Sunday, December 08, 2019

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5 Multi Tester Review: Unique in Style and Design with a Lot to Unpack!


Article by Jacob Brady, Jeff Beck, and Canice Harte

New Balance Fresh Foam Hierro v5 


Introduction

Jeff: The Hierro is New Balance’s most cushioned trail shoe, and the v5 is an interesting step forward for the company. The latest version made subtle changes to the midsole and outsole, and completely redesigned the upper from the v3 & v4. As a result, the Hierro is one of the most polarizing looking shoes out there, with a love-it-or-hate-it look that doesn’t blend in with any crowd. But is it a big step forward in performance? Read on.

Pros

Jeff: One of the coolest looking shoes out there, full coverage rubber outsole, upper is breathable and has a more than ample toebox.
Jacob: Midsole “spring” lends a fun ride on hard surfaces and at faster paces
Canice: Incredibly comfortable shoe that absorbs anything you throw at it.

Cons

Jeff: Muted ground feel but doesn’t also give full rock protection, very heavy, unremarkable ride.
Jacob: Very heavy
Jacob: Mediocre grip
Jacob: Very poor heel hold; overall poor foothold
Jacob: Hard to dial-in fit
Canice: Heavy, heavy, heavy and a bulky heel

Tester Profiles

Jacob runs a mix of roads and trails in the Portland, Maine area. He runs every day and averages 50 miles per week. Jacob recently ran a PR 2:51 marathon and just wrapped up his first season of ultra/trail running which included two 50km trail races and two mountain races.
Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach Dave Ames as he trains for his first 50 mile race in December 2019.
Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100, Western States 100, and Leadman as well as many other Ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as traditional road races and triathlons.

Stats

Official Weight:: men's 11.3/ 324 g (US9.5)  / women's 9.3 / 267 g(US8)
Samples: 
13.3 ounces / 376 grams Men’s 10.5D
14.9oz (left is 14.4oz)/422g (left is 408g) (US Men’s 12)
Stack Height: 8mm drop
Available Now. $135

First Impressions and Fit

Jeff: Pictures don’t do this shoe justice, it looks really great. There are a number of little details that remind me of the early/mid 90s Nike ACG line. I’ve never been a big yellow fan, let alone yellow, black, blue, red and a sort of an off-white/tan all put together, but in this case it works well. Step in feel is great, the Fresh Foam midsole has a very forgiving feel. 
Fit is perfect true-to-size, with an ample sized toe box that you won’t confuse for an Altra, but you still get some room for toes to splay out.

Canice: This shoe is at home on buffed trails and the midsole absorbs impact incredibly well. It’s insanely comfortable to be in all day and reminds me of the feeling of memory foam. Not a lot of bounce when you run but great traction on my smoother Utah trails and very comfortable. 

Jacob: My first response upon opening the box was to laugh; this is a big, silly-looking shoe. Upon lifting it out of the box the weight was very apparent; it is the heaviest feeling (in hand) shoe I’ve ever tested. I was curious to see how much it clocked in at—a quick pop on the scale confirmed that at 14.9 oz for my size US 12 it is actually the heaviest shoe I own at by over an ounce. High weight is never a positive start for a shoe, but it’s certainly an interesting one.

The colorway I received—yellow, blue splash paint, with red/white/blue laces—is pretty hilarious, though not in a bad way. The shoe feels really beefy and is likely to have a lot of underfoot protection. However, the outsole is a bit of a let down; though full-cover, it’s rather mild and doesn’t look too functional. Because of the relatively dense midsole and thick outsole, there is not much flex at all, if I really work to bend them there is a single flex point under the forefoot.
Aside from the colorway, there are two strikingly odd features: the outsole on the back of the heel sticks out way past the midsole, and the tongue has two layers. It doesn’t seem like there any emphasis on cutting down weight in the design, unlike the majority of shoes I’ve tested, so I’m curious to see if it has some other characteristics that can make up for the weight.

