Review of the New Balance Minimus Trail Leather Shoes (MT10)
New Balance's first minimalist shoe offerings hit the market back in the Spring of 2011. Perhaps their most popular "Minimus" style then, and perhaps even still, was the MT10 or the Minimus Trail (which we've reviewed in depth here and with video here). And while the 2nd generation of Minimus shoes are "Zeros" — so called because they're the same stack height at heel and forefoot — the original Minimus shoes all had a 4mm heel-to-toe drop.
Four millimeters isn't a lot and some might even like the differential, which still allows for a forefoot/midfoot running style but with a little less distance for your heel to travel as it descends and lightly touches the ground before lifting off again (as with a natural running style).
Anyway, the popularity of the original Minimus Trail is probably what led New Balance to offer the MT10 in a couple leather versions — the grey leather Minimus Trails (MT10LG) being seen photoed above and what I'll be talking about today (they offer them in brown leather, too — the MT10LR). Like the looks? Want to know what's up with this shoe? Well read on!
If you're already familiar with the MT10 design or have read my original review, an overview is probably going to be redundant, but for newcomers to the MT10 or the original Minimus versions, it's worth familiarizing yourself with what you get with these shoes.
Most obviously, these leather MT10s are made with leather uppers instead of mesh. In the case of the grey leather MT10s, the leather is a supple and smooth cowhide. It seems to wear well in the weeks I've been wearing them as everyday shoes. More on that later.
The MT10(L) has the aforementioned heel-to-toe drop of 4mm. The stack height is about 14mm at the heel and 10mm at the forefoot. This is just enough to be noticeable if you're accustomed to walking in low-stack-height, zero-drop (or neutral from heel-to-toe) footwear, but not enough to be annoying. Actually, I could imagine some people would actually find it easier to walk in these — particularly on hard surfaces — if not fully accustomed to barefoot-style walking.
As with virtually every shoe in the Mininimus line, New Balance has outfitted these Minimus Trails with a virtually seamless, no-socks-required, sewn-in-place insole inside. That means that you can wear the MT10s with or without socks; and for the record, I usually opted for wearing these without socks as I generally just don't like wearing socks! Also, of all the "barefoot shoes" I've reviewed, I'd make the general statement that New Balance's approach to the barefoot-feel of the insides of their Minimus shoes is best-in-class for sockless wear. It's just well done.
The outsoles of the Minimus Trail feature a Vibram rubber overlaid on top of an EVA midsole. The Vibram rubber sole is actually in four separate pieces (you have to look closely to see how they're separated) — a heel, arch, midfoot, and forefoot section. This design consideration seems to improve the overall flexibility of the Minimus Trails.
Of note for anyone familiar with the original MT10, the original, non-leather MT10s featured a "rubber band" that ran over the midfoot of the shoe (you can see it here). This band was the source of my main gripe about the original MT10s as it just put a lot of pressure on my midfoot. The good Pete Larson of RunBlogger even went so far as to surgically alter his MT10s by cutting this band. Well, whether it caused you pain or was just annoying (I'd like to hear if anyone flat-out loved this band), New Balance straight up removed it entirely from these leather MT10s and it makes a huge difference.
I'll also say that while the Minimus line doesn't feature the most spacious toe box relative to other barefoot shoes, I find the MT10 last to be "just about right" for my feet, which I'd classify as pretty average in width. This allows for some toe splay but doesn't provide so much toe box as to make your toes wonder where the ends of the shoe are.
I'll talk more about fit and feel in a second, but here are some photos:
Barefoot Feel and Fit
The rubber-on-foam soles of the MT10 plus the overall stack height make for a decent "mute" button on ground feel. I'm speaking relatively here — the MT10s provide a bit less ground feel than the Minimus Zeros and certainly less than every model of Vibram FiveFingers. That's not bad, at all. It's considerably better than your conventional footwear.
