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December 28, 2009

New Balance MT100 Shoe Review

Earlier this fall, I declared that as much as I love running barefoot, or using minimalist footwear like Vibram’s FiveFingers, when it comes time to train for ultras again, I would probably go back to using standard trail shoes. I mentioned that some companies have embraced the minimalist concept, combining super-lightweight designs with basic protective features to allow maximal freedom of movement, natural biomechanics and ground feel, and improved overall comfort.

The primary shoes I had in mind were the New Balance MT100.


Even before its release, the MT100 was causing quite a stir in the ultra community, primarily because of its two high-profile design contributors: Anton Krupicka and Kyle Skaggs (be sure to watch the cool video on that link for your daily dose of mojo), both of whom have already become legends of the sport at a very young age. 26-year-old Krupicka holds numerous course records and is a two-time winner of the Leadville 100, while 24-year-old Skaggs did what many ultrarunners considered unthinkable: breaking the 24-hour mark at the Hardrock 100, widely considered the most challenging 100-miler in the world.

Krupicka in particular is famous for his minimalist approach to running. One of his mantras is a “return to simplicity”, and he’s generally seen running without a watch, hydration pack, shirt, or even shoes - many of his 200 training miles per week are done in bare feet, even on high mountain trails. Both he and Skaggs have been known to carve large chunks of material away from their training shoes to eliminate any excess weight or bulk that would hinder natural movement. Obviously, New Balance couldn’t have found two more ideal people to create a minimalist shoe that could hold up to the demands of rugged long-distance trail running.


For the most part, they succeeded. The MT100 weighs in at a superlight 7.8oz, with a very low profile and fantastic ground feel, as well as a handful of features to bolster its overall durability. The only component I found somewhat lacking was comfort in a couple of specific areas, as I’ll explain shortly. But first, a rundown of the shoe itself.

The MT100 isn’t offically an update of New Balance’s popular 790 lightweight trail runners - coincidentally, the same model that Skaggs wore for his Hardrock record - but given that this shoe was introduced at roughly the same time that the 790 was discontinued, many runners view it as the next generation 790. Like that shoe, the MT100 features New Balance’s RL-3 racing last which is designed to be narrow through the heel and wide through the forefoot – in other words, ideal for runners accustomed to going barefoot.

From that starting point, Krupicka and Skaggs spent countless hours and hundreds of miles in New Balance’s sports testing lab, using all sorts of biomechanic devices like force plates and motion capture sensors (the little lights they strap all over pro athletes to make computer-generated facsimiles for video games). The design team looked at contact and transition points of the midsole and outsole, and identified high-wear areas that needed extra reinforcement. They also gathered feedback from the two runners on stripping the shoe down to its bare essentials while preserving a bit of comfort for the long haul.

The most notable adaptations are on the shoe’s upper, which is little more than a thin synthetic mesh with strategically placed EVA to maintain shape. The tongue is relatively short, and is simply a thin piece of fabric, which could cause potential top of foot discomfort if you lace them up too tightly - but I never had a problem with this. New Balance’s “sausage link laces” (officially known as SureLace) are quite effective at keeping the upper snug without too much pressure. A puncture-resistant wrap in front of the toe box provides a bit of protection from sneaky roots or rocks that might take you by surprise.

In addition to slicing weight, the overall effect of this fabric-cutting on the upper is that the shoe is extremely well ventilated; in fact, this is probably the most well-ventilated shoe I’ve tested aside from the Newton Gravity, which has mesh holes so large you can almost stick your finger through them. Fortunately, the mesh of the MT100 is closed enough to prevent most debris from getting in – although I still notice some fine sand particles getting through to my toes like when I wear my FiveFinger KSOs. As with the Vibrams, this amount of dust isn’t nearly enough to bother me.

Mesh heel with EVA collar

Behind the shoe, the mesh is supported by a lightweight EVA material that extends into the shoe collar. Since there’s no fabric on this EVA collar to absorb sweat, the inner surface was made especially smooth to decrease friction and prevent blisters. However, this is the area where I’ve had the most discomfort, as the collar feels too rigid against my Achilles tendon. I broke the shoes in with several 4-6 mile runs where this wasn’t an issue, but once I started stretching my distances out to 10 or 15 miles, I developed a very sharp “biting” pain behind my ankle. Even with about 100 total miles on the shoes, this ankle bite is aggravating. Clearly, my tendons must not be as tough as Krupicka’s or Skaggs’s.

