Fresh Foam Zante v3 – It may be the Only Road Shoe You’ll Need

95 / 100 by Matthew Leonard • Level 2 expert

An extremely versatile shoe that manages to offer great cushioning with a lightness and responsiveness that makes them a pleasure to run in at any time

 

Pros

  • Fantastic all-rounder
  • Good cushioning
  • Lightweight
  • Very comfortable
  • Seamless upper

 

Cons

  • Suitable for neutral runners only
  • Foot movement on tight corners
  • Road use only

 

Why the Fresh Foam Zante v3?

I bought the Fresh Foam Zante as something of a last resort, but I’m now extremely pleased that I did. At 6’2” and currently around 90kg, cushioning is important to me, especially when building for a marathon.

Throw into the mix a few historical injury niggles, and a large foot (UK13.5, US 14), and perhaps it’s not surprising that once I find a shoe I like, I tend to stick to it!

 

 

For the last few years, I’ve stayed true to the New Balance 1080, from the v3 through to the v6, sometimes buying a couple of pairs at a time. This time around I couldn’t find a 1080 in my size anywhere in the UK, and believe me, I spent a lot of time online.

After resigning myself to trying out a different pair, I looked for a similar pair of shoes and finally settled for the Fresh Foam Zante v3. Although the research suggested they’d be a little more lightweight than my usual shoes, and with less cushioning, I decided they’d be my best option.

I’ve now run over 500km in these shoes, and having just achieved a marathon PB in them, feel that I’ve tested them out thoroughly enough to review them! Given my recent history with shoes, I’ll provide comparisons with the NB 1080 v6 and also with the Hoka One One Clifton 2 with which I had a brief dalliance last year.

 

Appearance

I could only find 2 pairs of this shoe in the whole of the UK; one was white, and the other orange. As you can see, I opted for the orange, and to be honest, when I first opened the box, my first reaction was to reach for the sunglasses!

These shoes are bright – really bright! They also have plenty of reflective strips incorporated into the design, lighting up as car headlights approach.

 

 

Even after running for a couple of months on Welsh country lanes, you can still pick them out half a mile off (literally - my son recently drove past me whilst I was out for a run and later told me that he saw the shoes long before the rest of me came into view!).

This is great as the days begin to shorten and much of my running is now done by headtorch on country roads without pavements.

The picture below shows the appearance of the Fresh Foam Zante v3 compared to the NB 1080 v6 and the Hoka Clifton 2. Each of these shoes is the same size, so any variation is merely due to the angle of the picture.

In the case of the shoes shown, the Hokas have covered 400km, the 1080 v6 almost 1000km, and the Fresh Foam Zante over 500km.

 

 

Runners will be familiar with the design of the Hoka One One which makes it appear to have a much higher ride and level of cushioning.

In reality, the Hoka heel sits 29mm off the ground, with the NB1080 v6 at 30mm, while the Fresh Foam Zante sits lower at 23mm off the ground.

 

Weight

The Fresh Foam Zante v3 is listed at 250g, which makes it a pretty light shoe, especially given the cushioning incorporated into it. It compares favorably to the NB 1080 v6 at 294g and is slightly heavier than the listed weight of the Clifton 2 at 235g.

As expected, my UK 13.5 (UK) shoe weighed in heavier at 301g (1080 v6 is 366g).

Interestingly, it was also lighter than the Clifton 2 which weighs in marginally heavier at 308g leading me to speculate that the listed weight of the Hokas may be based on a smaller shoe than other brands, which may account for the disparity?

Most importantly, the Fresh Foam Zante v3 feels very light when I put it on, and when running.

 

Fit

As with all New Balance shoes, I find that I need a ½ size larger than would be my “normal” size.

The shoe then fits comfortably right out of the box. In this case, I wear a UK 13.5, US 14, which is the same size I’ve used in all other New Balance shoes, the Hokas, and my Salomon Trail shoes. For comparison, I generally use a UK13 in ASICS, though these do feel a little snug.

