I’ve been on a quest for the perfect mountain running shoe for some time. My current preferred shoe is the Merrell Trail Glove. This shoe works great over the vast majority of mountain trails- as long as I can see the trail and am not fatigued. This really only becomes an issue in 100 milers in the mountains, so a specialized trail running shoe isn’t on my “absolute necessity” list.
Having said that, a mountain trail shoe that offered more protection than the Trail Glove could have influenced my DNF at Grindstone earlier this year. I made plenty of other mistakes that would have assured a DNF, but shoe choice could be something I could change down the road.
New Balance’s MT110 is the third generation of what I would classify as a reduced trail shoe. The first and second generations (MT100 and MT101) were both popular shoes, but the severe heel drop eliminated them as possibilities. I could have hacked off the sole, but I’m kind of lazy that way.
The MT110 retains many of the previous models’ characteristics- a solid rock plate, good traction, sockless liner, minimal cushioning, etc. The MT110 also loses a lot of the problematic raised heel- from 10mm down to 4mm. It’s sort of like the bastard love child of the MT100 and original Minimus Trail.
That change in heel drop is what convinced me to give these a try. Also, Jesse Scott tested a pair this last summer while interning in Boulder, CO. He seemed to like them and we’re on the same page in regards to our mountain running needs. I’ve been testing these on some mountain trails in the desert of New Mexico. Here are my thoughts:
The upper is more substantial than most of my preferred shoes. The upper has more material and more structure. The outer plastic-like material is well-ventilated. The inner fabric is smooth and also well-ventilated. The shoe drains well and dries fairly quickly. As mentioned before, the liner is designed to be used without socks. The MT110 feels much better than the previous generations, and even feels better than its cousin the Minimus Zero Trail.
The sole is rather inflexible, especially compared to true minimalist shoes. I have never had a serious issue with inflexible soles. In this case, the protection offered by the rock plate in the forefoot more than compensates for the inflexibility. Since I’m searching for a mountain shoe, the trade-off is more than justified.
The foot bed is comfortable, but has a weird characteristic- it slopes down from the lateral to the medial side. Pete Larson first pointed it out as I didn’t notice on the first few trail runs. It was a non-factor on trails but was annoying on roads or using the shoes for causal wear. The EVA in Jesse’s test pair broke down fairly quickly, so it became a non-issue.
The tread pattern is fairly aggressive. It’s more aggressive than the Minimus Trails and Trail Gloves, but not nearly as aggressive as something like Inov-8′s Baregrip 200s. I found the soles offered great traction in dirt, adequate traction in mud, and sufficient traction on bare rock. The sole material isn’t as “grippy” as the Vibram-soled trail shoes, which resulted in the occasional slipping on steep rock cambers.
The shoe is fairly light, but not in the same class as the Minimus Zero Trail. I don’t have my scale handy, but it weighs about the same as my Trail Gloves. For the protection the shoe provides, it is pretty light. It’s definitely lighter than a typical non-minimal trail shoe.
This is where the MT110 loses some points. Remember- I’m fickle about fit. For me, it’s one of the most important qualities of a shoe. The MT110 fits much like the new Minimus Zero line- fairly snug with more room in the toe box. The last New Balance uses isn’t exactly like the shape of my foot. My pinky toes rub on the interior of the shoe, which eventually causes blisters. It also causes the upper to fail at that precise point.
The lacing system of the MT110 is just like any other shoe. I’ve been horribly spoiled by the Trail Glove Omni-Fit system, which allows for precise tightening at different parts of the upper. That helps keep the shoe in place on steep downhills. With the MT110, I had to cinch the laces tighter than I’d like to keep my foot in place. This may be an issue on longer runs.
The raised heel (4mm) is not a problem on trails. The dynamic movement required for technical trail running negates any negatives associated with the raised heel. Roads were a problem for me, though. After a few miles, my knees began aching. I wouldn’t use the shoes for roads anyway, but it’s worth noting.
I found the stack height (thickness of the sole) did affect proprioception to a degree. I’m used to thinner-soled shoes. When stepping on uneven surfaces, there was a noticeable delay in the time it took for my body to react to the potentially dangerous twisting. While this isn’t a huge issue, I would like to see a thinner sole that offers the same level of protection (less rubber, more protective rock plate.)
For me, the MT110 is a niche shoe. I would use it as a near-minimal mountain trail shoe for conditions that are too rugged for the Trail Glove. For that purpose, it has no peers. If this shoe were zero-dropped, had a slightly stickier sole, had a more customizable lacing system, and was shaped with the Trail Glove last, it would be the perfect trail shoe for most trail conditions. In it’s current state, it’s still the best minimal-ish rugged technical trail shoe out there. New Balance has done an excellent job advancing this shoe through the various generations. As it stands, this is probably my #2 favorite trail shoe (replacing the original Minimus Trail.)
In the future, I’d love to see a zero-dropped model. The new Minimus Zero Trail is zero-dropped, but the lack of protection relegates it to non-technical trails. I’d also like to see a different last, but that’s pretty unrealistic. At any rate, the shape will fit some people’s feet very well.
For others, this shoe could be an excellent choice for trails. It’s easy to see why the MT100 and MT101 are popular choices for ultra. After all, the shoe utilized significant input from Tony Krupicka. It may not appeal to die-hard barefoot runners, but is a marked improvement over the typical trail running shoe many people use.