by Austin “The Bus” Bussing
There certainly is a whole bunch of hype surrounding the New Balance Zante. It took home Competitor Magazine’s 2015 Road Shoe of the Year, and it seems like you can’t flip through any fitness-oriented magazine without being assaulted by full page ads for the Zante and/or it’s stockier Fresh Foam cousin, the Boracay. Is the hype well-deserved? Once the catchy ad campaigns have run their course and the limelight has dimmed, what are we left with?
The answer, unequivocally, is a darn good shoe. It’s fast, comfortable, smooth, sleek, and sexy. How’s that for effusive hype? Before I lay it on too thick, let’s cut through some of the purple prose and talk about the specifics of the shoe.
Similar to the adidas Boston Boost, the beauty of this shoe is in its versatility. With an aggressive toe spring, a sock-like upper, and a generous slab of Fresh Foam cushioning underfoot, the Zante is built for speed AND comfort. It has a smooth, consistent feel from the initial footstrike through the toe-off, thanks to the one-piece midsole and its geometrically-inspired design (more on this later). These features, combined with the shoe’s 6 millimeter drop (heel-to-toe differential) place the Zante within the “natural running” footwear paradigm, making it a good option for the runner who is looking to go a bit more minimal without taking the plunge straight into Vibram Five-Finger territory.
The Zante’s upper is arguably its most divisive quality. Some runners will revel in the sock-like upper, while others will bemoan the lack of support provided by the seamless, stretchy toe-box. It would seem that the New Balance designers, in their attempt to achieve a sock-like feel, completely eliminated anything that might make the upper “shoe-like.” While the midfoot portion of the upper hugs your arch (perhaps too tightly for runners with wider feet) the toe-box really opens up. This design feature is in line with the fashionable school of thought dictating ample room for toe-splay upon impact with the ground, but it may leave some runners wishing for a bit more support.
One slightly geeky factor that contributes to the Zante’s notably smooth ride is its aforementioned geometrically-inspired design- primarily the use of the hexagonal shape and concave/convex support structure throughout the midsole. The portion of the midsole that runs beneath your foot’s inside arch and back through the heel is comprised of convex hexagons, which provide subtle support and, dare I say, stability, for the impact portion of your gait phase. The entire lateral side of the midsole, as well as the forefoot portion of the medial side, is comprised of concave hexagons, which compress a bit under pressure, and thus provide a soft transition through the toe-off phase.
The Zante’s aggressive toe-spring, and the fact that it is quite light (6.5 ounces for women, 7.5 ounces for men), make it a great shoe for uptempo running. While some runners may find it a little soft for a true racing flat, most would probably agree that it is light and responsive enough for a tempo/longer threshold workout shoe. The shoe is also endowed with just enough Fresh Foam cushioning to make it serviceable as an everyday trainer for the runner who prefers a lighter training shoe (think Saucony Kinvara, Brooks Launch 2, etc.). For New Balance, the shoe fills a void between the Fresh Foam 980 (or newly-updated Boracay) and the 1400, with the cushioning and minimal drop of the 980/Boracay (Boracay is a 4 millimeter drop, Zante is a 6 millimeter drop) in combination with the lightweight and responsive nature of the 1400. Retailing at $100, the Zante is also very reasonably priced, considering the quality of the product.
In short, the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante is a lightweight training/road racing shoe with comfortable cushioning, a smooth and responsive ride, and a sock-like upper. Runners with a wider foot, or who prefer a more supportive upper, may be advised to look elsewhere, as the shoe does run a bit narrow through the midfoot, and the upper leaves some support to be desired in the forefoot. Paradoxically, the things that make this shoe wrong for some runners are the same attributes that make it so very right for others. The tight-fitting midfoot does a good job of locking in the arch, and also helps to accentuate the arch support underfoot, while the stretchy upper in the toe box allows substantial room for toe-splay. The Zante is not necessarily built for every foot out there, but I think it can be a good fit for many runners. It’s certainly worth coming to try the shoe on at Rogue Running!
New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Specs:
Weight: 6.5 ounces (Women); 7.5 ounces (Men)
Drop: 6 mm