New Balance Minimus Life/Wellness Zero Review
Here at BirthdayShoes.com we've provided exhaustive coverage to the new New Balance Minimus Zero line-up for 2012 — including wide reviews of the Minimus Zero Road (MR00) and Minimus Zero Trail (MT00) and a multi-user review of the Zero Road and Trail; it was only a matter of time before we got around to the last Zero from New Balance, a review of the Minimus Life/Wellness (MWOO).
You'll recall that the original New Balance Minimus Life in 2011 was one of my favorite shoes to hit the market — despite the fact they had a small, 4mm differential in sole from heel-to-forefoot.
The new Minimus Zero Life/Wellness is a total reload of the original Life; like the Zero Trail and Road Zeros, New Balance effectively went back to the drawing board with these. Unfortunately, the new shoe leaves a lot to be desired, at least by comparison to the originals — it's minimalist on the things I loved most about the original, it's heavier, isn't as comfortable, and has a swath of other changes that comparatively don't work as well as the first LIfes — but it is "zero-dropped" and if you have no idea what the originals were like, you might really like these (what do I know?).
Read on to learn more and see plenty of photos, per usual!
The Minimus Life/Wellness line (Zero or Original, which is how I'll refer to these shoes) is geared towards post run wear or put differently, wear for any time you're not running, which for most runners and non-runners alike, is basically all the time! I see this category as the "future" of minimalist shoes because it applies to everyone. I also see it as the area that has the fewest options available — shoe manufacturers listen up: we need more casual, everyday (or work-appropriate!) barefoot-minded shoes!
What you get with the Minimus Zero Life/Wellness shoes is an upper that can be worn sockless and a sole that is primarily EVA foam with only the slightest use of inset rubber to provide some durability in key spots. The sole is neutral from heel-to-toe, meaning it's "zero drop" for close-to-ideal (ideal = barefoot) walking or running biomechanics. With no elevated heel, you're not going to have negative effects on your posture nor are you likely to have a forced heel-strike thanks to that wedge at the back that you get with most shoes.
If you're familiar already with the Road Zeros, the upper of the Minimus Zero Life/Wellness probably looks a little familiar; it basically uses the same mesh fabric and the overlaid bits over the front of the Life/Wellness are similar in style to the Zero Road's.
The tongue design of the Minimus Zero Life/Wellness is actually borrowed from the Road Zeros. It is sort of a burrito tongue where by the upper just keeps going on one side to become the tongue of the shoe. It's unusual and kinda cool but not without some nuances; namely, when slipping your foot in, it can push the tongue into the shoe on the non-attached side. To compensate for this, New Balance actually attached an elastic fabric on the "end" of the tongue, inside the shoe (see this pic). Your pinky toe sometimes catches on this fabric when you put them on but it's really not much of an issue.
What's most striking about the Life/Wellness is the fat (literally wide), zig-zagging velcro strapping system used to adjust the fit to your foot. This strap seems to provide more of an aesthetic to shoes than serious functionality, as I can tighten it, but it doesn't seem to change fit much. This might be significanlly different if you have a higher-volume foot (your instep being higher). I'll talk a little more about this when I compare more to the original Minimus Life below.
About the sole
The stand-out feature of the NB Minimus Zero Life/Wellness is, of course, the fact that it's a "zero," in the first place; unlike the original Minimus Life which was about 14mm thick at the heel and 10mm at the forefoot (my measurements), the Minimus Life Zero is about 12mm at both heel and forefoot (give or take — again my measurements). You might as well contrast his to the Road Zeros which are about 11mm at heel and forefoot, too. So yes, while the Minimus ZERO Life/Wellness is neutral from heel to toe, it's actually thicker than the original.
What's actually sort of surprising about the new Zero Life/Wellness is that the foam sole feels like it curves up on the outer ridges, not unlike the Road Zero, which does the same thing (as pointed out here). Pictures here are worth a thousand words, so take a look at the following collage, which demonstrate as best as possible from the outside of the shoe, what I think is going on. Basically, my fully loaded foot starts to push up against the outside walls of the sole; the sole has elevated ridges that are higher than the base portion of the sole. It's pronounced enough in certain areas that it is noticeable and can be annoying. That said, if you've worn the Road Zeros, the Life/Wellness Zeros don't quite do this as much as the Roads. Where I notice these elevation changes in the soles of the Zero Life/Wellness shoes most is on the inside arch area and on the outside metatarsel area (lower on my foot from my pinky toes).
