New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail ReviewJuly 8, 2014
- Wonderfully responsive midsole
- Comfortable construction throughout
- Limited traction and agility on technical surfaces
- Somewhat narrow toe box
The New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Trail might just have one of the best midsoles out there. Although the shoe is not necessarily designed for technical terrain, on more groomed surfaces it provided an excellent combination of comfort and responsiveness. If it weren’t for the narrow forefoot, it would be a nearly perfect shoe for long runs on groomed trails and dirt roads.
Based on appearances one would think that the New Balance Fresh Foam 980 is a fairly typical cushioned trail runner, but in reality there are aspects of the shoe that go well beyond typical. What really stands out about the Fresh Foam is the midsole material. At slower speeds the shoe is extremely comfortable. In fact on tired feet it almost felt therapeutic (which makes for a nearly perfect recovery day shoe). At faster speeds, however, it transforms into an energetic platform with outstanding responsiveness and a sweet ride. Very few shoes out there can match this level of versatility. If it weren’t for the narrow forefoot, it would be a nearly perfect shoe for long runs on groomed trail and dirt roads.
The main drawback of the Fresh Foam 980 is that it is not really suitable for highly technical trail. The lugs lack purchase on loose surfaces, and the stack height and narrow ground contact area reduce overall stability. Certainly it can hold its own for short periods of time at slower speeds, but otherwise the Fresh Foam is probably best kept to less demanding surfaces.
There is a bit of irony with this shoe in that although the responsiveness makes the shoe very enjoyable at faster speeds, performance-oriented runners are likely to want something lighter and more agile. Recreational and mid-pack runners will certainly find the Fresh Foam to be a versatile, all-around trail and hybrid shoe. High volume runners who are spending a lot of time on their feet but not necessarily at higher speeds also should give the Fresh Foam a look.
Comfort & Protection
The upper materials are certainly comfortable, and the midsole provides plenty of push-through protection despite the lack of any hard outsole material. The midsole also helps reduce fatigue on long downhills. The upper protection, however, is limited, and the shoe runs fairly narrow in the toe box. Both of these limit the shoe’s suitability for long runs and/or obstacle-rich trail.
Security of Fit
The upper of the Fresh Foam generally felt very secure, and little to no additional lace adjustment was required after the initial tightening. The shoe did feel a little sloppy at first, but this went away with break-in
Speed & Energy Efficiency
Speed and energy efficiency are simply outstanding for a shoe in this weight class, and turnover felt very natural from slow to fast. The 4mm heel-to-toe drop certainly contributes to this. The Fresh Foam seemed to maintain its responsiveness while going uphill as well, so that energy loss due to excessive longitudinal flex was minimal.
Agility and Traction
The Fresh Foam struggled on off-camber or uneven surfaces—think roots and rocks—and more generally whenever precision footwork was required. The problems were exacerbated at faster speeds, but were tolerable at slower speeds. The outsole lugs are simply too small to provide much grip on anything loose, although the grip on bare rock was arguably above average.
The MSRP of $110 is fairly typical.