 The shoe has a “no sew” construction, which makes for an extremely comfortable fit with no noticeable seams glued joints to rub the foot.

Within a couple of days of buying the shoe, I took it out for a long run where it felt comfortable throughout. I’d have no hesitation in recommending this shoe to triathletes or others who may run without socks.

 

 

I did notice that the shoe did look a little “baggy” at the front when not being worn, as shown in the picture.

This is primarily because the upper is constructed of extremely lightweight mesh which simply doesn’t have the rigidity to hold itself up! Don’t be put off – as soon as you put your foot in, you’ll find that the upper fits snugly around the foot with no excess of material.

 

Construction

 

Midsole

The midsole of the shoe is constructed with a single piece of New Balance’s “Fresh Foam” which provides an exceptionally comfortable ride whilst remaining firmer, and therefore more responsive than either the NB 1080 v6 or the Clifton 2 shoes.

The heel drop on the Zante is 6mm compared to 8mm for the 1080 v6.

 

 

Given my experience, I admit to having been a little concerned about using a shoe with what appeared to be significantly less cushioning than I have been used to.

As detailed above, the heel sits 7mm (1/2”) lower than the 1080 v6’s, suggesting a significantly reduced level of foam. The lower heel drop also worried me following an Achilles injury which sidelined me for 3 months last year.

I needn’t have worried. These shoes have taken me through my most intense marathon preparation cycle to date, including over 90km (60 miles) per week for much of the last month. 

I’ve had no injuries, nor any of the soreness in the legs that sometimes accompanies an increase in mileage, and “double run days”, especially for a heavy runner.

 

Outsole

The sole itself is well suited to road running, and provides excellent grip on all road surfaces, in both the wet and the dry.

It is not designed for anything else other than possibly very light/level trails, and I wouldn’t recommend it for rougher terrain. This is more to do with the stability provided by the upper than the sole itself (see below).

 

 

The picture to the right shows the sole of the Fresh Foam Zante v3 (top) compared to the NB 1080 v6 (below). The soles have a similar appearance, though the 1080 v6 incorporates two lateral “breaks” in the blown rubber to provide additional flexibility.

The Fresh Foam Zante v3 does consequently have less flexibility than the 1080 v6, though I personally did not find that to detract from their effectiveness or comfort.

The Fresh Foam Zante has a narrower footprint than the 1080 v6, as you may notice from the above picture.

At the widest point, the Zante is approx. 12cm, when compared to the NB 1080 v6 which is just over 13cm, and maintains a wider footprint through the length of the shoe. The consequence of this is that the 1080 v6 provides a more stable feel when out running, whilst the Fresh Foam Zante feels more responsive.

 

Upper

The upper of the Fresh Foam Zante v3 is marketed as having “engineered mesh”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, so I’ll simply describe what I can see and how it feels.

At the front of the shoe, the sides are constructed using what appears to be a two-layer, tightly weaved fabric mesh. Over the top of the forefoot, the two layers appear more distinct, with larger holes in the top layer, as shown left (using my fingers from inside the shoe to exaggerate the holes).

 

 

There is a thicker side panel around the midfoot, which continues around the back of the shoe, and incorporates the eyelets for the laces (apart from the lowest pair which is located on the section above the forefoot). 

Whilst necessarily thicker than the front of the shoe, this does not have any of the plasticky overlays that characterized many of the earlier New Balance shoes.

The toe box holds its shape through the use of a small section of foam glued inside the fabric.

 

 

In all, the upper of this shoe is excellent. As mentioned above, the no-sew construction makes it extremely comfortable for the foot, with no rubbing experienced at all.

The light mesh provides fantastic ventilation and keeps the foot cool. You can expect your feet to get wet when it rains, but I always feel that if you’re running in the rain, then getting wet is all part of the experience!

The heel cup feels comfortable, as I have found with all other New Balance Shoes I have used. It holds the heel well, with no rubbing on the Achilles tendon.

