Barefoot Shoes

New Balance NB Minimus Trail Review

An initial review of the Spring 2011 New Balance NB Minimus Trail minimalist/barefoot running shoe.

If you haven’t yet heard (and you’re comfy as can be living under a rock somewhere!), New Balance is releasing a new line of minimalist footwear in Spring 2011 under the brand NB Minimus. The NB Minimus line includes a road running shoe, a trail running shoe, and a “wellness” shoe for everyday or general fitness wear. The fine folks at New Balance are providing us with a sneak peak at these minimalist shoes by way of wear test pairs — last week Britt posted his initial review of the NB Minimus Road running shoe, and today, below, is an initial review of the New Balance NB Minimus Trail.

More after the jump!


The NB Minimus Trail is a minimalist running shoe (or hiking shoe) that features a Vibram sole and a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. The awesomely bearded and absurdly fast ultramarathon runner Anton Krupicka, who is sponsored by New Balance, was a big influence on the development of these trail running shoes, too (You can watch Anton Krupicka sporting the NB Minimus trails in this promotional video). What’s exciting about the NB Minimus Trail is that it represents an alternative foot friendly “barefoot running shoe” to five toed shoes — and even the most vocal Vibram Five Fingers fan occasionally finds use for foot mittens!

That said, what does the NB Minimus Trail bring to the offering? How is it minimalist, exactly? What about that heel-to-toe drop, too; doesn’t that mean it has an elevated heel? And what about barefoot feel — will the sole compromise my ability to sense the ground? Good questions that I’ll tackle below!

The Upper

A shot of the New Balance NB Minimus Trail upper materials — three fabrics that all contribute some element to the overall minimalist feel or structure of the shoe.

Designing a shoe that is “minimally there” — a shoe that you can wear without socks and doesn’t feel heavy and constrictive on your foot — presents some interesting challenges. How do you give the shoe structure? How do you line the interior of the shoe so that it it feels nice on your bare foot? The great thing about designing a shoe within certain functional constraints is that you can intuit why the design came out the way it did, and with the NB Minimus Trail, these functional design considerations are pretty easy to understand.

You’ll notice that there are three main types of materials used on the upper of the NB Minimus Trail. There is an orange grid fabric that runs around the sides of the shoe and terminates around the very front of the NB Minimus Trail. Second, there is an orange mesh that makes up the tongue of the shoe and is above the forefoot (See above). Third, there are two spots where there are rubbery strips (technical term, I assure you!) — one wraps the heel (See here, here, and here) and the other, as above, over the instep.

Each of these fabrics serve a purpose. The orange grid fabric has a rigidity to it that provides an element of structure to the NB Minimus Trail: this rigidity lends the shoe shape, making it stiff at important points (e.g. thet sides of the shoe). The rigidity of the orange grid fabric stands in direct contrast to the orange mesh fabric which is as soft and flimsy as can be. Making up the tongue of the NB Minimus Trail (which is sewn in place on either side) as well as the bulk of the fabric above the forefoot and toes, this orange mesh fabric is extremely soft and stretchy. I kinda wish I could have some socks made out of this stuff, whatever it is.

The rubbery strips come into play in two ways. Around the heel, I suspect the strips act like rubber bands allowing the shoe to flex back at the heel. I don’t really notice them much at the heel. The rubbery strip that counts is over the instep at the front of the shoe. On first wear, the extra structure provided by this strip was immediately noticeable — and I’m not sure I liked it. In short, it really locked my foot in place putting some pressure on either side of my foot (specifically where the Vibram sole angles upward as you can see here and here). The benefit of this is that my foot doesn’t slosh around inside the NB Minimus Trail. The drawback was that I wasn’t sure I liked it!

That said, I’m happy to say that subsequent wears have “broken in” this rubbery strip and it’s plenty comfortable now. In fact, I almost wonder if it will just stretch to fit your foot over time (and stay that way). More testing will be required, but my initial uncertainty about this has turned into appreciation — I like the locked on feeling and recognize that this point was chosen to allow everything forward of this point to be free to roam.