I love wearing these MT10s barefoot. They're comfortable worn all day with or without socks (with my personal preference being sockless). As for fit, I'm a 43 in VFFs and a 10.5 generally. The MT10s in 10.5 fit me fine (I have had to size up in some other Minimus shoes like the NewSky). The MT10s lack arch support and with a nice sized toe box I find the fit to be quite comfortable overall.
On my feet the MT10s feel stable at the heel if not a bit stiff and nicely flexible up front. Here are some toe flex pics:
Function — what are these leather Minimus Trails for?
So what are these leather Minimus Trails designed for? Per New Balance:
This leather edition is especially suited for everyday wear, ideal for the Good Form Runnning enthusiast incorporating minimalist footwear into life both on and off the trail.
Basically these leather MT10s are aimed for casual wear — or perhaps business casual wear. I don't see any reason you couldn't run in them; I'd expect them to function very similarly to the MT10s, which is pretty solidly as on the road or off the road running shoes. However, I tested mine for the purpose of this review as they were intended to be worn — as every day (bare)footwear.
The leather Minimus Trails are pretty stylish barefoot/minimalist shoes
When you talk about everyday footwear, probably the most important factors are aesthetics/looks and comfort. And I'd guess that the question at the top of your mind might be: can I wear these to work?
That's an almost-impossible question to answer without knowing the nuances of dress culture at your office. So what I've tried to do is just take a bunch of photos.
Worn with a dark pair of jeans, these grey leather MT10s look downright sharp. I really dig'em as a dressier barefoot shoe to wear with a dressier pair of jeans. The photo above helps capture that look as does this photo (different pair of jeans). Generally, I found that while I might not have picked the grey leather as my first choice over the brown, the grey actually seems to work well with just about any pair of jeans; however, they're almost too nice to wear with my more distressed/worn jeans (e.g. the types I've cut on the ankle sides that have frayed edges, etc.).
The leather MT10s also work well with khaki pants! The above shot is taken straight on with some bootcut khakis from Banana Republic. So worn, I went to a few client meetings with a button-down shirt and no one batted an eye. Worn in my own office, my co-workers made comments like "Whoa I think this is the first time I've seen you wear normal shoes!" No joke.
Again, I found the grey leather to work well with khaki — much to my surprise. I think a black leather wouldn't have worked nearly as well here, so this was a pleasant surprise.
Worn with black chino pants, they're also winners! Again, I wore these to some offsite client meetings and I blended right in. Really, the only aesthetic "tells" that these aren't normal shoes are the hints of a more aggressive sole and the slight detailing on the sides (e.g. the "N" and the subtle green accent of "minimus").
Overall, I think the Minimus Trails in leather are an excellent bet for a casual or dressy casual barefoot shoe. There really aren't a ton of minimalist shoes in this aesthetic category. Vivo Barefoot makes a few options and Merrell makes the Tough Glove (I've never reviewed the Tough Gloves, but have a pair — the aesthetic just didn't work for me very well). I wouldn't go so far as to say that these are true business casual shoes; they're just not traditional enough in their look. But they stand out as an option worth consideration.
Here are a bunch of other photos of me wearing these MT10s with different pairs of jeans and pants. A few more pics never hurt anyone, right?
I really like these leather Minimus shoes. They're more comfortable than the original MT10s thanks to the removal of that somewhat irritatingly overtight rubber strap. They're pretty good looking. They've got a minimal amount of cushioning and decent ground feel. The 4mm differential is something that I've come to realize doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would. Worn all day long without socks, I don't really ever have that "I can't wait to take these off" feeling — an important feature of any shoe that has the bare foot in mind, if you ask me.
All in all, if you need a shoe to fit a certain empty niche in your wardrobe — a.k.a. what shoes can I wear that are foot friendly but don't have five toes or don't look like running shoes that my [significant other] won't roll their eyes at — well, these might just be top of the list.
I'll wrap and ask for comments, questions, or feedback. What do you think?