The other comfort issue I noticed was the overall size of the uppers, particularly in the length. On steep downhills, my toes contacted the front of the toe box, eventually causing some pressure points after multiple miles. This is probably a sizing issue as opposed to a structural one; normally I go up a half-size with my trail shoes compared to road trainers, which gives me ample room in the box for steep descents. If I were testing a second pair of MT100s, I’d probably go up a full size instead of just a half.

Beneath the upper, the MT100 gives you just enough padding to make the ride comfortable, but not so much to eliminate the feel of the ground underfoot. The midfoot is built very low to the ground, with heights of 18mm in the heel and 8mm in the forefoot. New Balance uses ACTEVA® midsole cushioning which resists compression and is 12% lighter than standard foam, thus helping to keep the overall weight of the shoe low.

The MT100 utilizes New Balance’s Rock Stop technology, a thin rigid plastic layer between the outsole and the midsole that disperses the force of sharp rocks or other penetrating objects across the entire plate to diminish the overall impact pressure at any particular location. For barefoot runners, the most telling feature of this shoe’s design is that Rock Stop support is provided in the midfoot area, but not the heel – thus promoting a midfoot or forefoot running stride in the same manner you do without shoes.


Barefoot running mechanics are also evident in the tread pattern of the outsole - specifically, the heel area is relatively minimal and smooth, with reversed lugs for braking. This makes sense for midfoot runners, as the only time they land on their heels is when trying to maintain some control while going downhill. Likewise, the midfoot area of the outsole is given the most reinforcement, with higher profile knobs for multi-directional grip. Keeping with the lightweight theme, even the outsole is involved, as you can see scooped-out areas underneath the arch in an effort to eliminate as much unnecessary material as possible.

Overall, aside from a couple of comfort issues that might hopefully be addressed in future versions, there’s a lot to celebrate about the MT100. It’s clearly a forerunner in the emerging category of minimalist trail shoes, and New Balance’s collaboration with two of the best ultrarunners in the world demonstrates its commitment to maintain high performance standards while striving to be as lightweight as possible. They’ve embraced the biomechanical benefits of barefoot running and provided a very solid option for minimalist (i.e. Vibram FiveFingers users like me) runners who want a bit more toughness and durability when taking on ultra distances or extremely difficult terrain. All this, and it's completely affordable as well (see pricing below). If more companies follow New Balance’s lead in these regards, that would be very good news indeed.


The New Balance MT100 retails for $75 from the company website, with several discount prices available via Google search. The best price I found is $50 from FinishLine.com (search "New Balance 100").

*Product provided by New Balance
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at
info@runningandrambling.com.

15 comments:

Jason Robillard 12/29/09, 7:05 AM  

Donald-

Awesome review! I've been kicking around the idea of getting a pair of minimalist shoes for occasional training. I'm beginning to buy into the idea that a little shod running may help further strengthen the foot anatomy which could be beneficial on trails. This shoe is fist on my list right now, but I may wait to see if other companies develop similar trail shoes.

Ray 12/29/09, 7:25 AM  

Great write-up Donald! My achilles tendon is very, very sensitive, which is what ultimately pushed me to switch to Vibram Five-fingers and barefoot running. Seeing the snow falling this winter though, I acknowledged I would likely need some sort of shoe and I received a pair of MT100's for Christmas. Incredibly, they did not bother my achilles at all during my first ~12 or so mile trail run, and that was my biggest concern. We'll see what happens as I extend the distance a bit (planning to run a 50 K in them 2 weeks from now), but for me at least, they seem like the ideal minimalist trail shoe. As an alternative, the Inov-8 f-lite 230 seems cool as well!

