If this year is anything to go by, New Balance is happy with the status quo.
Except for scheduled model updates and a few additions, New Balance’s 2018 assortment has more familiar faces than new ones.
So if you’re looking for brand-new cushioning platforms or upper tech, this list is the wrong place to find it. Instead, what you’ll discover are established favorites such as the Zante, 880, 860, and the excellent 1400/1500 duo.
It’s easy to navigate the New Balance line if you’re already acquainted with their core models. At the same time, the sheer breadth of the New Balance line makes the selection process confusing for runners who are new to the brand. Although, it’s plain to see that the brand’s huge assortment and multi-category approach has proven to be commercially successful.
New Balance’s annual revenues are now $4.5 Billion, making it significantly larger than other running/walking focused brands like Asics, Brooks, Mizuno or Saucony.
It also helps that New Balance has a very successful retro sneaker business.
For example, the 574 is a classic and a wide-selling New Balance style available in different editions. There are many other retro re-releases which form the sizeable fashion assortment. It won’t be a stretch to say that New Balance’s fashion line is as large, if not bigger than the performance running line.
And yet, New Balance does a stellar job at separating the two. Performance and lifestyle running silhouettes have clear boundaries, unlike adidas and Nike which try to cross-sell both.
So New Balance doesn’t have the problem of performance and lifestyle mixing together. But it does have a problem – that of differentiation within its performance running assortment. There are just too many New Balance with shared visual and functional characteristics.
There’s also the newly-introduced confusion around product nomenclature. Old timers are familiar with New Balance’s numbering system which classified shoes by their intended use. The suffix ’60’ was stability (say, the 860), while 80 was neutral (880, 980, 1080) and the ’00’ (1400, 1500) was competition. This made identifying shoes extremely user-friendly.
Then came the Vazee series, Zante, Vongo, and the Boracay – all while the numbered shoes continued to exist alongside. It’s all slightly messy, we hope that our buyer’s guide which curates core performers in each sub-category is helpful.
New Balance has a huge assortment, so this list is long too – nearly a dozen shoes are featured here.
1) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance 890V6
The New Balance 890 V6 is a great buy if you want a cushioned yet snappy ride without the punishing thinness of road racers. The twin TPU strips embedded under the forefoot add to the ‘fast’ feel of the shoe, and the Revlite foam (of the 1400/1500 fame) midsole makes the ride smooth and efficient.
The 6 mm heel-to-toe offset in a 9-ounce package makes the 890 extremely versatile. You can use it as a daily trainer or a shoe for fast training runs. It also has sufficient padding for longer runs such as half marathons.
You’ll find the upper fit snug due to the inner bootie and the stitched-over midfoot panels, but then that’s a good match for its speed character. If you need more room, you’ll find that in the 2E (wide) version of the 890.
2) Lightweight Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V4
The successive versions of the Zante haven’t been able (so far) to recapture the magic of the first Zante. The V1’s ride was a perfected blend between cushioned softness, responsiveness, and a fast feel.
That said, the Fresh Foam Zante V4 still remains a competent lightweight neutral at an entry-level price. It’s good for fast training runs and races of up to a half marathon.
3) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance 880 V8
These kind of traditional neutral shoes are getting increasingly harder to find. Nowadays, very few shoes feature multi-density midsoles and a plastic midfoot stabilizer. The 880’s ride quality has a healthy mix of support and rearfoot-loaded cushioning softness, making it suitable as a daily trainer for long miles.
So if mid-2000’s running shoe nostalgia is what you’re after, the New Balance 880V8 has it in spades. The upper has spacious interiors and is also available in multiple widths. There’s also a waterproof Gore-Tex (GTX) version available for those rainy days.
With a time-tested approach to neutral cushioning, the New Balance 880 is more likely to please most runners and offend none.
4) Cushioned Neutral Trainer: New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon
Some runners view the Beacon as a shoe for faster runs. We don’t – the Beacon is a bridge between the Boracay and the 1080. In other words, the Fresh Foam Beacon is a lightweight and cushioned trainer for most workouts but there are better shoes for speed workouts.
The Beacon uses a Fresh Foam midsole but its design differs from other Fresh Foam models, thus imparting it with a differentiated ride quality. Instead of a full-coverage outsole, the midsole only comes fitted with strategically positioned lugs.
This exposed foam layout not only alters the cushioning experience – this results in a softer ground-strike and transitions – but also makes the Beacon super lightweight at a mere 7.5 ounces or 213 grams.
The ride and transition quality reminds you of the Skechers GoRun series; the 6 mm drop midsole offers good transition economy. The Beacon could be cheaper though; we feel that the shoe is overpriced by at least $20.
Inside the gusseted upper, the fit is snug and the sizing happens to be slightly shorter. As expected, New Balance offers two widths.
5) Max-Cushion Neutral Trainer: New Balance 1080 V9
The 1080 may be on the list of ‘best’ running shoes. But, if for a moment, you removed your New Balance glasses, then you’ll find the 1080V9’s ride and fit quality to be below par for a shoe which costs so much.
