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New Balance MT110 Review

Posted by on Dec 9, 2011 | 17 Comments

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:

Upper

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.

Sole

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.

Weight

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.

Fit

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.

Other issues

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.)

Final Thoughts

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.

 

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17 Comments

  1. jacob
    December 18, 2011

    Great review Jason. With the MT 101’s the holes in the upper let too much in. Every step into a creek or water let in all the dirt that decided to stay after the water left. How is the upper on the MT110? Will the debris stay out? Thanks.

  2. Alex
    December 10, 2011

    Is the lack of upper the reason you’d not opt for a thicker huarache (such as the Leadville Pacer) over a shoe with a 4mm delta? I’m similar, in that any heel at all bothers me, and am similarly looking for something to soak up gnarly rocks.

    • Jason
      December 10, 2011

      Alex, I like huaraches. In fact, I ran the last 68 miles of the 2010 Burning River 100 in a pair of 4mm Invisible Shoes. However, they’re not very good for steep downhill running and I occasionally kick rocks when fatigued. The shoes provide a little bit more protection. On steep, long hills, the laces tend to cut into my skin.

  3. David
    December 9, 2011

    This shoe might be a bit much for the hardcore barefoot peeps, but for minimalist runners this looks like a great all around trail shoe, especially for ultra races. Your Merrell bias is thinly veiled ;) A 4mm drop isn’t much at all, you act like it’s a stiletto or something.

    • Jason
      December 9, 2011

      I agree- most primarily-barefoot runners (cough, cough, road runners) would find this shoe too built up. Minimalist trail runners should really love this, though. Personally I think it is a HUGE improvement over the MT100 and especially the MT101. The drop is MUCH better than the previous versions. Four mm on trails doesn’t affect me, but it does cause knee pain on roads. For me, it is like a stiletto. :-)

      My Merrell bias is based on the fact that they’re the only company that has produced a trail shoe that fits my foot perfectly. Despite my love of the Trail Glove, the MT110 has definitely earned a spot in my drop bags.

  4. Andy
    December 9, 2011

    Jason, have you been able to check out the Altra Lone Peak? As far as I’ve seen, it’s the only zero-drop, foot-shaped, well cushioned trail shoe out there. Although it’s not a minimalist shoe, I think might be something worth checking out. I ordered a pair the other day, so I guess I’ll wait and see.

    • Rob
      December 9, 2011

      I guess it depends on what you mean by “minimalist shoe”? From the stand point of a runner who transitioned from clunky trail shoes back in the late 90s to more low profile, reduced drop trail shoes a few years ago a shoe like the Altra Lone Peak and Instinct are definitely “minimalist.” I think people confuse that term with all this barefoot terminology when they really mean perhaps “ultra-minimalist”? I.e. VFFs, and maximized ground feel, etc…? Not sure, the lingo has changed even in just the past 5-6 years! I think the bare requirement for minimalist has more to do with the heel-to-toe drop being “minimized” and less to do with ground feel and shoe thickness, that’s the domain of “barefoot shoes” or “ultra-minimalism”. At least that’s how I see it.

      • Jason
        December 9, 2011

        My terminology:

        Minimalist shoes: Zero or near-zero drop, minimal cushioning, lightweight, flexible sole. Examples- VFFs, Merrell BF line, Minimus line, Baregrip 200s, Somnio Nada, etc.

        Reduced Shoe: Raised heel, more cushioning, no support or motion control. Examples- MT110, Free, Kinvara, Brooks Pure, etc.

        Foot coffin: Everything else.

        Altras are between Minimal and reduced, as are Newtons.

        Regardless of the classification, I hear they’re really good. The only other shoe I know of that is cushioned and zero drop is the Merrell Bare Access.

  5. ChrisB
    December 9, 2011

    Really looking forward to trying this shoe. Nice job on the review.

