An uptight yuppie of the 1980s, I always envied the laid back hippie lifestyle, but the closest I ever got to living it was an occasional trip to Whole Foods. Lately though, bored with running through the concrete jungle, I heard the call of nature and got into trail running. I first started trail running in the Five Finger Trek Sports but the material on my Five Fingers Trek Sports ripped along the toe, I decided to return them for a refund and search out other options. My inner hippie was an easy target for the New Balance MT101 trail shoe, designed with the help of ultra marathoner Anton Krupicka. So, I ordered a pair.

The MT101 is an updated version of the popular MT100. All of the changes were made to the upper and involve updated styling and function. Justin looked at my pics and said they reminded him of a bug. Well, what is more natural than bugs? The styling changes hit the sweet spot for me and I really enjoy wearing them casually. While the comfortable green mesh upper is at home on desert and mountain trails, its styling would also be welcome at any sit-in, vegan pot luck dinner, or Greatful Dead concert. Though not seen while wearing the MT101, I really dig the paisley pattern on the insole.

But what kind of trail shoe is it? And why is a shoe like this up for consideration in the minimalist running community? Find out after the jump.

The MT101 is not a Barefoot Running Shoe

First things first, the New Balance MT101 is not a barefoot running shoe as it has a substantial heel-to-toe drop (will go into this more below) and has a good bit of cushioning in the sole. However, the New Balance MT line has been a popular subject amongst minimalist runners — probably because Anton Krupicka has been helping New Balance shape this line and he’s known for modding his shoes to make them more neutral/minimalist. Krupicka has been a key tester in developing New Balance’s NB Minimus trail running shoe (which is a “barefoot running shoe”).

A few minimalist runners have gone so far as to mod MT101s and MT100s (the predecessor to the New Balance MT101). Rockrunner, at the Minimalist Runner Google Group, zeroed out a pair of MT100s and extended the rock protection through the heel using a thin cutting board. The Rockstop™ protector appears to be made of similar material. Speaking of zeroing out MT100s, Tuck recently posted about having a cobbler zero out his MT100s and MT101s.

Anyway, as I was looking for a trail running alternative to Trek Sports, I decided to “bug out” and get the MT101s for a bit of one-on-one testing. Below I’ll talk about how they performed on the trails as well as get into details about the shoe design.

Trail Testing

The New Balance MT101

Like some crazed middle aged Krupicka fanboy, I decided to take them out on my local trails…ah natural. Yep, no socks, just the way Anton does it. These are fast shoes and I was blazing through the trails about a minute a mile faster than my normal pace. Oops, at the 3.2 mile mark, I felt a dreaded “hot spot” on my left pinkie toe. Obviously, I am no Anton Krupicka. My feet are definitely not trail hardened and I would be lucky to run the 100 miles he does in 16 hours in 16 days. Anyway, when I stopped for socks and tape, I noticed there was an identical hot spot on my right foot. It turns out that there is a lot of raised stitching inside the shoe at this spot that caused the rub. Luckily, a little tape and socks and I was good to go. I finished 10 miles at quite a bit better pace than usual.

I have subsequently logged around 50 trail miles in the MT101s, always wearing socks, with no blisters. These shoes work great for me on trails. They are light for a trail shoe, give GREAT rock/root protection, yet still have a nice ground feel. They are very roomy and comfortable and even though the specs say they have a 10mm drop, they feel flat to me.

The Upper

Materials used in the New Balance MT101 upper.

The upper material is a strong and comfortable green mesh with a thin backing. The overlays that extend from the laces to the sole provide good foot stability. The dimpled rubber toe protection is durable and should handle the beating trail running can deliver.

The Laces

The laces of the New Balance MT101

The eyelets are plastic on the outter side of the shoe and cloth on the inner side. While the plastic eyelets have a clean finish, the cloth eyelets are roughly sewn and have jagged edges. Some folks might not like this, but I think it adds to the funkiness of the shoe. The laces are what New Balance calls the Sure Lace™. They vary in diameter and are supposed to stay tied better. I have read some folks complain that they come untied. I have not had this problem at all, but often tie a double knot on all my running shoes to insure they don’t come loose.

The Tongue

The tongue of the MT101

The tongue is made of the same lined mesh fabric used on the upper with some reinforcing material at the top. It is light and flimsy, but stays in place well and is comfortable against my foot.

Under the Hood

Inside the New Balance MT101

The most striking feature inside the shoe is the roomy toe box. There is plenty of room for my toes to do their thing. The green mesh upper is lined inside with a thin lime green material and the hip green paisley insole is glued to the shoe. I have not tried taking it out.

The Heel

The heel of the New Balance MT101

The EVA foam material used in the heel and collar surrounding the ankle feels similar to a Nerf™ football. It stretches nicely when getting in and out of the shoe, but maintains its shape and firmly holds my heel in place when the shoe is on. I really like this feature. The previous version caused some people to get blisters from a sharp edge rubbing at the top of the heel. This is now more rounded and the problem seems to be solved.

The Midsole

The midsole of the New Balance MT101

The midsole is made of a foam New Balance calls ACTEVA™ that is light and cushiony, and designed to resist compression. The 10mm drop was concern for me. Heck, that is a whole centimeter! What I found is a shoe that has no arch support to speak of and feels very flat. Whatever drop there is, it seems very gradual from heel to toe. I have become very skeptical of published drop numbers for shoes. There is certainly no regulating body and results can vary widely depending on where the measurements are made. Bottomline, a forefoot strike stride is not a problem for me in these shoes.

The Sole

The sole of the New Balance MT101

The Rockstop™ that protects the forefoot is really nice! The Rockstop™ is a thin layer between the outsole and midsole. You can see parts of it exposed in the holes next to the word “Rockstop™” in the picture above. I worried it would take away from the road feel, but surprisingly, it is thin enough to protect my feet from rocks and roots while still flexible enough to give great feedback. Unfortunately, I don’t like the way these shoes feel when running on asphalt or concrete. This may have something to do with the Rockstop™.

The rubber outsole is relatively thin with low profile lugs compared to many trail running shoes that feature cleat like lugs. They provide adequate traction on the light to medium trails that I run, but might slip in tougher conditions.

Conclusion

Since I have been running in Five Fingers and ultra light racing flats (See my reviews of the Nike Air Zoom Streak XC 2 and the Saucony Grid Type A4), the MT101s are a tiny bit heavier at 7 oz. than what I am used to. On the road, I would rather have a shoe that is lighter, flatter and more flexible. On trails, I don’t notice the weight at all and am thankful for their excellent stability and the protection the Rockplate provides. In summary, I think it is a great trail shoe that looks great for casual wear.

The MT101 is a more minimal trail running shoe relative to other heavier trail running shoes that typically weigh a good bit more. Again, it is not a barefoot running shoe by any means. It is designed to run trails fast and hard. I suggest those looking for a barefoot trail shoe consider the Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek with its heavy duty sole (as compared to other VFFs) and tough kangaroo leather upper.