There’s no discernible wear after 500km (shown left) which is exactly what I’d expect, as my 1080 v6 similarly has very little wear after almost 100km (shown right)

 

 

Durability

The blown rubber outsole is extremely durable. I first found this with the NB 1080 v6 which I found to have improved in durability significantly compared to its predecessor, and I was very pleased to find that the Fresh Foam Zante v2 provided a similar resistance to wear. 

 

 

My running style means that my shoes will generally begin to wear from the outer heel. 

The picture above left was taken after approx. 500km of use, and shows some wear to the heel. There is still plenty of rubber remaining on the shoe, and I am confident that these shoes will take me to 1000km like their NB 1080 v6 predecessors.The

The picture below compares the soles of the three shoes. At the time the photo was taken, the Fresh Foam Zante (bottom) had run 500km. The NB 1080v6 (middle) has run almost 1000km.

 

 

The Hoka One One Clifton 2 has run approx. 400km. Unfortunately, my experience was that the small amount of rubber on the heel wore down to the foam after just over 200km. I then nurtured them to 400km with generous applications of “Shoe Goo” before giving up on the shoes.

Incidentally, I did write to Hoka about the rapid wear of their shoes and their answer was that they are not designed for anyone over 85kg (you will not find that in any of their marketing material).

 

Performance

I really enjoyed running in these shoes.

As mentioned above, I was a little concerned initially as to whether they would provide sufficient cushioning. After a full marathon training cycle, I’m happy to report that there is more than adequate for even the longest training runs of a heavier-than-the-average marathon runner.

The beauty of these shoes, however, is their versatility.

This is not just a long-distance training shoe. Somehow, New Balance has managed to create a shoe that provides sufficient cushioning for the long stuff, but also feels fast and responsive when running at pace, giving an excellent feel of the road beneath the foot.

To put it in perspective, “pace” for me means 5k race pace or long interval pace, so generally just over 6 min/mile.  The foot feels secure in the shoe and provides the confidence to change the pace in an interval or Fartlek type session.

 

 

Responsiveness

This responsiveness carries across to the longer runs. I’ve run comfortably in NB 1080s for years, and they feel stable and comfortable, and you can almost feel the cushioning beneath your feet as you grind out the long runs.

The Clifton 2s provided a very similar feel. By contrast, when running in the Fresh Foam Zante, I feel lighter on my feet. The foot seems to be in contact with the ground for a little less time and doesn’t need to sink into a thick cushioned sole on each stride as it does with more cushioned shoes.

The shoe is obviously designed for road use and is very well suited to the roads.

It could be used on light trails if these are reasonably smooth and level, but I would not recommend it on anything rougher than that. The mesh construction of the upper provides very little stability, and the foot will begin to move around on uneven surfaces.

A few weeks after getting these shoes, a route change took us on a descent of steep slate quarry tracks by headtorch, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go through that experience again as the foot was sliding around in the show with every uneven step.

This is in sharp contrast to the NB 1080 v6 which, whilst not a fell shoe, feels much more secure comfortable on rougher trails.

 

 

On a similar theme, I would not recommend these shoes for training runs or races involving a lot of tight bends and turns, as I could feel my foot moving when taking corners at pace.

This lack of support within the upper would also lead me to recommend this shoe to Neutral Runners only. If you feel that you are susceptible to any degree of pronation, or need support for any other reason, then you’d be better to look elsewhere.

 

Summary

The Fresh Foam Zante v3 is my new favorite shoe. A highly versatile and exceptionally comfortable all-rounder which I’d have no hesitation to put on for most my training runs and races.

In my opinion, I’d choose this shoe for pretty well all road races from 10km through to the marathon. For a 5k it would be a tough choice between this and the Vazee Rush 2 which I’ve reviewed earlier this year here, and which I’d choose for a race involving sharper cornering or slightly rougher trails.


Matthew Leonard

Matthew Leonard • Level 2 expert

Somewhat bigger and heavier than the average runner (6’2”/ 85kg), I’ve been involved in a variety of sports throughout my life before settling on running as I approach the half century. I’m lucky enough to live on the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales as I love running on the coast or in the mountains of Snowdonia, generally averaging around 60km per week.


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