Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gear Review: New Balance MT10 (WT10) Minimus Trail

For the first eight years of my running career, I had one trainer (and possibly 1-2 pairs of spikes, depending on what year we're talking about). This meant that I wore whatever road shoes or cross-country spikes I had at the time (which was generally the Nike Pegasus or Nike Zoom Kennedy XC, depending on whether we're talking about trainers or spikes) on trail runs and trail races. As far as I was concerned, trail shoes were just the heavier, stiffer, and more bulked-up version of road shoes. I'm not really an ounce counter, especially when it comes to trainers, but stiffer is really not my thing. Then, in 2007, I walked into a store and saw the New Balance 790, a light, flexible, and low-slung trail racer. I had to have it. The 790 served me well...they got me through 38 miles of the Leadville Trail 100 (as a pacer...and yes, those bad boys stood up well to Hope Pass), 45 miles as part of a relay team for 24 Hours of Boulder (to be fair, my body didn't handle that one as well as I might have liked), numerous shorter trail races, two years of working as a counselor at a high school XC camp, and more trail tempo runs than I can count. Unfortunately, no shoe lasts forever, and by the time I finally decided it was time to replace them, New Balance had discontinued the 790. What's a roadie who occasionally pretends to run trails to do? Enter the New Balance WT10 (women's MT10, also called the Minimus Trail or Minimus 10 Trail).

The MT10/WT10 (which from now on will just be referred to as the MT10) is New Balance's minimal trail shoe. This shoe is not to be confused with the even more stripped down MT00/WT00 Minimus Zero Trail, the slightly more rugged MT110/WT110 trail racing flats, or the MT20/WT20 Minimus Trail (dude, New Balance, NAMES!). It weighs in at 7.1oz for a men's size 9 and 6.1oz for a women's size 8. It has a stack height of 15/11 for an H-delt of 4mm. Running Warehouse describes the MT10 as follows:
The MT 10 is a minimum feature, minimal neutral trial shoe designed for daily training and high mileage. The MT 10 has a semi-curved shape.
  • To keep weight down, this shoe contains no additional cushioning technologies.
  • Deconstructed Acteva midsole provides high flexibility and light cushion
  • Open Mesh upper provides soft and flexible feel for a custom fit
  • Anti-Microbial treatment on foot bed.
  • Minimal Vibram outsole for lightweight traction and durability.
  • NL-1 is a running-specific last with a standard heel width, a wide forefoot, and a low toe-box height.
First things first: please understand that I'm much more of a road runner than a trail runner. There's a reason I go through a pair of road shoes per month, yet am just now replacing my trail shoes from 2007. Sure, the 790s were well past their due date, and should have been replaced years ago, but let's face it, I'm a roadie at heart (perhaps even a trackie, which is probably worse). Obviously, I tested them on trails, but that doesn't change the fact that this is a roadie's perspective. I'm also not a minimalist, just a regular ol' runner who sometimes finds that shoes marketed as "minimal" fit my needs. So the perspective here is from a shod road runner who sometimes dabbles on trails and occasionally finds minimal shoes that she likes. If you want a real minimalist trail runner's opinion on shoes, you should ask my friend Julie, who wrote my Merrell Lithe Glove guest post and has more experience in both areas than I. That said, on to the review!

New Balance MT10 has a roomy toebox, a strap over the metatarsal heads to keep your foot in place, and overlays over the midfoot to provide a small amount of support

The fit of the MT10 is very different from shoes I've worn in the past. The upper is snug through the midfoot, providing a small amount of support due to the overlays (emphasis on small), while the toebox is exceedingly roomy, high-volume, and free-feeling. However, despite the wide and tall toebox, the MT10 has a strap over the metatarsal heads, preventing the foot from sliding around and keeping the forefoot from becoming too sloppy. This is pretty important when running trails, as you don't want your foot sliding around when you're attempting to navigate your way around rocks and roots. (Honestly, it's pretty important no matter where you run, but it's doubly important on trails). I do wish that the forefoot was a little narrower, but since it was intended for minimalists who like shoes that allow room for toe-splay rather than people like me who like glove-like flats, I can understand why it's shaped the way it is. I've heard of some people having problems with the strap being overly constricting, so if you have wide feet, try these on before you buy them, though I personally had no issues with this feature. It also has a pretty low-volume instep, so people with high arches and/or high insteps will also want to try these on before buying them. I absolutely cannot lace these shoes tightly because the laces dig into the top of my instep, and I feel like if my instep was much higher, I wouldn't be able to wear them at all.

Upper of the New Balance MT10 
New Balance MT10 has a liner that seems to be intended to be worn sockless

There are actually two types of upper material present on the MT10: a stretchy mesh in the forefoot and a slightly more structured mesh through the midfoot and rearfoot. Both are incredibly comfortable. If the old Nike Free (not sure what the new Nike Free is like) and one of those aqua sock water shoes had some wild and kinky shoe sex, the result would be the MT10's upper. The inside is pretty seamless and the footbed (nonremoveable) is made of a soft suede-like material, leading me to believe that these are meant to be worn sockless. I could wear these as bedroom slippers. The tongue is attached to the rest of the upper, so there are no issues with the tongue sliding around. Finally, the upper is pretty breathable, which is obviously nice in the warmer months, though it seems like it might be chilly in the winter.