Chris 12/29/09, 8:19 AM  

I preferred the 790s to the new MT100s. A couple months ago I bought a pair of the 100s and had to send them back (fortunately still could found a cheap pair of the NB 790s on the web). They are too tight in the forefoot and too rigid with that rockplate. I also didn't like the feel of the new heel cup. Oh well, my new 790s should last me well over 700 miles. Maybe a better version of the MT100 will be out by then.

shel 12/29/09, 8:56 AM  

i'm with ray. donald - can you get your hands on a pair of inov-8 f-lite 230s to test? they are thinner, lighter with no structure at the back around the achilles and even less support than is seen in the mt100s. i think these are worth a serious look.
but thanks for the review. i got excited about these shoes, but have decided to pass. really interested in those inov-8s, though

ian2908a 12/29/09, 10:08 AM  

Sounds like a well thought out shoe, I'll give them a whirl. One obvious negative based on the specs is the 10 mm (almost 1/2") heel lift. Newton is coming out with a trail shoe next summer, which has 5 mm lift. I simply don't like strapping 1/2 inch of foam to my heel as it interferes with a natural gait.

mweston 12/29/09, 11:22 AM  

The heel/achilles thing is a concern. Has anyone else had any similar issues with La Sportiva Crosslites? Those felt great on 7 mile runs, but the first time I took them ~14 miles, I got a nasty blister on one heel (and I rarely get blisters).

Other than that, I would definitely give them a try.

Aaron,  12/30/09, 8:42 AM  

Without socks, the ankle foam is an issue for me when I take out the insoles and isn't when I leave them in. With socks it's pretty annoying either way.

I ended up cutting off about 3/4", which was probably excessive. I found that as long as you angle the foam to make sure that only cloth can touch skin the cut should feel alright.

Rick Gaston 12/30/09, 10:58 PM  

I was just with a friend yesterday who bought a pair of these, my last full day in SoCal. She worked at a shoe store down street from the New Balance store but since her store didn't have them she promptly walked over, tried a pair and bought them. Scooped out areas on the outsole? Pretty innovative, shaves off weight and helps with traction.

Andrew 1/5/10, 11:45 AM  

If only the sole wasn't that thick and the heel wasn't inclined :(

Notleh,  1/7/10, 12:20 PM  

I bought a pair of these when they first came out and love them. Definitely the best trail shoe i have ever run in (havent tried the rocklite 230's but have tried many of their other trail shoes).

I do agree with Donald that the heel can sometimes be a bother and have considered cutting half an inch off of the top.

I highly recommend these though.

Tuck 1/11/10, 8:27 AM  

I've been running in these as a cold-weather alternative to Vibrams. First thing I did to them, however, was take them to a cobbler and have him take the 10mm rise out of the heel. This worked very well.

Here's an account of the modification with pictures:

http://groups.google.com/group/huaraches/msg/930b3fc230308123

And here is the entire discussion, along with my updates after actually running in them:

http://groups.google.com/group/huaraches/browse_thread/thread/c1719b986eddf9ac/930b3fc230308123?#930b3fc230308123

Dave Almquist 5/21/10, 6:39 PM  

It appears that this show is being discontinued and there will be no successor. I'm not much of a runner, but wanted to find a good shoe that would be similar to barefoot running, as I've been having foot problems lately that don't seem to bother me when I walk barefoot, and this seemed to be it. The NB people said that this http://www.nbwebexpress.com/newbalanceMR905LW.htm is the closest that they are going to offer. My other choices are Feelmax or EVOs based on reviews here and elsewhere, but I'm not sure about the former and the latter is twice the price. Durn it!

Donald 5/22/10, 4:54 PM  

Dave - If you can wait until the fall, NB has the updated 101 slated for release, which is said to address some of the user feedback from the 100.

If you're looking to get something else right away, don't forget to consider Soft Star RunAmocs, Vibram KSO or Trek, or the inov8 x-talon 212 (see my reviews on the sidebar) in addition to the ones you mentioned. The number of good choices out there is constantly growing!

Dave Almquist 5/27/10, 4:11 PM  

Thanks for the other recommendations. The NB rep did not mention that there was a 101 model slated for release. I finally found (what I hope is) my size and ordered the mt100, although if it doesn't fit and I can't find a size that does, I may just return it, try some actual barefoot running or some aqua socks and wait for the 101. Thanks again.

Will Kimbrough 6/16/10, 7:08 AM  

Good luck finding a pair! They're scarce, unless you're some really small size. I guess I'll just have to keep enjoying barefoot running---you know, the kind where you don't wear shoes!

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