Every story needs a beginning. The end of production of the mighty New Balance Leadville instigated my quest for the perfect ultra-running shoe.
So, before I proceed too far with my reviews of other shoes I have been trialling, it’s time to reflect on my experience with the Leadville.
The NB Leadville v3s with around 2,000km on the clock
For those in a hurry to cut to the chase, here is my performance summary after four years, five pairs and around 10,000kms in these trail shoes:
|Total (Out of 80)||77||100%|
|Weighted Score (Out of 100)||96|
The New Balance Leadville v3s are exceedingly comfortable, durable, nimble and offer excellent value for money. The only real area for improvement is in the grip provided by the outsole when using the shoes in wet and muddy conditions.
Please read on for a deeper understanding and be sure to check out my other reviews as I continue in my quest to find a shoe worthy of being crowned a New Balance Leadville replacement.
This review is based on extensive use of five pairs of these shoes over the last four years. I have used these shoes perpetually in training over thousands of kilometres on hilly, sometimes muddy, and sometimes rocky terrain.
I have used these shoes in races varying from 30km to over 100kms. Owing to the versatility of these shoes, I have also used them on-road in sprint Orienteering races.
Comfort, midsole and insole
Arguably the most crucial aspect of any shoe, I consider the Leadville v3s comfort unparalleled. Straight from the box, they are like silk gloves around your feet.
I have medium to slightly wide feet. I have tried these shoes in the wider 2E fitting, in addition to the standard D fitting. However, I found the wide fitting too sloppy.
After just a few kilometres, the standard-fit felt very comfortable and snug around my feet.
The midsole it REVlite. I have taken the cushioning of these shoes for granted, and only now I realise just how on-point these shoes are for longer trail runs.
The cushioning and flexibility offered keeps your feet comfortable on the longest of runs. Yet, the midsole and outsole combined offer sufficient protection to avoid discomfort or bruising from prolonged use on rough trails.
I have used them on several runs above 100km with no foot discomfort experienced. I guess this comes from a shoe developed for a 100-mile race.
Overall, the shoe feels snug, light, and nimble. The uppers are soft, comfortable and breathable whilst offering toe protection at the crucial locations.
The Leadville v3s provide a highly desirable 8mm drop. This drop is crucial for a runner susceptible to calf tears and calf strains. The drop reduces the pressure on the calves.
The stack height varies from 26mm at the heel through to 16mm at the forefoot. This sole height appears optimal to me in offering sufficient cushioning whilst keeping weight down and the shoe stable and nimble.
I have not experienced any movement of the insole in wet conditions, the shoes performing well in this regard.
The Leadville weighs 293g. This is actually at the lighter end of the spectrum for a trail-running shoe with sufficient cushioning and protection for ultra-marathon distances.
The mighty Leadville boasts a Vibram outsole that has proven to be very hard-wearing and the uppers have also proven durable. I have been getting around 2,000km on the trails from each pair.
The Vibram outsoles have provided incredible durability whilst providing sufficient traction for most trails. However, in particularly wet and muddy conditions, the traction is poor, due to the tread not being particularly studded in nature.
The advantage, however, of the non-aggressive lugs is that they provide a very comfortable experience both on the trail and on the road.
There is a little wear on the outsoles in this picture, but that’s not bad for a shoe that’s done around 2,000km on the trails.
The snug fit, comfortable uppers and protection of the outsole provide a nimble feeling, allowing most trails to be attacked and enjoyed.
As noted above, the exception to this is in very wet and muddy conditions when I have experienced slippage.
The Leadville is certainly not an expensive shoe compared to other brands’ top-end models. The true test for value is not only the ticket price but the longevity of the shoe and enjoyment whilst wearing them.
In this regard, it is hard to imagine any shoe performing better.
The New Balance Leadville is a shoe carefully designed for optimal performance for longer trail runs. In my experience, they offer the perfect level of cushioning to provide comfort and protection whilst keeping the weight down.
The shoe is exceedingly comfortable, durable, nimble and offers excellent value for money. The only real area for improvement is in the grip provided by the outsole when using the shoes in wet and muddy conditions.
My quest for a worthy successor continues…
The New Balance Leadville v3 was designed with durability in mind; with a Vibram outsole to withstand the harsh terrain that comes with trail running.
The gusseted tongue provides a secure fit and the front of the shoe has hard plating designed to protect the toes.
The heel is also outfitted with rip-stop mesh for additional protection against the elements. All of this, including a semi weather resistant mesh upper sits on top of a Revlite midsole which provides adequate comfort.
This shoe was designed almost flawlessly to serve its desired purpose. My only gripe would be that the upper is not Goretex, but even that can be offset by the fact that Goretex does not breathe well.
The Leadville v3 runs a bit short, and a half size larger was needed in my case.
It also runs a tad narrow and irritated my pinky toe after wearing them for an extended period of time. Had I ordered them online, I would’ve had to return them due to the sizing issues.