New Balance MT10 is a very flexible shoe
New Balance MT10 also has a lot of lateral flexibility

The flexibility of the MT10 is through the roof. The forefoot is so flexible that you can flex and extend your toes and watch the sole bend along with them. Lots of lateral flexibility too. I think that technically, the MT00 may be more flexible than the MT10, but there is no way that my foot can bend in a manner that the MT10 isn't able to handle. This results in a very nimble-feeling trail shoe, since it pretty much flexes around rocks and roots. It does, however, lack the little bit of forefoot stiffness that is usually present in racing flats, so overpronators who don't resupinate at toe-off may find it slow-feeling, even if they find that they are able to run in it injury-free.

The MT10 has very, very little in the way of cushioning. I don't notice the lack of cushioning so much on the trail, but it is a pretty firm platform on the road. The flexibility combined with the thin midsole makes for incredibly high groundfeel. I have not worn another shoe with this much groundfeel...not even the Mach 13 comes close. This is great on less technical trails, since you can really tell where you're placing your foot. However, if you do most of your running on more technical trails, you may find that yourself wishing for a bit more protection. There is no rockplate, and the sole has gaps between the lugs where the only thing between your foot and pointy rocks is a very thin layer of midsole. You will feel every rock, every stick, every root, and every hole in this shoe. For those of you who prefer your trails technical, consider the MT110 instead.

Sculpted arch of the New Balance MT10 doesn't provide much (if any) arch support
No real heel counter on the New Balance MT10

The MT10 doesn't offer much in the way of support. As stated before, there is a small amount of support provided by the overlays that wrap the midfoot of the upper. Additionally, the shoe is low to the ground and the base is wide enough that you may get some measure of stability from that. There is a sculpted arch, but I found that it's too low and too flexible to provide any real arch support, and while there is a strap that wraps around the heel, there's not really a heel counter for any rearfoot control. Finally, the high flexibility means that you won't see much support from the structure of the shoe itself. This is pretty close to as neutral a shoe as you can get before you end up with some shoe that...doesn't count as a shoe. On the other hand, I feel like I must be missing something, because I brought these home and immediately put in 16 miles as my first run with them (oops, do as I say, not as I do), and I've definitely gotten more foot fatigue in some flats, so who knows.

Sole of the New Balance MT10. The light grey is exposed midsole and doesn't provide much rock protection

The MT10 uses a Vibram rubber sole. Those of you who have spent time rock climbing or hiking know that Vibram makes more than funny-looking toe shoes, and you've probably used Vibram-soled shoes before, so you likely know that it's pretty sticky stuff. Unsurprisingly, the MT10 does a great job with traction on rocks and wet pavement. Because of the configuration of the lugs, they're not the greatest mud shoes, but good mud shoes are rarely good choices for hardpack and asphalt, so you do need to accept that you'll have to compromise somewhere. Additionally, as stated before, the lack of a rockplate and the exposed midsole between the lugs does not provide much protection from rocks.

I have heard some people mention that the MT10 isn't all that great on the asphalt, but I've found it to actually be a pretty decent road shoe. As mentioned previously, it is a very firm ride, but the circular lugs are non-intrusive and it's not nearly as bumpy a ride as some of the more rugged trail shoes. If you're only going to use it on the road, there are certainly better choices (including others in the New Balance Minimus collection and many other shoes that I've reviewed on this blog), but if you're looking for a shoe that can do both road and non-technical trails, the MT10 should serve you just fine.

Comparison of New Balance trail shoes, clockwise from top-left: MT10, MT20, MT00, MT110

So how does the MT10 differ from the other shoes I mentioned above? The MT10's closest sibling is the MT20, which is a similar shoe that eliminates the sprung toe and the rigid strap over the metatarsal heads. This is a great thing for people with wider feet and people who hate sprung lasts, and apparently a terrible thing for me. I tried the MT20 on in a store a while back, not realizing they were a separate shoe from the MT10, and they fit me like crap. I nearly wrote off the Minimus Trail completely before I realized that it was an entirely different shoe. The MT00 is also a trail shoe in the Minimus line, but it is lighter, uses a thinner upper, has a significantly more stripped-down sole, and is zero-drop. I kind of wanted them too, but I don't have the money to buy a million trail shoes and the MT10 seemed more versatile. The MT110 is the true trail shoe of the bunch, sporting a lugged sole and a rock plate, but seeing as they're the only one of the group that I have not seen to try on in person, I can't tell you much about them.

