Courtesy New Balance.
Editor’s Note: This review was updated September 23, 2009. See added text below.
The very low-cut Australian-made Dunlop KT-26 joggers, which I often wear when out walking, are very light (327 grams or 11.5 ounces each shoe) and have superb friction on rock. But, they have a very thin flexible sole as well, and in some country it is useful to have a shoe with a firmer sole and bigger lugs. For instance, slithering around on muddy farm trails in France (the cows had used the track as well…) proved a bit difficult as the light tread on the KTs just could not grip. The same problem happened on snow-covered granite scree.
Where I run into a problem with so many brands of joggers is the width. I have wide feet – EEEE width in fact, and many brands only go up as far as EE. Actually, many well-known brands don’t even tell you what the width is, which really irritates me. And if anything is going to give you sore feet at the end of the day, it is shoes which are just that bit too narrow for your feet. Yes, there are other factors as well, like the width of the heel and the height of the arch, but the width at the front of the shoe is what concerns me most of all.
Camp and relax up in the mountains.
Fortunately, the New Balance company not only makes shoes in several different lasts, but also makes them in several different widths, and the company states the available widths on their web site. This is quite unlike so many other well-known shoe companies, which give you no idea at all what the widths are. In addition, their SL1 last in an EEEE width suits me fine. So, I rather like the New Balance shoes. But please note, the last and width which suits me may not suit you; select your shoe fittings carefully.
I recently reviewed the New Balance MT1110GT joggers and found that they may run just slightly larger than some other brands. For the MT1110GT shoes I tested in the winter, I had a US size 11 EEEE, and found that they were big enough for two pairs of socks. This was good in the snow. With another well-known brand, the US 11 was only big enough for one pair of socks, but the width fitting is only an EE on those. For these MT875OR shoes, I dropped back half a size, to US 10.5 EEEE, and wore them with one pair of Darn Tough Vermont ‘Hike Trek Boot Sock Full Cushion’ over a thin Gobi Wigwam nylon liner sock. This is a very reliable and quite popular combination among experienced walkers.
The lugged sole, courtesy New Balance.
The web site specifications for these shoes contains the usual array of fancy marketing buzz word names for the various bits. I’ll skip them. The rubber sole has fairly good lugs: you can see the pattern in the picture here. The lugs are about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches) deep over most of the shoe, dropping to about 4 millimeters (0.16 inches) at the front. The rubber is the usual grippy stuff.
The one place where some may find the New Balance shoes a bit light is in the amount of cushioning in the soles. New Balance describes them as ‘A highly responsive lightweight trainer built for the off-road runner,’ and that is what they are. They are not a big heavy trekking boot. The description goes on to mention ‘exceptional cushioning and ground contact,’ which is a contradiction in terms in my opinion. Lots of cushioning usually means not very good ‘ground contact.’
The inner sole is an ‘Ortholite’ – it looks like a standard inner sole. The laces are lumpy, like on the MT1110GTs: New Balance calls them ‘Sure Lace.’ The body is synthetic and mesh: no leather to get wet and heavy, then crack. The top edge comes up at the back of the heel as usual – exactly why I am never sure, because my favourite KTs don’t and suffer no problems from that. But, at least the back edge is well padded and causes no problems.
The lining layer.
Where life gets interesting is inside the shoe. The outer surface of the upper is two strong mesh layers, and inside that is a padded layer. The padded layer is different from most other joggers, however. While it is sewn at the bottom to the bed of the shoe, it is free-floating around the top edge. Pull it away, as illustrated here, and you can see in between the mesh layer and the padding. While not visible in this photo, you can actually peer out through the mesh layer if you try. The padding is not going to crumple up either, as it supports one side of the orange tapes which hold the laces. It extends all the way around the front of the shoe as well.
Exactly what benefits this construction are meant to bring are not clear at this stage. But the construction does mean you should hesitate before wearing these shoes while river walking. The potential for getting a heap of sand and gravel in between the mesh and the padding is high. On the other hand, it would be very easy to wash the sand back out again. That said, the side of the tongue does press against the top of the orange padding layer, so there is some resistance to the inflow of debris.
The plastic finish on the outside of the mesh is rather shiny, and this makes the shoes look just a little ‘tacky.’ It would have been better if a matt finish had been used. However, that stuff is mainly just trim and not very structural.
The shoes were worn around home a bit, just to check, and were then taken on a twelve-day walk through the Australian Alpine region. This was a bit of a high speed hoon trip on tracks, rather than a bushwhacking trip through scrub and rivers. We covered 290 kilometers (180 miles) with 4,600 meters (15,000 feet) of major ascents and descents – not counting all the little ups and down. The longest day, when things went just a little wrong late in the day, saw us doing nearly 40 kilometers (24 miles) with full packs. There was no water where we had hoped to camp, so a 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) and 600 meters (2,000 feet) descent had to be made as the sun went down. The next morning started with a savage 400 meters (1,300 feet) ascent straight from the tent site. There were a few creaks.
The point of mentioning these details is that you don’t want big heavy boots or uncomfortable shoes on your feet when you are dragging down the last half hour to camp. These MT875OR joggers were feeling just fine when we hit the river at the bottom of that long descent, and I was able to delicately hop across rocks to cross the river dry-foot. In fact, most evenings in camp, I was still wearing the shoes while cooking dinner: I felt no urgent need to get them off my feet.
Dirty toes at the end of a long day.
