New Balance has been producing running shoes for almost a century (and has been in business even longer than that). While the company’s road shoes—like the iconic 320, one of the best-selling shoes of the 1970s, or its popular Fresh Foam shoes today—get most of the attention, NB makes excellent trail shoes as well. You’ll find them on the feet of casual trail runners all the way up to pro ultramarathoners.
New Balance has produced many smash-hit running shoes over the years, but for trail running, one relatively recent release stands out: The Minimus Trail. Launched in 2011, it was a light, lean shoe with a grippy Vibram rubber outsole and a low stack height. It coincided with the minimalist running craze at the time, and runners loved its nimble, responsive feel on the trail. It retains a loyal following to this day: After experimenting with updated versions, New Balance eventually re-released the original Minimus 10 v1. It’s a model that influenced some of the company’s later designs.
There are a few key features to know when shopping for New Balance trail shoes. First, the company has two performance cushioning platforms: Fresh Foam and Fuel Cell. Fuel Cell is used in its speed-oriented shoes, and it hasn’t migrated to the trail side of the lineup (yet). Fresh Foam is an EVA-based foam found in many shoes across the lineup, including most of the company’s top-tier trail models. Generally speaking, it’s formulated to provide a cushioned, bouncy feel with less weight. For trail shoes, the Fresh Foam cushioning is often made a little firmer to better support your feet—important for the lateral movements common in trail running.
Cushioning aside, New Balance also uses Toe Protect and Rock Stop to shield your feet from debris on the trail. Toe Protect is an added layer of rubber that’s printed onto the upper around the front of the toe box; it protects the upper, and your feet, from scuffs and abrasions. Rock Stop is New Balance’s brand jargon for a midsole rock plate, or stone guard. It’s made of TPU plastic and helps prevent your feet from getting bruised if you land on a sharp rock or root.
How We Chose These Shoes
We compiled the list below, and the information above, by researching the New Balance trail lineup, assessing past Runner’s World reviews, speaking with a New Balance product manager, and using our own knowledge of the running shoe market. Some of the shoes below have been tested by RW staff or our team of over 250 active wear-testers—which includes runners of all ages and speeds living across the continental U.S. We put at least 100 miles of running on each shoe to thoroughly assess how it performs. We also analyze the data collected from our Shoe Lab, where shoes undergo a battery of mechanical tests for energy return, softness, and flexibility.
Fresh Foam Hierro v6
The Hierro is a high-performance trail shoe that’s suitable for everything from a laid-back hike to running a trail marathon. It has won accolades for its combo of a soft Fresh Foam midsole and a grippy, durable Vibram rubber outsole. It doesn’t have the Rock Stop plate, but the thick outsole and substantial cushioning provide plenty of protection for your feet. The mesh upper features laser-cut ventilation holes to keep your feet cool, and a Toe Protect bumper shields them from sticks and rocks. Need one trail shoe to do it all? This is it.
Fresh Foam More Trail v1
The More Trail is the dirt-oriented version of the ultra-plush Fresh Foam More road shoe, and it offers the most cushioning of any shoe in the New Balance trail lineup. Running in this shoe means riding on a thick wedge of Fresh Foam, but it’s not just about a cushy ride—it’s paired with an aggressively lugged tread for dependable grip on all kinds of terrain. It also has a wider sole to provide some stability and a roomy toe box, and even with all that foam, it’s relatively lightweight, too.
—BEST FOR MINIMALISTS—
Summit Unknown v2
Designed for a light and lean running experience, the Summit Unknown is the spiritual heir to the Minimus Trail. The relatively thin layer of cushioning produces a responsive ride and gives you a good feel for the ground, and the lugged outsole is made from a compound that’s tuned for strong grip in wet conditions. Despite the trimmed-down midsole, it comes with plenty of added protection, including a Toe Protect overlay on the upper and a Rock Stop plate.
Fresh Foam Arishi Trail
The Arishi Trail makes a good pick for casual trail running (with some pavement mixed in, too). It’s lighter than the lifestyle-oriented Roav Trail below, and its lugged outsole and Toe Protect upper overlay make it tough enough to take off-road—although we’d stick to mellow, groomed trails. The shoe doesn’t offer much underfoot protection from debris, but its blend of EVA and Fresh Foam provides lightweight cushioning, and at this price point, it’s hard to beat.
—BEST FOR CASUAL WEAR—
Fresh Foam Roav Trail
Like its pavement-friendly counterpart, the Roav Trail is designed as a lifestyle shoe, but the addition of a lugged outsole gives it a little extra grip on loose surfaces. It also comes with a key New Balance innovation not found on the company’s other performance trail shoes: Ultra Heel, an upper construction featuring a high heel tab that curves away from your ankle. It’s designed to create a secure hold around your heel without irritating the Achilles tendon—not bad for a shoe that’s primarily built for running errands.
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