And thanks to a good sized toebox, my toes can do just that!

As far as the inside of the NB Minimus Trail is concerned, there aren’t many seams to speak of. The walls of the shoe (the orange grid fabric spots) are backed with a smooth, black material. The insole has a shimmery, smooth feel to it and is not removable. I’ve worn the NB Minimus Trail almost entirely barefoot — the one time I tried socks, and this probably is more the fault of my socks, but I didn’t like the feel with socks (I’d say the same about socks with VFFs — I’ll do it if I have to, but I’m not a fan).

Overall, the upper of the NB Minimus Trail is a compelling design representing a compromise between designing a shoe with structure that stays in place on your foot but also allows key points the freedom they require (namely the forefoot and toes). I’ll also say that I really dig the aesthetic of these shoes. The orange is loud (though there will be more muted color options!) but with the black it just looks sharp. With the minimalist desing of the NB Minimus Trail, the shoes don’t look like your foot has been wrapped in padding. I dig the look!

The sole

A shot of the NB Minimus Trail sole, which is made by Vibram. The NB Minimus Trail sole is more complex than it looks!

The NB Minimus Trail sole is made up of two materials — a foam foundation of some sort (EVA?) and a Vibram rubber outsole that appears to be three separate pieces. The foam foundation serves to provide some element of cushion, is slightly elevated at the heel (4mm over the front per the official measurements), while reducing overall weight of the shoe. It has a grid-like pattern over which the Vibram rubber outsole attaches in a molecule-like pattern where there are circles of rubber that connect to other spots via rubber bridges.

What’s hard to appreciate from the photo above is that the Vibram rubber outsole appears to be three pieces: each piece is an island (no bridges) relative to the other pieces. Reference this annotated photo of the NB Minimus Trail, first. You can see there’s the main piece that covers most of the sole from heel to midfoot (a) except for the arch (and by the way, there is no arch support to speak of in the NB Minimus Trail) (b), which is a separate piece, itself, and there is the third piece over the forefoot/toes area (c).

If I had to guess, I’d say this molecule design is intended to do a few things:

  • Reduce weight while providing rubber protection. Rubber is a heavy material, so this node-bridge sole helps reduce weight, while …
  • The node/bridge design is structurally sound. Pushing on any one node will pull, via the “bridges” on other nodes, minimizing the impact you’d experience if you land a “node” squarely on a pointy piece of gravel.
  • Separating the three sections lends overal flexibility to the sole at key junctions. Obviously, you want your forefoot/toes area to be able to flex (as in upward) easily. By keeping this section of the Vibram sole (c) separate from (a), it makes it easier to flex your foot. I’d guess the arch plate is separated because it has more rubber on it, which if connected, would reduce overall flexibility (twistiness) of the shoe.

It’s a thoughtful design and I’ll talk about performance in a moment. As for the heel-to-toe drop, it’s very minor. Is it noticeable? Yes. Is it annoying, no not really. Does it compromise running form? That’s a complicated question! Read on.


I had a little barefoot fun while taking some of these photos.

I have, thus far, gotten to test the NB Minimus Trails running on pavement, a local trail, and then casually. Here are my impressions:

Pavement — to get to the trail I have to run on pavement. That said, the City of Atlanta ground down the main street that leads to the trail (see photo to the right), so it is gnarly and very uneven. It’s so uneven as to be uncomfortable to walk on in Classic Five Fingers and even worse in my Soft Star Grippy Roos. Running on this surface in Bikilas is fine and I think it’s unevenness actually helps train your form a bit. As for running on it in the NB Minimus Trails, I was able to maintain a forefoot strike without any problems and my form didn’t feel markedly different than it is while running in VFFs. I’d go so far as to say that I think the NB Minimus Trails would probably make a great road running shoe (Hard to say how they stack up against the NB Minimus Roads that Britt is testing).

