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New Balance Leadville v3 Review

New Balance Leadville v3
Price:   $125 List | $85.91 at Amazon
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Pros:  Comfortable, great cushioning, few changes to successful model
Cons:  Not very sensitive, wide in the heel
Bottom line:  Succeeds in its mission to crush the Leadville Trail 100.
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   New Balance

Our Verdict

The New Balance Leadville V3 is a jack-of-all-trades trail running shoe inspired by the famous Leadville 100 trail race and designed with high-mileage runners in mind. Its most endearing quality is its out-of-the-box comfort, noticeable the moment you put it on. Using N2 technology it packs a surprising amount of cushioning underfoot, but this protection comes at the expense of sensitivity and trail feel. With a sewn in gusseted tongue and tight synthetic mesh upper, the shoe does a great job of keeping out debris, while improvements in material means that it absorbed far less water than did the last version in our water bucket test. Overall this is a great shoe that lived up to its name, giving us plenty of comfort and plenty of miles, with little wear and tear to either the shoes or our feet.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017 - Side-by-Side Tests

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Score Product Price Our Take
81
$130
Editors' Choice Award
Our favorite shoe, high performance for everyone.
80
$130
Top Pick Award
Tons of comfy cushioning at a super light weight.
80
$125
Top Pick Award
Running fast on difficult terrain has never been so easy as with these shoes.
80
$120
Best Buy Award
Great as an everyday trainer, for ultra distances, or as all-around do everything shoe.
79
$110
A lightweight zero-drop shoe for the speedsters and minimalist runners out there.
78
$120
Super aggressive traction make this shoe suitable for the gnarliest of conditions.
76
$120
Not a flashy shoe, but performs well. Great everyday trainer.
74
$110
A very lightweight option that is designed like a traditional shoe.
74
$125
The lightest weight shoes for uphill trail running that we could find.
73
$125
Succeeds in its mission to crush the Leadville Trail 100.
72
$120
Good balance between protection and sensitivity, really durable!
72
$130
A mountain and skyrunning monster.
66
$120
Our least favorite Cascadia we have tested, wouldn't recommend to a friend.
64
$115
A beast who's best attribute is the ability to protect your feet.

Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results

Review by:
Andy Wellman
Senior Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Thursday
September 8, 2016

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The Leadville Trail 100 is a race that ranges in terrain from steep mountain climbs to smooth, buffed out trail, to extensive sections of flat paved roads. The Leadville v3 is a perfect shoe for handling everything that race throws at you. Despite the update to version 3, this year's model has seen very few changes compared to the Leadville 1210v2 that we tested last year. Most noticeable is a different pattern of lugs on the outsole, although we found the performance to be pretty much the same. Different mesh materials in the upper meant that it absorbed far less water in our water test, a positive improvement, considering the multiple wade-through creek crossings one encounters on the Leadville 100 course. All-in-all, this remains the same comfortable, high mileage shoe that it was last year.

Performance Comparison


The Leadville v3 shoes are named after the Leadville 100  Colorado's most famous trail race  and are designed to tackle what that race throws at you. Besides needing plenty of cushioning to protect your feet from 100 miles of abuse  they can handle steep trails  loose rock and gravel  river crossings  and even roads.
The Leadville v3 shoes are named after the Leadville 100, Colorado's most famous trail race, and are designed to tackle what that race throws at you. Besides needing plenty of cushioning to protect your feet from 100 miles of abuse, they can handle steep trails, loose rock and gravel, river crossings, and even roads.

Foot Protection


Lacking the stiff and protective rock plate of a shoe like the Brooks Cascadia 11 or the Montrail Caldorado, the Leadville v3 instead offers a fantastic amount of underfoot protection by using ample firm cushioning. The REVlite foam combined with N2 technology are both designed to offer more cushioning with less volume and weight. New Balance also claims that REVlite does not break down any faster then traditional EVA midsoles, but is less bulky. While not exactly low-profile, the shoe does feel more cushioned than other traditional shoes with a similar stack height, like the ASICS GEL-FujiTrabuco 4 Neutral. We also loved the wrap around toe bumper and the 8mm heel-toe drop, all of which serve to make this a perfectly protective shoe that still gives reasonable trail sensitivity.

