I should start off by admitting that I avoided trails for a while there. Especially organized single-track trail runs, when the fire of competition pushes me to run harder than I might normally. My first real running injury was on the Philosopher’s Way 15k almost two years ago, and I’ve shied away from longer trail runs ever since. A lot has happened since then. I’ve learned more about good running style and adjusted accordingly, shifting away from the lumbering heel-striking that this former defensive lineman had been doing for decades. I’ve come to realize that my poor running form was equally if not more at fault for my destroyed left knee as were the roots, rocks, twists, and turns of that 9+ mile trail run. But still, it’s a mental thing that no amount of cold, serious intellectual consideration can undo on its own. I’d have to actually get out there and battle those fears. The lack of more rugged minimalist-style trail shoes makes for an easy excuse, though. Especially when it’s cold, wet, dark, and icy out. By the very nature of minimalist running, especially trails can seem out of the question for some runners. Add in extreme weather and it becomes even more unlikely. So when the New Balance MT 110 winter-specific boots arrived on my doorstep I was curious. Something had to go wrong with these, I just knew it. They were either going to be too built-up or not protective enough. Read on to see what, if anything, went wrong — and what went oh so right.

What you get

As I just mentioned, I’ve been quick to take any reason to stay off twisty trails. Mud, sleet, rain, snow — whatever. In other words, wintertime always offers me an excuse. So what’s the first thing I notice after unboxing these shoes? The line “NOW YOU HAVE ONE LESS EXCUSE” printed on the insole. Well played, New Balance. Well played. Okay then, fine. I’ll go running. On a trail even. And in awful conditions. Seriously, I will. …but first, let me take some pictures and tell you a bit more about these bad boys. From the outset you can see that these shoes aren’t messing around. When I received the box in the mail I was certain that they’d actually sent me two different pairs of shoes to review. Maybe three. When I opened the outer box and saw only one shoebox inside I actually laughed. No way could this be minimalist. No way could it be anything but a monster of a shoe. To some degree I was right on both counts. In NB’s own words:
The New Balance 110 trail running shoe sets a new precedent in lightweight trail racing, making such a powerful impression that it has been named “Best Minimalist” in the TrailRunner Editor’s Choice awards. Built in close collaboration with leaders in the sport, this minimalistic trail runner is built to deliver the optimal race day experience. A great combination of tried and tested features with new performance attributes will ensure that this highly anticipated update to the 101 delivers a smooth and responsive ride on any trail.
For starters, this shoe definitely isn’t going to be as minimalist as some would prefer. It’s not zero drop, the nugs are a bit thick, and well, here’re the measures:
9.1 oz. 14mm-18mm (toe-heel) stack height 4mm heel-to-toe drop A “stability shank embedded into midsole supports the arch and helps create a smoother gait” — whatever that actually means
Wait, don’t go yet. You’re right — these aren’t thin sheets of rubber and twine a la huaraches. But let’s face it, not all of us are able to run Leadville in Luna Leadvilles. I love all my huaraches but I’m not anywhere near hardcore trail-ready with them just yet, much less in bad wintry conditions. Here in the southeast US, though, we fortunately haven’t had to worry about bad wintry conditions. Things have been mild this year. Good for me generally, bad for testing these shoes. So when we finally got our single night of snow so far this season, I jumped on it first thing in the morning. Went out tromping through the snow and mud.

What works

The traction on these is great. I was worried about the size of the nugs being smaller than other trail shoes I’ve had, but they felt just right for the trails I ran on. Specifically I worried about what many trail runners worry about: would I be able to feel too much pressure from the individual nugs. Those worries were quickly dispelled. The pattern on the sole is consistent all over, and the nugs are spaced just right. I can confidently say that out of the trail shoes I’ve owned thus far the tread on the MT110s feels most like a flat shoe while running. All without losing traction. They’re also quite warm — a quality I attribute to the waterproof upper trapping heat in. There’s no thick insulation. A good thing, that. The gaiter does double duty of keeping water out and heat in. Minimizes additional weight, too. That waterproof aspect is the central characteristic. Well done on it. I’ve been wearing airy minimalist shoes so much that I’d gotten used to getting my feet wet relatively easily. It was nice to end a long run without wet toes for a change.

What doesn’t

Despite the fact that this is a mostly positive review, I already know that many Birthday Shoes readers have their doubts about these shoes. Stack height is too high, drop is too steep. But from the other side, these are definitely not your average padded shoes. On one of my tests I made a point to take a short run in the 110 boot after running a couple of miles in regular sneakers. On that occasion I felt the difference more sharply. All things considered, these are pretty darn light and flexible. BUT STILL. 14-18mm? 4mm drop? It could be reasonably argued that a review of these shoes doesn’t belong on this particular site, whatever awards for minimalism it wins. I personally think that they do, but the purists may not agree. Aside from that, the gaiter portion takes some getting used to if you’ve never worn anything like it. But if you can get past that, you’re golden. But really for your average runner the main negative might be the price. At $125, only the northernmost outdoorsy runners are going to find these worthwhile. (Note: at least one retailer has them on sale at the moment for $93.)

Final thoughts

Most of my criticisms spring forth from the fact that this is a minimalist shoe site and so any review is going to skew heavily from this perspective. Additionally, my enthusiasm may seemed dampened by the fact that someone like me — a runner in the southeastern US — will rarely need a pair of shoes quite like this. None of that is to say that they aren’t great shoes — they are. They’re sturdy, they do exactly what they say they’re going to do, they pack the maximum amount of protection that I imagine is possible for something even semi-minimalist, and they’re built with the quality most people expect out of New Balance. But they’re definitely specialty niche shoes, which makes it worth trying to find a pair in the stores to try on and mull over before buying. And the more minimalist-inclined you are, the more carefully you may want to mull.