Wednesday, July 13, 2011

NB Minimus Trail MT10 Versus Inov-8 F-Lite 230: Shoe Comparison

I use the NB Minimus Trail (MT 10) and the Inov-8 f-lite 230 for pretty much the same purposes in my running routine. Ultimately, they are both lightweight trail shoes that perform sufficiently to perfectly enough to be worn regularly on pavement. This sort of multipurpose use makes them quite indispensable to the trail-inclined runner who must also cover miles on pavement on a regular basis.
New Balance Minimus Trail and the Inov-8 f-lite 230
But, unlike me, few people want to invest in two different pairs of shoes that fulfill the same purpose. Shoes are tools, after all. And, by that notion, it's a little frivolous in this economy to have several tools that do the same job. So, let's take a look at the similarities and differences that might enable the would-be f-lite 230 or Minimus fan to make an informed decision on a dual-purpose trail-road shoe.

Appearance

Sure, aesthetics are purely subjective. But, come on: These are both good looking shoes. I've pitted the black versions of each one together for this comparison so as to remain as neutral as possible, lookswise.

Each shoe boasts nice lines, symmetrical designs, and a palpable lightness that evokes smooth and fast running.
top view of New Balance Minimus Trail and Inov-8 f-lite 230
There are some negative comments about the visual appeal of the orange version of the NB MT10. Some people don't like orange. I get that.

But, I've also seen enthusiastic remarks about the orange and black colorway. Moreover, I like the orange version. If you don't like it. There's the black version. If you don't like that, there are a couple of lighter colored gray versions available for women.

And, while we're considering color, there are many colorway options available for the f-lite 230 at the moment. I don't think I need to address that again.

So, basically, as far as looks are concerned, you can't go wrong with either shoe unless you prefer a standard off-white or gray running shoe.

The Toe Box

toe box comparison of the f-lite 230 and the Minimus Trail
One of the most lauded features of the NB Minimus Trail is it's wider-than-most-shoes toe box. People with human-shaped feet tend to love that feature. I agree with this fondness for a roomy toe box.

So, with that wide toe box on the Minimus Trail clearly visible in all it's generous roundness, you look over to the f-lite 230 and scoff at it's comparatively pointy toe area. But, don't cross the f-lite off your list yet, folks.

It might interest you to know that we're comparing a US men's size 12 NB MT10 to a US men's size 11.5 f-lite 230. Each shoe is pretty much the same length from toe tip to heel. Ths makes the Inov-8 f-lite 230 a little large for it's size, lengthwise, and the Minimus Trail is slightly small for it's size.

Now, while my toes definitely enjoy the extra room in the toe box while wearing the NB MT10, the majority of that extra room is in the area directly facing my middle three toes and big toe. This extra space is somewhat negated by the fact that the MT10's toe spring forces those middle three toes to rub against the insole during a run. I have calluses on my middle and index (?) toes to prove this.

On the other hand, the narrower toe box of the f-lite 230 affords plenty of room for my big toe with just a bit of a squeeze on the other toes. But, that squeeze helps to hold those toes in place while the flexibility of the f-lite 230's upper material nullifies any sense of pinching.

It's worth mentioning, too, that my pinky toes in either shoe still feel the force of being inside a shoe.

Going back to the size difference in these shoes: If we were to compare a size 12 f-lite 230 to this size 12 Minimus, we'd notice that the f-lite is about a thumb's width longer than the MT10. But, the space for all the toes would be equal in both shoes with even more space for the big toe in the size 12 f-lite 230.

So, while there is undoubtedly more wiggle room for the toes in the New Balance MT10, your toes might appreciate the lower toe spring and slightly more confined space of the f-lite 230.

The Heel and Stuff

New Balance Minimus Trail and the Inov-8 f-lite 230 heel heights compared
I'd like to pretend that minimalist criteria do not matter to this review. But, we're dealing with a shoe called the "Minimus" after all. So, things like the heel-to-toe differential must be addressed.