A different look and patterning of the upper overlays seem to be the biggest changes we could decipher in the Leadville v3 (bottom) versus the older v2 (top). We love the sure laces that grip each other really well  and find that this shoe features one of the widest heel cups of any we tested.
A different look and patterning of the upper overlays seem to be the biggest changes we could decipher in the Leadville v3 (bottom) versus the older v2 (top). We love the sure laces that grip each other really well, and find that this shoe features one of the widest heel cups of any we tested.

Traction


The Vibram outsole on the Leadville v3 is the most noticeable change that was made over the 1210v2 model from last year. While it is still made by Vibram, the outsole is now only one single piece, and no longer includes the horizontal groove cut outs. The lug pattern consists of a row of triangular shaped lugs in the middle and directional incut lugs around the edges. We found that the rubber offered a good balance of stickiness and durability. It did a decent job of shedding mud well, and also gave us enough traction for navigating late spring snow fields in the mountains. While the outsole is plenty adequate for trail running, it didn't serve us as well as some others, like the Saucony Peregrine 6 when we took them cross country or through grass.

The most beautiful parts of Colorado for trail running is the alpine above tree-line  but there is a short window every year between the snows. Inevitably one has to deal with some snow if they want to lengthen the season  and here are the Leadville v3's handling a slippery  mature snowfield without problems.
The most beautiful parts of Colorado for trail running is the alpine above tree-line, but there is a short window every year between the snows. Inevitably one has to deal with some snow if they want to lengthen the season, and here are the Leadville v3's handling a slippery, mature snowfield without problems.

The newer Leadville v3 is on the left  with the older v2 on the right. While the pattern design for the lugs on the outsole has obviously changed  we didn't really notice much of a difference in the way these shoes grip or handle.
The newer Leadville v3 is on the left, with the older v2 on the right. While the pattern design for the lugs on the outsole has obviously changed, we didn't really notice much of a difference in the way these shoes grip or handle.

Stability


Stability is not the primary feature of this shoe. Even though the REVLite foam is more compact than similar EVA foams, this shoe still leaves you with a lot of foam underfoot. Comparing it to other traditional shoes in our test, it wasn't as unstable or tippy as the Salomon Speedcross 4, but did not provide the same kind of platform as The North Face Ultra Endurance. We also felt that the upper was a bit loose and didn't hold the foot in place as well as other shoes, allowing our foot to move around and sacrifice the stable platform.

The stack height and heel-toe drop of the Leadville v3 (left) remains unchanged from previous years. Noticeable in this picture is that the lugs on the edge of the outsole are spaced further apart  a design change that most manufacturers are making to shed mud easier.
The stack height and heel-toe drop of the Leadville v3 (left) remains unchanged from previous years. Noticeable in this picture is that the lugs on the edge of the outsole are spaced further apart, a design change that most manufacturers are making to shed mud easier.

Comfort


Comfort out of the box is perhaps the strongest feature of the Leadville v3. This shoe feels great the moment you put it on, and stays that way for the life of the shoe. The no-seam upper provides no wear points, the sure-lace system does a great job of staying tight, and the cushioning underfoot feels great. The one thing that held it back in the past was water absorption, and that has been addressed by using different mesh materials in the construction of the upper. This year the shoe was among the least absorptive shoes we tested in the water test, a huge improvement over last place from last year. During the Leadville race, your feet will no longer be sloshing wet as you climb Hope Pass after the river crossing above Twin Lakes.

New to the Leadville v3  and a great feature in general  is that the gusseted tongue (which we love) is sewn with stretchy nylon to the inside of the upper on both sides. This feature takes keeping pebbles and grit out of the shoe a step further than most.
New to the Leadville v3, and a great feature in general, is that the gusseted tongue (which we love) is sewn with stretchy nylon to the inside of the upper on both sides. This feature takes keeping pebbles and grit out of the shoe a step further than most.

