A few days ago I put up a first look review of the much anticipated New Balance Minimus Road shoe. Well, the next day the UPS man stopped by again, this time with a box containing Minimus shoe #2, the New Balance Minimus Trail (disclosure – this was a media sample and was provided free of charge). Of the two, this was the one that had me most intrigued since rumors had suggested that it was the more minimal of the two shoes (it is). I wasn’t disappointed. It’s rare for me to find a shoe that nears perfection in almost every way, but my initial gut reaction is that the Minimus Trail comes pretty darned close. As I did with the Minimus Road, what I’m going to do here is give my very initial thoughts on this shoe – you can expect that more will come as I run more miles in them.
Appearance and Construction
First things first, the Minimus Trail is a very good looking shoe. I’m a big fan of shoes that make a bold statement with their appearance, and the orange and black shoe that New Balance sent me certainly does that. The upper of the Minimus Trail is composed mostly of two kinds of mesh, both of which can be clearly distinguished in the images included with this post. The mesh on the toebox and tongue is a bit more padded than the rest, and is softer to the touch. It also absorbed water like a sponge when running through puddles, which felt a bit unusual, though not uncomfortable. The remaining mesh is more open, and the upper as a whole is thinner and a lot less structured than that of the Minimus Road. Of the shoes that I have in my collection, the most similar to the Minimus Trail in terms of upper structure and feel would be the Mizuno Wave Universe, the original Nike Free 3.0, and the Vibram Fivefingers – together, these shoes probably come closest to my ideal in terms of upper design.
The interior of the Minimus Trail is also impressive. Like the Minimus Road, there are very few seams, and these shoes beg to be run in sockless. Neither shoe has an insole, and both are lined by very soft fabric that feels great against the foot. The interior of this shoe is fantastic.
The Minimus Trail last is also a huge plus – my foot fits snugly in the heel and through the midfoot, and then the shoe opens up to a very wide toebox that is surprisingly flexible. (Update: I’ve developed some issues with the black band across the forefoot in the Minimus Trail being too tight on one side – you can read about my shoe surgery solution here) I actually sense more freedom of toe movement in these shoes than I do even in my Vibrams with their individual toe pockets. The combination of a more anatomically shaped last and a nearly seamless interior makes these shoes incredibly comfortable – I could easily hang out in these shoes all day.
One of the most surprising features about the Minimus Trail is that it sports an outsole made by Vibram – yes, the same company that makes the famous Vibram Fivefingers toe shoes. The outsole pattern consists of a series of circular lugs with pits in between, and the entire sole is remarkably flexible (much moreso than that of the Minimus Road). I measure sole thickness at about 15mm heel and 11mm forefoot (the latter is hard to measure since there are no gaps between the tongue and the rest of the upper to get my calipers through) – the differential is therefore a 4mm drop from heel to toe. This latter spec is bound to be the biggest point of complaint from truly minimalist and barefoot runners (for more on this, read Jason Robillard’s very detailed review of the Minimus Trail), and my hope is that we will see a zero-drop version of the Minimus Trail appear in the next iteration of the shoe. There’s so much to like about this shoe from a minimalist running standpoint, it’s a shame that many minimalist runners will opt to skip out on it because it has a heel lift. Personally, the 4mm heel lift doesn’t bother me, and both this shoe and the Mimimus Road feel flatter than most shoes on my rack. However, if I were New Balance I would consider putting out both a 4mm and a zero drop shoe to cater to both transitioning runners and those who have already gone full time into minimalist shoes like the Vibram Fivefingers.
Enough about appearance and structure, let’s move on to performance. I’ll state openly as did in my Minimus Road first look that I have only run twice in these shoes. I’ll also state openly that to this point the vast majority of my lifetime miles have been run on roads – if you want the perspective of a hard-core trail runner, check out great reviews by Jason Robillard and Bryon Powell. My personal interest in the Minimus Trail is two-fold. First, I am looking for a minimalist shoe with good traction for winter running here in NH. Second, I’m running my first trail ultra next March, and needed a suitable shoe to use for both training and for the race itself. Right now, I’d say the Minimus Trail, the Saucony Peregrine, or a top-secret third shoe are the most likely options for me (I’m hoping to get a sample of the Peregrine soon).
My first run in the Minimus Trail was an easy 3 miles on asphalt – I did this because I didn’t want to push my sore foot (which seems to be doing much better now), the shoes had just arrived, and I had a chance to run with my wife and infant son (in his stroller). The main thing I learned on that run was that the Minimus Trail handles perfectly well on asphalt. The lugs are low and flat, so they don’t cause any discomfort on the road, and I could easily see myself using these regularly as a road shoe (as I have the Vibram Fivefingers Trek Sport). The Minimus Trail may wind up being one of the most versatile shoes in my collection – time and more miles will tell.
My second run in the Minimus Trail was a mixed bag of almost everything I could throw at it in five miles. It had been raining hard earlier in the day so I opted to go sockless and I ran the first 3 miles over wet leaves, wet sand, rocky trail, grass, mud, pine needle beds, and through some deep puddles (see left). The shoes performed great on all surfaces except down a steep hill on wet leaves (not sure any shoe could handle that well). The outsole provided protection from roots, sticks and rocks, though the occasional small rock would hit in a spot where it could be felt (similar to the Trek Sport, though maybe a bit more protection). I was particularly impressed with how the Minimus Trail performed when wet. After skirting around a few of the bigger puddles, I opted to start going straight through them just to see how they would handle when wet. The shoe soaked water in quickly, but because of the mesh most of the water drained out just as fast (except for the spongy tongue and forefoot covering) – going sockless in these conditions was a big help. More importantly, the soaked shoes did not cause a single blister or hot spot.
I finished the run with two miles on asphalt to get back home – it’s nice to have a shoe perform so well on such varied terrain. I was itching to test how they could handle a bit of speed, so I ran the final half mile back to the house at just under a 6:00/mile pace – couldn’t have been happier with the result. Full run was about 5.15 miles, average pace while moving was just under 8:00/mile – not bad considering that I was picking my way through the woods at 11:00+ min/mile pace for the first half mile – the recently fallen leaves had fully obscured the initial portion of the trail behind my house.
My initial impressions of the Minimus Trail are overwhelmingly positive. The main complaint that others have pointed out is the 4mm heel lift, but I can live with that for now, especially since the shoe is so versatile and otherwise well designed (I still hope a zero-drop version is in the works!). Though it is admittedly probably very premature to come to a firm conclusion, my gut tells me that New Balance has a winner here in the Minimus Trail. I’m hesitant to say the same for the Minimus Road at this point – need to do more miles in them to get a better feel. However, given the ability to run both on and off-road in them equally well, my early preference would go to the Minimus Trail.
Update: As mentioned above, the forefoot band in the Minimus Trail has become problematic for me on one side as it is too tight. Read more about this in this updated post: http://www.runblogger.com/2011/03/new-balance-minimus-trail-mt10-shoe.html
Below are a few more pictures taken along the way today: