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Monday, December 5, 2011
New Balance Minimus Zero Review
Anyone else feel like it's just history repeating? At this time last year, we (and by we I mean "shoe nerds like me") were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first generation of the New Balance Minimus line. New Balance was the first big company to express interest in making a truly minimalist shoe. Considering that the market at the time included offerings such as "slim" and "none", this was an exciting development.
A lot of people (including me) felt that the first-generation Minimus missed it's intended target. Not that it was a bad shoe. Especially the Minimus Trail is an excellent light-weight trail shoe that has been extremely popular. But with a 16mm stack height and a 4mm heel to toe drop, many (again, including me) accused it of not being a "minimal shoe".
So here we are again at the end of the calendar year with news that New Balance is set to release a zero-drop version of it's Minimus line. I know a lot of people are waiting with the same anticipation for New Balance to release the minimal shoe that they should have released in the first place. This time, I wasn't one of those people.
I was under no illusions that zero-dropping the Minimus Trail wouldn't be the Godfather 2 of minimalist trail shoes. You know, Godfather 2...the one that was infinitely better than Godfather 1? I figured that New Balance would make some modest improvements on the MT10 and MT20, and release a zero-drop trail shoe that would serve as a good compliment to their existing Minimus line.
And with that...I present to you...a good compliment to the existing Minimus line: The Minimus Trail Zero. That's another way of saying, "I was right." Anyway...
Folks, it should be pretty clear even from this picture that New Balance didn't just set out to zero-drop their current minimal trail shoe. In fact, I would say the zero-drop profile is the least of what's going on here. New Balance really did make a completely different shoe. And this shoe is all about cutting the fat and making the most "minimal" trail shoe on the market.
That stripped down appearance is most evident in the shoe's upper. The upper of the MT10 was loaded with features. It had huge stability straps all over the place. It had multiple layers of upper fabric for maximum breathability (which ended up making it less breathable). It had a substantial, padded heel cup. It was really, really orange (well...my pair was).
The Minimus Zero doesn't have any of that business. While the Minimus Zero keeps essentials like a seamless interior and some padding around the heel collar (as seen above), it's upper is otherwise entirely comprised of a hydrophobic mesh similar to that used on the Merrell Sonic Glove. No stability straps. No heel cup. Nothing. Any semblance of former structure found in the MT10 is just a graphic. No other trail shoe yet made goes as far as the Zero does in terms of lack of structure. The upper, like the rest of the shoe, is bare-bones.
Another place where the Minimus Zero has shaved down their shoe to the essentials is the outsole. The Minimus Zero keeps the same basic lugged sole design as the MT10 and MT20. However, New Balance carved out a ton of material between the lugs. They also appear to have changed the materials used for the lugs over the arch of the shoe. The yellow portions of the sole are hard and stiff just like the original Minimus Trail. However, the black portions are somewhat soft and squishy. These lugs are also more rounded and smooth, thus seemingly putting the grippy lugs where you need them most.
The combination of the stripped down upper and sole result in the lightest minimal trail shoe on the market. My pair came in at a little under 4oz. FOUR FREAKING OUNCES!! If you can't tell from my excitement, that's pretty stinking awesome. I have huaraches that weigh more than these shoes.
It also makes the Minimus Zero capable of doing something the original Minimus Trail could not. Flexing to any significant degree. For the amount of protection that it still offers with its 15mm stack height, I'm amazed at the level of flexibility the Minimus Zero can acheive. It's quite possibly the most flexible minimal trail shoe currently on the market.
And with increased flexibility comes increased groundfeel. The Minimus Zero exchanges the stiffness and protection offered by the original Minimus Trail for groundfeel. The resulting shoe provides groundfeel comparable to the Merrell Trail Glove. All of this is done without sacrificing grip. The Minimus Zero provides about the same amount of traction on trails as the original. That is, the traction isn't spectacular, but is adequate for a vast majority of trail applications.
In fact, this increase in groundfeel makes one aspect of these shoes a little more appealing. A lot of folks have used the original Minimus Trail primarily road running. I was critical of that approach in my review of the original Minimus, since there are so many other good minimal road shoes out there. Granted, these shoes are still a snooze for me on the road, with the increased groundfeel they do a bit better. I still don't like them as an all-around minimal shoe, because there are better options on the market. But I know some of you will still buy a Minimus model fill that need. And if you do, you're probably better off buying the Minimus Zero than any other model New Balance sells.
So with all of these massive improvements, why doesn't the Minimus Zero make the MT10 and MT20 completely obsolete? Well here's the thing. After running in the original Minimus Trail for nearly a year now, I have a confession. I like the original Minimus Trail. I mean...I REALLY like them.
For one, they are freaking comfortable! This mesh stuff on the Minimus Zero...not particularly comfortable on my foot. Now it certainly performs well. It is lightweight. It is super flexible. It seems pretty waterproof. I just don't dig the feel too much. At the same time, some people won't mind sacrificing comfort for savings in weight. Those people now have an option. Sallypants comfort junkies like myself still have the original Minimus Trail.
Same thing goes for groundfeel. Not only do I like the interior comfort of the original Minimus Trail, I've also grown to love the stiffness and protection of the original. The MT10 and MT20 is my first choice for extremely technical trails. You can't find another minimal trail shoe on the market that provides the same amount of protection. Others probably wish that they could have the Minimus platform with a lot more flexibility. The Minimus Zero fills that need.
What about this shoe versus the other trail shoes on the market? Since these are the most minimal, they must be the best right? Not necessarily. People are always asking me, "Which minimal trail shoe is the best?" And I always tell them that they are all good. That's frustrating for shoppers I know. But it's also true. Minimal trail shoes all strike a balance between protection and minimalism. Each trail shoe produced this year has had a different interpretation of that balance. The Minimus Zero favors minimalism over any sort of protection more than any other model. That doesn't make it better than any other trail shoe. It makes it different. There is a niche for these shoes just as there is a niche for the original Minimus Trail on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
As with any other minimal shoe, you need to research what is available (i.e. read my reviews) and decide which shoe best fits your needs and wants. And if you want minimalism more than anything while on the trail, this is your shoe. Enjoy citizens!