Our only complaint about the fit of this shoe is that the heel is wide. There are no laces around the heel, of course, so we couldn't figure out a way to tighten the shoe up at this point. Our narrow heels were able to slide up and down with every step we took, especially going uphill. While room to breathe is great, we also prefer our shoes to lock our feet in place to prevent slipping and sliding around, and we couldn't rectify this problem in the v3.

Weight


Our pair of Men's size 11 Leadville v3 shoes weighed 23.5 ounces straight out of the box. This was about average, similar to the Salomon Speedcross 4 and the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3. While these shoes certainly weren't overly heavy, they didn't run with a feeling of lightness, instead feeling like a solid protector.

Sensitivity


Last year we proclaimed how the Leadville 1210v2 struck a near perfect balance between underfoot cushioning and great sensitivity. We aren't sure if New Balance changed the composition of their foam compounds, or whether the competition we are comparing them to made them feel different, but we couldn't say the same thing about this year's Leadville v3. While they certainly felt protective underfoot, they didn't feel at all sensitive to us. If anything, they felt stiff and rigid, and dare we say slightly clunky. While we awarded them the same 6 points that our two top scorers received, the Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3 and The North Face Ultra Endurance, those shoes made up for it with fantastic other attributes, while we felt that the Leadville v3 was merely average.

Log crossings for humans and stream swimming for chocolate labs. This was on a 13ish mile run up to Willow Lake to try to get in some early season alpine fly fishing. Nothing like combining multiple sports in beautiful places.
Log crossings for humans and stream swimming for chocolate labs. This was on a 13ish mile run up to Willow Lake to try to get in some early season alpine fly fishing. Nothing like combining multiple sports in beautiful places.

Best Applications


This shoe is designed for the rigors of the Leadville Trail 100, the most popular 100 mile race in the country. On the way from Leadville to Winfield and back again, runners at this race will encounter countless miles of dirt trail, plenty of rocks, a couple of huge mountain ascents, multiple stream crossings, and even lengthy sections of paved road. These shoes are certainly capable of taking on those exhausting 100 miles, and will also perform well for any other high mileage application, or as a durable daily trainer.

Running down through a talus field on the Willow Lake Trail in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado. This trail accesses some famous 14ers and begins right out of the town of Crestone in the dead flat San Luis Valley seen below.
Running down through a talus field on the Willow Lake Trail in the Sangre de Cristo mountains of Colorado. This trail accesses some famous 14ers and begins right out of the town of Crestone in the dead flat San Luis Valley seen below.

Value


The Leadville v3 will cost you $125 retail, or right in the middle of the spectrum of quality trail shoes we have reviewed here. They are designed for high mileage and longevity, so we think you will get plenty of miles for your dollars with these shoes. That said, they are very similar in design and purpose to the two top rated shoes in our test, the Editors' Choice Award winning Pearl Izumi EM Trail N2 v3, as well as The North Face Ultra Endurance. If we wanted a higher performing shoe for the same purpose, we would choose these over the Leadville v3.

Conclusion


Little has changed in the last year to make the Leadville v3 what it is today. That speaks volumes to the quality design and construction that already went into this shoe, and ensures that advocates will love what changes have been made. This shoe will take you the distance over 100 miles, or simply provide a solid tool to build your long distance training foundation around. While it wasn't the highest scorer in our testing, we still thought it was an excellent and refined shoe that we would love to own.

June in the high alpine of Colorado means melting time  and on this run we arrived in our Leadville v3 shoes to find that Willow Lake  in the Sangre de Cristo mountains  was still covered in ice.
June in the high alpine of Colorado means melting time, and on this run we arrived in our Leadville v3 shoes to find that Willow Lake, in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, was still covered in ice.

Other Versions and Accessories

  • Women's Leadville Trail v3 - $125 — women's version of the same shoe
Andy Wellman

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Most recent review: September 8, 2016
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