By Steve Casimiro, editor of Adventure Journal
So, there’s this trend in running where you ditch your shoes and run barefoot. You might have heard of it: It’s called barefoot running.
The barefoot or minimalist footwear movement is to running what fast and light was to backpacking a few years ago: It’s hot, sexy, and ambiguous enough of a concept that manufacturers can jump on the trend in just about any way they please. I suspect it appears bigger than it actually is because the media loves nothing better than a good trend, even if it isn’t supported by reality, and I don’t see many people actually running barefoot, not even on the beach below my house. Nevertheless, shoe manufacturers are scrambling to strip away the excesses of their bread and butter models, and New Balance has a new trail shoe hitting retail in a couple months that’s intriguing enough for a closer look.
The Minimus has a mostly mesh upper and thin(ish) Vibram rubber outsole and weighs a tick over eight ounces (230 grams per shoe in my size 10 preproduction sample). When you first put it on (barefoot, of course), it feels like a slipper, soft and gently embracing your foot everywhere except in the toes, where there’s enough room to wiggle your piggies without banging on the front or sides of the shoe. Even unlaced, the upper cups each foot with a secure but tender hug. Your foot feels (and is) lower to the ground, and the heel doesn’t have the pronounced lift of a typical runner (just 4mm above the toe, compared to a more common 12mm). Walking around the house, you think your race flats have mashed up with a soft suede moccasin, and the Minimus seems to have little in common with the average running shoe.
And if you’ve been running in a typical shoe, once you hit the trail the Minimus will feel like a significant departure. It’s not especially light (the “standard” trail runner used to be around 11 ounces, but these days 9 seems to be the more popular target), but it tangibly brings a more laissez-faire approach to guiding your foot throughout the stride. The lack of structure and soft curves of the chassis clearly let your foot lead the dancing.
If, however, you’ve actually been running barefoot or in Vibram’s Five Fingers, as I have, the Minimus feels like a big step backwards, and the reason is that while indeed minimalist, it still has enough padding in the heel and support in the arch to create a biomechanic response identical to that of traditional shoes. When you run in them, you land on the heel first, not the forefoot as you do when barefoot. If you aren’t careful, this can lead to too much impact on each heel strike and eventually to sore feet.
So, how you view the Minimus depends on both your perspective and your goals. If you’re curious about trying the barefoot movement, but not quite ready to take the plunge, the New Balance is an appropriate bridge to get you there. I found the fit sublime, even when rocking up or down steep pitches (though sand and dust migrate through the upper easily), and I’d have to say it’s one of the most buttery perfect I’ve tried right out of the box (amazing for a preproduction sample). Indeed, it could make an amazing water shoe, kayaking bootie, or camp slipper, and I fully expect some people will sport it around town. But if you want the true barefoot experience, the Minimus isn’t it. Only one thing is, and it won’t cost you a dime.
- Nat Geo Expeditions