Sometimes all it takes is a few small changes to improve a shoe. This was the case with the Hoka Clifton 2, which I reviewed earlier this week. Hoka added a bit of padding to the tongue, an additional lace eyelet, and a new insole, but kept just about everything else on the shoe the same. Fix what’s broken, don’t change what people like – that’s how it should be done.
Last year I reviewed the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 and found that although I liked the shoe, it suffered from a fatal flaw that made it unwearable for me on longer runs. The problem was the toebox – it was too pointy up front and squeezed my toes together. The result was blistering between my toes on long runs, and going up a half size did not solve the problem.
The other problem I had with the Fresh Foam 980 wasn’t so much a problem with the shoe per se, but rather with how it was marketed. Ads for the 980 kept using the word “soft,” but the shoe was anything but cushy. Rather, it was quite firm and responsive. This isn’t a bad thing if that is how you like a shoe to ride, but it’s not what people might have expected given the marketing message.
I’d heard rumors that New Balance was going to address the fit issue with the 980 in an update to the shoe. Renamed the Fresh Foam Boracay, I received a pair of the updated model about a month ago and have run about 40 miles in them so far (Disclosure: these shoes were media samples provided free of charge by the manufacturer). Keep on reading to find out what has changed (and what hasn’t).
Per Running Warehouse, the New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay weighs in at 9 oz in men’s size 9 and has stack heights of 22mm heel, 18mm forefoot (4mm drop). As I did with the 980, I went up a half size in the Boracay and fit is perfect.
I’m happy to report that New Balance has indeed addressed the fit issue I had with the FF 980. Though the change is pretty subtle, there does seem to be just a bit more room up front, and I have less of a sensation of toe squeezing in the Boracay. More importantly, in runs as long as 10 miles I have not experienced any toe blistering. However, this is still not a particularly roomy shoe, so if you prefer a spacious toebox you may want to look elsewhere.
To be honest, the fit change is the only one that was particularly noticeable to me. The upper is new, but remains a breathable mesh with welded overlays. It appears that New Balance removed a bit of padding around the ankle collar, but I did not notice this until I compared the shoes side by side just now. The midsole has a new pattern of hexagons along the sides, but the ride is similarly firm compared to the original. The full coverage outsole also gets a new pattern, but functionally feels the same.
One thing that I don’t like about the Boracay, though it is a rather minor annoyance, is that the edges of the tongue tend to curl under when putting the shoe on. This necessitates sticking you finger into the shoe to flatten it out. In their review, Sole Review noticed the same thing. Seems like it should be an easy fix next time around.
A quick note on durability – I have not experienced any issues with durability in the Boracay so far, but I have seen reports of the upper tearing where it meets the sole on the inner side of the shoe. I’m not sure how widespread this issue is, but it’s something to consider, and this may not be the best shoe to use off-road or in conditions that stress the upper attachment.
So what do you get in the Fresh Foam Boracay? Basically, this is a light weight, well-cushioned but firm shoe suitable for long miles. I found the ride to be smooth and I enjoyed running in them more than I typically do with firmish shoes. They are snappy enough to pick up the pace, but provide enough comfort and protection for double digit mileage.
One challenge that the Boracay faces is that in my opinion it has been eclipsed by it’s new sibling the Fresh Foam Zante. The Zante is one of my top shoes of 2015 so far, and it beats the Boracay in terms of fit, ride, and comfort. New Balance is pitching the Zante as the choice for more uptempo running, but its stack height is only 1mm lower in the heel and forefoot, and the heel feels softer to me which better fits my preference. If you haven’t yet tried the Zante, I highly recommend it. If you prefer a firmer ride and want to try a Fresh Foam, go for the Boracay.
Thanks for reading! For an additional take on the New Balance Boracay, see this review by Sam Winebaum.
The New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay is available for sale in the US at Running Warehouse, Zappos, and Amazon.com. Outside of the US, the Boracay is available at Running Warehouse EU. Purchases made via these links provide a small commission to Runblogger and help to support the production of reviews like this one – thanks!