    Could you comment a little on the heel (not the height, but the structure at the rear of the shoe). In the last pic it looks significantly beefed up over the 100/101. I know those models had their issues with the sharp edge along the top, but I really like how flexible it was (you could easily smash it in to the insole with your thumb). I hope they didn’t go so far as to add a plastic heel counter on the 110?

    • Jason
      December 9, 2011

      Chris, this model doesn’t have the sharp top like the others. It’s more structured than the others, too. It seems to have a heel counter, but it doesn’t affect the Achilles.

  6. Rob
    December 9, 2011

    “…as long as I can see the trail and am not fatigued.” Isn’t that always an issue with trail racing versus trail training? I’m all for training minimalist, proprioception, etc… but when you’re racing, sorry, but you shouldn’t have to worry about what’s underfoot. The goal should be cover the distance as fast as possible, so why not just wear a bit more shoe? I say no inherit contradiction there: this is racing versus training. The guy in the more protective shoe who doesn’t have to think about where it foot is being places will always be faster than the guy in the nothing shoe who had to concentrate on line choice. Pure and simple. I’m not saying one can’t get the job done by taking an ultraminimalist approach at ultra distance races; I’m just saying they won’t be (can’t be?) as fast…

    • John
      December 9, 2011

      Good point. Seems to be the difference between using modern technology to aid us positively, or adhering to a purist ideology for the sake of the ideology itself.

    • Jason
      December 9, 2011

      Ah, if it were that simple, I’d definitely go for a more maximal approach. The problem- there’s always a trade-off. More protection means higher stack height, which leads to less stability. Also, thicker soles reduce ground feel which reduces proprioception.

      In short, the more maximal the shoe, the greater the likelihood of injury due to twisted ankles and other maladies.

      In a 100, I’d likely use Trail Gloves in daylight as long as the trail isn’t leaf-covered rock. I can run faster in TGs than MT110s.

      At night, I’d opt for the more protective shoe. During the day, the added protection is unnecessary so there’s no need to add to injury risk. At night, the added protection is a worthwhile tradeoff. It’s all about risk assessment. The MT110s would be faster.

      • Rob
        December 12, 2011

        I think it’s more than “risk assessment”. I’m talking about maximizing speed! You can’t tell me that you can run as fast, day or night, in reduced shoes than you could in a more built up shoe (I’m not talking about a maximal foot coffin shoe either). The very things you’re talking about, proprioception, ground feel etc… all ultimately make one run much slower.

        I’m not saying you “can’t” run the long stuff minimally or can’t run these long distances fast minimally, I’m just saying that if a fast pace or time is your goal you’re handicapping yourself by wearing not enough shoe. Just my opinion. But it should be obvious that if you don’t have to always “think” about where or what you’re stepping on then you’ll be faster. I know this from experience because I’ve run plenty of races minimally or with slightly more built up shoes. I know what’s fast and what isn’t. I also haven’t noticed a huge correlation in stack height vs rolled ankle tendencies. Seems to do more with fatigue than what I had on my foot.

        • Dan
          December 16, 2011

          Have to agree with Jason on this. Increased stack height does slow me down. Too much cushion and loss of stability will waste energy compensating for your foot tilting and rolling when it shouldn’t. Too little protection wastes time trying to pick your footing. So a compromise between the two is best. And that compromise depends on the person, the pace, and the terrain.

          As for twisting ankles, just look at the physics of it. More stack height = more leverage against your ankle. Wearing my Minimus Trails I can land on my foot sideways, and it’s no big deal. Do that in my Kinvaras, and I have a sprain.

  7. chris
    December 9, 2011

    Great review Jason. These are the shoes I’ve been looking forward to–perfect complement to my NB Minimus Trail and Merrell TG.

    How is the sizing? Is it true to size? The Minimus Trail seemed to fit short (I had to size up).

    • Jason
      December 9, 2011

      Chris, I wear a 12 in both the MT110 and Trail Glove; both fit comfortably.