Trails — The local trails I ran were pretty dry and leaf-covered. There were a couple spots of downhill, highly rooted areas where you just can’t really slow down and I was worried I might slip and/or bust and/or hurt my feet on some unseen rock or root. Fortunately, none of that happened. I had zero problems with slipping and when I did step on something pointy, the sole both kept my foot protected and still transmitted enough ground feel so that I could adjust and “fall into” my step (thereby lessening the impact).

I ran a couple steep uphill points (embankments) in the NB Minimus Trails, as well, and they performed solidly here, too. I need a good muddy trail run to see how they perform in less dry conditions.

As with road running in the NB Minimus Trails, I had no issues with forefoot striking. Overall, I have to admit that I was a bit worried the NB Minimus Trails would be too much shoe — muting too much feedback from the ground and, with the slightly elevated heel, causing me to heel strike. My running form is not awesome by any stretch (and I find I have to supplement some full barefoot running to dial in my gait); however, I was pleasantly surprised (though still skeptical — need more testing!) to find that I had no knee issues to speak of. This was over about a 30 minute run (though this is a normal run for me).

Casual wear and overall thoughts on ground feel — I really like the NB Minimus Trails for casual wear. I find the extra heel doesn’t negatively impact my gait (this still surprises) me — most heeled shoes just automatically leave me catching the ground at the heel when I try to walk as I would barefoot.

Given the extra sole, I’d say the ground feel on the NB Minimus Trails is definitely less than what you’d get with FiveFingers Bikilas or Treks (KSO Treks or TrekSport). It’s also slightly less than insole-removed Vivo Barefoots (of all varieties). That said, it is worlds better than my Nike Free Run+, which is to say it’s a strong step in the right direction.

Below is a gallery of photos to show how the NB Minimus Trail toe box (from above), forefoot, and heel stack up against some other minimalist/barefoot shoes (Bikilas, Huaraches, Nike Free Run+):

Initial Conclusion and Photos of the New Balance NB Minimus Trail

First off, more testing on the NB Minimus Trail is required. I’ve yet to take them for a hike and I’d like to take them for a boring two mile road run (a constant I can use to compare them to other shoes).

That said, so far the more I try the NB Minimus Trails, the more I like them. They represent a compromise between the ground feel and foot freedom you get with Vibram Five Fingers and having a minimalist, foot friendly shoe with a roomy toe box (Note: breaking a pinky toe running trails in VFFs is, unfortunately, a somewhat common injury — there are some cons to separated toes!).

The NB Minimus Trail is now out and available for purchase. Thing is, they can only be bought online via the New Balance store, so if you’re looking to buy online, you can find a pair of the NB Minimus Trails here for a hundred bucks. Otherwise, look for a local store to try them out!

Below is a photo gallery of other shots I’ve taken of the NB Minimus Trail. What do you think? Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments! And stay tuned as I keep putting these things through the ropes!

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

46 replies on “New Balance NB Minimus Trail Review”

Great comprehensive review. Just was curious to how you thought the sizing compared to the MT101?

Would you size up/down/same?

Please test their ability to grip on smooth rock surfaces.
Much of the hiking and running that I do here in southern California is on somewhat steep mountain trails that are either bare rock or rock with a layer of fine sand or sometimes loose gravel. Most trail shoes, including my KSO Treks, have little grip on either surface. Approach shoes have a more sticky rubber and hold well but are always too narrow for my feet.
Based on my experience with a dozen or so pairs of NB trail shoes that I’ve used before the advent of the Treks, I don’t hold out much hope for their gripping ability.
Still, if they are wide enough to fit me, (unlikely unless they come out with a wide option), I’d get them to try on trails with sustained steep and rocky descents. It takes me twice as long to pick my way down such trails with my Treks than with any normally padded trail shoe (though at least I don’t get black toenails with the Treks).


The weight is 8oz/shoe for my size 10.5.


Hard to say as Britt has the Roads and I have the trails. Looks-wise the trails look more minimalist to me, but I honestly don’t know.


