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Have ‘Minimal’ Running Shoes Gone Too Far?

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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