As most of our readers know, ultralight backpackers much prefer lightweight trail running shoes to heavy trail boots. For good reason - US Army research has shown that taking one pound off your feet is equivalent to taking 6.4 pounds off your back! Once you backpack ultralight wearing light trail runners, you will never go back. The question is - which lightweight trail runner is best for your feet and hiking conditions?
New Balance has been a leader in running shoes for years, with styles and sizes to fit most purposes and feet. New for spring 2006, the New Balance 872OR (Off-Road) is a lightweight trainer built for the off-road enthusiast seeking exceptional cushioning and ground contact.
The New Balance 872 Off-Road (left) - with its bright yellow and black color scheme and numerous feature labels - looks like a sports car in the trail running shoe world. A less conspicuous all-black version is now available. N-Lock technology (right) is an integrated webbing system that literally wraps around your foot.
The 872OR features N-Lock midfoot support (an integrated webbing system designed to provide upper midfoot structure and enhanced support), Stability Web (a thermoplastic urethane structure supporting the arch for torsion and flexion control while maintaining flexibility in the forefoot), Rock Stop and ACTEVA midsole (thermoplastic urethane plate and foam for added midfoot comfort), Absorb (midsole heel and forefoot shock absorbing foam), and an NDurance/sticky rubber outsole to provide maximum durability in the heel area and enhanced traction in the center area. This sounds like a lot of “techno-babble”, but it all adds up to a superb trail shoe.
We used the 872OR for ultralight on- and off-trail backpacking, and were amazed by its comfort and support.
The brightly colored New Balance 872 Off Road doesn’t look new for long! After a few backpacking trips, they looked well-used. However, they cleaned up well. The women’s model (right) is a greenish-yellow.
(Will's Comments) “Ok, I’ll come clean, because I backpack off-trail a lot, I was reluctant to give up my mid-height light trail boots. I felt like I needed more ankle support. Other brands and models of trail runners I tried just weren’t supportive enough, and they tortured my toes on steep downhills. The New Balance 872OR was amazing. I wore them everywhere, including off-trail over really steep and really rough terrain, and they were always comfortable, stable, and supportive. I prefer to wear them with cushy wool socks and gaiters for mountain hiking.”
(Janet's Comments) “I have not done well with hiking boots; it was one foot problem after another. Then I switched to trail runners and have never looked back. I don’t do the mountain goat stuff like Will does, but I also found the 872OR to be exceptionally comfortable to wear, even when hiking over rocky trails all day. They are very light and nimble, flexible and supportive, yet I don’t feel sharp rocks at all. I prefer to wear them with synthetic socks. They have a minimal amount of padding that absorbs water, so after I walk across streams they dry out quickly.”
With all of their performance features, and bright color, the New Balance 872OR definitely makes a statement, like driving a sports car. They also have lots of logos printed on them to remind you of all their features. When they get dirty, they look like a dirty sports car.
Our only reservations about the 872OR relate to the mesh construction of the toe and midfoot areas. Although it provides plenty of ventilation, the mesh also allows dirt and water to readily enter, so our feet readily got dirty on dusty trails and readily got damp with the smallest amount of water. In really wet weather we wore a combination of Coolmax socks and Gore-Tex socks inside, with good results.
In Will’s off-trail travels, he wore the 872’s through slide rock, glacial deposits, and heavy brush and managed to put a few holes in the mesh on the sides. Although the 872 already has a substantial toe bumper, it would be better if it wrapped around to the middle of the shoe. As currently designed, the mesh on the 872 doesn’t last very long if you use them for bushwhacking in rocky terrain.
Although the New Balance 872 was plenty stable and supportive for hiking off-trail, sharp rocks took their toll on the mesh fabric. A simple fix would be to extend the toe bumper around the sides of the shoe.
Overall, we found the New Balance 872OR to be a superb shoe for ultralight backpacking on trails. Although the shoes performed exceptionally well in off-trail conditions, the mesh uppers suffered from abrasion on the sides just behind the toe bumper, which significantly reduces their longevity.
Specifications and Features
- Manufacturer: New Balance (http://newbalance.com/)
- Year/Model: 2006 872 Off Road
- Style: low-cut trail running shoe
- Materials: various synthetics
- Midsole: TPU plate and shock absorbing foam
- Outsole: black rubber is NDurance, New Balance’s most durable outsole compound for maximum durability, yellow rubber in the middle of the outsole is a "sticky rubber" for improved traction on trails and rough terrain
- Sizes Available: 8-15, three widths, half sizes to12
- Weight: measured weight men’s size 11.5 4E 28.3 oz (802 g), women’s size 6.5 19.3 oz (547 g); manufacturer specification 25.4 oz (720 g) for size 9.5
- MSRP: $90