Britt is the one with the MT101 — hopefully we can get him some NB Minimus Trails to test, out, too!


Will see what I can do.

Where is the picture taken of Atlanta’s pavement? All I can see are dead leaves.
I was intrigued. I wanted to see how irregular that pavement really is.

Nice review. These sound good, and I’m excited to try a pair. If they’re good road shoes too, that would be great, as it’d be nice to get away with just one pair. I do prefer this styling to the road minimus, too.

Glad to be reading good reviews of this shoe. I have held a sample of the Wellness, Trail, and Road and they look great! Really looking forward to running in them.


According to a New Balance Rep I know, the road and trail versions are both supposed to have a midsole height of 7mm in the forefoot and 11mm in the heel. The Wellness is lower but and could be used for running (though NB does not recommend) but it has no laces and fits like a slipper.

Anybody see the photo of the new Saucony Hattori over at

It seems like most of the non-VFF minimalist shoes are very similar in shape.

Man I am really excited to get a pair of these!

Thanks for the review. I really hope they actually release that colorway.

I ran a 32 mile ultra marathon and marathon in Treks this year and the Treks did very well, but my lower calves were killing me the day after both races. As long as I maintain a decent forfoot strike I wonder if the extra height in the heel will help ease this problem. I love my Treks so I will probably continue to do much of my running in them but am looking forward to these as a long distance alternative.

Can’t wait to hear more!! I am pleased to hear they worked well in sandy conditions. I think my downhill running may have slowed a bit after running in the MT100s for the season. Not much traction for my dry Boise foothills. Can’t wait to hear how they respond to other conditions!
Thanks for the review!!!!

Awesome review I’ve been waiting for something like this to come around I need something a little more substantial to go to work in than vffs I’m afraid of getting something nasty through them in the hospital.
p.s. the newton running sneaks were not worth it in my opinion they are just nikes that an engineer attacked.

Please tell me they are coming out with atleast a basic all gray and all black colorway…

Aside from the colors these look great!

But seriously could someone tell me about the colorways??

>>Comment from: Ted_S [Visitor]
Please test their ability to grip on smooth rock surfaces.

I have a pair of these and the Merrell Trail Glove, and the NB Minimus has way better traction. This is on dry, rocky, sometimes loose, steep Colorado trails.

Just picked up a pair in Houston, TX.

I am in love!!!

Whole Earth Provision Company got their shipment last night!!!!

I am a NB fan but I would go as far as saying I will wear these more than my Five Fingers.

Got mine today right after they put them out on the floor of my local NB store. These shoes are soo comfortable, going on a run with them tonight.

Can anyone who has used the Minimus Trail for a while tell us:

-are they true to size, or do you need to go up a 1/2?

-if you have a ‘b’ width, will they fit alright?

@mike: They do run true to size. The trail would be your best bet if you’re a b width because it fits snuggest through the midfoot especially and isn’t quite as wide in the toebox as the road version. Also in the trail version, the tongue is attached to the upper so that part feels almost like the old style nike frees (before they started sucking). I’ve ran in both as I work for a shop that carries them. Going either sockless or with socks doesn’t make a difference on sizing either, although I suppose if they were still too wide for you, socks could help take up some room.

@Joseph: I’ve seen all of the upcoming colors for this year. Right now its the orange/black. Also the all black with a little yellow in the midsole. The upcoming colors are a gray with a little orange on the upper (only a little), and their newest one to come is a red fabric with red overlays color. That basically is take all the orange and make it red and all the black and make it gray lol

@aaron: The Hattori is an interesting shoe. I’ve had the chance to try it on. There’s a heel enclosure fit which is weird, almost like a heel counter in a traditional shoe. Feels awkward in a 4 oz., 0 drop trainer. Other than that it feels pretty good. The only thing I’ll question as it comes out is the durability factor of the upper, it is built VERY minimal and I would worry seeing it tear similar to how many people rip through the Nike Victory and Matumbo spike uppers.

