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November 22, 2010

Newton Terra Momentus Trail Running Shoe Review

One administrative note before today's review: Jason over at Strength Running has been kind enough to host a giveaway contest for one of my Running Life books. Head over to this post to enter the contest. Thanks very much to Jason, and good luck to everyone who enters!

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“If I have done the public any service, it is due to my patient thought.”
- Sir Isaac Newton, 1643-1727

There was brief deliberation in my house regarding which opening quote to use for this review; I liked the one that ultimately prevailed, but I must confess that I was very tempted to use my 7-year-old daughter’s first remark after I opened Newton’s Terra Momentus trail runners: Hey – they’re Elphaba shoes!

Newton Terra Momentus

Yes, they’re green … very green, in fact. However, coming from Newton, the company who uses neon yellows and fire engine reds like other brands use grays and creams, that shouldn’t really surprise anyone. And I’ve learned to not be such a stickler when it comes to the way a shoe looks – after all, I’m the same guy who runs in gorilla feet or elf shoes most of the time, so wearing gear that makes me look like a cast member from Wicked isn’t that big of a deal.

Which brings us back to the intro quote: Isaac Newton used it to distill how the foundation of scientific innovation is the long periods of observation and consideration that must be done beforehand in order to accurately understand a situation or environment. In the case of Newton shoes, it reflects how surprisingly patient the company was in introducing a pure trail-running model – especially when you consider that one of the founders is a hardcore ultrarunner. They clearly took their time getting into this market; presumably, the resulting product would be revolutionary.

The delay in marketing Newtons to trail runners seemed especially strange to me, since I’ve already been using their shoes on the trails for well over a year now. Their outstanding Sir Isaac wasn’t designed as a dedicated trail runner, but I’ve worn them in all manner of off-road conditions, and they’ve performed wonderfully while proving to be very durable. (I also reviewed them for FeedTheHabit if you want to check it out.) So I was interested to test the Terra Momentus, not because I had trail withdrawal with Newtons, but mainly out of curiosity to see what distinguished this model from the one that I’ve already been very satisfied with. On that note, I feel like I should throw in a disclaimer: if I sound a bit lukewarm about the Terra Momentus, it’s only because the bar was set so high by the Sir Isaac.

Truthfully, it’s been difficult for me to find a major distinction between the Terra Momentus and the Sir Isaac from a performance standpoint. They’re slightly heavier (11.2 oz compared to 10.9), slightly stiffer (due to a new metatarsal plate), and as mentioned previously, a whole lot greener. Other than that, even if you look closely it might be tough to spot any differences.

Closed mesh, debris-resistant upper with toebox reinforcement


The most obvious changes are to the upper, which has a more tightly-closed mesh to keep out debris, a 360-degree protective synthetic overlay, and a reinforced toe cap for added protection from stubbing your toes on rocks or roots. These features work quite well, and the upper remains fairly breathable despite the closed mesh, but I never really felt any debris or impact limitations with the Sir Isaac, either.

Other specs of the Terra Momentus upper include a more stable, stretch-resistant webbing to improve foot stability, and features such as slip-proof laces and a gusseted tongue that stays nicely in place - but again, these aren’t hugely noticeable improvements from the Sir Isaac. In fact, I found the fit of the Terra Momentus upper to be somewhat tighter through the toebox, with a slightly constricting feel by comparison.

Midsole actuator lugs

The midsole of the Terra Momentus is generally identical to the Sir Isaac, and this is where most of Newton’s remarkable technology features are packed. I’ll assume that you’re familiar with the tech aspects – and if you’re not, check out my original Gravity review – and they’re all here on the Terra Momentus: high-rebound EVA, midfoot and rearfoot support chassis, and half-inch actuator lugs that extend beyond the outsole and create the action/reaction biomechanics that Newton users have come to love.

My trail-running experience with the Sir Isaac has been that the actuator lugs are highly effective at reproducing barefoot biomechanics on fire-roads or well-groomed trails, but their protrusion can be a potential liability on highly technical trails. The Terra Momentus has a similar feel, although I’d say there’s a bit less flexibility, likely due to a protective metatarsal plate that was added to the midsole. As a result, the actuators sometimes have a tough time conforming to irregularities in the trail, which can be tricky if you’re not paying attention to foot placement.