As for the step-in feel: very squishy; much more so than expected. The upper feels well-sized: comfortable and snug but not tight.

Upper

Jeff: Buckle up, because there’s a lot to unpack with the upper. New Balance used a TPU coating on the upper to make it weatherproof. I was lucky, or unlucky in a sense, to only experience clear skies during each of my Hierro so I can’t speak to its water or snow repelling qualities. That said, between the coating and the design of the upper, I’d believe this shoe keeps the elements out. This is the first shoe I’ve seen use a standard gusseted tongue and then have a burrito-style overlapping tongue as a second layer of protection. 
The The result is surprisingly breathable, but I have to imagine that it chips in to make the shoe heavier - and it is HEAVY. The toe bumper, helpfully labeled Toe Protect, is a flexible rubber liner that does protect your digits, but again, plays the part in edging this shoe closer and closer to a pound per shoe. The reinforced external heel counter is rigid, but you don’t really feel it on the foot. The extra padding on the tongue, while definitely extra, means you can lock down the laces as tight as you want and you’ll never get lace bite, which is nice because the upper has a looser fit than many trail shoes. I felt my foot sliding forward during most descents, and not just extremely steep ones.

Canice: Jeff speaks to the details of the upper very well. There’s a lot here but it is all very comfortable. I ran this shoe on tight turning technical trails as well as snow and ice covered trails and the upper performed well in all conditions. The one thing that seemed a little weird to me was the double tongue closure. I’m sure there’s a very cool technical shoe industry name for this but at first I just didn’t get it. But I came to really like it when exiting the shoe. 

The outer tongue is asymmetrical so when you pull it to the side it opens all the laces and makes it easy to get out of with one pull. To be clear, I would give this up in a heartbeat to shave weight but since it is there, I like it.

All in all the upper is quite nice.
Jacob: The Hierro v5 upper is composed of multiple layers and feels pretty thick, although doesn’t run hot. A thick, rubberized, matte material with fairly large perforations covers a lighter mesh. The heel is rigid and hefty.

The most unique feature is the double-layer tongue. The outer layer is burrito-style, and the inner tongue (the true tongue) is thickly padded and gusseted. The intention of the tongue “shroud,” as New Balance calls it, is to keep out debris. I haven’t found it to do anything except look interesting and add unnecessary weight.

The Hierro is very comfortable and on initial lace up/standing around, I felt like the sizing and proportions were great. However, the positives end here.

I definitely agree with Jeff on the loose fit of the Hierro—on the trail, I had major issues with foothold in both the heel and forefoot and had to stop to tighten the laces significantly very early into my first run. On my second run, I started with them tighter, remembering my first run experience, and had to loosen due to discomfort, and then had to stop to tighten again later in the run. Not ideal.

Part of the issue has to do with the laces and how they pull through the eyelets. The laces are tough and inelastic. When pulling tight, they sometimes hold too well and are difficult to tighten, then slip and become entirely loose.

The more major issue is that I can’t get the heel or forefoot to lock down no matter how tightly I lace up. The heel security is very poor and on anything uneven/poor landings the shoes really rotates around my heel. I pondered whether a half size down would help, but the fit feels good—definitely not too big—on the roads/really open trails that I think the issue is with the design.

Midsole

Jeff: While New Balance brought out a slightly tweaked Fresh Foam design for the new 1080v10, the Hierro v5 Fresh Foam feels very similar to the FF that they’ve been using for a few years. Which is to say, it’s a pretty good middle of the road not-too-firm-not-too-soft feel. I have not seen official stack heights, but the previous version of the Hierro was 22mm in the forefoot and 30 in the heel, and I’m going to assume this shoe is very close to that. Unfortunately, between the midsole and outsole rock protection isn’t great. Every run in the Hierro v5 had a handful of sharp bites into the forefoot - and a few of those were on rocks that weren’t substantial. The stack and weight of this shoe put it firmly in the trail cruiser category, but it doesn’t have enough protection to just cruise on trails, you definitely need to be quick on your feet to avoid beating the soles up.
Jacob: The Hierro v5 midsole is made of New Balance’s classic Fresh Foam EVA (v5 of the Hierro is specifically in the “Fresh Foam X” series). Though not a modern foam—nothing exciting—the combination of the soft insole, thick outsole, comfortable fit, and layer of fresh foam provides a fairly protected, plush but not mushy, and surprisingly springy feel. 

