Our verdict

The 991 v1 is a classic "dad shoe" from New Balance popularised upon first release by none other than Steve Jobs. Beyond this ringing endorsement, the cult following behind this sneaker was easy to understand once we began testing it in the lab. Whether we were going about our usual day-to-day tasks, out for a nice long walk about town, or even at the gym, this devilishly versatile kick kept us on our feet in comfort and style. While it feels a little heavy underfoot, that doesn't compare to how heavy this shoe is on the wallet!

Pros

  • Very comfortable
  • Timeless style
  • Good impact protection
  • Secure lockdown
  • Great heel hold
  • Extremely breathable
  • Premium construction
  • Excellent traction

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Rather firm midsole
  • Quite heavy

Audience verdict

89
Good!

Who should buy

We recommend the New Balance 991 v1 as an excellent option for:

  • Sneakerheads looking for a super comfy kick with a "dad-shoe" vibe to add to their collection. 
  • Those in warmer climates who need a breathable sneaker to keep their feet fresh
  • Active users who prioritise good traction to confidently tackle certain fitness activities
  • Retro geeks looking for a classic kick that's been revamped while maintaining its iconic silhouette 

New Balance 991 v1 1

Who should NOT buy

At over 15 oz, the 991 v1 is undeniably hefty. We recommend looking into the New Balance 530 or the New Balance 327 as lighter alternatives that hover around the 10 - 11 oz mark. 

The 991 v1 boasts an incredibly plush interior, though the same can't be said of its ABZORB midsole foam which feels quite firm underfoot. For those who prefer a comfy shoe with a softer ride, we recommend the cushy New Balance 9060 instead. 

New Balance 991 v1 cut

With a price tag of £220, the 991 v1 is a wallet-buster of a sneaker. For more budget-friendly alternatives, we recommend checking out the New Balance 574 or the New Balance 550.

Breathability

As demonstrated by our smoke test, the 991 v1 is an extremely well-ventilated shoe that earns a perfect 5 out of 5 for breathability. This not only means that our feet feel nice and breezy on warm muggy days, but that the shoe doesn't trap in sweat so it shouldn't develop that dreaded musty odour over time. 

For a shoe with so many leather overlays, the 991 v1's stellar performance in our previous test comes as a bit of a surprise. However, shining a light through a cross-section of the upper reveals the mesh at the toebox to be extremely dainty and almost translucent, giving us a good idea of where most of the heat escapes. 

This is further confirmed by our microscope image of the toebox mesh which reveals a multi-layered network of braids with lots of large perforations that promote excellent airflow; creating a virtual chimney in this part of the shoe. 

New Balance 991 v1 Breathability 3

Test results
991 v1 5
Average 2.9
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Leather/Suede quality

To test whether all the 991 v1's overlays are made of genuine leather, we torched the various elements and scratched at the burnt remains with our awl starting with the main portion of alleged pigskin leather. 

As we can see, the material gets singed and those burnt portions come flaking off the shoe as we agitate it with our tool. This tells us that the leather is, in fact, real pigskin. The same can't be said for the coloured piece at the heel which caught fire and melted after making contact with the flame. Clearly synthetic. 

The white overlay on the side suffered a similar fate and essentially conflagurated out of existence.

Test results
991 v1 Real leather

Toebox durability

Fine mesh toeboxes don't tend to fare too well against our callous Dremel and the 991 v1's is no exception. Spinning at 5K RPM, our tool's abrasive element made quick work of the unreinforced mesh and shredded clean through it by the end of the four-second test.

This earns the toebox a durability score of 1 out of 5, though the shoe does have a leather overlay that should protect it from most bumps and scrapes. We still don't recommend traipsing through bushy areas as one unlucky snag can easily put the 991 v1 out of commission. 

New Balance 991 v1 Toebox durability 2
Test results
991 v1 1
Average 3.8
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

Next, we set our Dremel against the 991 v1's well-padded heel counter for another four seconds of grinding and were very impressed with the result. 

Our tool barely left a scuff on the lining material which remained almost perfectly intact after the test. This incredible performance leads us to give the 991 v1 a heel padding durability score of 5 out of 5 which means that the plush padding back there will be well-protected and uncompromised throughout this shoe's lifetime. 

New Balance 991 v1 Heel padding durability

The NB 237, on the other hand, clearly isn't as sturdy back there with the Dremel eating away at a lot of the soft padding within in this same test. 

