Hello and welcome to my review of the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante, complete with over-the-top analogies. This is the first edition of the New Balance Zante and it has already received some great reviews. For example, Competitor.com named the Zante it’s 2015 road shoe of the year.
To start things off, if shoes were candidates in a presidential election, the Zante would be in the top tier, bringing in steady donations and key endorsements. However, I see it as the down-to-business type candidate and not spouting meaningless platitudes and slogans. It’s not calling itself the best running shoe ever made. It’s not stating that it will change running shoes as we know it or claiming that it will make shoes great again. It may not be drawing crowds of thousands and filling stadiums with screaming rabid fans, but it’s climbing in the polls and building a following with its humble beginnings and quiet tenacity.
Now before you think I can’t tell the difference, I know that was a bit of an over-the-top analogy. But it was fun and I’m in an over-the-top kind of mood right now. And do you know how to make one over-the-top analogy seem less ridiculous? You can add more over-the-top analogies so that it stands out less. So you might want to ready yourself.
Anyway, I was in need of a new road shoe and I was torn between the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante and the Pearl Izumi EM Road N1 V2. Both shoes are very similar and seemed to fit exactly what I was looking for — a relatively light shoe that I could wear on long runs but also use for speed work. My plan was to use this shoe during the upcoming Outer Banks and Rehoboth Beach marathons.
To help with the decision, I decided to purchase both to see which I preferred more.
The conversation with my wife went something like this.
Phil: “I can’t decide which one to get.”
Candice: “Get both, see which one you like, and return the other.”
Phil: “Okay, that sounds like a good idea. I’ll return one of them.”
Candice: “Just save both boxes so you can return the one you don’t want.”
A few weeks later after both shoes have arrived.
Candice: “So, which shoe do you prefer?”
Phil: “Not sure yet. I need to wear both a little more.”
Candice: “Okay, just be sure to return one of them. You have too many shoes already.”
Phil: “Don’t worry, I will.”
Candice: “You still have the boxes right?”
Phil: “Yes, of course.”
A few weeks later.
Candice: “You’re keeping both shoes, aren’t you?”
Candice: “You already got rid of both boxes, didn’t you?”
So, yeah, I kept both shoes. The review of the Pearl Izumi EM Road N1 V2 will be coming later.
Without further delay, onto the review.
First, a summary of the shoe specs from runningwarehouse.com.
- Weight: 8.1 oz (size 9)
- Stack Height (Heel): 23 mm
- Stack Height (Forefoot): 17mm
- Offset: 6 mm
The Zante is marketed as a neutral performance shoe, which I think is accurate.
Currently, the Zante can be purchased for a very reasonable price of $89.95 on both runningwarehouse.com and Amazon. With what seems like more and more $120, $140, and $170 shoe options popping up out there, it is nice to see a new shoe for which I don’t feel like I need to get an insurance policy or update my will.
If I had one of those super expensive luxury shoes, I would be tempted to treat it like one of those shiny classic sports cars that sit covered in a climate controlled garage and are rarely used for fear of being damaged or getting dirty. No drinks or eating in this baby. Maybe I take it out for a spin around the block every now and then to show it off. Maybe I take it to a car show (or race) and let people “oooo” and “ahhh” at it (but not too close of course). Then when I get home, I would wipe it down and talk to it softly while my wife claimed I care more about it than her.
No, the Zante is not this type of shoe. The Zante is a shoe that you use every day and it’s good to see it at that price point.
What I like
(1) Initial fit and feel
How do I describe the feeling when I first slipped on the Zante? The closest comparison that comes to mind is that it is like stepping into a hot tub. You can’t help but do it slowly, enjoying the soothing comfort as it surrounds you. The sensation chemically disrupts the part of the brain that forms words and the pathway that sends those words to your mouth. The only sounds that are allowed through are … “ahhh” … followed quickly by an … “oh yeah.”
My wife visibly cringed when she first read that analogy. She said it was over-the-top and ridiculous. She’s probably right, but…man…these shoes do feel great when I put them on. The fit is just about perfect. I normally wear a 9.5 and a 9.5 in these were great. The Zante felt like it was made for my feet.
The upper is also fantastic. The mid-foot hugs the foot like two lovers who are finally reunited after one was thrown overboard from a ship during a violent storm and was then stranded on a desert island for years while the other searched tirelessly; both never giving up hope that one day they would be in each others arms again.
In other words, the mid-foot wraps the foot nicely. The heel is also secure, but not too tight. The forefoot is nice and roomy. The tongue is also comfortable and nicely designed in how it attaches to the shoe in a way that should eliminate sliding. Combine all that with a seamless upper that is breathable, stretchy, and molds to your foot and you have a shoe that will make you forget it’s on.
I don’t know why all shoes aren’t built this way.
