New Balance MT876OR shoes.
We recently reviewed the previous shoe in this series, the MT875OR, after I took a pair through Switzerland for two months over many mountain passes. Normally one does not expect a large change between successive models - often it is just a marketing-driven change of number with a few trim changes - but no so in this case. I was reasonably happy with the MT875OR shoes; these MT876OR shoes seem to have had some significant changes.
The shoes are described as 'highly responsive lightweight trainer built for the off-road runner seeking exceptional cushioning and ground contact... the 876 offers outstanding performance for the dedicated extreme terrain runner.' We (my wife and I) received two identical pairs (Mens, US 10, 4E) for testing as soon as they were released in April 2010. (Yes, my wife takes a man's fitting.) The shoes weigh 364 g (12.8 oz) each for that size.
The sole design has changed significantly. The MT875OR shoes had large (mud-shedding?) lugs which were widely spaced, and there was always a risk that one might begin to feel the individual lugs through the sole if the footbed started to break down at all. On these MT876OR shoes the sole design is a lot more 'traditional' - a cross between a jogger design and the original Vibram style. This gives these soles a very distinct edge far more suited to rock work.
Using the edges.
These days a lot of joggers have a hard PU substrate inside the shoe to provide a solid foundation and prevent twist. On the MT910GT shoes (also reviewed) the way this substrate was implemented caused me some concern: it was allowed to protrude to the same height as the lugs, and could sometimes slip a bit on wet rock. The PU substrate is inside these shoes too and can be seen as the black lines along the sole pattern forward from the arch. However, it has been recessed so it cannot come into contact with the ground. New Balance have labeled this layer 'Rockstop' (literally: it's on the moulding), and it should do that quite well.
The MT910GT shoes had a very solid PU toe buffer or rand. That's fine in theory, but the mass of polyurethane does have some weight, and this weight at the toe of the shoe can be felt after a while. The MT875OR shoes reduced the size of the PU rand significantly and substituted some PU-coated fabric around the front - stuff probably not very distant from the Hyperlon used in snowshoe decks. I noted that this material on the MT875OR shoes seemed pretty indestructible. New Balance seems to have developed further confidence in this material as it features at the front of these MT876OR shoes much more prominently, replacing most of the PU rand.
A problem at the toe.
Looking more closely at the toe of the shoe, you can see that the side bits of fabric are sewn over the outside of the front bit. This is a mistake. If you go through a lot of scrub it is very likely that the stitching (not the fabric) holding the side bit in place will eventually fail as the scrub tries to peel the edge back. Something similar happened with the MT875OR shoes, and I had to sew the bits back on during our walk in Switzerland. Photos in the Addendum to the MT875OR Review show what happened. The bit of fabric at the front should overlap the two side bits: perhaps this will be corrected in the next model?
The inside padding curling over.
The uppers feature a mesh exterior with what looks like an encapsulated layer of foam inside that. The MT875OR shoes had this technology as well but the layer was detached at the top: I could get my finger in between the mesh outer and the padded interior layer. That did not give me any trouble, but on these shoes the inner layer is fairly firmly attached all around the edge to the outer layer. Unfortunately the sewing is not close enough to the edge in one place (out of four shoes) and the edge curled over, indicated by the blue arrow in the photo above. However, with good wool socks I never felt a thing. I fixed this with a discrete bit of sewing inside the shoe later.
The tongue is a bit different too. Normally the tongue is anchored at the root or front of the shoe and can flap around. On shoes with a membrane (eg the MT910GT) the sides of the tongue are usually gusseted so as to keep the water out, but this is not normally done when there is no membrane. These shoes don't have a conventional tongue: the upper seems to go straight over the top of the shoe when looked at from the outside. Inside it is possible to see that there is indeed still a tongue, but there is no slack anywhere. To some extent this means that the lacing down over the tongue could almost be considered redundant. Not quite yet: the tongue material does not have the strength to substitute for the laces. There is a little note at the root of the tongue, saying 'debris free'. There does not seem to be anywhere for debris, or sand, to get in.
The rather novel tongue.
The top end of the tongue is a real tongue and can flap around. Once again it is very different from 'normal' however: it has long wings out the sides. These go under the top two lacing holes to ensure good padding under the laces. It looks very strange, but it works quite well.
The laces are knobbly to prevent the bow from untieing accidentally: New Balance call this Sure Lace. The knobs seem to work. The lacing is fairly conventional and can be seen in several photos. The lower lacing is all through standard tape loops, with the tapes generally going right down to the sole. The top two anchors are reinforced holes. The top tape loop has its tape going around the heel of the shoe: perhaps the idea is that as you lift your foot the tape will apply a bit more grab at the heel. Personally, I don't think it has any effect at all however.