Test results
991 v1 5
Average 3.5
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

Pressing our durometer against the outsole yields an average reading of 86 HC. We've found that this level of hardness usually indicates a good mix of grip and durability. 

New Balance 991 v1 Outsole hardness
Test results
991 v1 86.0 HC
Average 85.3 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
72.9 HC
Outsole hardness
90.5 HC

Outsole durability

We set the Dremel, now spinning at 10K RPM, against the outsole rubber for its final face-off with the 991 v1. 

After twenty-two seconds, we used a tyre tread gauge to measure the indentation left behind and found that 0.9 mm of rubber had been worn away from the outsole. This performance puts the 991 v1 on par with the average sneaker which loses a similar amount of material. As such, we predict that this should last the expected 400 to 500 miles of use before major signs of wear appear on the outsole. 

New Balance 991 v1 Outsole durability 2
Test results
991 v1 0.9 mm
Average 1.0 mm
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

We measured the outsole with our caliper and found it to be 5.8 mm thick which is also right around the current lab average. 

New Balance 991 v1 Outsole thickness
Test results
991 v1 5.8 mm
Average 5.6 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
3.4 mm
Outsole thickness
12.5 mm

Weight

Tipping our scale at 15.3 oz (434g), the 991 v1 is quite heavy compared to the average sneaker. While they didn't feel overly burdensome as we tested them over the course of a normal day, the combined weight of almost 2 lbs underfoot makes this chunky kick a less-than-ideal choice for those who spend long hours on their feet. 

New Balance 991 v1 Weight

For those in the market for a more lightweight alternative that still boasts that "dad-shoe" look, we recommend checking out the New Balance 530 instead which weighs in at only 10.9 oz (308g). 

Test results
991 v1 15.31 oz (434g)
Average 14.22 oz (403g)
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
8.50 oz (241g)
Weight
22.61 oz (641g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

The 991 v1 is a well-cushioned shoe that boasts a heel stack of 34.6 mm according to our caliper measurements. This is a little thicker than our current lab average and gives us plenty of midsole foam underfoot to dampen the impact of our landings while walking in this shoe. 

New Balance 991 v1 Heel stack
Test results
991 v1 34.6 mm
Average 30.1 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
18.2 mm
Heel stack
50.5 mm

Forefoot stack

The shoe's forefoot stack falls more in line with our current lab average at 20 mm thick. This is a good amount of protective foam to have at the forefoot while still allowing for some sense of the ground below.  

New Balance 991 v1 Forefoot stack
Test results
991 v1 20.0 mm
Average 19.0 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
10.6 mm
Forefoot stack
28.3 mm

Drop

The difference in our stack measurements leaves us with a rather steep offset of 14.6 mm. This mix of an elevated heel with a grounded forefoot is quite common as it promotes smooth transitions from heel to toe, so should feel quite natural for most. 

New Balance 991 v1 Drop

For those who prefer a shoe with a less pronounced drop, we recommend the New Balance 237 instead. Alternatively, for those curious about a truly parallel-to-the-ground experience, we suggest looking into zero-drop specialists; Altra.

Test results
991 v1 14.6 mm
Average 11.1 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
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.

Pressing our durometer against the 991 v1's ABZORB midsole yields a rather firm reading of 27.4 HA. So while the shoe's interior feels incredibly plush and cloudlike, the same can't be said of the shoe's cushioning. 

New Balance 991 v1 Midsole softness

However, it does do a good job of protecting our feet from impact and feels comfortable enough for normal day-to-day use. 

What's more, by not compressing very much under our weight, the 991 v1 doesn't have the wobbliness of shoes with a more plush midsole underfoot which adds to its stable ride. 

Test results
991 v1 27.4 HA
Average 29.5 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 45 trainers
Number of shoes
15.0 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
60.0 HA

Insole thickness

At 5.1 mm thick based on our caliper measurements, the insole is as thick as average and provides us with a nice and cushy footbed within the shoe as well as good arch support.  

New Balance 991 v1 Insole thickness
Test results
991 v1 5.1 mm
Average 5.5 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
3.1 mm
Insole thickness
14.2 mm

Stability

Lateral stability test

With its firm midsole foam and low profile at the forefoot, the 991 v1 feels quite well planted and stable as we shift our weight from side to side in the shoe. This is also thanks to the well-structured upper that provides a secure foothold that kept us feeling nice and locked in within the shoe. 

