Going to industry trade shows has its up sides and its down sides as well. The biggest down side is that you’re seeing products that won’t be out for another six months or even longer. So, it’s kind of like being a kid waiting for Christmas to arrive when you see a particularly interesting new product on display. And that was exactly the case for the New Balance MO851 Multi-Sport shoes that I ran across at the Summer Outdoor Retailer show last July.
One of the reasons why I was so jazzed up to get my hands on a pair of the new 851’s to review is that I’ve got a good amount of experience with New Balance footwear. I’ve had several pairs of their shoes over the past few years and I’ve always liked them quite a bit. The products I’ve bought and worn have all been built well and very comfortable. In fact, one of my favorite pairs of shoes (MW965) are a crossover from New Balance that are part boot and part shoe. They are very rugged and I’ve already gotten a couple of years out of them. But, there are times when you’re not as concerned about ankle support and foot protection, and you’re looking for a lighter weight option to wear instead. That’s where the new 851’s make their entrance.
At roughly 75% of the weight of my current New Balance MW965’s, the 851’s help lighten the load a bit out in the dirt. You can tell from just the pictures that there’s a significant reduction in size and bulk from my 965’s. Now, a weight savings of 25% doesn’t sound like a huge amount, but after spending all day outside with a heavy set of boots or shoes, experienced folks know how good it feels to take them off at the end fo the day. Like what you put in your packs, every little bit counts out on the trail. According to the New Balance website, one of the features that helps reduce the weight of the 851’s is their proprietary Stability Web. The Stability Web is a lightweight arch support device that is sized specifically to the area of the foot where that support is needed, and reduces the overall weight by omitting unnecessary materials. I’m not an engineer, so I can’t categorically claim that’s the case, but the shoes provided plenty of support for me during long hours of wear, and had the upside of being lighter than other outdoors footwear in my closet.
One thing that I did notice out of the box, however, was that the 851’s ran a little tighter than my own personal MW965’s. I have canoe paddles for feet so I require a wide size, but the 4EE 851’s were not as roomy as the 4EE 965’s. I don’t know if there’s a different sizing paradigm now or if the 965’s have a bit more room to allow for thicker socks for hiking and backpacking. Even so, the new 851’s worked fine for me provided I used thin (and I do mean thin) socks. Luckily, I had also gotten some Thorlo trail running socks at the OR show and they worked perfectly with the 851 Multi-Sport shoes. But, there was no room left over in the shoes for a second layer of socks or for socks with more padding to them. That wasn’t much of an issue, though, as the 851’s were very comfortable and did just fine for me during the different times that I wore them. 4EE is the widest that New Balance makes these shoes, so I just made the cut!
Other construction features found in the M0851’s include their ABZORB heel and forefoot cushioning system along with a water-resistant suede and mesh upper. Read the previous as water-resistant, not waterproof. If you’re out in inclement weather for a bit, the shoes will help keep your feet dry for a while. The past few months here in our area have been waterlogged by either constant rainshowers or snowfalls. Having tried the 851’s outside hours at a time in these water-saturated conditions, I’ll tell you that they held up pretty well in the mud and other wet conditions as far as keeping my feet dry. I never really noticed any moisture creeping into the shoes during normal activities. It wasn’t until I just walked into a creek and stood still in the water for a minute or two that I could feel that cold, wet feeling start to make it’s way through the shoe. And, that’s standing still for a bit. If you need to ford a small creek or stream, and if you keep on moving, you’re likely not going to have any issues there either. That’s was my experience with them, and I was surprised how dry they stayed seeing that they aren’t billed as being waterproof. And, that’s going to be hard to expect from a multi-sport shoe with a low-cut profile anyway.
I also liked the amount of flex that’s available in the forefoot area. These are truly designed as multi-sport shoes. Where normal outdoors boots or shoes are going to be more rigid (as most of us are aware), the 851’s allow the user to be more active with that extra flexibility. It also gives the user a more intuitive “feel” for the ground in front of them. The tread pattern and profile on the 851’s aren’t quite as aggressive as those found in their first Multi-Sport shoes, the 1520’s. So, these shoes are positioned to perform just as admirably during your travel adventures or other casual actitivies as well as they do out in the woods. You don’t always have to be rockin’ and rollin’ in the dirt to appreciate the comfort and quality construction found in shoes like these. For those folks that want to be ready for whatever comes their way, the 851 offers up a lot of versatility to help keep them covered.
And, I haven’t even talked about their looks yet! The pair that I received are a low-profile gray color with a bit of gold trim. The trim is just enough to dress them up a bit without being as garish as some outdoors shoes I’ve seen let loose in public. Luckily, I remembered to get some shots of the shoes before they got mudded up out on our land. In all honesty, I hated to get them fouled because I like wearing these types of shoes for regular casual wear around town, and that’s also one of the missions of the 851’s. But, I was curious about the amount of water-resistance these shoes had, so I put them through the paces over the past couple of months to get a feel for what I could expect on a normal “adventure”. As attractive as they are, they have even more appeal to me for their versatility outside in the dirt.
Overall, I was as impressed by the 851’s construction and comfort as I have been by other offerings by New Balance in the past. My only real criticism of these shoes is the sizing. I do wish there was as much room as found in my other New Balance footwear so I could throw on a pair of slightly heavier, padded socks. While the 851’s were comfortable and provided good support, I typically like to have a little extra cushioning for those long days. I don’t know if this was a one-off issue with this specific pair, or if this is the rule rather than the exception for the 851’s. Either way, I’d advise you to check your the fit carefully to make sure it will meet your own individual needs.
True to their design, the New Balance M0851’s are not the best shoes for backpacking, technical climbing, or for trailrunning for that matter. But, that’s okay since you knew that when you bought them. You don’t go buy a minivan and then get upset that it doesn’t have the speed of a Porsche or the utility of a pickup truck. However, what the M0851’s are best at is having you ready for your next impromptu adventure. Unlike niche-specific footwear, the M8051’s are designed to be able to do a bit of everything–especially where the outdoors are concerned. That means that whether you decide to take an unscheduled hike to that scenic vista you noticed from the road, or you need just one pair of shoes to work in camp as well as they do on the trail, you’ll be ready no matter what lies ahead!