New Balance Minimus Zero Trail Lightning Review: Pretty But Painful

In the quest for the most extremely minimal running shoe, things are getting crazy. New Balance's latest entry is an absolute featherweight for trail running. But does it have what it takes to be the best?

What Is It?

New Balance's MT00, a rubber, sock-optional barefoot-style running shoe.

Who's it For?

Barefoot trail runners who want some protection for their soles and don't want the weird toe-shoe look.

Design

The upper is a sock made of a light, breathable mesh that's tight enough to keep out sand. The tread is a combination of firm, impact-resistant Vibram rubber and a lighter rubber to hold it together. The shoes dissuade you from heel striking because they are a zero drop style, which means the forefoot and the heel are on an even plane.

Using It

The first thing you'll notice is how insanely light and flexible these are. Then, you'll notice how narrow they are at the toes. During light trail runs and street runs on wet concrete, slippage was never an issue, but every now and then a rock would be in just the right place to pierce the foot in between the rubber lugs, and ho man, it really hurts. Some of the little gaps offer no protection, and cushioning is all but non-existent.

The Best Part

The lightness. At 4.4 ounces (124 grams), the difference in weight between wearing them and a bare foot is hardly noticeable. Incredible!

Tragic Flaw

That narrow toe box. A key component to barefoot running is letting your toes splay out naturally. It gives you a nice solid base and allows little adjustments to the running surface. This toe box basically defeats the purpose.

This Is Weird...

If you step on damp ground, the water instantly seeps through the porous bottom and soaks your foot. They don't lose grip, but it's uncomfortable, and it's a constant problem. They're for a trail, remember?

Test Notes

The softer rubber is clearly wearing down faster than the hard Vibram rubber. It won't last.

  • The laces tend to slip. They get tight in one place and loose in another. Way too many re-ties, even when double-knotted.
  • The inside of the upper is not particularly smooth. It chafes during sockless running.
  • Cleaning dog shit out of these things is a phenomenal pain in the ass. It sticks between the lugs, and actually squishes up under them. You pretty much need a hose.
  • A foot injury occurred on the final run. It really hurt. Now, it could have happened with any shoe, but the narrow toe box and the tight lacing definitely contributed.

Should You Buy It?

Unless you have extremely narrow feet, no. If you want to try barefoot running, letting your forefoot splay out naturally is a key component, and New Balance botched it. Along with the vulnerable sole and questionable materials, it's enough to be a deal-breaker. This is an innovative product, but it still feels like a beta. For now, try the Merrells, and keep an eye on what New Balance changes for next year's model.

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New Balance Minimus Zero Trail Specs

Type: Trail running
Weight: 4.4oz
Drop: 0mm
Men's Sizes: 7 - 15
Women's Sizes: 5 - 11
Men's Colors: 7 options
Women's Colors: 7 options
Price: $110 (retail)
Giz Rank: 3.0 Stars