The footbed supplied is a simple one, but it has always been adequate for us. It has a faint heel cup and a very thin bit of padding at the side of the inside arch. It is very close to a flat footbed with no arch support or pronation control gimmicks. I (we) strongly approve. Under that there is a flat layer of firm EVA foam, probably only a few millimetres thick. You wouldn't think that this would give enough cushioning, but it does.
Field testing started when we (that's my wife and me) opened the shoe boxes. Our immediate reaction was "uh" at the bright red colour. But does the colour really matter? And after a few walks my wife commented that, actually, she rather liked the colour.
Then we looked at the soles and were immediately struck by the Vibram-like soles with square edges: that too got immediate approval. The way the black PU inner plate is recessed was also noted with approval.
Then we tried the shoes on. The sole flexed where it should and did not show much twist. That was good. The sole rubber gripped whatever we stood on very nicely, and that too was good.
Bombing up the rock slabs.
Just walking around outside at home showed a more subtle feature, but one we regard as extremely important. In explaining this, please bear in mind that we both take a very wide fitting. Also, at the start of testing each of us had a minor injury (mainly bruising) at the edge of a foot, making us sensitive to any narrow or poor fit. Well, what we noticed as we walked around was that the fabric sides to the shoes are soft and flexible. No hard reinforcing strips just where you don't want them, no 'arch supports' intruding, no 'pronation control' features. The soles were pretty flat, the way they should be. The shoes just felt right.
The tongue and lacing had us intrigued for a while. There is very little real scope for altering the shoe width by doing up the laces tightly. Provided you have bought the right shoe size and width, we don't think this matters at all. Certainly it didn't worry us. The two top holes for the laces are useful for keeping the heel in place, but I would recommend that you don't do the laces up tightly. I did think that maybe the two top holes could be moved forwards 2 - 4 mm to cope with people who have solid ankles, but it was not very significant. I will add that you will very quickly discover if you have done the laces up too tightly. I found that despite having the laces tied quite loosely, the shoes didn't show any signs of falling off, even in very rough country (below). A minor flaw is that the laces supplied were not very long, and the bows ended up rather small. I think another few inches of length would be good here, but the knobbles do mean you don't have to double-knot the laces.
So the next step was to go walking. My wife normally goes for a fast local trail walk every morning for a few hours, and recently I have been going with her while carrying a 13-kg internal frame pack - a different one each day for a comprehensive report. Halfway along this, I pass the pack to my wife for a short while to get her opinions - photo above. This means we had been using these shoes for a few hours every day for a while, over road surface, trails, and rough ground, while carrying a heavy pack. Our impressions have been very favourable so far.
You can't get down there...
Emboldened, we decided to take the shoes on a multi-night exploration trip into Wollemi National Park. The section we visited is a bit rough in places, and very few people ever go there. The cliffs below us in this photo were about 50 m high: good footing was desirable. The cliffs were actually a bit unfortunate; the only water anywhere around was down below, and it was clear we weren't going to get down there. We managed.
Crossing the swamp with heavy frost around.
The one place where we had a few problems on this trip was in crossing this swamp very early one morning. There was no way we could avoid getting wet feet, but shoes with membranes would have faired no better. Yes, that's frost on the grass. At least the icy water drained out of the shoes very quickly. The amusing bit was the way the tannin-rich water darkened the bright red dye on the outer mesh of the shoes - tannin is a rather good dye you see.
The view was rather fine in places.
We didn't see any significant dust penetration on this trip, although my toe nails came back a bit darker (due to the tannin dye). We didn't have any problems with the sore bits of our feet on this trip either, and they certainly got pushed around a bit. The traction was good, on both dirt and rock. We haven't seen any real wear on the shoes either, despite all that rock.
My wife is usually a bit suspicious of all my new bits of gear - I wonder why? On one recent walk she asked how long this model will be available - I told her my understanding is that it should be current until April 2011. Her response, after thinking about that for a while, was to suggest we ought to buy a second pair each before they go out of stock.
|Manufacturer||New Balance, Inc.|
|Web Site||www.newbalance.com or www.nbwebexpress.com for purchase|
|Last||PL-1 (this may replace the older SL-1)|
|Sizes available||US 7 - 13 in half sizes, 14, in D, 2E, 4E widths|
|Size supplied||US 10 4E ('extra wide')|
|Weight (quoted)||350 g (12.3 oz) for unspecified size and width|
|Weight (measured)||364 g (12.8 oz) for US10 4E|
- Light weight
- Excellent sole
- Soft fabric sides
- Little dust or debris penetration
- Comfortable with loose laces
What’s Not So Good
- Toe rand is sewn the wrong way (only matters if seriously off-trail)
- Lace is a bit short
- Top two lace holes could be moved forwards 2 - 4 mm