Hi. I just ran a 100km trail race in the minimus. They were great up to 70kms but I had to switch to more cushioned shoes at this point as the large gravel tracks started hurting the soles on the midsole strikes. My fault for only training in the minimus for two weeks before the run. The run had all terrains covered (even tarmac for 10kms)and the minimus loved it all. I have been running shorter distances in minimalist shoes for over a year so anyone reading this should know that if you are making the change from cushioned shoes to the minimus or similar, you must do it gradually. Regards, Gerald.

I picked up a pair of these at a local store for about $85 because I was looking for an alternative to VFF Bikilas. I’d run my first half marathon in Bikilas just last summer. Well, I should say that I ran half of my first half marathon in Bikilas because I ended up running the rest barefoot. The Bikilas and the KSOs I had before them always found new and interesting ways to shred my feet with little hot spots that turned into blisters and then turned into cuts. The problem was just plane ol’ fit. So, instead of going with the new Bikila LS with the speed lacing system, I decided I’d try something new with the Minimus. So far so good. My biggest gripe is that the trail is still a little too skinny in the forefoot and probably for the first three or four runs the heel, which comes up a bit higher than the Bikila as per the markings on my achilles, dug and dug causing some pretty stellar blisters. Now either my skin has toughened or the heel has worn in enough, and I can say that the shoe fits great. It feel glove-like and seems to be the solution I was looking for. The ground feel is not equivalent to the Bikila by any stretch, but it beats the pants off the Nike Free. I think I still need to put a few more miles on my minimus trails to reach a final verdict, but so far so good.

I just picked some up today and love the feel. This is my first foray into minimal footwear besides running barefoot a few times and they feel great after a two mile run.

I have been a staunch VFF for two years now, leaning towards the sprints in the summer and Bikilas in the winter, with toe socks. BUT, they are really a pain to transition into during a triathlon! My Vivo’s with the sole out just don’t give me a good run…so I went searching for something with a VFF feel and comfort in running, but for an easier transition. I was going for the Merrill’s, but they were too heavy and stiff, so I gave the Minimus a shot. They’re PERFECT! They are so similar to Bikila’s for feel, though a bit less flexible, but they give me exactly what I need – quick transition, the barefoot feel, and no blister issues. I put in bungee laces to help, as well. My only complaint is smell. My VFFs wash up well, but my Minimus…hmmm… otherwise I would recommend the Minimus to any barefoot triathlete out there!

I have the unfortunate but rarely affecting problem of webbed toes, and never suspected that they would ever make anything difficult other than wearing toe socks (very traumatic for a pre-teen girl in the 90’s). However, now I’m running into problems with… well… running. I have always hated the feeling of running in traditional tennis shoes, so when I first heard of vibram five fingers, I was SO excited. Cue remembering that I have webbed toes, and five fingers doesn’t make special orders (yet). For a couple months now, I have been perusing shoes, trying to find a minimalist design like the five fingers, but with a more accommodating toe box. Until New Balance’s Minimus Trail, I hadn’t seen any other shoe I liked. So is the Minimus Trail closer to a Five Finger than the Merril’s lightweight model or Nike Frees? Any input would be appreciated!


This is a great blog – the reviews and photos are excellent!

A probably different kind of question here – I barefoot run, occassionally jumping into my VFF Sprints or Bikila’s depending on how aggressive the terrain is, but I also play field hockey on astroturf (not sure if this is a British term – basically fake grass with sand on it)! I was wondering if you guys would know whether these NB’s would hold up well on such a surface? I play 3 times a week, do you think the sole could handle it?



