New Balance FreshFoam 980 Trail Trail-Running Shoe (Fall 2014)
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10.3 oz / 4mm drop / $125
The Dirt: Despite its appearance of beefy cushioning, the FreshFoam midsole is surprisingly firm—comfortable for ultra distances, yet still responsive for shorter, faster pursuits. Even without a rock plate, the stacked midsole and dense foam do a great job steamrolling over trail obstacles.
The low-profile, closely spaced tread sheds muck well. The plush, cozy upper offers great lateral support for twisty trails, while a gusseted tongue keeps out trail debris.
Best For: Most terrain, ranging from road to technical trails; medium- to ultra-distance runs up to 100 miles; recovery runs.
Fit: Snug and a half-size small, with a narrow, low-volume toebox.
- “It had incredible stability and traction on wet downhills. I never felt limited in pushing the pace in bad conditions. Despite the extreme cushioning look, the Fresh Foam was surprisingly firm and very protective on rocky terrain. Even without the presence of a rock plate, the stacked midsole and its incredible flexibility led to comfortable runs on brutal Appalachian terrain. With past knee surgeries, I appreciated the shoe’s combination of cushioning, support and traction.”
- “I enjoyed wearing these for recovery runs. The foam provided a level of comfort that was appreciated when my feet were tired. The material for the upper was excellent—stretchy and breathable.”
- “It is comfort that almost feels sinful.”
Testers on Fit
- “It appeared somewhat narrow than most New Balances I have owned in the past. It also seems to run a half-size small.”
- “When I put the FreshFoam on my foot, it was a snug fit, maybe a little too snug in the toebox. I would recommend going up a half size to avoid being too snug on the toes. The shoe fits the midfoot and heel snug, so not heel slip.”
- “The toebox runs small, which initially turned me off to the shoe, but running in them didn’t present a problem, i.e. bruised toenails or anything of the sort. They seem to expand with my feet and weren’t restricting. The toebox needs to be widened but otherwise the fit was spot on.”
Testers on Tread
- “I tested this shoe mainly on the Appalachian Trail and in Patapso State Park. Both are extremely technical and rocky. I was surprised how responsive they were on the wet, muddy conditions. The sole channeled the water and mud with ease and the lugs never became clogged.”
- “You can get away with roads in this shoe. Overall, it is pretty versatile, with slight underperformance on wet surfaces. The fish-scale-like tread could be redesigned with an emphasis on functionality over aesthetics; it felt less secure than I would have liked when I really started moving on tricky descents.”
- “They aren’t the best I’ve worn in the mud, but they would be good for a variety of surfaces just because of the comfort of the foam.”
Testers on Downsides
- “I found the upper held water and at times became heavy.”
- “The narrowness in the toes is a major design flaw. I don’t know anyone whose feet taper down in size from their middle toe like geese flying south.”