New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail General Info:
The NB Fresh Foam 980 Trail is a neutral shoe trail shoe designed for high mileage trail running.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail First Impressions:
My initial take on the new 980 Trail was that New Balance simply stuck a barely lugged outsole on the already popular 980. I am pleased to say that my first impression was wrong and the 980 Trail was designed specifically to meet the demanding standards of long distance trail running.
I found that my usual size 9.5US was a bit snug on my big toe, but thin socks and a break in period allows me to continue enjoying this shoe. It may be prudent to size up a 1/2 size.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Upper:
New Balance used a wonderfully accommodating upper design in the 980 Trail which will fit the feet of many runners. A very breathable but durable mono-mesh was used throughout the upper, bolstered by triangle shaped synthetic overlays which simply protect high wear areas rather than hemming the foot in.
This allowed some stretching in the areas of my foot (pinky toe) that seem to crave more room in most trail shoes. Simple oval laces were used (bring back the sausages!) over a well padded tongue which stays in place. The heel cup and collar are nice padded and nothing on this shoe is overbuilt or riddled with hard edges or plastic.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Midsole/ Outsole:
Earlier this year I reviewed an early production model of the 980 road, describing the cushioning as somewhat firm. Later on I realized that this model was a bit more firm than what went to market for the masses.
I was pleased to receive the trail version and find it a bit softer, but not mushy. New Balance’s fresh foam is a very simple EVA midsole which uses computer modeling to geometrically load cushioning in areas of the foot strike where it is most needed.
This provides the shoe with a very smooth ride, but also just a touch of support when your form may be getting sloppy at the end of a long run. Convex shapes in the midsole provide support (as seen on the medial side of the shoe) and concave shapes provide shock absorption.
Somewhat noticeably missing from the design specs for a trail shoe is the rock plate, however, it isn’t needed in the 980 trail.
I never experienced any rocks poking through the substantial midsole and the durability and geometry of the foam compounds seem to have maintained their integrity over the 90 miles I’ve put them through on mostly dry, rocky, semi-technical terrain.
The outsole features forefoot lugs which angle forward and back for ascending (forefoot) and descending (heel). These lugs are fairly shallow and offer nice purchase on hardback trails and rocks, and they also transition well to the occasional road section.
Unfortunately, this spacing proximity causes the 980 Trail to pick up mud with a vengeance (thick mud/ clay mixture typical of mountain west), and I would have to clap of the shoes after particularly sloppy runs. This is a very durable outsole and mine show very little wear whatsoever.
New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail Overall Impression:
The 980 Trail is not a “maximalist” shoe as many runners first thought during early advertising campaigns. Rather, the 980 Trail is a workhorse of a trail runner, coming in at a very protecting but nimble 10.5 ounces.
I would compare it in fit and performance most closely to the Pearl Izumi Trail N2. These days, 10.5 ounces is surprisingly hefty for a trail shoe and I do think that New Balance could trim a bit of cushioning and outsole and make an even better, and lighter, version two.
But, I will say that the 980 Trail worked its way into my stable and tried and true rotation of shoes as I trained for a 100 mile trail race along with the Pearl Izumi Trail N2 and a Hoka One One model.
The 980 Trail offers more than enough protection for ultra distances while being flexible and lightweight enough to feel spry and run fast. This shoe is a must try during your next trip to your local running specialty store.
We thank the nice people at New Balance for sending us a pair of Fresh Foam 980 Trail to test. This did not influence the outcome of the review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.