Have 'Minimal' Running Shoes Gone Too Far?

With a razor-thin upper and a sole I can only describe as feeling like foam bubbles underfoot, the latest “barefoot-inspired” shoe from New Balance takes a leap forward even from the company’s existing minimal running shoe line. I loved the original trail-oriented Minimus, a shoe I was once caught blogging “runs like a dream.” Though I have only put a few miles on the new entry, the NB Minimus Trail ZERO, I can tell already it’s a different beast.

new balance Minimus Zero Trail.jpg

Fast and light? Minimus Trail ZERO

It will cost $110 when it comes to shops this spring. Unlike the first trail-oriented Minimus, the Minimus Trail ZERO has its namesake “zero drop,” meaning the shoe is flat with no angle from heel to toe. This gives the shoe a real “barefoot” feel, with no manipulation of the stride you’d run with sans footwear and sprinting across a lawn.

The shoes also weigh almost nothing. In my size 12.5 men’s, the shoe measured a scant 5.3 ounces on a scale. That’s less than half the weight of a typical trail shoe, though as you can see these guys are really far from typical.

new balance 2012 Minimus Zero Trail.jpg

5.3 ounces on our scale! (in U.S. men’s size 12.5)

The upper is super thin. The sole feels like a light foam, not rubber. On the foot, the shoe feels light and fast. The foamy sole dampens the ground on each stride, and the traction is adequate in my tests so far. There is little protection and essentially no support.

But this article is not a full review, just a preview of the product, so I am not going to offer many opinions until I put a lot more miles on them this spring. That said, my first impression is that the ZERO shoes are going too far for most all runners of trails.

Granted, I am sure New Balance knows the audience is limited, and the company offers a variety of shoes, barefoot-style and regular running, for all types. But the ZERO is nearly ridiculous, in a good way!, and in the hand it twists and contorts like a magazine. You can roll it up and put it in a pocket when not in use.

new balance 2012 Minimus Zero.jpg

Minimal material lets shoe fold in half with one hand

You may ask: Why the extra light weight and the zero-drop build? New Balance knows some runners are now seeking lighter and lighter options. I prefer light shoes, too, and when I find trail runners in my size that are about 12 ounces or more I now start to think “too heavy.”

As for the “drop” spec, New Balance explains that this design, which is popular now with a load of minimal running shoes from other brands, positions the foot in a “neutral stance, promoting a more natural stride, and encouraging a mid-foot landing.” Like Vibram FiveFingers and other shoes in the genre, you’re unlikely to heel-strike with the ZERO shoes on.

NB Minimus Zero Trail.jpg

Weird foam “bubble” sole

Readers, what do you think? What kind of shoes do you run in? I am curious to see how 2012 shapes up. Will the barefoot craze subside, or are shoes like the ZERO, foamy bubbles and all, the new running-shoe norm?

—Stephen Regenold is editor of GearJunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

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Posted by Damien Tougas - 03/13/2012 06:09 AM

I think things are finally coming around to where they aught to be. What we are seeing here is a bigger shoe company finally joining the party, as some smaller companies have been doing utlra-light/thin shoes for some time now.

What I really like about what NB is doing here is that they are now making their minimalist shoes available in 4E widths

Posted by Ray - 03/13/2012 08:33 AM

The Shoe giants are just beginning to cash in on this and still don’t care about your body anymore then they did before vibrams re-wrote the book. They will market anything if they think they can make a profit.

Posted by Jos - 03/13/2012 08:46 AM

Same weight as Vibram Five Finger KSO’s

The craze has gone too far in terms minimizing shoes down to a lightweight, yet still standard rubber sole and a upper mesh. Vibram set themselves apart really well at the beginning. Fila has recently started to use a design similar to Vibram, however with 4 toes (smallest two are paired in one “toe”) I don’t expect Fila to make anything superlight, but others could follow their design – assuming Fila does not have a patent for the 4 toe style.

Ray’s point are also extremely valid. The craze is powering the shoe giants to seek more $$

Posted by Aaron Harrell - 03/13/2012 09:07 AM

When it comes to running, there are different tools for different tasks. I won’t run technical downhill in something like the MT00, but for summer hard pack, that shoe is going to kill it. I won’t put in long runs with that shoe, but for short and medium length stuff, the least amount of shoe necessary to get the job done is what I like.