Midsole heights for the Terra Momentus are quite similar to the Sir Isaac, with a 28mm heel and 23mm forefoot, leaving a 5mm heel-to-toe drop. Perhaps it’s my minimalist bias at play here, but I was hopeful that Newton could somehow figure out a way to make the entire midsole and actuator lugs ride closer to the ground for improved ground feel and stability with its dedicated trail shoe. I know that’s asking a lot, but I feel like I give up a bit of agility when switching to the Terra Momentus from my VivoBarefoot Evos or similar flat, flexible shoes.


High-durability runner outsole with traction grip

The underside of the Terra Momentus is – are you sensing a theme here? – very similar to the Sir Isaac as well. It features a super durable, high traction rubber that grips the trail very nicely in all conditions. The overall durability issue may be the primary improvement in this model over the Sir Isaac, because from top to bottom, the Terra Momentus seems like a shoe that can take a beating for hundreds of miles and still keep you running comfortably.

I suppose that’s probably my best recommendation for who should buy these shoes. If you’re a Newton user who enjoys the Gravity or Sir Isaac, and are looking for a highly durable version to beat up on the trails, the Terra Momentus is your shoe. If you’re just starting with Newtons, or looking for a good transitional shoe from traditional trail runners to minimalist footwear, you’ll do just as well with the Sir Isaac.

(Of course, it's entirely possible that I'm missing something major here. If there are Newton users out there who note more significant differences between the Terra Momentus and Sir Isaac, please drop me a comment below.)

(**UPDATE: See comment section for insight from Ian Adamson, Director of Research and Education at Newton, regarding some of the structural differences between the shoes.)

Newton’s Terra Momentus retails for $139 from the company website as well as other online vendors.


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



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6 comments:

Johann 11/23/10, 4:48 AM  

Very interesting, I'm a mid to front foot striker by nature and have wondered about Newton's. I've never seen them in South Africa though.

JFR,  11/23/10, 1:38 PM  

Speaking from a purely aesthetic standpoint, that is one of the most garish shoes I have seen, much less to be seen in nature. Bright neon colors have not place on the trail, imho...lol...and tells me the Newton creators spend little time offroad.

Ian Adamson 11/23/10, 4:03 PM  

A couple of things worth noting (FYI I'm one of the shoe's developers):

1. The upper mesh is indeed less stretchy than the Isaac, but it does form to your foot after 15-20 miles. It prevents fine particles like sand getting through. Also helps with lateral support.
2. The midsole profile is the same, but it is denser to give more support on aggressive surfaces.
3. The lugs are slightly lower than the Isaac since there is outsole rubber between the them. All other Newton shoes have the colored action/reaction membrane exposed. This results in a firmer ride and protects the membrane.
4. The outsole rubber is closed in on the heel to prevent mud/ice/snow build up.
5. The heel tread is more aggressive.
6. More compliant heel counter, better comfort especially on side hills.
7. 1/2 length mesh gusset o=under the front of the laces to prevent junk ingress.
8. There is an additional layer of (light green) trim wrapping up from the midsole to enhance lateral support and prevent wash off (foot sliding off hte midsole.)

Ian Adamson
Newton Running Company
Director Research & Education

Donald 11/23/10, 8:47 PM  

Thanks very much for your comment and information, Ian - that helps quite a bit to appreciate some of the differences.

All: Ian knows what he's talking about - he's one of the main R&D guys at Newton.

Corinne 11/24/10, 7:29 AM  

Very interesting article. Thank you. I have been running in Newton's for about three years now and have been waiting patiently for this shoe to come out. We're up in the mountains in Colorado so trail running has been a great summer activity.

I was happy to see Ian's comments. Excited about the tighter mesh - I'm always getting rocks and sand in my shoes when running in my Gravity's.

Looking forward to my next visit to Boulder so I can try these babies out!

Thanks!

Stuart 11/24/10, 12:53 PM  

Interesting stuff...I saw a few pairs of these in Catalina earlier this month and wondered what they were like.

I am looking to dig out my rouad Newtons and give then another go, so who knows I could end up in these!

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