Unlike quite a few of the other shoes I've seen that are categorized as "minimal," the MT10 is actually a pretty stripped down minimalist shoe rather than a traditional cushioned trainer with a low heel-toe differential and fancy marketing. And then there was the shocker for me...I think I may actually prefer it to the old 790. I am somewhat surprised, since while I think that some of the other companies' "minimal" shoes aren't bad, I also think that, unfortunately, they're inferior to their counterparts that aren't marketed as "minimal" (for example, I'm very disappointed that the Launch is getting axed in favor of the PureFlow). My biggest wish is that the MT10's toebox wasn't so weirdly wide, but that's a losing battle, since I'm pretty sure that's a selling point for the minimalists. Anyway, it's not the label that's important...it's the shoe, and luckily the MT10 seems to be successful as a shoe because of its function, not just because of fancy marketing. Now, this isn't an every day trainer for me by any stretch of the imagination. It's a tool in my shoe closet, one of many, with a specific purpose, and it seems to serve that purpose well. I'd recommend this shoe for the neutral, biomechanically efficient runner who is looking for a lightweight and low-slung shoe for fire roads, non-technical trails, and the occasional foray onto asphalt.

The New Balance MT10 Minimus 10 Trail retails for $105 and is available on the New Balance website, as well as at select retailers where New Balance products are sold (like at the National Running Center, where they're $90...just sayin'). For sizing, I had to go a half-size up for length, though keep in mind that the toebox is very wide.

Full disclosure: Nothing to disclose because I bought these myself. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of New Balance or anyone else.


  1. The 110 is interesting. It's low, but I wouldn't call it minimal, at least not by my standards. While there is little cushioning to speak of, it's very firm, and when combined with the rock plate and lugs, gives a very protective feel. This is especially pronounced in the forefoot, where the lateral edge is built up. Clearly, the shoe is built for forefoot striking and fast turnover. To that end, it's runs like a dream on technical descents, but I find it a bit stiff while climbing, and a bit dead on the flats. I'd recommend it to runners who want a mountain (rather than merely a trail) shoe, without too much bulk. For me, I still prefer less on my foot.

  2. The LATERAL side is built up? Interesting...I feel like I heard about that being used on some other shoe too. Knowing that though, I'm glad I didn't waste my time trying to order it...that's not a feature that agrees with my feet. What are you using as your trail shoe now, Alex?

    1. Yes, the lateral side. It's unique, to say the least, and that's about the nicest thing I can say about that feature.

      My "trail shoe" is my everything shoe, the Saucony Hattori. I think I'm the only person on Earth who likes it, but I really do. For a "bareshoe" it has enough foam to keep mild rocks at bay (though you need to avoid the really gnarly stuff), and it's about the lightest/flattest thing on the market. I wouldn't recommend this to everyone, of course, but it seems to work well enough for me.

  3. Does the Hattori stay put on your foot without laces? Not that it's a shoe that looks like it would work for me at all, but just curious. But good deal that it works. You definitely have to avoid the really gnarly stuff in the MT10 too (or maybe my feet are just used to having more foam underfoot).

    1. It stays on mine just fine. The upper is really like a sock, so it's very form fitting, and stretchy. I've heard most people don't love the upper though, and in fact, Saucony put laces on the newest version. I haven't tried it out yet though.

  4. Hated this shoe because of the pointy rock problem. I gave up on minimalism when I started getting tendonitis after wearing these shoes too much. Sigh.

  5. Yeah, I can see that, if you're running where there are a lot of pointy rocks, I'd definitely recommend something with a rock plate!

    I don't have the biomechanics to go minimal all the time either. In my opinion, the key is using different shoes as tools. I just wore the WT10 for a fast finish 18er today. Tomorrow I'll probably wear a traditional cushioned trainer for my easy recovery runs. And I'll probably pull out a pair of road flats for my next speedworkout next week. If I tried wearing these shoes as recovery day shoes, I'd probably end up with tendinitis too! There are definitely people (like Alex, who commented before you) who can go all minimal all the time, but it's not possible for all of us. Whatever keeps you running fast and healthy is the best shoe for you!

  6. I recently purchased a pair of the MT10 (orange & black) and love them. Your review here is spot on. After minutes of having them on, my feet wanted to parkour everything. ;-)

    I also use these shoes when riding my mountain bike.


  7. Glad you enjoy them! Though I have to say, I can't imagine mountain biking with them. I guess the Vibram rubber is pretty sticky, and the tread pattern is similar to what's on my FiveTen Impacts, but they just seem so thin/flexible!

  8. I love these shoes. I just bought my second pair. I still wear my first pair and they are now on there 2nd marathon training and 1000++ miles and still going. I have run one marathon in them as well. I bought some nike frees at the outlet mall a 3.0 and 2 months later the flimsy backing sprung a hole....so I am sold on the NB wt10's. I am also a street runner no trails. I do everything in these shoe and just love them. It is great to see other people like them as well! Happy running!

    1. Great to hear that you're enjoying them, and that they lasted you that long! That's pretty impressive.

    2. i only run on street as well. you gave me the answer i was looking for. i think im gonna try these shoes out! thanks


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