A FiveFinger alternative without the fingers!

Hot on the heels of a reboot of the original Minimus lineup, New Balance has released one of their most minimal shoe designs to date—the Minimus HI-REZ. The reaction of everyone who I’ve shown this shoe to has been a Keanu Reeves style “Wooah!” Read on to learn why!
The first thing you notice about the Hi-rez when you pick a pair up, is just how darn light they are. It feels like there is nothing to them and at 3.7oz it’s on par with some of Vibram’s lightest offerings. The second thing you notice is how flexible both the upper and the sole are. The zero drop sole diverges from that of a standard minimalist shoe in that it is made up of a series of hexagonal “pods” that are held together with a tough but flexible fabric. Just how flexible? Take a look at this marketing photo of a pre-production version of the sole at the right. In fact, the sole is so flexible that when the shoe is turned upside-down, it will actually sag in the middle under its own weight:
Also, the material used to hold the hexagonal pads together in the sole provides no waterproofing whatsoever, so even dew from wet grass can seep in through the bottom. The upper is a made up of thin mesh with a ”burrito style” tongue that those familiar with the road versions of Minimus and Minimus Zero will recognize. The mesh is overlaid with a soft decorative rubber which gives a bit of shape. By comparison, the thickness of the upper is similar to that of the New Balance Minimus Zero Trail, but isn’t quite a thin or sheer as something like the Vibram El-X or SeeYa.

Fit, Feel and Function

New Balance really nailed it with the Hi-rez. Putting these on is like putting on a pair of slippers—the mesh lining is soft and comfortable and the uppers contour to your feet with a process the NB marketers have termed “FantomFit.” I generally prefer sock with shoes, but I am comfortable enough going without in these for shorter runs. The toe box is nice and wide, with plenty of room to wiggle your little piggys and the heel cup is pleasantly snug without feeling too tight. There is no noticeable toe spring and the toe box flexes and widens as your foot lands with each step. The lacing system is pretty standard and allows you to cinch things up pretty securely if needed.
In practice, the ground feel of the Hi-rez is absolutely tremendous. Surprisingly you can’t really feel the individual hexagons underfoot, but rather it feels like one uniform sole. In a side by side comparison with the Vibram El-X, running on a varied terrain of asphalt, grass, and dirt, there was virtually no noticeable different in ground transmission. It’s really just amazing what New Balance has been able to pull off in this regard. Almost all the shoes I wear casually or for workouts these days have a zero drop heel and the Hi-rez were actually so comfortable that I found myself wearing them around the house long after my run or workout ended. Lastly, I found sizing and fit to be accurate and consistent with other New Balance shoes, keeping in mind that the Hi-rez does have an intentionally wide toebox. Pricing for a pair will set you back $120 (Zappos has them here, NewBalance.com here), which falls into the mid-range of New Balance’s pricing range for running shoes, but is towards the higher end of the spectrum of minimalist shoes in general. There are three color ways for both men and women. The bright neon colors trend that currently seems to be all the rage right now continues: For men, there is a hi-viz orange and white, hi-viz green and black, and somehow New Balance manages to even make the black with silver look flashy as well. Women also have flashy options with a grey and pink, silver and pink, and a purple and white.

Closing Thoughts (and Photos!)

New Balance has hit a homerun here for anyone who is a serious minimalist runner or wants the maximum amount of ground feel possible in a shoe without individual toe pockets. The Hi-rez is definitely not a shoe for beginner runners and I could see someone easily hurting themselves if they didn’t build in ample time to transition and adapt to minimalist running. I think serious weight lifters and the Crossfit community will also like these a lot as they promote good form when doing heavy Olympic lifts and other exercises like squats and deadlifts. If you’d like some more reading and background on the development of the Hi-rez, New Balance had been teasing this shoe for the past six months with a series of blog posts on their website. There is some really interesting stuff that is worth checking out if you’re interested in design—including reshaping the packaging in which it’s sold. Questions or comments? If you have picked up a pair, be sure to let us know your thoughts!