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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Balance Minimus Trail MT20 Review

I wish I liked their shoes as much as I like their commercial. 

Dearest citizens of MGBG nation, let me take you on a journey back in time.  The year was....okay, it was this year.  But it was earlier this year!  That's still time travel!

Back in March, I was positively giddy about the release of the New Balance Minimus Trail.  New Balance seemed to be doing everything right.  The reports I saw made this shoe out to be the next Vibram One-finger.  They were working with Anton Krupicka, minimalist ultra-marathoner extraordinaire.  With that help, what could possibly go wrong?  I was sure that these shoes were going to take the minimal running world by storm and be the hottest shoe of 2011.

Then New Balance did the minimal world equivalent of lifting the gun up before pulling the trigger.  And they missed the target big time.  They came out with a thick-soled, heel-raised, clunker that looked more like a Nike Free than a Vibram.  Sad trombone...

Don't get me wrong.  I really like the Minimus Trail.  It is a great light trail shoe.  I just don't consider it a minimal shoe.  It is too thick, too stiff, and too heavy.  If anything, it's just another update to their previous light trail shoes like the MT100 and MT101.   But I know a lot of you folks like them.  I'm always willing to give something another shot for the sake of an informed readship.  So when I heard that New Balance would be releasing an updated verison of the shoe, I decided to take them for another test run.

First of all, the MT20 is not the highly-anticipated zero-drop version of this line: the Minimus Zero (MT00).  It is an update on the original shoe (the MT10).  The MT20 keeps the same platform as the original Minimus, but fixes many of the problems that many folks disliked.  These changes aren't terribly major, but in my opinion they move the shoe a lot further into the minimalist camp.

First off I'll mention some of the things they kept the same.  The MT20 has the same 4mm heel to toe drop found in the MT10.  It has the same upper material; consisting of a webbed base layer with a thin mesh overlay.  The inside of the shoe is also virtually identical.

Furthermore, except for the neat two-tone color palette, the sole's lug pattern is also the same.

That's.....pretty much it.  The rest of the shoe is new and improved.  And the improvements are best explained by what the shoe no longer has.

First, the shoe no longer has a toe spring.  A lot of folks complained that the MT10 had a noticable toe spring that kept their toes in a permanent state of flexion.  Most would say that they couldn't feel the toe spring while running, including myself.  Nonetheless, New Balance took note of this annoyance and made the toe box in the MT20 completely flat.  I think that this is one of many things that adds to an overall improvement in comfort in the new model.

Second, the MT20 no longer has a stability strap across the upper and heel cup of the shoe.  Although this was intended to provide increased lateral stability, in reality all it did was to make the MT10 incredibly narrow.  I had to go up several shoe sizes in order for my MT10s to fit comfortably.  Many others reported that the stability strap pinched their feet and made the shoes almost unwearable. 

Even without the stability strap, I've found that the MT20 still runs a bit narrow compared to other minimal shoes.  However, the MT20 is also available in 2E width, which should take care of this issue.

The MT20 is also a full ounce lighter than it's older brother.  I'm guessing this has to do with the removal of the heavy stability strap.  This is my favorite improvement, because at 6.5 oz I feel it's finally more of a minimal shoe. 

That being said, I still think there are too many features of this shoe that prevent me from fully embrace it as such.  I don't think a minimalist shoe should have a heel raise of any kind, since even the smallest lift can encourage a heel strike.  And the sole of the MT20 is still far too thick. 

Even so, I do see this shoe's place in someone's arsenal.  I will be wearing them for rough trail ultras and mountain running where I need more foot protection than a normal minimal trail shoe can provide.  Also, as I mentioned in my prior review of the Minimus, I think this shoe is great for those people that run mostly trails that don't want to buy a separate shoe for the road. 

So with all of these improvements, why would someone buy the MT10 instead of the MT20?  Some kind of weird, inferior product nostaglia?  Well, they'd probably buy the MT10 because it's really hard to find the MT20.  As of the date of this review, I've never seen a pair outside of the company website.  So if you want a pair, I suggest you head over there.  Although I've heard rumors that they are being sold at Sport Authority (although I've been to several Sport Authority locations in Minnesota and didn't see them). 

Anyway, I'm hoping that New Balance will finally fully embrace minimalism with the release of the Minimus Zero.  I should be getting those shoes for testing fairly soon.  In the meantime, happy trails citizens!


  1. Just don't use them if it's wet.Bad in the mud and bad on wet rocks and logs. The grip on the MT10 was brutal, these look even worse. Anyone who says they have a good grip has never used La Sportiva or Inov8 shoes.That's my opinion.

  2. I totally agree Digger. These definitely come up short in muddy conditions. I'm a big Inov8 Bare Grip fan for the muck.

  3. I went on a trip to Montgomery Alabama with the in-laws in early September. As we left they stopped at a big box shoe store I hadn't heard of before that had the MT20, so I can attest to them being out there, somewhere. (I'm from Upstate New York and for all I know it might be amazingly popular and well known down south)

  4. Ah, it was a store called Shoe Station, for what it is worth.

  5. Good to know they are out there Alejandro. I figured that not many places would sell them since the Minimus Zero is coming out next spring. Some people really like this model though. To each his own I guess

  6. I have seen them in multiple Nordstrom's in the Southern California area, I'm excited to try on the Minimus Zero!

  7. If you want some of these shoes go to the Sports Authority in Burnsville, MN. I got a pair today and they had a decent amount in stock.

  8. not to crush on other shoes, but have you considered value? My new balance minimus's last longer than any other closed minimal shoes i have, while working well on both road and light trail. The problem with many minimal shoes (read merrel, five fingers, etc) is the lack of durability which would mean I'd end up having to buy twice as many

  9. I picked up a pair from Dick's Sporting Good's in Charlotte, NC. I use them in the gym for jumping rope, kettle bell work out's and lifting free weights. The thin sole, vs. a cross trainer, with only a 4mm drop works for me and I like the snug fit thru the heel/mid foot. I bought them for the purpose I'm using them for and have not been dissapointed. I've run only once in them on a trail, I didn't particularly like the traction. Know what your buying, and why, and you won't be dissapointed.

  10. Good to recognise they are in existence Alejandro. I figured that a small number places would sell them PassBeeMedia considering that the Minimus Zero is quit next spring. Many people really like this model though. To each his or her own I guess.

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