Inside the shoes
I already mentioned the tongue attachment point, so I won't go into that further. All I'd like to note is that there is a sockliner material used in the Minimus Zero Life/Wellness that has a cotton-like feel to it. It's quite comfortable against my barefoot, but ... more on this in a minute.
The Minimus Zero Life/Wellness mutes a good bit of ground feel due to it's use of a lot of foam and a stack height of about 12mm. Don't expect to be feeling every nuance in the ground with these on; however, you will get a lot more ground feel in them than a pair of virtually any other sneakers on the market that isn't billed as "barefoot" or "minimalist." I'd put the ground feel on the Life Zeros at slightly less than the Road Zeros, which should come as no surprise given the Road Zeros are similarly soled but every so slightly less thick than the Life Zeros.
Aesthetics/How do these work casually?
The Minimus Life/Wellness Zeros work fairly well as a casual, everyday sneaker. I go back and forth on the velcro strap — sometimes I think it's cool, stylish, and progressively fashionable (yes, Velcro can be fashionable! Why not?); other times I feel like it's too fat and looks "off" or out of place on shoes — like it just doesn't fit in. It almost looks like a huge after-market car part (think: enormous wing on the back of a Honda Civic) that was added after the fact and wasn't in step with the overall design of the shoes. I'd also have appreciated just a smidge more contrast in the upper detailing. My pair is just a little too grey; the other colorway available is far too black, too, in my opinion.
New Balance Minimus Life/Wellness Zero vs. the Original Life
You knew it was coming. How could I not compare these to the originals? I really, really liked the original Minimus Life from New Balance (just read my review) and what I liked about them helps me explain why I'm not really digging the Zero'ed versions so that's how I'm (mostly) going to talk about this.
What I liked about the original Minimus Life [What I dislike about the Zeros]:
The original Minmus Life was incredibly easy to slip-on thanks to not having laces (1) and (2) having a heel pull-tab; I can easily one-handedly slip on the original Minimus Life. On countless times I've popped these on in a rush out the door with nary a second thought; I've done it a few times in writing this review. It's just simple and it works.
[With the Minimus Zero, while velcro is easier than tying laces, in combination with the burrito tongue, I still have to use both hands to put these on; meanwhile, the heel pull tab has been completely eliminated, even with two hands, this makes it harder to put on the Zero Lifes than it shoiuld be.]
The sole of the original Minimus Life provided a bit of cushioning but really not much. Walking in them feels like walking on a thin mat of foam over [insert whatever surface you're walking on here]. The 4mm elevation at the heel was hardly noticeable at all, much to my surprise. Even to this day wearing them side by side with the Zeros the difference is very difficult for me to ascertain. I'd certainly rather not have it because my higher cognitive perception isn't always the lower-level reality. Meanwhile, the sole didn't feel like it ever ended in any ridges or walls for my foot to feel pressing up on it.
[The Minimus Zero Life has no elevated heel. That's a win. However, the sole has external ridges that annoy my foot in numerous spots. The sole is also thicker in total by about 20%. Why?]
The original Minmus Life had better ground feel thanks to it being thinner soled at the forefoot, where you do most of your ground feeling, anyway.
[Minimus Zero Life is better at the heel; but a 2mm thinner sole at the heel doesn't make much difference for ground feel.]
The original Minimus Life (size 10.5, men's) weighed in at 5.5 oz., shoe. Very lightweight held in hand; very put together and simple feeling.
[The new Minimus Zero Life (size 11, men's - I could probably get away with a 10.5 but this is what was available to review) weighs 6.5 oz. per shoe! Yes, it weighs a full ounce more (18% more or so — probably because of the sole if I had to guess, but also the velcro/strappy upper). While the Trail Zeros are crazy light (and appreciably so, they feel awesome partly because they are so lightweight), the new Zero Lifes are both markedly heavier and also look a little clunky.]
I really liked the aesthetic of the original Minimus Life. It looked just a little bit different than other sneakers around. The subtle ridge on the toe box; the cuts of the fabrics; the wrap at the midfoot. It all made for a strikingly unusual, yet not garish, shoe; I got frequent positive unsolicited comments about them including a few people who went on to buy them on seeing them on my feet.
