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Hands-on Gear Review
New Balance Leadville v3 Review
Cons: Not very sensitive, wide in the heel
Bottom line: Succeeds in its mission to crush the Leadville Trail 100.
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.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
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.
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.
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 7 when we took them cross country or through grass.
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.
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.
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.
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. While these shoes certainly weren't overly heavy, they didn't run with a feeling of lightness, instead feeling like a solid protector.
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 North Face Ultra Endurance, those shoes made up for it with fantastic other attributes, while we felt that the Leadville v3 was merely average.
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.
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 top rated The North Face Ultra Endurance. If we wanted a higher performing shoe for the same purpose, we would choose these over the Leadville v3.
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.
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— Andy Wellman
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