Among all the brands that sell running shoes, New Balance has the largest collection of lifestyle and retro running silhouettes.
For example, the classic NB 574 is a best-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 its 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 shoes mixing together. But it does have a problem – that of differentiation within its performance running catalog. There are too many New Balance models with shared ride characteristics, thanks to the lack of a distinct tiering strategy.
Also, the ‘Fresh Foam’ platform is quite ordinary. Unlike Saucony’s Everun or the adidas Boost, the New Balance Fresh Foam is regular EVA foam. So it becomes hard to differentiate a Boracay (980) from a 1080 in functional terms except for the lower heel offset.
Today, the product nomenclature is also confusing. Old timers are familiar with New Balance’s numbering system which classified shoes by their intended use.
The suffix 60 denotes stability (e.g.: 1260, 860), while 80 is neutral (880, 980, 1080) and the 00 suffix (1400, 1500) is competition. The numeric approach made the selection process user-friendly.
Then came the Vazee series, Zante, Vongo, and the Boracay – all while the numbered shoes continued to exist alongside. So what’s the difference between an 860 and a Vongo, as both are classified as support shoes? The Boracay was earlier called the 980, so what has changed?
Needless to say, the recent changes to the New Balance footwear line makes it confusing to find a running shoe that’s right for you.
So here’s a curated list of New Balance running shoes which we think best represents their design category. This buyer’s guide should help you navigate the maze that is New Balance’s running shoe assortment.
|Cushioned Neutral||New Balance Boracay V3||newbalance.com|
|Cushioned Neutral||New Balance 880 V7||newbalance.com|
|Lightweight Neutral||New Balance Zante V3||newbalance.com|
|Lightweight Racer||New Balance 1400 V5||newbalance.com|
|Racing Flat||New Balance Hanzo S||newbalance.com|
|Cushioned mild-support||New Balance Vongo V2||newbalance.com|
|Lightweight mild-support||New Balance 1500 V3||newbalance.com|
|All-around trail running||New Balance Leadville V3||newbalance.com|
1) Cushioned Neutral: New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay V3
The Boracay was previously called the Fresh Foam 980 – the first New Balance model to feature the Fresh Foam midsole. Later, New Balance dropped the 980 label and named the shoe after a beach in the Philippines.
In our opinion, the Boracay is an under-rated shoe. Much of the blame lies with New Balance as they failed to market it properly. The proof? Following the Boracay V1, the V2 did not even show-up stateside last year.
The V3 is an excellent cushioned trainer. The ride is slightly firm but cushioned enough, and the snug upper feels smooth on the inside. There’s absolutely no reason for you to get the 1080 V7 instead of the Boracay – unless you’re uncomfortable buying a shoe with a 4 mm heel-to-toe drop.
2) Cushioned Neutral: New Balance 880 V7
If you want a traditional New Balance neutral trainer, then we recommend the 880 V7.
It’s an 11-ounce shoe for a reason; there’s a copious amount of outsole rubber underneath a multi-density midsole. The upper has plenty of plush materials in the form of a comfortable engineered mesh with a padded tongue and heel lining.
As a result, the 880V7 delivers a cushioned and supportive ride at a price which is value for money. If the whole Fresh Foam thing feels jaded, the 880V7 is just the New Balance nostalgia you need. The 880 is also the shoe to get if you’re missing the older editions of the 1080.
3) Lightweight Neutral: New Balance Fresh Foam Zante V3
The successive versions of the Zante haven’t been able to recapture the magic of the first Zante. The V1’s ride was the perfect blend of cushioned softness, responsiveness, and a fast feel.
The V2 turned out to be firmer than the V1, and V3 is similar to the V2. Even so, the Zante 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.
And if you want a firmer flavor of the Zante, try the Vazee Pace V2.
4) Lightweight racer: New Balance 1400V5
We love the 1400V5 because of its all-around goodness. Its lightweight and low profile construction mean that you can use the 1400V5 for races. At the same time, the midsole has more cushioning than a racing flat. This quality makes it suitable for completing fast training runs 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. The 1400’s $100 MSRP makes it a sweet deal.
5) Lightweight racing flat: New Balance Hanzo S
Need a shoe to make short work of those 5K and 10K races? The Hanzo S is just the racing flat to blaze through those runs in.
The Hanzo weighs an incredible 6.5-ounces, and the Dual-Stencil-Process outsole delivers phenomenal grip over the roads and tracks. The low-profile midsole has a 4 mm drop and offers a bare-minimum insulation from the hard running surface.
The upper has a conforming yet comfortable fit with soft-touch materials used all over.
6) Cushioned mild-support: New Balance Fresh Foam Vongo V2
The Vongo has a raised midsole edge on the inner side along with a solid sidewall design. This makes the inner midsole slightly more supportive than the outer side without the need for a complicated medial post. The thick midsole and the molded insole delivers a cushioned ride.
The wide outsole footprint also adds stability and the transition groove keeps the body-weight centered. The upper is made of seamless engineered mesh for a smooth interior feel.
In case you’re not ok with the 4 mm drop, check out the New Balance 860V8 with a 10 mm heel-to-toe offset. The 860 is a traditional mild-support trainer with a firmer medial wedge and a cushioned ride. It is cheaper than the Vongo too.
7) Lightweight mild-support: New Balance 1500V3
The 1500V3 is a slightly built-up 1400V5 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 1500V3 is a great shoe for fast training and races of up to a half marathon.
8) Trail running: New Balance Leadville V3
The Leadville has several class-leading features, the star of which is the Vibram outsole. The Italian brand Vibram is the industry standard for outdoor footwear soles, and on the Leadville, it offers the benefit of superior traction.
The tongue is gusseted on the inside to prevent small debris from entering the shoe, and the toe-box and the forefoot are reinforced with thick protective overlays.
The 8 mm drop midsole is constructed using full-length Revlite along with a small medial post and a forefoot N2 insert. This makes the Leadville V3’s ride quality a good blend of cushioning and support. For all the features the shoe comes packaged with, it’s reasonably priced.