Torsional rigidity

We found it very difficult to bend and twist the 991 v1 in our hands, leading us to give it a maximum torsional rigidity score of 5 out of 5 on our subjective scale. This is, no doubt, a result of the dense midsole and the stiff upper and means that the shoe resists any natural contortions of our foot during our stride. In this way, the 991 v1 maintains a very level base that promotes surefooted and stable landings while we test the shoe. 

Test results
991 v1 5
Average 3.6
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The 991 v1's heel counter is quite well-structured and rigid, earning a stiffness score of 4 out of 5 in our manual assessment. As such, we found that the shoe does a good job of keeping our rearfoot locked in place without putting too much pressure on our tendons while still allowing for some natural lateral movements. A good mix of comfort and stability. 

Test results
991 v1 4
Average 3.2
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

At 107.9 mm wide at the forefoot according to our caliper measurements, the 991 v1's midsole is slightly narrower than our current lab average. This is more than enough of a base underfoot that we didn't face any stability issues while testing this sneaker. 

New Balance 991 v1 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
991 v1 107.9 mm
Average 109.0 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
100.0 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
121.0 mm

Midsole width in the heel

Back at the heel, the 991 v1's midsole falls more in line with our current lab average at 83.1 mm wide. 

New Balance 991 v1 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
991 v1 83.1 mm
Average 83.5 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
69.4 mm
Midsole width in the heel
103.1 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

Thanks to the dense ABZORB midsole, the 991 v1 is quite a bit stiffer than the average sneaker, requiring 30.6N of force to it 90 degrees in our flex test. 

As such, the shoe resists the bending of our foot during our stride. While this translates to a less natural feeling underfoot, it does add to the shoe's stable ride. Furthermore, this stiffness is beneficial for those with foot conditions, like plantar fasciitis, as it prevents excessive foot flexion. 

New Balance 991 v1 Stiffness
Test results
991 v1 30.6N
Average 24.4N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
5.8N
Stiffness
60.5N

Grip / Traction

The 991 v1's outsole tread pattern provides us with adequate traction as we test the shoe over various surfaces. Even smooth and slick surfaces didn't pose much of an issue though, with its porous mesh and leather upper, we don't recommend this shoe for rainy days. 

New Balance 991 v1 grip

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

Using our caliper, we found the 991 v1's toebox to fall in line with our current lab average at 99.3 mm wide at its widest point. This should be roomy enough for most people to enjoy a comfy fit apart from those with very broad feet. 

New Balance 991 v1 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
991 v1 99.1 mm
Average 99.1 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
91.6 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
107.7 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

Moving to the area around the big toe, the 991 v1's toebox is very slightly narrower than average at 74.2 mm wide. 

New Balance 991 v1 Toebox width at the big toe

While this won't pose an issue for most people, those with wide feet of a certain shape might want to consider sizing up or going for a shoe that doesn't taper as drastically like the NB 57/40.

New Balance 991 v1 Toebox width at the big toe 2
Test results
991 v1 74.2 mm
Average 74.8 mm
Compared to 54 trainers
Number of shoes
63.7 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
83.0 mm

Tongue: gusset type

The 991 v1's tongue isn't gusseted. Despite this, however, the chunkiness of the tongue and its central lace loop help to mitigate any side-to-side slippage as we test the shoe. 

New Balance 991 v1 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
991 v1 None

Comfort

Tongue padding

Using our calliper, we measured the 991 v1's tongue at a beefy 10.7 mm thick. This is more padded than our current lab average and means that we enjoyed a soft and pillowy lockdown across the instep while testing with absolutely no hint of lace bite. 

New Balance 991 v1 Tongue padding

The luxurious padding isn't reserved for the shoe's tongue. The 991 v1 is generously padded throughout, with a nice and chunky heel to boot that further contributes to the shoe's gentle yet secure lockdown. 

Test results
991 v1 10.7 mm
Average 9.2 mm
Compared to 55 trainers
Number of shoes
1.0 mm
Tongue padding
38.4 mm

Removable insole

The insole isn't glued in so removing and replacing it with an aftermarket alternative or a custom orthotic is possible if needed. 

New Balance 991 v1 Removable insole
Test results
991 v1 Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

With one little reflective element at the base of the laces, "better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it", seems to have been the ethos behind the decision to include this seemingly ineffective feature. 

Test results
991 v1 Yes