Our verdict

Bridging the gap between the OG 990 and the more modernized iterations, the 990 v3 perfectly combines old-school vibes with recent cushioning technologies. We believe that its made-in-US quality and brilliant arch support justify the higher price point. Not to mention many other features that took care of our feet oh-so-well throughout the day.

Pros

  • Premium materials (real suede)
  • Crafted in the USA
  • Extra tough, hard-wearing outsole
  • Supports all-day wear
  • Very stable platform
  • Excellent arch support
  • Extra padded interiors
  • True to size and fit
  • Reflective elements

Cons

  • Frail toebox mesh
  • Heavier than average

Audience verdict

93
Great!

Who should buy

With a design similar to the more recent 990 v5 and v6, the v3 still has a more dated look to it. But in the case of the New Balance 990 series, that means being even more iconic.

We believe that this particular iteration is going to please people who are after:

  • a genuine dad shoe that looks like it has spent two decades at the back of the closet
  • a sneaker that was crafted in the USA using high-quality materials like pig suede
  • a 990 kick that is very breathable and summer-ready

New Balance 990 v3 review

Who should NOT buy

Our biggest gripe about the NB 990 v3 is that it is quite hard to cop! If you just can't find the right size or colorway for this model, we recommend looking into the more recent 990 releases. The v6 are much more available these days.

You are also more likely to enjoy the latter versions as they are more than an ounce lighter than the v3!

You might as well consider New Balance's 1906R if you want a similar silhouette with a more abrasion-resistant mesh upper.

New Balance 990 v3 lab test

Breathability

With its large suede overlays and puffy tongue, the New Balance 990 v3 doesn't come across as a breathable sneaker. But, oh boy, is it a ventilator in disguise!

We were pleasantly surprised by the cool breeze touching our toes when we first got the shoe on. And as the day progressed, we couldn't help but notice how wonderfully fresh our feet remained.

Back in the lab, our experience was fully backed by the results of the smoke-pumping machine test. Filling the shoe's upper with smoke, we observed how effortlessly it escaped through the mesh panel on the toebox.

In our transparency test above, you can get a better idea of how airy the shoe's mesh actually is. That is something that the OG 990 was missing out on big time.

New Balance 990 v3 microscope

Exploring the mesh through our microscope revealed a more relaxed weave pattern on the 990 v3 compared to the preceding models. We think New Balance made the right decision by shifting towards breathability in the v3.

New Balance 990 v3 microscope upper

Mesh on the New Balance 990 v3

For comparison, here is how dense the "mesh" was on the 990 v1 (photo below). That shoe received only 3 out of 5 for breathability, whereas the 990 v3 earned the maximum score of 5.

New Balance 990 microscope upper

Mesh on the New Balance 990 v1

Test results
990 v3 5
Average 2.9
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Leather/Suede quality

When the very first 990 sneaker was released in 1982, it was promoted as a US-made product with premium-level materials and craftsmanship. That stays true for the 990 v3.

Even though the shoe's above-average price tag implies high-quality materials, we are not convinced until we test ourselves.

As you can see from our butane torch test, the shoe's suede overlays did not catch fire or melt like the synthetic fabric above. This is an indication of real suede. 

Test results
990 v3 Real suede

Toebox durability

Cutting some suede away from the v3, the brand also exposed its thin mesh toebox to faster wear and tear.

The very moment our Dremel touched the textile, it tore a large see-through hole in it. We still held the sandpaper tip at a consistent speed (5K RPM) and pressure (3.2N) for 12 seconds and the result was quite devastating compared to most other sneakers.

New Balance 990 v3 Toebox durability

The 990 v3 gets the lowest possible score of 1 for its toebox durability. If you are prone to developing holes in this part of the shoe, it's better to go for a shoe like the NB 1906R.

The toebox on the NB 1906R is both breathable and durable.

Test results
990 v3 1
Average 3.8
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

New Balance also moved away from the synthetic leather lining to a softer and airier mesh. That also meant a step-down in the abrasion resistance but, in our opinion, it is not as critical.

Drilling the shoe's inner lining for 4 seconds with a Dremel, the damage was quite bearable. It is not the kind that affects the comfort or integrity of the shoe. Thus, we gave the heel padding durability a moderate 3 out of 5.

New Balance 990 v3 Heel padding durability
Test results
990 v3 3
Average 3.5
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

Unlike the shoe's mesh toebox, its outsole is built to last for hundreds of miles. Using NB's proprietary Ndurance rubber, the 990 v3 will take months before showing signs of wear at the bottom.

