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Believe it or not, I’ve made it this far in my running/writing career with having never once donned a pair of New Balance sneakers on my feet. Shameful, I know (at least the die-hard New Balance fans out there would think so). Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Runner’s World Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon Festival as a guest blogger. One of our amazing sponsors was New Balance, and they had a few reps on hand that gave us a mini presentation of the current and soon to be released Fresh Foam line. Of course the first one I spied was the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail, and was thrilled when the reps said they would send over a pair for review.
“By combining the intelligence and experience of a human designer with cutting edge computer software, New Balance is able to manipulate the midsole on the FreshFoam 980 Trail to give runners plush cushioning properties and inherent stability in a more minimal package. By applying the same software design process to the outsole, Fresh Foam 980 Trail has an increased lug size and purposeful lug placement for ultimate traction. Fresh Foam Trail is a ground breaking running shoe engineered to bring natural underfoot geometries alongside a cushioned ride with a blend of super soft foam that is incredibly responsive. For an excellent heel to toe transition, an aggressive lugged outsole offers durability and flexibility for the trails in a 4 mm natural drop last while providing both a light and stable ride .”
- Weight – 10.25 oz (men’s size 9) 8.1 oz (women’s 8)
- Offset: 4mm (12mm/16mm)
- Gusseted tongue to keep out debris
- No Rock Plate (Well Cushioned)
- Midsole – EVA, made from one single piece of foam (as opposed to layers seen in numerous other sneakers)
- Upper – Synthetic and mesh (no sew)
- Blown Rubber outsole
- MSRP: $110
My initial thoughts upon handling the Fresh Foam 980 Trail:
1) Are they trying to go the same route as Hoka? Minimal drop, lots of cushion; is this New Balance’s answer to a maximalist shoe? (Answer: No. Someone actually asked this question to the reps. They said they weren’t aiming to mimic or replicate any sort of shoe, nor “label” this type of shoe)
2) These suckers feel pretty stiff. There was little give at all to the sole of the shoe, which is something I’m not used to as I more often than not run in a more “minimal” shoe.
The latter of course was my biggest concern. Thankfully, as it turns out, this wouldn’t even be an issue (more on this below).
Fit: The toe box is smaller than I am used to, thus I suppose you could say the toebox is normal (I prefer wide). Also, the shoes felt a little snug in length. Upon searching for other reviews, this seems to be an issue for everyone. So I recommend sizing up 1/2 a size.
Aesthetics: (it matters, don’t deny it!) The sole of the Fresh Foam line has a really cool airbrushed look to it. Fun fact: they are hand painted! The line contains a lot of bright, fun colors. Sorry for you folks who prefer muted tones; these shoes pop.
Run: The first run left me pleasantly surprised. Confession: the first time I wore these shoes was to a race. A silly one at that, the 5K Foam Fest. (Pro tip: NEVER wear brand new shoes to a race, kids. It’s like playing a game of roulette with your feet, loser takes home nasty blisters). But it was all trail, and soaking wet at that, so what better way to test out trail shoes? First thing I noticed…or didn’t notice, as it turns out…was the stiffness of the shoe. It was never uncomfortable or even an issue. The run felt smooth and comfortable, I experienced zero discomfort, hot spots, chaffing, or blisters (thankfully). Subsequent runs have seemed to “loosen” up the shoe, for lack of better terms, giving it a slightly more pliable feeling. While I typically prefer as much ground contact as possible, he thicker sole of the 980 Trail did not leave me feeling unbalanced or clunky.
*For what it’s worth, OCR friends, these shoes do NOT drain well. I don’t fault New Balance for that, however, as these were designed as trail shoes, not run around in knee deep puddles of mud shoes. But good information to have none the less.
Grip: The traction on the sole of this shoe is very aggressive. The design almost reminds me of the scales of a snake; grips to prevent slipping but doesn’t get caught up on the forward movement. I had zero issue with grip during the race (which was completely soaked and slippery, hence “foam fest”), zero issues with grip on subsequent trail runs and even a hike that included some wet, mossy rocks.
All of that said, a big concern to me is that the tread becomes easily caked with mud and the lugs do not clear themselves of mud and debris. This could become an issue if the sole becomes entirely covered in mud, thus losing traction all together.
Conclusion: The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail is a solid shoe. Not my personal favorite, but I have no glaring complaints. The construction of the shoe has held up impeccability through the abuse I’ve given them so far; no tears, snags, holes, wear, etc. I would recommend these shoes to someone who prefers a minimal drop (4 mm) but requires more cushion and support than what is currently on the market. They would be a great transition for someone looking to ease into a more minimal trail shoe. Further, the cushion on this shoe is ideal for someone running on a rocky, technical trail that needs extra protection beneath their feet.
Have any questions regarding the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail shoe? Comment below!
*disclaimer* New Balance provided me with a pair of Fresh Foam 980 Trail shoes at no cost, however, all opinions expressed are solely my own.