I agree with Jeff’s comments about not being able to cruise in the Hierro as I would have hoped given the weight/stack. However, I felt that ride characteristics due to the midsole were the most enjoyable aspect of the Hierro v5—the inability to cruise/truck comes more from the poor foothold and flex characteristics than protection for me.

Canice: For my part I found the midsole to provide a lot of comfort and I could run many miles in this shoe. Now, it did feel dense to me, and I missed the lively pop that I look for in a midsole, but I would comfortably run this shoe at any ultra distance.

The combination of the full rubber Vibram outsole combined with the Fresh Foam midsole protected my feet from the dry rocky Utah trails.

Outsole

Jeff: Hierro v5 has Vibram MegaGrip covering the entire underside of the shoe, with no exposed midsole material. It actually goes over and beyond the length of the shoe, with the additional heel rudder that’s reminiscent of a few adidas shoes from the early 90s and some recent Altra. Looking carefully at the rubber on the rudder, and there appears to be no wear on my pair through 25 miles, and I’m not sure what kind of runner will wear out the caboose rubber. However, I am sure that rubber flap helps the shoe stay heavy. The outsole has dozens of trapezoidal lugs, and along with Vibram’s rubber, they are pretty sticky. I caught a few rocks in between the lugs, but nothing extraordinary.
Hierro v5 Heel Flap

Jacob: My comments on the outsole are overall more negative than Jeff’s.

The Hierro v5 has a pretty thick, full-coverage rubber outsole which even extends beyond the already wide midsole platform behind the heel. I’ve seen this heel flap before on many of Altra’s trail models, though on the Hierro the rubber is thinner and I’m not convinced it does anything significant except for add weight. Once, a stick popped up crazily into the air after toe-off, unearthed by the Hierro’s extended heel outsole. 

I was excited to see that the outsole rubber is Vibram’s Megagrip compound, which I’ve loved on Hoka’s Speedgoat series (very versatile; pretty grippy in most conditions). On flat, straight trail sections, the grip here is solid. While the outsole is clearly not designed for loose surfaces or mud (they don’t shed mud well at all; at the end of one run on just damp dirt—not even true mud—the tread was entirely filled with dirt), the traction overall on anything technical is mediocre. In comparison to the Speedgoat (3 and EVO) which I’ve been running recently, the grip is notably poor.
Leaf covered Maine roots and rocks, no fun in the Hierro v5!

Part of the issue may have to do with the insecure heel hold and hard to dial upper, however, I experienced small slips (off low roots or just leaves) on totally straight trails; the Hierro v5 outsole just isn’t capable on the terrain I tested it on. The lugs are hexagonal, wide, and shallow—so not aggressive at all. Overall, I feel like New Balance is overly focused on the style of the hexagonal pattern which may be fine for road shoes where grip is not as critical, but this isn’t a functional shape for the trail.

Canice: Purchase shoes, open box, cut excess rubber away from the heel. This has been tried and used across several brands and the idea is greater than the reality. 

But, with that said I actually like the outsole of the Hierro v5. The first run I took this shoe on in the Park City, Utah area I was caught off guard and when I arrived at the trail to find the packed snow from the day before had become solid ice. Clearly I had to adjust my gait but surprisingly the shoes had great traction. As the run progressed I found myself in shin deep snow and the shoe clearly wasn’t designed for this and once again, I had plenty of grip. Further along in the run I descended and I found myself running in mud as the snow melted, and once again I had plenty of traction. But the section that really caught my attention was tight trail with lots of rocks. Some big and some small. Some flat and some sharp. I felt secure with every stride as I landed on each rock and traction was never an issue.