In places, we were walking on some very dry dusty dirt on the tracks – no rain for a long time. Inspecting my toes at the end of the day showed that the mesh construction had let some dust through. And if there is that much dust on my toes, through a pair of Darn Tough Vermont Boot Socks and a pair of Gobi Wigwam liner socks, then the socks themselves are going to pick up a bit of dust as well. This happens with the mesh uppers on such joggers. Our standard solution is to carry two sets of socks and to wash one set every two days. However, while some dust did get in, I did not find any build-up of dust or sand between the mesh and the orange padding shown above.
The soles, before and after.
Many of us have read some horror stories about very light joggers collapsing after just a few days wear. The first-generation GoLites quickly became infamous for this. The picture here shows the soles of the MT875OR joggers ‘before’ and after the trip. (The before photo is actually a New Balance marketing photo.) There is a little bit of wear visible in my photo, but not very much. And the uppers came out looking just as good. The insides of the shoes and the footbed also look much the same as when new.
I dislike shoes with very thick cushioning or big air-bags in the soles: I find I lose contact with the ground and this makes it easy to sprain an ankle. On the other hand, light shoe weight usually means a limited amount of cushioning between your foot and the ground. And so it is with these shoes. This does not mean that every stick and stone dug into my soles; far from it, but I did find that I could ‘feel’ the surface I was walking on. I could tell whether I was on a smooth bit of grass or a potentially unstable bit of scree, and this let me control how I drove my feet. I found I could dance across small rocks while crossing a river with some delicacy.
All in all, my legs may have been very tired by the end of the trip, but my feet were relatively happy.
September 23, 2009 Update
Six Weeks in Switzerland
Trails in Switzerland.
Starting in the middle of July 2009, my wife and I spent six weeks walking in Switzerland, doing the Chamonix to Zermatt trail and the Via Alpina trail right across Switzerland. Both routes seem to go over an Alpine pass a day, with nights spent in a valley at 500 – 1000 metres (1,600 – 3,200 feet) and the passes typically being from 2,500 to 2,900 metres (8,000 – 9,500 feet). In some cases there were several close passes in one day, but no matter. That meant we were typically climbing and decending over 1,500 metres (4,800 feet) each day, with packs.
Some of the walking was on a smooth track, but rough, stony limestone country and hard snow, shale, and serious boulder scree figured very prominently (left to right in photo above). There was practically no bushwhacking at all, though there was still plenty of abrasion on the soles and the sides of the shoes, especially from the limestone country and the scree.
Wear on the shoes.
Of course the shoes suffered some wear – any shoes would! This was compounded by the fact that these NB875OR joggers are definitely lightweight shoes. The depth of the lugs on the soles was significantly reduced under the ball of the foot. I also noticed that the sole was a shade thin for some of the very rough surfaces encountered, and the lug pattern was a bit minimal under the ball of the foot (especially towards the end). Both were adequate, but a bit more thickness and a bit more tread pattern might have been nice. The result would have been a heavier shoe though, and the light weight of these shoes was really appreciated every afternoon.
The mesh at the sides of the shoes suffered towards the end. You can see the rips and wear holes in the photo. Frankly, I think the mesh was a shade light and weak: a stronger version would heve been good. Of course, brushing the sides of the shoes against sharp limestone for days on end can be expected to have some consequences, so maybe the mesh didn’t do too bad a job under the circumstances.
When I first looked at these shoes, I thought that the trim over the top near the front would probably die fairly quickly. It looked like cheap vinyl, and I expected it to crack and tear off. I’m talking here about the thin ribbon sections pointed to by the red arrows, not the toe-cap around the front. Well, the leading corners of the trim did start to peel off fairly soon from abrasion against all that rock, but that was a failure of the sewing, not of the trim material. I solved that by sewing the trim bits back on with some saddlery thread from my repair kit – very strong stuff. You can see my stitching in the photos. The fault here was in the design of the trim: you should never create a leading corner like that. Fortunately, once resewn there were no further problems there.
In fact, the trim material survived very well. Sewing through it and the rest of the shoe with a #100 sewing machine needle required a very high amount of force too: it is not cheap vinyl by any means! I inquired of New Balance about the material, and they replied that it was "a polyurethane based synthetic leather with a non-woven backer." Well, to me it seemed rather like the Hypalon they use on snow shoe decks. A bit glossy, but very, very strong stuff.
These comments have been forwarded to the design group at New Balance. I note that a later model of trail shoe from New Balance (which will be reviewed here in due course) has stronger mesh at the sides and no forward-pointing corners on the trim, while still using the same trim material. It would seem the design guys do take some notice.
In summary, despite being very light, these shoes proved to be strong enough to handle both our Australian and Swiss Alpine trips: almost eight weeks of continuous hard use. That seems a good enough life to me.
|MT875OR / Late 2008|
|Synthetic fabrics and rubbers, no leather|
|SL-1 (see the New Balance site for further definition on their lasts)|
|7 through 15, with half sizes 7 through 12; in D, EE, and EEEE fittings|
|Quoted 340 g (11.9 oz) each
Measured 385 g (13.6 oz) for US size 10.5 EEEE (BPL measurement)
|Grey: what you see is what you get|
- A low weight
- A wide range of width fittings (including 4E)
- A flat inner sole and footbed (no arch support)
- Good friction and good lugs on the sole
- No leather or suede anywhere
- No air cushioning to destroy ‘ground-feel’
What’s Not So Good
- Dust gets into your socks and onto your feet
- Sand could get inside the shell when river walking (but it will wash out easily)