Pros: Look nice, well-built, not too pricy, roomy through toebox.
Cons: Could use one extra hole for the shoestrings, may not be good for heavy-duty running.
I don’t do a lot of “new-shoe-getting.” I tend to find a pair I like, then wear them into the ground over the course of years. I didn’t get the chance to do that with my last pair of New Balances. The MR470s. They were nice shoes, especially for the price, and I was enjoying them in my way.
My way? Yeah, when I get a new pair of shoes, I wear them sparingly at first, so I break them in slowly and they last a little longer. Splitting time between them and the shoes they’re replacing. Sadly, not too long after I got them, I wound up giving them to my husband. Yes, we have the same size feet. His shoes gave up the ghost and it was a tight month, so I handed over my pretty new-ish shoes. Which he liked. A lot.
And then he left them out and the dog chewed the heel out of one.
Okay. So, that left us both in the market for new shoes. All three of us, in fact, since our boy’s gigantic (SIZE TEN!) feet had outgrown all his fancy footwear. So off we went to the shoe-gettin’ place to do some shoe gettin’.
Normally, I gravitate toward Asics, but, once again, the New Balance selection was seriously on sale. It didn’t take me long to find the New Balance MT481s.
While I would wear a size 8 (yes, men’s), I opted for an 8 ½ because I use odor eater inserts and a Profoot Plantar Fasciitis insert. So, while the shoe felt a bit swimmy and slightly oversized in the store, it fits well now that I’ve put in the hardware, though I've worn them without, as I'll go into.
As compared to Asics, I would say that these New Balance are sized about a half size bigger. In other words, I think that a size 8 New Balance MT481 would equal an Asics Gel-Kanbarra 8.5. That’s LENGTH-WISE. Width-wise, these New Balances are wider than their Asics counterpart, which is why an E width in these New Balances is as wide as a double or even triple E in Asics.
In other words, try these puppies on before rather than buying sight-unseen because they are sized a bit oddly.
Now, I’ve seen these shoes described as “cross trainers,” as “running shoes,” and as “trail running shoes.” Build and appearance-wise, I would categorize them as cross trainers suitable for light trail running. Some sites claim they have reflective features, but I’ve got one sitting right here, and no matter how I turn or what angle I look from, I see no reflective spots.
Looks-wise, these shoes are nice. Instead of getting the MT481 BG, I got the MT481 GO (that’s gray-orange). Exact same shoe, just different color scheme. They look smaller and more compact than many shoes of the same size, with a nice, racy shape and curve to them. The heel cup is a bit low-slung, but that doesn’t seem to cause any rubbing or comfort issues, though it does lend itself to a bit more slipping when the top shoestring holes aren’t utilized. We’ll come back to that, because it’s important.
Construction-wise, the MT481s are markedly different from the MR470s in that the mesh and synthetic upper is a lot less . . . meshy. The MR470s are practically open air, the mesh is so breathable. That’s not the case with the MT481s—the mesh is much more padded beneath, and the shoes don’t leave you feeling you’ve a breeze always blowing across your toes. That’s good and bad—good in cold weather, but I can see missing that airflow come hot, sweaty summer. Stable cushioning is provided by the polyurethane midsole, and ABZORB® midfoot cushioning provides shock absorption and energy displacement to minimize foot-strike jarring. The outsole is solid rubber for rugged durability on various surfaces.
While all that sounds great, and I do like these shoes, I do have to say that they don’t strike me as shoes really built for heavy-duty pounding. They’re a lighter, less cushion-y build than I associate with intense running. I could be wrong, but that’s the impression they leave me with.
The first time I wore these, I told my husband that, no doubt, I was going to require a new set of Profoot Plantar Fasciitis inserts because I could already, just in a minute or two, feel the strain on that heel and foot. Then I spent almost two hours walking around Wegmans with no pain. Figured I’d be in trouble when I woke up the next morning, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, the shoes didn’t appear to hurt me at all. Now, I don’t know if that will be the case on a fair hike or a day’s sightseeing in DC, but for a couple of hours walking around? No aggravation of the Plantar Fasciitis. To be safe, I'll be using the PF inserts, especially on longer walks and hikes.
Back to that one thing that did aggravate? The shoestring set up. The top string holes are set way back into the shoe, far up. Then there’s over an inch before the next set of holes. If I run the strings all the way up through that top set, the shoes are too tight in the ankle and the strings are a little short for tying neatly. If I go for the next set, the shoes are looser than I like, giving too much play at the heel and ankle. Because I’m not a runner, this isn’t a big deal. It might be if you run and have thick ankles (like mine). I’ll be experimenting with ways to tighten the strings further down to compensate by increasing stability closer to the toes and through the top of the foot. The inserts help, also.
Speaking of toes, the single E width is quite roomy in the toebox—not so much as I’d call them loose, but, as I said, as loose as a double E in the Asics Gel-Kanbarras. Easily. I have wide feet, so this is good, but I’m glad I found the single E width—all the other wide widths were EEEEs, and that would have been entirely too large.
And that’s that—I’m very happy with my New Balance MT481s. While they feel sturdy and rugged and comfortable enough for my purposes (walking, a bit of easy hiking here and there), I don’t know that they’ve got what it takes to endure heavy-duty running while giving the foot the cushioning comfort needed. They might be fine for that purpose, but they don’t feel like my old Gel-Cumulus. Not as cushy or embracing. That said, I think they’re a fine trainer for light-to-moderate runs. They don’t feel particularly corrective, and I definitely recommend giving them a try in the store before buying them—as I said, the sizing is a bit fiddly. Overall? I think they’re a nice shoe for folks looking to be comfortable during easy-to-moderate workouts.