Neither the the Minimus Trail nor the f-lite 230 would qualify as a true minimalist shoe in the strictest sense of the term. But, they're marketed to minimilast-inclined runners. So, let's compare the stack heights (a phrase that seems to have popped up overnight in the shoe industry).

Since RunningWarehouse.com appears to be the only running shoe resource on the 'net that offers relevant measurements of the shoes the company sells, we'll refer to their database for comparison here:

posterior view of the Inov-8 f-lite 230 and NB Minimus Trail
The f-lite 230 features a heel height of 15mm and a forefoot height of 11mm, creating a differential of just 4mm. It's worth noting that Inov-8 states that their shoes, like the f-lite 230, with a two-arrow shock zone have a 6mm differential.

On the other hand (foot), the NB Minimus Trail apparently has a heel height of 14mm and forefoot height of 10mm, which amounts to another 4mm differential.

I'm not sure how RunningWarehouse measures the shoes they sell. But, I'm fairly certain that I notice the heel height just a smidge more when wearing the f-lite 230 than I do when running in the NB MT10. That's not a very scientific observation on my part, I know. But, that's what I've got for ya.

What does this heel-to-toe differential mean to the runner considering either of these shoes for their road/trail runnning? Not much, in my opinion. If you want to nit-pick over 4 or 6 millimeter differentials in these two shoes, you should just get a zero-drop shoe.

Sure, I notice the heel just a bit more in the f-lite 230 while running on pavement. But, a possible 2mm difference in the heel height will mean absolutely nothing to you on the trails. And, the inclines of these shoes are low enough to allow for easy mid-foot striking, if that's what you're after.

Outsole and Midsole

New Balance Minimus Trail and the Inov-8 f-lite 230 outsoles compared
The MT10 and the f-lite 230 are best suited for lightly technical to tame trail terrain. Their lugs are small with a relatively consistent pattern that allows for smooth running on flat surfaces. This is why they're so easily adapted to running on pavement.

If I had to pick the best pavement shoe of these two, I'd go for the f-lite 230. It's a bit softer when worn with the sock liner. And, the midsole and outsole lugs are somewhate more cushiony than the NB Minimus Trail's outsole, which has a hardness to it that offers other benefits.

The MT10's Vibram outsole has a more rigid feel to it, which can create a bit of a "clack, clack, clack" sound as you run. It's not an offensive sound. But, it's there sometimes. This rigidity coupled with the technology in the Vibram outsole somehow makes the ground feel harder when running in the Minimus Trail, especially on pavement. It's not a drastically debilitating hardness, though. It's just a characteristic that exists and helps you maintain good running form.

The runner wearing the f-lite 230 enjoys a conspicuously softer run on pavement than his NB-Minimus-Trail-wearing counterpart. I mean, it's not like wearing a pair of cloud-enveloped traditional trainers. You still feel the ground and suffer if you have weak feet. But, there's a softness there that you may not mind experiencing when you choose to wear shoes on pavement. In fact, I think that the softer midsole and outsole of the f-lite 230 allows for greater proprioception when compared to the NB Minimus Trail.

Both shoes have a sticky sort of rubber on the outsole that provides good traction on wet surfaces. Their short, unassuming lugs do just enough gripping over uneven trails to warrant wearing them during a trail race in lieu of your usual road shoes. They're both great tread patterns, actually.

Sure, in the photo the f-lite's lugs appear to be more aggressive. But, the MT10's lugs are smaller and more numerous. And, their unique pattern really functions well over slightly rough trails.

These are not true technical trail beasts, to be sure. So, if you want a shoe that has very grippy lugs for rough terrain, you'd best look elsewhere (cough—Roclite 285—cough). It's especially worth noting that the Minimus Trail offers little defense against sharp, pointy rocks. I'd much rather step on something pointy while wearing my f-lites instead of wearing my Minmus Trails.