Here’s where I expected to be disappointed. I mean, things don’t always work out for the best. Even the best seeming candidates have some skeletons in their closet, just waiting to come out in an October surprise. Sure, the shoe felt great putting them on, but how would they feel on a run? Would they cause hot spots? Would they leave my feet and legs worn down? Would they feel clunky and slow? In other words, would it be like a hot tub that looks and feels great, but leaves a rash the next day?
Fortunately, the New Balance Zante is nothing like an unsanitary hot tub. You can quote me on that if you want.
Like a stern librarian, the forefoot and mid-foot has a bit of firm responsiveness, but is not harsh. Her ears will pick up at the slightest bit of horseplay. But there is a bit of softness just below the surface that will show itself with a nice smile, especially to her favorites or if you ask her about Shakespeare or to recommend a good book on poetry. It’s subtle, hidden by pulled back hair and thick rimmed glasses, but it’s there.
For example, unlike some overly firm and harsh shoes the Zante has never left my feet and legs (calves specifically) feeling beat up or tired the next day. No rough stuff; Fifty Shades of Grey, this is not. The outsole is responsive and feels great when I pick up the pace, but it still maintains a nice cushy feel for those longer and slower runs. The softness becomes more apparent when you’re in for the long haul. Take your time. Show her you’re serious. Buy her flowers. Take her out for dinner, a long walk, and maybe to a showing of MacBeth.
I am normally a mid-foot striker and with a low 6 mm offset, I think that is this shoe’s sweet spot (no, I’m not going take that any further with an analogy). However, I’ve also noticed the heel is surprisingly soft when I force a heel landing. For me, it would be too soft for my taste, but I think this would work for a heel striker. Perhaps this is why some people have said the Zante is a soft shoe. If you’re landing more toward the heel, you will probably think this is a very soft shoe. If you’re landing more toward the forefoot, I think it is firmer. Again, it is not super firm, but firmer than a lot of trainers out there. But I guess this is subjective. And to be honest, the only way to tell if it will work for you is to try it out yourself. However, the nice thing about the soft heel is that it makes a shoe comfortable for casual use also.
There is a slight mid-foot hump, which I’ll discuss later, but I didn’t notice it while running.
Like other New Balance Fresh Foam models, the outsole is just one piece of blown rubber, which I think helps create a fluid and smooth transition (I’ll let you insert your own over-the-top analogy here). It is also fairly flexible, which I like (you’re not still thinking about that librarian are you?).
It’s not that the New Balance Zante has identity problems. It’s just that it performs equally well in many different situations.
As mentioned earlier, the forefoot is responsive, but not harsh in that you can’t use it for long slow recovery runs. In fact, the heel is surprisingly soft. I’ve used it for Yasso 800 intervals and longer slow runs and it felt great during both. Think of it this way. Remember that librarian. She is equally smart and funny.
At the time of this review, I have run over 52 miles in the Zante. So far, I haven’t noticed any issue or potential issue with the durability. As mentioned, the entire outsole is covered by blown rubber. In addition, I typically have a problem with my toes puncturing the upper, especially on my left foot. I don’t see any sign of that so far. The shoe may not last 600 miles, but I don’t see any sign of breaking down early, which at the $90 price point, makes it a good value overall.
Not only are these shoes comfortable, but they look great. I almost can’t wait to wear out these shoes so I can use them solely as casual shoes. On a recent trip to Florida, these were the only shoes I brought with me. They served me well walking around St. Augustine and on the multiple runs I was able to take them on. The shoes have a low profile look and feel, which I like.
What I don’t like
Now there has to be some things I didn’t like about this shoe, right? Well, there is.
(1) Mid-foot hump
While it is not a deal-breaker, I wouldn’t complain if they lowered it slightly during the next version. It is definitely noticeable while standing, but not uncomfortable. Those that prefer high arch-support would probably like this feature. But it is not for everybody. Fortunately, when you run, the mid-foot hump disappears completely, which his why this isn’t a big deal in my opinion.
That’s it really, just a minor tweak.
Would I recommend this to a friend?
Of course. If you’ve managed to read any of the above review, my recommendation here should come as no surprise. I think it will be hard to go wrong with the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante.
These shoes are almost like a winning beauty pageant contestant. First they dazzle you with a sweet girl-next-door first impression. Then they impress you with their talent and intellect. Finally, they knock your socks off in the swimsuit and evening gown competition.
Despite all my over-the-top analogies, this is actually a no nonsense shoe. My over-the-top analogies were a bad attempt at irony because this shoe is anything but over-the-top. The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante is everything it should be and nothing more, which makes it darn near perfect in my opinion.
The Zante also makes a strong case to be your one and only shoe. It can handle long slow runs, long distance races, short races, tempo work, and speed work. The New Balance Zante will be the shoe I wear for at least one of my marathons this fall.
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As always, comments are appreciated. Let me know of any thoughts or questions below. I hope you found this review useful. Thanks for reading.