Measuring its rubber hardness with a durometer, we got 81.1 HC which is on the hard side of sneaker outsoles. And harder almost always means more abrasion resistant.

New Balance 990 v3 Outsole hardness
Test results
990 v3 81.1 HC
Average 85.3 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
72.9 HC
Outsole hardness
90.5 HC

Outsole durability

To mimic the wear and tear of many miles on the asphalt, we set the speed of our Dremel to the high 10K RPM and applied its sandpaper tip to the rubber for 22 seconds.

The results were stunning! The dent was barely even noticeable and our tread gauge showed that it was only 0.7 mm deep! Anything shallower than 1 mm is worth special praise in the sneakers category.

New Balance 990 v3 Outsole durability
Test results
990 v3 0.7 mm
Average 1.0 mm
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

What's more, the shoe's prolonged outsole life is guaranteed by a generously thick slab of rubber. Based on our caliper, it has a solid thickness of 5.1 mm.

New Balance 990 v3 Outsole thickness
Test results
990 v3 5.1 mm
Average 5.6 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
3.4 mm
Outsole thickness
12.5 mm

Weight

The 990 v3 sees a lot of great updates and improvements over the predecessors but there is one change that made us frown - its weight.

New Balance 990 v3 on feet

We found it to be the heaviest iteration of the series at 14.5 oz (410g) in a men's US size 9. For reference, the thicker and bulkier 990 v6 is over an ounce lighter at 12.9 oz (366g).

New Balance 990 v3 Weight
Test results
990 v3 14.46 oz (410g)
Average 14.18 oz (402g)
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
8.54 oz (242g)
Weight
22.61 oz (641g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

Having worn the 990 v3 for several days, we can confirm its excellent capacity as an all-day beater.

The shoe's platform felt thick enough to keep us supported without feeling disconnected from the ground. As our caliper measurement shows, the shoe's heel stack comes in at 32.2 mm which is right at the average of casual sneakers.

New Balance 990 v3 Heel stack

New Balance 990 v3

But if you're a fan of bigger and higher platforms, the 990 v6 might be more appealing with its 39.1 mm heel.

New Balance 990 v6

Test results
990 v3 32.2 mm
Average 30.1 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
18.2 mm
Heel stack
50.5 mm

Forefoot stack

As for the forefoot, it turned out to be almost the same as the average at 22.3 mm. This is just enough to buffer the ball of our feet from the ground.

New Balance 990 v3 Forefoot stack
Test results
990 v3 22.3 mm
Average 19.0 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
10.6 mm
Forefoot stack
28.3 mm

Drop

Another welcome aspect of the 990 v3 is its smooth heel-to-toe slope. There is no drastic elevation in the heel as the difference in stack heights measures 9.9 mm.

New Balance 990 v3 Drop
Test results
990 v3 9.9 mm
Average 11.2 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
6.7 mm
Drop
22.6 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

There is a tendency for NB's 990 models to have a firmer type of cushioning. And the 990 v3 is no exception.

Measuring its midsole foam with a durometer, we got 31.4 HA which is 10% firmer than the average sneaker. But it doesn't feel hard when walking either. Sure, it's nothing like walking on clouds but it keeps the feet nice and stable.

New Balance 990 v3 Midsole softness
Test results
990 v3 31.4 HA
Average 29.4 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 44 sneakers
Number of shoes
15.0 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
60.0 HA

Insole thickness

A padded insole cushions the shoe's midsole firmness. We measured its thickness at 4.4 mm which is not the thicknest but does the job well.

New Balance 990 v3 Insole thickness
Test results
990 v3 4.4 mm
Average 5.5 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
3.1 mm
Insole thickness
14.2 mm

Stability

Lateral stability test

Originally released in 2012, the 990 v3 debuted the supportive ENCAP midsole. Resembling a typical stability running shoe of that decade, this technology creates a stable chassis for the foot to land and transition to the next step steadily.

Our feet thoroughly enjoyed all the arch support they could get from the ENCAP. We felt careless as the 990 v3 helped us forget about ankle twists and awkward inward tilting of the foot.

Torsional rigidity

The ENCAP technology pairs with the firm midsole to form a rather stiff and steady platform.

New Balance 990 v3 ENCAP

Assessing the shoe's torsional rigidity in our manual test, we rated it with a high score of 4 out of 5. Nearly the stiffest out there!

New Balance 990 v3 support

If you have flat feet or overpronation, we can guarantee sweet relief in this supportive New Balance sneaker.