The EVA based midsole doesn’t hold a candle to superior alternatives outside of New Balance. The UnderArmour Speedform inspired heel design also doesn’t grip as well as traditional heel collars. Then why is the 1080 here then?
While we aren’t great fans of the Fresh Foam platform per se, many runners like the deep padding and smoothness delivered by the 1080. Also, there is no other road model in the New Balance’s line-up which features a high stack and high offset Fresh Foam midsole.
And what has changed over the 1080 V8? The V9 has a new upper along with a softer and less stiff ride. The weight has dropped by 20 grams too – so relatively speaking, the V9 is an improvement over the V8.
6) Mild Support running shoe: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V3
The first Fresh Foam Vongo was a unique spin on the stability shoe concept, and the V3 is only but a gradual evolution of the original design.
A deep groove running down the center splits the outsole into two halves. This makes the shoe supportive by keeping the weight centered. The inner midsole has a higher curve along with a firmer sidewall, both of which add support.
The support features don’t mean that the Vongo isn’t cushioned. It is, after all, an 11-ounce shoe with a thick Fresh Foam midsole. So this is one of the cushiest ‘support’ shoes you can find.
So if you’re looking for a supportive running shoe with a somewhat neutral ride, then buying the Vongo V3 might not be a bad idea at all. Its 4 mm drop is the only thing you need to look out for – if you’re not used to low-drop shoes, that is.
The smooth upper fits true to size and has adequate forefoot and toe-box space. There’s added structural reinforcement over regular New Balance shoes. For example, the midfoot panels are made of high-density printing and the heel is supported by an external clip.
7) Traditional motion-control: New Balance 860 V9
The New Balance 860V9 is one of those ‘grab them while you can’ kind of running shoes. And why’s that?
You see, running shoes with firmer medial posts are a fast-dying species. Most brands are opting out of this template – even New Balance’s own Vongo is a sign. The 860 has all the bells and whistles associated with a conventional stability shoe.
And how does the 860 feel like to run in? The medial-post gives the ride a compression quality which is biased slightly towards the softer lateral side. The cushioning is rearfoot loaded, and you can feel the foam layers of various densities working together. The small ‘T-beam’ shank adds midfoot rigidity.
While there’s no sleeve, the 860V9’s upper is roomy with an interior free of seam bumps. Available in many widths.
8) Max Stability: New Balance 1540 V2
The 1540 V2 is a borderline orthopedic shoe, somewhat a reminder of New Balance’s origins. Calling it a ‘running shoe’ is a bit of a stretch considering its truck-like build quality and weight. The 1540 tips the scale at nearly 15 ounces, which means all weight considerations go out of the window.
And yet, if you want supreme stability at a price, look no further than the assembled-in-USA 1540. Not only does the midsole have a medial post, but it also has a TPU roll-bar which cups and wraps under the rearfoot. The stiff midsole is based on a wide foundation which augments stability. As a result, the 1540 has zero roll or bias.
The 1540 is offered in 5 widths which is virtually unheard of. The reinforced upper with its stitched bumper and panels is form-fitting so the optional widths allow you to select the fit you desire.
9) Lightweight Racer: New Balance 1400 V6
We love the 1400V6 because of its all-around goodness. Its lightweight and low profile construction make the 1400V6 perfect for short races of 5K and 10k. At the same time, the midsole is more cushioned than a racing flat. This design makes also the 1400V6 suitable for running fast training workouts in relative comfort.
The upper fit is also dialed in. The upper is snug but not uncomfortable, the interiors are smooth, and there’s ample ventilation.
10) Lightweight Racer: New Balance 1500 V4
Think of the 1500V4 as a slightly built-up 1400V6 but with a small midsole wedge. The inner midsole has a tiny foam block of a firmer density, while the rest of the midsole is made of the cushioned Revlite EVA material.
The upper fit is excellent too, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a strict neutral-shoe type. The 1500V4 is a great shoe for fast training and races of up to a half marathon.
11) Versatile Trail Runner: New Balance Summit Unknown
When you compare spec-sheets, the Summit K.O.M with its Vibram outsole is the replacement for the excellent Leadville. However, the Summit Unknown is a superior shoe, and that’s why it’s on this list instead of the K.O.M.
It doesn’t have a Vibram outsole but the traction provided by New Balance’s Hydrohesion rubber is great. The aggressive lugs have enough spacing between them to prevent mud and debris from sticking.
The Revlite midsole of the Summit Unknown feels fast to run in. If the shoe feels a bit like the Vazee Summit, that’s because it is the latter’s direct replacement. The upper has a secure fit and a gusset which keeps the debris out. The toe-bumper is reinforced with a thick layer of fused synthetic.
The Summit Unknown uses a just-right amount of Revlite to make the shoe cushioned yet connected with the trail surface. It is very well protected too; the forefoot has a rock plate between the midsole and the outsole.