Feel

front view of the NB Minimus Trail and the Inov-8 f-lite 230
I'm adding this section because I've already used the word "feel" a lot in this comparison. And, I want another opportunity to expand on such a subjective concept.

Both shoes feel great on my feet. They're very flexible, the f-lite 230 a little more flexible in the upper, and wrap around my feet comfortably. I'd describe both as having a slipper-like fit. 'Course, who the hell wears slippers anymore?

That band across the forefoot on the Minimus Trail feels odd when you just wear the shoes while walking around. But, you aren't likely to notice the band when you're running.

I once tied my f-lite 230s too tightly and felt a painful sensation across the top of my foot. That was my mistake, though. I've never felt anything weird from the f-lites aside from that.

I feel faster in the f-lites. Is it because of the slightly narrower toe box? Is it the design? I'm not sure. But, for now, I can't imagine running a race in the Minimus Trails while I have my f-lite 230s.


Misc.

medial view of the Inov-8 f-lite 230 and NB MT10
I'm rambling a lot in this post. And, I apologize. I try to be thorough. But, I also want to get to the point. So, let's see if I can make these next points brief.

A shoe lace is not something that usually makes a difference to me when making a shoe purchase. I mean, it doesn't seem like shoe lace technology would be all that critical to a shoe's performance in this day and age.

But, as I mentioned in my review of the MT10, its shoe laces are superfluously long, in my opinion. I don't have narrow feet. And, even I have to tuck the tied loops of the laces under the front-most laces to avoid having them flail about, creating a tripping hazard.

The f-lite 230's laces, on the other hand, are perfectly proportioned, whether you use the ankle locking lacing pattern or not.

I also find that the f-lite 230 is easier on the upper heel and achilles area than the NB MT10. The f-lite 230 has some soft, smooth padding at the top of the heel cup. And, the MT10 has some sort of abrasive seam that kind of hurts when I'm not wearing socks.

I prefer to wear socks. But, I can be crazy at times, too. So, I'll admit to forgoing the socks out of curiosity or necessity on more than one occasion.

When I ran without socks in the f-lite 230, I found it strange but not uncomfortable. It was a warm, sunny day. And, I experienced no blistering.

But, when I forgot to bring socks on a run in my MT10s, I sustained a rather evil blister above my heels on both feet. Of course, the fact that I was running in the rain might have encouraged the formation of these blisters.

The reported weight of each shoe is of interest to some of you, I'm sure. So, thanks to the careful data presentation by RunningWarehouse.com, we know that the size 9 NB Minimus Trail weighs 7.1 oz and the size 9 f-lite 230 weighs 8.1 oz.

Conclusion

If you've read this far, you're probably suffering from information overload relative to the f-lite 230 and the Minimus Trail. And, as a result, you're so sick at the mere thought of these two shoes that you could care less what I have to say on the subject.

But, you need some sort of closure after enduring this incredibly lengthy comparison review. And the only way your battered mind can accept closure is by processing the worth of these two shoes with some sort of score.

So, for the sake of your shoe-researching self, I'll score these shoes:

The NB Minimus Trail gets a 10.2 and the Inov-8 f-lite scores slightly higher with a 10.599. You can fill in the scoring parameters. ;-P

I love them both. But, I'd save the f-lites from a fire before the Minimus.

3 comments:

  1. Great comparison, Ash! Very thorough. If your scoring is logarithmic, you really like the f-lites a lot more than the MT's. ;-)

    Oh, and *I* wear slippers! But only because my fat foot won't fit in either the MT or the f-lites.. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Scott! And, kudos for standing up for the slipper wearers of the world. Obviously, I have no trouble betraying my ignorance. ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great review, I've been wanting another pair of minimal-ish trail shoes like the mt10 but with a rock plate. Still not sure what I'll end up with as I'd like zero drop.

    ReplyDelete

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