Test results
990 v3 4
Average 3.5
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

In addition to the stable platform, our feet were also treated to a nice and firm heel hold. The overlays, the collar padding, and the structured heel counter all conspired to hold the rearfoot very securely in place.

On a 1-5 scale, where 5 is the stiffest, we rated the 990 v3's heel counter stiffness as 4. That's on par with the highly supportive running shoes of today.

Test results
990 v3 4
Average 3.2
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

The 990 v3 builds upon the already broad platform of the original shoe, widening it even more in the forefoot.

As our caliper shows, the widest part of the shoe's midsole comes in at 113.3 mm which is even a few millimeters broader than the average!

Sure, it adds some bulk to the v3 but that also means feeling more surefooted. Not to mention the oversized vibes that it gives.

New Balance 990 v3 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
990 v3 113.3 mm
Average 109.0 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
100.0 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
121.0 mm

Midsole width in the heel

In the heel, the 990 v3 remains just as wide as we remember it in the previous models.

New Balance 990 v3 outsole

At 89.2 mm in the widest area, it is still among the broadest heels in our catalog.

New Balance 990 v3 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
990 v3 89.2 mm
Average 83.5 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
69.4 mm
Midsole width in the heel
103.1 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

Part of the original 990's marketing campaign was the fact that it successfully blended stability and flexibility in one shoe. For a running trainer back in the '80s that was quite a trick!

New Balance 990 v3 flexibility

The concept surely carried over to the 990's third generation. As we tested the shoe's flexibility in the lab, our force gauge showed that it took 23.3N to bend the v3 to a 90-degree angle.

That's only 4% stiffer than the average and gives just enough freedom of movement in the metatarsal area.

Test results
990 v3 23.3N
Average 24.0N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
5.8N
Stiffness
60.5N

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

What runs true to size and fits every foot? Correct, a New Balance shoe!

Trying the 990 v3 in our regular US size 9, we expected nothing short of a comfortable, perfectly fitting sneaker.

New Balance 990 v3 fit

In the widest part of the toebox, we found it to be consistent with the previous 990's at 97.8 mm.

New Balance 990 v3 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
990 v3 97.8 mm
Average 99.1 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
91.6 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
107.7 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

Looking at the tip of the forefoot, our caliper showed that the v3 is even a couple of millimeters wider than the OG 990. At 77.0 mm, it leaves a good amount of space for the toes with no aggressive tapering whatsoever.

New Balance 990 v3 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
990 v3 77.0 mm
Average 74.9 mm
Compared to 53 sneakers
Number of shoes
63.7 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
83.0 mm

Tongue: gusset type

There are no gussets on the sides of the shoe's tongue but we didn't feel like they were missing. Our feet were held very securely and comfortably thanks to the tongue's wide shape and padding.

New Balance 990 v3 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
990 v3 None

Comfort

Tongue padding

For the 3rd 990 iteration, New Balance puffed up its interiors with very generous padding. Coming from the 2.5 mm tongue on the 990 v1, it went all the way to 12.4 mm in the v3!

New Balance 990 v3 Tongue padding

We must admit that it changed the in-shoe feel considerably and for the better. We were also amazed that the thicker tongue didn't detract from the shoe's ventilation capacity either.

There is also notably more overall padding inside the v3, especially around the ankle.

Test results
990 v3 12.4 mm
Average 9.2 mm
Compared to 54 sneakers
Number of shoes
1.0 mm
Tongue padding
38.4 mm

Heel tab

The 990 v3 has no pull tabs or finger loops but we found it quite easy to slide into it thanks to the wide shoe mouth.

New Balance 990 v3 Heel tab
Test results
990 v3 None

Removable insole

The shoe's stock insole is easy to remove and replace with a custom orthotic of your choice.

New Balance 990 v3 Removable insole
Test results
990 v3 Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

This New Balance sneaker has no fear of the dark, featuring reflective N logos and heel collar panels.

Test results
990 v3 Yes

A twist to the iconic 990

The third edition of the 990 sneaker was launched in 2012, commemorating the silhouette's 30th birthday. The shoe received quite a makeover resembling the more contemporary 990 v5 and v6.

New Balance 990 v3 silhouette

Suede overlays have been trimmed down considerably in the v3, giving way to the larger mesh panels and much better breathability.

New Balance 990 v3 heel cup

This iteration also received a technological upgrade in the form of the ENCAP midsole which was then inherited by the succeeding iterations.