The minimus trail has very little ground feel I put them on even in the store and I asked if I could go run outside on the gravel that surrounds the trees in the parking lot. After this I noticed that I could feel the gravel better in my worn out nike lunars(which I use for work since I can’t wear sandals or vibrams) Than in these shoes which have a very hard bottom. The ground feel aside I was really looking for a shoe that would bridge the gap if only temporarily between full minimalist and acceptable business casual attire. They failed there too because they were a little tight on my wider than average feet and the toe-box provided no comfort for me to let my little toes breathe. I bought them anyway because I thought maybe if I broke them in they would work alright and since I’m a big guy shoes break in faster for me than people who are in perfect shape, I would be able to return them before my 30 days were up. I took them for a walk the first day and regretted it within the first 15 minutes I decided to take them off and go barefoot. So rather than the exercise trial I wore them for a whole day of regular activity and they were still a disappointment between the lack of feeling, the tightness and the drop from heel to toe I decided after two days to bring them back and leave them for the semi-minimalists out there.

nice pair of shoes! Anyone, please help, i’m about to order a pair online and it seems that i’m not decided on the size. I fit comfortably in my trail glove size 9.5 and was planning to get mt10 at the same size. can i fit in it or do i need to go 1/2 bigger? Please help! Thanks Birthdayshoes!

after 6-7 months of a very short daily
walks on SMALL GRAVLE-not even rocky trails,the foamy part of the sole started falling apart.
sadly, the foam’s got “eaten” and hurt
my feet. in the pressure points at the base of my left toe.
vibram and nb just blew up on this one.
they releaed the shoe too soon without
enough testing.
….which explains why the new 2012
i spent a lot of money for that shoe
and i’m just deeply hurt. that’s a kind

I just received my MT10s, I bought them on the regular size I used 10.5US, but apparently since running ony in the VFFs my feet grew, and the 10.5 dont fit me anymore.

trying them sitting, I have half a thumb space between fingers and front, but standing my toes hit the front (all of them).

Now Is clear I need a bigger size but how big? half a size 11, or a full size 11.5?

I have to order them online, there is no way of trying them 600KM around my city.

I am planning on running up to 20km in them. Could anyone with experience running in these give me their opinion about the sizing?? I´d appreciate.

forgot to mention I am planning on either running sockless or using injinjis toe socks, depends on weather.

I actually bought a pair of these a few weeks ago, and had to do some shoe surgery on them (they were gifts, so I couldn’t return them), because the metatarsal band across the right shoe was way too tight! I was literally in pain just walking in them, from the pressure on the bone right under my pinkie toe. I had to cut the band and then add some super glue to make sure the stitches stayed in place. Once I did that, they were golden, and I love them for pavement and more rocky trail runs, but geez, that band! And just on that one foot. I think it’s an individual shoe defect, but I was worried I wouldn’t be able to enjoy them! Love your review, though. 🙂

I recently (about a month) bought the Minimus Trail shoes and have worn them about every day since just to walk around (as regular shoes). Having re-injured a knee recently I haven’t done any running in them yet.

It’s getting hot here in L.A. now and I’ve enjoyed noticeably cooler feet at summer fairs than my friends (and longer comfort then when I would try the same in Vibram 5 Fingers). They really do breathe nicely.

I wear (and bought) a size 13 and have pretty normal feet (not-wide) and there is a plenty of room in the toe bed for me. Again, I used (and loved) an original pair of 5 Fingers (KSO) on and off over the past 3.5 years across all different terrain and I’d definitely notice if my little toe was compromised again.

I actually bought these to use as water shoes for an upcoming canoe trip in the Boundary Waters though. We’ll have to jump into the water at some points along the way to so I wanted something that would just drain water and dry quickly. I’d be happy to report back about how they hold up to that kind of wear. …in fact, I guess I could just test them in a pool for wear-when-wet and appx. drying time; I think I’ll do that now!

Terrific site and great review, Justin!

Hi these are the only trainer in england where I can fit my feet in with correct toes.but without socks.i v got slight bunion n hammer on the second toe third toes fine forth toes curls in.but its my pinky to its a flexible claw toe but giving me a burning sensation underneath the ball.would these help I can on just fit in them with correct toes.was wondering if anyone had any stories on trainers like these helping these sort of problems.I won’t av foot or toe surgery too does anyone wreckon that over time with correct toes this could help my feet.I do stretches and excersizes too.

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