I recommend this shoe for buffed out trails but traction is not the reason why. The Hierro v5 has plenty.

Ride

Jeff: Sadly, the combination of relatively thick Fresh Foam midsole and a full coating of rubber leaves the ride pretty dull. There is minimal ground feel, which is fine for a big trail cruiser, but it doesn’t offer enough rock protection to allow you to run without thinking of foot placement. If they had gone either more nimble and lighter, or more cushioned and protected, I think the ride would be improved. By splitting the difference, you get the drawbacks of each without the advantages.

Jacob: Given that the construction of Hierro v5 is bulky and the Fresh Foam midsole unremarkable, the Hierro v5 ride is kind of unique. Despite many negatives with the shoe which makes its utility low and my overall impression of it poor, the ride is smooth (on smooth surfaces) with a surprising amount of spring on toe-off at faster paces. 
My first run was 10mi easy/endurance on a mix of very twisty and leafy singletrack to gravel and grass doubletrack, with road segments to link trail systems. After quickly noticing the poor foothold and having a mediocre time on my home trails compared to what shoes I usually run in, when I got on the first road section I immediately said to my running partner, “wow, these feel a lot better on the road.” Not what I expected or what is ideal for a beefy trail shoe, but certainly interesting. They weren’t loud or slappy and the low lugs and high cushion made for a pretty smooth ride.

Relatedly, my favorite testing experience in the Hierro v5 was during two tempo laps at the end of a run on a hilly, ~1mi semi-gravel doubletrack loop. Though hardly what I’d call “trail”—it’s more of a loose gravel road than doubletrack—the Hierro feedback and fun-factor was unexpectedly good at speed (around 6:30min/mi). Unfortunately, one of the defining characteristics of the Hierro is its extreme weight, so though while the ride was bouncy and fluid, they were not easy to run at this pace and are not intended for fast running.

Overall, the ride is smooth, muted, and has an enjoyable slight rebound effect, but all good aspects are lost once you have to corner or rely on foothold or grip.

Canice: The boys are right here. The “Ride” of the Hierro v5 is not remarkable. Though well cushioned it feels dense and not lively. But it is well cushioned and this is the interesting part. If you’re looking for a plush ride then the Hierro v5 is a great choice. If you’re looking for lots of ground feel and a lively pop when you toe off ,then this is not your shoe. 

But I don’t think this shoes was ever intended to be a race shoe or even your PR shoe. This is a heavy but comfortable shoe that is well cushioned, has good traction and will last for many miles.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Jeff: The Hierro v5 is one of those shoes I wanted to like substantially more than I did like. It’s heavy, but not that well cushioned, it has muted ground feel except when you land on a rock, and as much as I like the creative styling and design they did with the upper, it helps contribute to a shoe that broke 13 ounces in my size 10.5. Ultimately it feels best on smooth trails that don’t offer much in the way of technical obstacles, but you can wear a road shoe that’s nearly half the weight on that type of trail. I could see this shoe being a hit with hikers or folks who walk in the snow, but on my Arizona desert trails it a fish out of water.
Jeff’s Score 7.4 / 10
Ride: 6 (50%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 8 (15%) Style:10 (5%)

Jacob: Out of the box and on very mellow terrain, the Hierro v5 is an okay shoe. It’s most notable in its styling and unique design choices, such as the colorway, double tongue, and outsole heel flap. On the foot and on the run, it has an unremarkable fit and ride. 

On my Maine trails, the Hierro v5 is decisively poor. It is heavy, insecure, not protected given the weight/dull ground-feel, and has only alright traction. It is sketchy on technical terrain and unnecessarily beefy for tame trails.

There are very few scenarios where the Hierro v5 performs close to as well as any other shoe I’ve run in and in most situations it is strikingly worse. The only scenario the Hierro could possibly be a reasonable choice over a different trail shoe is for long runs on packed, easy trail or dirt road without a lot of corners or elevation change.