That said, anything can be taken too far. The the barefoot user group on Google is a good example. I think that, like cars, it’s fun to have options for running shoes.

The shoe companies won’t make what we won’t buy as consumers. Plus, given that there is really no evidence that any type of shoe causes injuries, why shouldn’t there be tons of options?

Posted by Charles Miske - 03/13/2012 12:50 PM

I’ve never had much luck with longevity with very soft thin soles.

Posted by Phocion - 03/13/2012 04:18 PM

Shoes cannot be truly minimal until the uppers are just enough to hold the shoe in place and the sole is just thick enough to supply that bit of protection and/or cushioning we minimalists like.

For the last year I have worn Stem shoes, now Leming shoes (lemingfootwear dot com). The soles are just right and the uppers are almost minimal.

“Minimalism” is generally defined as exposing the essence of an item or idea, all non-essential features or concepts having been removed. These NB Zero shoes, with their Lego-like soles, multi-piece uppers, and garish coloring don’t fit my idea of a minimalist shoe. The Leming shoes, though having non-essential features, come closest to my idea of shoe minimalism.

Posted by Carl Adam Ward - 03/14/2012 12:53 PM

Minimalist – wear sandals or flip flops.

Posted by Nicholas Pang - 03/15/2012 10:56 AM

We are all individuals and we run differently and in different terrains.

I happen to love the 4E WIDE version of the NB Minimus Trail Zero.

NB is having a giveaway so if you are lucky, you can try it out for free. New Balance giveaway.

Posted by gordon - 03/16/2012 10:48 AM

I think they’d be great for long paddling/trekking sections. Teva-style hybrids are too bulky and uncomfortable to really be versatile for adventure racing, but you could make some innovative use out of these with no space or weight penalty in your pack

Posted by L Knight - 03/16/2012 10:58 AM

Rotate no more?? We’ve had it drummed into our heads by shoe companies that we should get new shoes regularly because the cushioning breaks down over miles and time – and that we should rotate between shoes during the week to give the cushioning “recovery time.”. So, assuming I condition myself to run in minimal/barefoot shoes full time (only doing part-time now), can I now disregard all the rotate and replace philosophy? With no padding, isn’t the only thing driving shoe replacement either wear and tear to the sole & upper, or shoe envy? Not that the shoe companies will want to hear this…but won’t that mean fewer sales per runner/per year and (gasp) lower profits? Nah. They’ll just charge the same high prices for a shoe that costs a fraction in materials to make.

Posted by Josh - 03/20/2012 06:46 PM

I run in Merrell trail gloves, because the NB’s didn’t quite fit me right. I use innov-8 baregrips at times as well. I like them A LOT, but I have drastically changed my running style to conform to them (mostly for the better). But, I have decided the best shoe would be a zero drop with a hard strike plate under the forefoot. I haven’t found this yet.

Posted by Tracy - 07/06/2012 07:28 PM

12.5 EEEE these shoes are a dream for barefoot runners. Once you get your pace, you barely notice you have shoes on at all.

Posted by Jen - 07/18/2012 04:07 AM

The toe box on this shoe is way too tapered. When you wear minimalist shoes, you should also allow your toes to spread, as they do naturally – this will let your foot gain in stability and support your arch as well as the rest of your body, preventing injuries, knee pain, etc. For this, you need a wider toe box, such as those found in Lemings, or wear shoes like Vibram Five Fingers. I wouldn’t wear the NB shoe as you’re only getting half the benefit, and you’re still prone to injuries. The best shoes are the ones let you run as close to barefoot as possible with your toes splayed.

Aaron Harrell: “given that there is really no evidence that any type of shoe causes injuries”: actually, there is: check out the long list of articles on www (dot)naturalfootgear(dot)com/Relevant_Foot_Research.html

Or this review of two articles on barefoot running published in “Nature”: www(dot)nature(dot)com/nature/journal/v463/n7280/edsumm/e100128-08.html

Posted by Devon - 09/26/2013 01:22 PM

These shoes are sweet, but should be used for specific workouts only, or casual use. i.e. not long runs. Not crazy mountain runs. The entire Minimus series is great, but one should know his/her limits. You should not be overweight at all when using these shoes for running. They are designed for lighter people that are in general, fairy experienced runners. Not the “all purpose” shoe. To be used as a tool for 95% of people, unless you want to be slow or/and get injured a lot.

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