My last review was on the New Balance Minimus Zero Road shoe, and I liked it pretty well.  I figured why not just toss the new Minimus Zero Trail shoe in next, so I am.  I liked the Road shoe for its overall fit and feel, and I was close to feeling the same about the trail until I ran in it.  There are some good things about this shoe, but I think there are some bad things as well.  Keep reading if you want to know what I’m talking about. 

I said in my last review that the new zeroed out line of Minimus shoes is a worthy addition to the growing minimal market, and I still think that is true.  I think the road shoe has a lot of positives, and this trail has some as well, but I think it misses the mark a bit in a couple of spots.

THE TECHNICAL

Like the road shoe, this shoe is light, and by light I mean barely there light.  New Balance seems to be heading out on a quest to create the lightest shoes ever, and they are close if they haven’t done so already.  The trail Zero weighs in at 4.4 ounces, which is two ounces lighter than the road version.  Seems crazy doesn’t it?  My calipers measured the sole at an even 10mm at the heel and forefoot which makes this a very thin trail shoe, but this is the Minimus line so that’s the point.  The upper is made of some kind of ultra-thin mesh that I cannot find a name for anywhere.  This mesh is very breathable and is fairly flexible.  It’s also seamless so it can be worn without socks if you like that sort of thing.  I do and will talk more on this later.  The sole is again provided by Vibram in spots.  I’m assuming that they make the whole sole, but this sole is podded, and there are areas in the heel and forefoot that have durable Vibram rubber on them while the others are just a soft EVA.  The entire sole is podded with gaps between the pods so it is extremely flexible and moves well with your foot.

THE LOOK

The style of this shoe is outstanding.  It’s a great performance look, but I think could also go well in a casual setting.  The one weird thing is the upper mesh.  It is so thin that you can see your toes through it.  I think it’s kind of cool and definitely breaths well, but I’ve had comments from friends about being able to see my toes through my shoes.  Most of these comments are in the “it’s weird” category.  It comes in three color options.  Black with blue highlights, sort of half black and half neon green, and bright orange with black highlights are your choices so the mostly black option is your most subtle if you’re looking to “blend” in.

THE FIT

This to me is one of the areas where this shoe goes way wrong.  In the road version you have choices in width that make sense to me as they are close together on the scale.  By that I mean you have what you’d call standard width D, and then you can go the next step up to 2E.  It’s not a huge jump, but it is a good amount wider.  In this trail version they just seemed to decide people don’t need common sense sizing and went from D to 4E!  Seriously that’s like going from a small to large shirt.  What happened to medium?  This odd sizing forced me into the D option as I’m just not quite a 4E.  I loved the road version in the 2E and found the D to be way too tight.  The trail shoe fits better at D width, but it’s not quite enough room, and that caused some fit issues for me, on my left foot at least.  The heel fits well for such thin and light material with a lack of structural support of any kind.  I like a heel that has no built in cup or shape to it so this is ideal for me.  I do feel like this shoe has a decent amount of toe room if the ball of your foot fits the width ok.  If it’s too tight at the ball of the foot then you wind up with this weird squeeze there and then open space at the toe, and it feels kind of awkward.  Other than those things this shoe has a pretty good shape and fit to it, but those issues I mentioned kind of kill it if they are there.

THE PERFORMANCE

This is where this shoe is an extreme love/hate for me.  It has a great performance feel to it and feels good under foot.  This was on the road.  I wore this shoe for the first “real” test in a 10k race that was on a paved course through a wooded park.  I had the opportunity to jump off the path at many locations and see how this shoe held up in mud, over gravel, and wooded, twig-covered ground.  On the paved path this shoe felt good.  It felt like a racing shoe.  On the gravel my feet were poked with sharp edges of rocks and the same happened on the twigs.  I did not like any of that, as this is a trail shoe that didn’t protect me from the trail.  I live in Texas, and we don’t have the most aggressive trails here so for this shoe to be less than protecting on our trails makes me wonder how this passes as good for somewhere like Colorado or Utah.  I imagine if you kept your run technical and tried to avoid some of these hazards then this would work well as a performance trail racing shoe, but I kind of want my trail shoe to protect me a little.  I found all these things out in the first mile of the race, and then I was forced to take off my shoes.  No, the race didn’t have a no shoes rule, although I’m glad they were okay with me running 5 miles of it barefoot because it was either that or not finish.  I took my shoes off because the left shoe had literally shaved a hole in my foot just behind my big toe.  It felt like a hot spot at the half mile point of the first mile but I figured it would be ok.  By the end of the first mile I was in excruciating pain and took my shoe off to see a big bloody mess where my left foot used to be.  It was bad enough that my running partner for the day thought we should probably stop there and call it a day (or let him carry me the rest of the wayJ).  After much studying of the shoe I can see where the upper mesh creases as I bend my foot at the toes and that crease digs straight into my foot.  This shoe is designed to be worn without socks, but in my case that caused this shoe to do some serious damage.  That is all the testing I have done with this shoe so my knowledge of it ends there.  I had a great half mile in them and was thinking I had found a real gem of a shoe.  Shortly after that I started to doubt my initial thoughts, and not long after that I was carrying them in my hands wishing I had left them on the store shelf.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My final thoughts are mixed.  I want to like this shoe.  It has some seriously great qualities, but it essentially attacked me, and I find that hard to forgive.  Every day I see a big scar on my foot, and it’s from these shoes not living up to their claims of being friendly to a sockless foot.  I think if you can comfortably fit in the D sizing then this could be a great race shoe for you no matter the terrain.  If you’re somewhere between the D and the 4E then I’d leave this one alone unless you want to wear socks with the wider version, but I cannot recommend you squeeze into the D.  I’m not even squeezed in it all that badly, and the results were bad for me.  I openly admit that the shoe is slightly tighter than maybe it should be and definitely tighter than I like but in trying it on it felt ok.  I even wore it around casually for a week or so and took a couple of quick jogs up and down the street in them before I tested them out, and through all of that the shoe was comfortable.  Perhaps it was just one bad day with one bad result, and I should give them another try, but it is really difficult to want to put them on again.  Maybe I will but more than likely with a sock.  So overall I kind of have to give this shoe a fail even though it tried really hard to pass.

If any of you are curious I’ve decided at friend request to put a picture of the damage done to my foot in this link here.

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