New Balance Zante Solas Intro
New Balance managed to make the Fresh Foam Zante Solas at a staggeringly light 5.3 ounces while still maintaining the form of a daily trainer.
This shoe gives runners a 6mm drop with the Fresh Foam outsole and EVA outer, with a knitted upper. You don’t find many shoes at this weight besides running flats/spikes or minimalist shoes.
The closest line of shoes I can think of is probably the Nike Free RN line, where most are around 8 ounces, have a foam outsole, and also have a knitted upper.
Skechers used to have a decent line of very lightweight shoes with foam outsoles and a knitted upper (check out their older GoMeb line) in case you want to compare to other styles.
A similar shoe on the New Balance side would be the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Pursuit V1s, which have a similar upper design, fresh foam midsole, but a heavier overall build due to the rubber outsole and stronger upper.
New Balance Zante Solas First Impressions
New Balance has their Fresh Foam collection of shoes designed to take advantage of the Fresh Foam’s bouncy, durable, and comfortable ride.
The Zante Solas came in to push the envelope as far as it can go in the weight category. New Balance says this shoe is the lightest, bounciest, and most flexible in the collection, so you’ll be getting a shoe that has a very unique ride.
I was surprised to find the shoe also was at $100, since you rarely see features like this at entry-level price points.
Since there is no predecessor to the Solas, there’s a lot weighing on the design and engineering of this shoe.
If it’s a hit, New Balance will keep it up for years to come, and my guess is they’re using this a test to see how much the market likes very lightweight and simple shoes.
I luckily got a pair to test out (in a bright blue styling) and immediately put them on when I got the package.
My first impression was…wow, they are light. It’s almost like when you see someone tall, you know they’re tall, but when they tell you their height, you get surprised again even though nothing changed.
I knew these were light, the specs say the exact weight, but I was still surprised when I put them on since they felt like they were incomplete shoes.
I liked this feeling, and also liked the sleek sock-like upper called “Hypoknit”, but was suspicious of the super unrestrictive upper that felt almost too much like a sock sewn to a piece of foam.
I set out on a 6 mile run for my first impression and was a bit confused when I got back, check out the sole section for more info on that.
New Balance Zante Solas Sole Unit
Hard to pick what part of the shoe to focus on. The sole, or the upper, since they’re both pretty radical in design. Although the sole is entirely foam, it’s not just a single piece of foam.
There is Fresh Foam in the sole, just that New Balance added a layer of EVA foam as the outsole. The design on this EVA outsole is New Balance’s signature warped hex pattern which looks pretty stellar.
Issue with a foam outsole like this is that it’s super easy to wear down. In fact, I literally shaved off an edge of the shoe by dragging it a bit on the street.
This seemed too delicate for an outsole foam, since I can do the same foot drag in a pair of Nike Free, Saucony Kinvara, or really most any other shoe with foam as the outsole without seeing the edge just get shaved off.
I can’t be too frustrated with this, since the shoe is SO LIGHT. You can’t get super light and super durable stuff, so I guess I have mixed feelings with the outsole.
And as expected, the outsole has ok traction since it’s all foam, and you can expect this to get dramatically worse as the shoe ages.
But you won’t be using these as trail running shoes. They’ll do just fine with traction on roads and sidewalks.
The midsole is all Fresh Foam, and has a stiffer feel than you might expect. I wouldn’t call it “bouncy” like New Balance deemed it. It’s more of a rigid and light foam that is fairly comfortable for daily training.
Something “bouncy” would be Lunarlon foam from Nike, or Boost foam from Adidas. Those foams are almost too bouncy for some.
I took this shoe on some longer 10+ mile runs and found the lightweight Fresh Foam was perfect at reducing fatigue from lugging around heavy or even normal weight shoes.
The drawback was that there wasn’t too much support, and I found myself reaching for regular daily trainers when my feet weren’t ready for the stiffer Zante Solas shoes.
Again, this is expected since you can’t have a lightweight shoe that’s super squishy and supportive. But maybe New Balance can make their next version a tad squisher at the expense of making it a tad heavier?
Or maybe I’m too used to regular trainers and should embrace this light life of 5.3 ounce trainers.
New Balance Zante Solas Upper Unit
Hypoknit is pretty fly, just can’t call it Flyknit since that’s Nike.
It’s prime style of upper, but can’t call it Primeknit since that’s Adidas, or Goknit since that’s Sketchers, or ….you can see that New Balance isn’t the first to make a knitted upper, but they are embracing this industry trend and using it pretty well.
New Balance’s take on this knitted upper is much more flexible than the other knitted uppers that I’ve tried. Most knitted uppers are like a rugged cloth that moves with your feet but don’t stretch too much.
Nike has a few flavors of Flyknit that are pretty stretchy and they end up passing strings (“Flywire”) through the shoe to keep your feet in place.
New Balance picks a blend of stretchy and rugged that seems to get you just enough support in the upper for keeping the shoe comfortably on your feet.
This is perfect for an average gym-goer or casual runner. It lacks enough support though for quick movements, so don’t get these for sprint workouts.
Since the upper is almost a single piece of fabric that wraps around your feet, you get a simple look with even breathability and durability across the shoe. You also get similar support around the entire foot.
This can be an issue if you’re used to running in motion control shoes, and will be an odd feeling if you’re used to most regular shoes that have a standard amount of support around the heel and midfoot.
This lack of support in the heel and midfoot (since it’s just a wrap of fabric) will need time to get used to, and may cause running issues if you depend on that support, so be aware before you buy.
One silly side benefit of a super loose fabric upper is you can slip your feet over the heel into the shoe like a pair of slippers for those quick walks outside the house that need shoes but you don’t want to put shoes on.
The fit around the lacing area and heel is a little too minimalist for me. The lacing area loops laces into fabric eyelets that pull against the fabric sidewalls of the shoe.
Since it’s not a thick sidewall, you’ll feel a bit more pressure than normal when lacing up these shoes if you normally go for a tight fit.
The lack of a standard tongue is pretty neat since it reduces weight and keeps the upper simple. I just think I’d prefer a bit more material to tighten the shoes up a bit more.
Same goes for the heel since it’s practically a sock around the back of your ankle. But I guess this is exactly what New Balance wants: you to feel like you’re basically wearing a pair of socks that you can run in.
And I’d agree, you feel pretty open and flexible with the design of this upper.
New Balance Zante Solas Conclusion
I had to rewrite this section a few times. The first time was too critical of this lightweight and unique shoe.
I treated it like a regular daily trainer and was too hard on the features that made this shoe so unique since those features made the shoe stand out.
Now, I see this shoe as a unique tool for those who really want something special. Only a few people out there could get away with this shoe as a daily trainer, most won’t even find it a good idea for a running shoe.
But I think people should consider this shoe as a “buddy” shoe to a regular trainer, where it can be used for those days where you just want to feel as light as possible on your runs, or days where you want a simple look at the gym.
Since it’s so inexpensive for the unique ride, I’d recommend most people try this out to compliment an existing running shoe they have.
We purchased a pair of New Balance Zante Solas from runningwarehouse using our own money. This did not influence the outcome of this review, written after running more than 50 miles in them.