[The Minimus Zero Life looks clunky by comparison. It's got thick ridges for seams; thick gridded mesh; and super thick/fat velcro straps. It looks both "new" and traditional at the same time, not really pulling off either look very well.]
The one con to the original Minimus Life is that it put a little too much pressure on the instep; it was noticeable for me (I don't have high volume feet) and a bit of a problem for at least a few people who bought them. My wife got a pair and has pretty high volume feet, but still likes the originals enough to wear them quite regularly (weekly). Notably she couldn't fit a pair of Bikilas. While I appreciate the lack of laces in the originals, an upper with a little more give would have been nice.
[The Minimus Zero Life should accommodate high volume feet (or all feet) better thanks to a more adjustable, tongue and velcro strap system. I assume this addition was in response to feedback about a too constricting upper in the Lifes]
The sock-liner on the original Minomus Life was a sort-of silky smooth material that just feels "nice" against my foot. I've worried it'd degrade over time but it's held up quite well.
[The Minimus Life Zero's sock liner has a coarser feel to it; this is a nit-picky observation, but I just like the feel of the originals better]
The bad news is that I can only see the New Balance Minimus Life/Wellness as a big step backwards from the 2011 originals. If I were to sum up the Minimus Life Zeros in one word, it'd be "clunky," which is just about as opposite to what you'd want in a minimalist shoe as you can imagine.
I know I'm being very harsh on New Balance here and I'm confident there are going to be folks out there who end up loving these shoes; in truth, there are many things to like about them and hopefully I've at least highlighted a few of those things above. It's just that when you compare the Zero Lifes to the originals, it's impossible not to feel like something went very wrong given all the things that seemed better in the originals. Given the old adage that "if it aint broke, don't fix it," the only thing "broke" with the originals was 4mm of lift; take that out, slap on some new colors and maybe some minor upper design changes to accommodate a larger variety of foot volumes, and voila, you'd have yourself a seriously awesome casual shoe; quite possibly my favorite non-toe shoe out there!
So what you should be reading in this review is largely disappointment; I really wanted an awesome reload of last year's original Lifes; I didn't get it. That bums me out. You might have a totally different take on these, particularly if you didn't like the original or never tried it.
If you liked the original Lifes but didn't get them or love them and want another pair, take heed! They are being discontinued. Come to find out that the original Minimus Life shoes won't be produced any longer, which I suppose is to be expected, but still is unfortunate to me. There is a silver lining. For as long as supplies last, you can get the originals at upwards of 25% off retail price, which is about $75 vs. $100 (some styles less). I've found a retailer carrying them here. You can read my original review of the originals here.
If you'd like to pick up a pair of the new Minimus Life, shop over to ShopNewBalance.com. They go for $95 shipped free to you. Size-wise, I'd say go with your typical NB size, which usually correlates well to your street shoe size (I tested an 11 but am 99% sure based on being able to fit the Road Zeros at 10.5 fine that I'd handle a 10.5 fine in these, too).
I'll end in saying that you probably shouldn't refer to these as simply the "Zero Life" or the "Zero Wellness" — not quite the right connotations there!
Questions? Comments? Was I too harsh? Anyone love these new Life Zeros? Any big fans of the originals? I want to hear it all in the comments!
Official Specs from New Balance
Here's New Balance's official details on the Minimus Life/Wellness:
Minimus is New Balance's refreshing departure from "traditional" athletic footwear, inspired by Good Form Running and designed to be worn with or without socks. The slip-on MW00 Minimus Wellness shoe is sublimely comfortable, engineered for post-run recovery as well as for other casual wear. Also known as the "Minimus Life," this shoe is your perfect everyday approach to the minimalist lifestyle.
NB Minimus is a whole new approach to footwear, a place on the spectrum from barefoot running to the traditional maximum-cushioning running shoe. Inspired by Good Form Running and designed to be worn with or without socks. With only a 0mm drop from heel to toe, the NB Minimus collection holds a world of discovery for neutral runners; additionally, Good Form Running teaches methods of improvement for those seeking to conquer gait issues.
Ultra-light and flexible EVA midsole and outsole with full ground contact
Solid rubber inset pads for durability and traction
Hook and Loop closure provides a custom fit without laces
Slip-on construction for easy on/off wear
Synthetic/Mesh upper provides lightweight comfort and support