This shoe has a retail price of $170, which is slightly higher than average. However, I believe that this shoe is fairly priced for the technology it provides.
The Vibram sole alone will help make it more durable than trail shoes from other brands. One could easily wear this shoe for ~400km without experiencing much tread loss. Overall, a shoe that justifies its higher than average price point.
I started by wearing these for a short break-in hike. My hike took place mainly on rocky surfaces, with the majority being downhill or uphill. I noticed that due to the Vibram outsole, the Leadville v3 had amazing grip and I never once felt like I was losing my footing on the uneven terrain.
Also, the medial pronation support helped my foot feel stable and helped with my pronation. However, the shoe itself felt very stiff. The heel area felt hard and uncomfortable during the middle of my hike, and I decided to not run in them. In the hope that they would soften up, I wore the Leadvilles another few times in order to break them in sufficiently.
The Midsole or Insole?
As RevLite is usually fairly comfortable when broken in, I was confused as to why the Leadville’s still felt uncomfortable. Upon inspection, the insole in the Leadville is thin and does not offer much cushioning.
This could cause the lack of shock absorption in the Leadville compared to other New Balance models that use the same midsole technology, as those models usually have more cushioned insoles.
The midsole stiffness could be attributed to the harder foam used for pronation support.
Putting them to the test
After the break-in period, I wore these shoes for a long trail run in order to truly test them out. Unfortunately, the Leadville’s were uncomfortable to the point where I had to end my run prematurely. The stiffness in the midsole did not improve at all, and the cushioning, while slightly better, still felt hard.
The forefoot cushioning seemed okay when running uphill, but going downhill allowed me to feel how hard the heel cushioning was. While some may enjoy the firmness, it caused me foot pain preventing me from enjoying this shoe to its full potential.
I suggest that New Balance include a more cushioned insole for the v4, or that buyers purchase a more cushioned insole to put inside the Leadvilles.
The idea and design behind the New Balance Leadville v3 were flawless, but the execution left more to be desired.
The shoe was mildly uncomfortable and did not fit true to size, which I hope is fixed in the next issue of this model.
Good to know
- New Balance smartly retained the basic features of the shoe and made only very sensible revisions to a very popular and highly-sought ultra-marathon trail shoe in the Leadville v3. Breathability and toe protection get the most visible upgrade in the Leadville v3. The upper is more breathable while a more substantial rand that covers the toe to the heel also acts as a sturdy toe bump. New Balance made the mesh a bit stretchable to really wrap the foot in comfort, especially as the runner is supposed to wear it for miles and hours on end.
- New Balance also raised the stack height just a bit while still maintaining that 8mm drop. The new stack height provides more underfoot protection without taking away precious ground feedback for ultra-long trail runs.
- A new seamless sockliner that greets the foot right out of the box makes comfort a top asset from the first step to the last. It has a very soft and plush fabric that should make the really long miles bearable.
- The outsole still uses Vibram, but not incorporates larger and more numerous opposite facing lugs in the shoe’s perimeter. Right in the middle of the outsole that spans the heel to the forefoot are 4mm multi-directional lugs that really deliver the necessary grip on a variety of trail surfaces.
The Leadville series is known for its roomy fit to accommodate mid-run swelling during ultra-marathons. New Balance kept this type of fit in the 3rd version of the Leadville. Runners with medium to slightly wider feet will love the adequate real estate in the heel and forefoot with a locked in midfoot. The sizing is quite different though. This one runs a bit larger than usual for New Balance. Getting half a size down is the best option to get a wraparound fit. Available widths are D and B while sizes are from 6 to 15 for the men’s and 4 to 12 for the women’s.
The outsole of the New Balance Leadville v3 features the Sticky Rubber compound for enhanced traction, even on wet surfaces on the trail. It also presents a new set up of prominent opposite facing lugs in the shoe’s perimeter. Located in the central portion of the outsole are multi-directional lugs that should provide reliable and consistent grip, regardless of the surface or conditions. A highly-durable Rock Plate sits between the midsole and the outsole for enduring protection against sharp objects on the trail.
The N2 foam, which is known for its durability and responsiveness, bridges the midsole and the outsole. It is, however, the REVlite foam that occupies the main portion of the midsole as it runs the entire length of the shoe. This is a top of the line midsole foam from New Balance that is extremely lightweight and very responsive. Playing a key role in making the run stable for slight overpronators is a medial post directly below the midfoot. It is made of high-density foam and provides non-intrusive but effective arch support. New Balance uses the medial post to help neutral runners who are likely bound to have a breakdown in form during ultra-marathon trails.
A more flexible and breathable mesh covers almost the entire surface of the Leadville v3. The use of synthetic overlays adds durability, structure, and support to the upper. In this model, New Balance uses a prominent overlay that also acts as a toe bumper. The new seamless sockliner is odor-resistant and provides enhanced step-in comfort and fit.