Jacob’s Score: 6.05 / 10
Ride: 7 (30%) Fit: 6 (30%) Value: 3 (10%) Style: 5 (5%) Traction: 6 (15%) Protection: 7 (10%)

Canice: The Hierro v5 is a comfortable shoe best suited for non technical trails, or possibly a shoe worn for all day comfort, say at work or running around town. I would gladly run this shoe on trails and just as happily wear them around Park City where I live. They are incredibly comfortable.

The heel is loose and wide so on technical trails a liability, but on wide open trails it’s in its element. And you can run these as long as you like as there’s plenty of cushion.

Canice's Score 8.3 / 10
Ride: 7.5 (50%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)

Comparisons 

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Altra Olympus 3.5 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5. The Olympus has a much bigger toebox, a more traditional upper, and while the outsole has lots of exposed midsole (which helps it weighs ~1.5 ounces lessthan the Hierro) it doesn’t suffer for traction. The Olympus is both softer underfoot and offers more rock protection. Hierro wins in aesthetics and it does have better traction and durability, but I’d favor the Altra.

Brooks Caldera 3 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5. The Caldera 3 was my immediate comparison after my first run in the Hierro, and they both have well-cushioned, if not overly cushioned rides, that leave me wanting a little more rock protection. That said, the Caldera 3 comes in 3 full ounces less. Part of that is the outsole that has some exposed midsole material and the more traditional upper design. The Hierro has a slightly wider toebox, which is appreciated, but give me the lighter Caldera.

Hoka Speedgoat 3/EVO (RTR Review)
Jacob: Both shoes fall into the maximally cushioned trail category, but the Speedgoat is significantly lighter and also a beast on mountainous, technical terrain where the Hierro v5 is nearly unusable. Before running in the Hierro I was curious to see how the ride compared to the Speedgoat (my shoe-of-choice for the last three ultra’s I’ve run) as I thought they had the potential to be similar, but the ride is completely different. The Speedgoat has a notably soft and squishier feel; I can really feel the high stack and some sinking effect. In the Hierro, the cushion is firmer (though still soft) and the shoe is less flexible. The ground feel in the Hierro is very muted, more so than the Speedgoat in some ways, though it also can’t truck over rough stuff nearly as well due to the worse grip and insecure foothold. I’d take the Speedgoat in any scenario.

Nike Wildhorse 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5. Another shoe with polarizing aesthetics, the Wildhorse 5 has a similar stack height but much better protection due to the rock plate up front. The Hierro has more cushioning, but the extra protection (and nearly 3 ounces lighter) gives the Wildhorse the edge for me.

Saucony Xodus ISO 3 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5. The only shoe I’ve reviewed heavier than the Hierro (by nearly 2 full ounces!), the Xodus leans into its position as running/walking/hiking shoe. The Hierro has a little more room up front and a more springy ride, while the Xodus has even better traction and the gigantic slab of Everun does a pretty good job of protecting your feet from rocks. Ultimately I favor the tank from Saucony, if you’re going to be an armored all-terrain, might as well protect your feet in the process.


Topo Ultraventure (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5. The Topo is another shoe that I would have liked more rock protection from, but it does have a superior ride, toebox, and nearly 3 ounces less on the scale. Its looks are muted compared to the Hierro, but aesthetics are pretty low on the overall scale for me. Give me the Ultraventure.

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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2 comments:

Chris said...

This was one of those review I was curious bout purely to see if it matched my impression of the shoe at first glance. And it seems I was dead on. While the “style” of the shoe caught my attention the flaws that you all found are all pretty apparent just from photographs. I’ve never been a NB fan, but it seems like this shoe is a major fail.

Jeff said...

Hi Chris,

It is definitely one of the more disappointing shoes I've reviewed, because there's a lot to want to like, but there wasn't much to get excited about during the actual run. Seems like New Balance is firing on all cylinders when it comes to their road shoes, and the trail team is still trying to figure some things out.