But I still definitely want to try them out.

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      • My thoughts exactly re the ice, Holly. The Raptors and some shoes with metal dibs in the lugs are about the only trail shoes that can handle ice. It's not something that I'd expect most trail shoes to tackle.

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  • To clarify my earlier comment, I tracked down the post where Tony says he'd train in the Minimus and race in the 100:

    "TK: “For me, it's typically a racing shoe. I end up, for the most part, training and racing in the same shoe. That's changed somewhat with NB Minimus – and this is really tied to my philosophy on the barefoot running movement – because for me it's not so much about an all-or-nothing approach. If I train on a daily basis in a shoe like NB Minimus, which is super-flexible and really low to the ground, then that allows me to race in a shoe that's really light as well. For my purposes, on the terrain I cover, NB Minimus might not be quite protective enough. Training in them on a daily basis allows me to race in a shoe that's much lighter than I might otherwise.

    The line itself is sort of split: The 100 is kind of a racing shoe that I'll use for long runs, and the NB Minimus is something I'll use more as a training tool. Over the last few months, I've begun to gear my feedback to the two shoes with that in mind.

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    • I would guess that Tony wants more cushioning for long downhills. You can run downhill trails faster for longer period of time with a bit of midsole. On technical, steep downhills you need stone and root protection, and some cushioning to allow you to push the pace without destroying your quads. Yes, you can run downhill very fast in bare feet or minimalist shoes, but you can do that longer and with less muscular damage with a moderate amount of cushioning. How much midsole you need is specific to the individual.

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      • Great comment, Ben!

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  • Wow these look really cool!

    Bryon, maybe I missed it in your review but just wanted to ask... how is the frontal toe protection in these? Guaranteed loss of a toenail if you stub your toe on a root or a rock?

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    • There's a lip that should provide some protection for your big toes. As for the other toes, you'll have to rely on there being a decent gap between the from the shoe and the tips of your toes to provide protection.

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  • I recently spoke with a shoe rep at our local New Balance store, which is a concept store. They are hoping to have me in a set of these in February. I am excited to try them out. I currently run in La Sportiva Crosslites, and when I put on "regular" running shoes, I have all kinds of issues. I am hoping that the Minimus line is consistent with the Crosslites. The Crosslites are a shoe that Sportiva may end up cutting out of its line, even though I hope that doesnt happen. I will give my reviews also when I get my Minimus Trail from NB. Thanks for the great review.

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    • I'd be shocked if Sportiva cut the Crosslites... except to fully embrace the forthcoming Crosslite 2.0. However, as a testament to La Sportiva's commitment to the Crosslite, they'll be offering both the Crosslite and Crosslite 2.0 next season as well as the Crossover GTX (think Crosslite with GORE-TEX and an integrated gaiter).

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      • Yes Bryon, I heard that they are bringing out the Crosslite 2.0. I think one of my sales guys at one of our local stores got really confused. As for the Crossover GTX, I picked up a pair last night. Wow are they sweeet!!! Great looking shoe and can't wait to run in them this week. Now I am praying for cold and snowy weather in Central PA. Keep up the great reviews!!!

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  • I hated my pair of Asics Hyperspeed for their ability to 'seek and suck' rainwater into the inside of the shoe -even hours after the rain. I cannot tell from the images : Is the sole 'porous', or 'waterproof' ?

    I'd be interesting to know what a Vibram Bikila user thinks of the Minimus...

    Cool shoes, cool review. Thanks

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    • The outsole is not porous. That said, the mesh extends all the way down to the outsole, so I can't see drainage being a problem.

      I'd comment on the Minimus Trail vs. Bikila except that I've not run in the Bikila. I, too, look forward to hearing any comparisons.

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  • Bryon, really great review. Comprehensive and lots of good pics to go with explanations.

    - Just wanted to get your thoughts an how do you find these size compared to the 101's? B/c I have wider feet, I found sizing up a full size in the 101s gave me the most comfortable/best fit. Would you get your minimus in the same size as the 101s?

    - Do you know if they will be released in Asia? (Hong Kong specifically)

    Keep up the great work

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    • Terence,
      My MT101s and Minimus Trail are both US men's 9s and both feel like the right size. If you were cutting it really close in width for the 1 size up MT101 at the ball of the foot, you might go another half size up in the Minimus Trails due to the constriction point found there. However, I think in general the sizing for the two will be the same.

      I can't say I know anything about an Asian release. I'll see what I can dig up, but it will likely be a few days.

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  • Thank you Bryon for the information!

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  • I may be wrong; but I seem to remember Anton saying that he did not feel the need to shave the heel on the 101's like he did on the 100's. That might have been in a video interview you did with him; perhaps before Western States?

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    • Tony, Anton didn't shave his MT101s before Western States because he wanted the extra heel traction on the snowy sections early on the course.

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