Test: New Balance Minimus MT10 Trail Shoe

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Take some fashion cues from a sticky-sole river shoe, sprinkle a dose of design direction as per the current barefoot/minimalist footwear zeitgeist, and add heavy some field-test feedback from a Jesus Christ lookalike and ultra-runner wonder named Anton Krupicka, and you will have a shoe called the MT10 Minimus Trail. That’s the gist of New Balance’s light and flexible new trail runner, a $100 shoe so different from most of the market that it regularly gets mistaken as an aqua sock.

It is made of rubber and mesh. Twist the shoe and it wrings hard like an old, thick rag. You can wear it sockless. There is no insole and scant midsole padding — leap on a stone wrong and you’ll get a bruise above a foot bone. Further distinguishers: The Minimus’ toes are not articulated like a Vibram FiveFingers shoe, though the New Balance sole hales from the same Italian sole-maker (Vibram), and in spite of no “toes” it is almost as strange: A grid of textured dots web a rubber sole that I found somewhat wondrous for running on pavement as well as dirt.

new balance - minimus trail.jpg

New Balance Minimus Trail

Despite its oddities, the Minimus Trail runs like a dream. Few shoes I have tested this year scored so high. New Balance, a company that in 2009 reported worldwide sales of $1.65 billion, is a big boy jumping a bit later than some into the aforementioned barefoot/minimalist game. (An aside: Sure, the company has built minimalist shoes before, including the MT100, which I review here, and which I did not particularly like, but the Minimus line is NB’s first go at the true “barefoot/minimalist” combo design, as far as I have seen.)

There is a term circulating in the shoe world as of late, “zero drop.” This means there’s no angle or downward slant from a shoes’ heel area to its toes. Bulky, old-school or “normal” running shoes have large drop measurements (12mm or more); the latest “barefoot” shoes have zero drop, as per the term, and they run more like you might run without shoes on at all.

new balance - minimus trail sole.jpg

Sole of the Minimus Trail

New Balance does not jump on the zero-drop train. Its Minimus Trail has 4mm drop from heel to forefoot. It is perfect, in my tests. I am an advocate of some drop, I guess, as this shoe just feels right. Other models I am testing, including the similarly hot Merrell Trail Glove, have zero drop, and the running experience, for me, is not as good. The foot fall is more harsh, which slows me down and fatigues me quicker.

The New Balance company line on all this is that its design team believed that “building great minimal footwear is more than just stripping as much as you can out of a shoe, or making a lightweight shoe and calling it ‘minimal.’” Smart! I agree with that. The takeaway? The Minimus, which is touted as “anatomically correct” and “natural movement”-encouraging, grabs some of its makeup from results seen on a treadmill in a test lab. Oh, and a fair bit of feedback from that dude running in the mountains that looks like Jesus.

Anton Krupicka.jpg

Anton Krupicka running.jpg

Ultra-running star Anton Krupicka helped develop the Minimus Trail

Why go minimal at all? A shoe like this can make you a better, stronger runner if you’re fit and willing to try something new. If it’s a problem (and it is with many, many runners), a shoe like the Minimus will help you correct your gait and stop landing on your heels with each stride. You’ll develop a quicker cadence and land more flat-footed, like you would if you were running without shoes on (and like nature intended, as per the current industry thought).

The sum: The Minimus Trail borrows heavily from barefoot/minimalist design though without going too far like some shoes can. It is fun to run in, and it is comfortable for long distances on road or trail. (Note: New Balance makes a road-specific Minimus shoe, which I also like — and which I previewed last fall here — though it is not as stand-out as the Trail version.)

NB Minimus.jpg

Minimus Road shoe

The Minimus Trail is a great entry into the barefoot/minimalist footwear realm. It is flexible and does not manipulate your stride. I feel fast in the shoe, despite its “drop” and despite its not-so-light weight: My size 12 Minimus is 9.3 ounces — light, but not unusually so.

For $100, the Minimus shoe is worth a try. It comes in a men’s and a women’s build. The odd aqua-sock design? It’s included on both models, each gender allowed to enjoy the commentary and the confused looks received as this one-of-a-kind shoe strides on by.

—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com. Connect with Regenold at Facebook.com/TheGearJunkie or on Twitter via @TheGearJunkie.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 06/09/2011 01:47 PM

I also love these. Great traction on every surface I’ve tried (even snow ans ice) and I just plain feel faster in them. Well done, NB.

Posted by Kerri L - 06/09/2011 11:11 PM

I’m wondering if these would be any good for walking / hiking? I’ve worn sandals and open shoes so long my feet feell very unhappy in shoes or boots. This may be a perfect answer?

Posted by Brett - 06/10/2011 10:38 AM

I would love to see these in a Mid/ High configuration. That little bit more ankle support would make me buy it for lightweight backpacking.

Posted by Jilligan - 06/10/2011 01:45 PM

I really love these shoes, was looking for a barefoot shoe with more protection than Five Fingers and this is a big winner. Use them for weights, running, walking, jumping, etc.

Posted by Mark Arnold - 06/10/2011 02:19 PM

I’m with you on these Stephen, big fan. I’ve tried both the MT100s’ and VFF’s and these are my everyday shoes.

Posted by Dennis - 06/11/2011 08:06 AM

T.C talks about traction on snow and ice. How do you keep your feet warm in conditions where there IS snow and ice? And what’s the story on rain, or wet vegetation? Do people wear socks inside there or go barefoot like with the Vibram Five Fingers (or Toes)? An intriguing concept, but I’m unclear on some of the details…

Posted by Stephen Regenold - 06/11/2011 08:40 AM

I wear them with socks most of the time. They get wet when it rains (or you’re running through wet grass). The mesh soaks in water. They drain out OK, though, so you can run and get wet feet and keep going. (That is a situation I find myself in a lot.) Winter running. . . they are too meshy for me in winter. Maybe on the warmer days (25 degrees F and above) you could swing short runs with warm socks.

Posted by T.C. Worley - 06/11/2011 09:13 AM

For sure with socks in winter, and like Stephen said, only on warmer winter days. We had a slow Spring here and I refused to NOT use these shoes. I go barefoot about 1/2 the time now that warm weather is here.

Posted by martin - 06/13/2011 08:21 AM

it seems the minimalist shoe trend is just a similar take on what were previously called ‘racing flats’. any thoughts?

Posted by Chris - 10/01/2011 12:06 AM

But not even a Wide? Disappointing from the only shoe company I count on to provide room for my 3E toes!

Posted by Kitty - 11/03/2011 08:41 PM

My favorite pair of running shoes this year. They are light and flexible with a wide toe (box at least for my tiny feet). Just pure awesomeness. I was ecstatic to get a pair these a month early in DC. So far I have done two half marathons and one full comfortably.

Posted by Jerry - 01/15/2012 12:09 PM

My 10s are great. They dry out quickly and feel great on the foot even after 31, 50 or 100 miles. My first pair of 20s were similar. The second pair of 20s arrived with a smooth, plastic upper. There was a snowflake graphic on the shoe so I’m guessing NB thought I needed a windbreaker on my foot. The mesh upper on the 10 allowed for quick drying (I don’t wear socks) after exiting a creek or river. The snowflake 20 feels like walking in a bucket of water.

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