The newly launched New Balance 690v2 is stacking up to be one of the best shoes to come out of the Boston-based company’s trail department. By Rae Trew-Browne
Released as an ‘all-terrain’ shoe the 690v2 is definitely most comfortable off-road. Although it does have some tar capabilities this is not the shoe to buy if you solely run on the tar. The ‘AT Tread’ outsole is aggressively lugged for optimum traction on loose and rocky surfaces.
While testing the shoe, I found myself on a mix of incredibly loose, sandy terrain with patches of large rocks and I was more than pleased with how the outsole performed under-foot. The tread handled the ground moving under my feet superbly, allowing me to keep balance and stay confident on the ever-changing terrain of the trails on Reunion Island.
The shoe performs well on dirt road / hard pack surfaces as well, as the lugs don’t protrude too high off the bottom of the shoe, this gives the ride a smooth feel under-foot on the harder surfaces.
With a claimed weight of 293g, the shoe is incredibly light for its price tag. It is no wonder the 690v2 is SA trail running legend, AJ Calitz’s, shoe of choice. With a RRP of R1700, the 690v2 won’t just be competitive on the trail, as it will look to unsettle some of the more popular but more expensive offerings on the sales shelf as well.
New Balance went with their standard IMEVA (injection-moulded EVA foam) in the midsole which gives it a stiffer feel compared to their fresh foam versions. I personally would have liked to see some of the fresh foam technology feature in the shoe but that would naturally put the price up.
Still, some fresh foam technology in the heel would have increased the comfort of the shoe nicely, though the midsole performs well and the EVA keeps the overall weight down, keeping the shoe sharp and agile on just about any type of terrain.
There is no denying the shoe is fast. With the overall weight being under 300g and the upper of the shoe hugging the foot securely, the 690v2 is more of a lightweight racer than a training shoe. The stack height is not high enough to muffle the much-needed feedback from the trail as well which is a great feature. Cushioning helps with comfort in the long haul, but too much cushioning can hamper your body’s ability to stay balanced and stable on the uneven terrain.
The 690v2 gets it just right, although from time to time, it is a little light on the front and you do feel the sharper rocks. Overall, though, the midsole along with the 8mm heel-to-toe drop gives the toe-off a nice bit of momentum as you flow into your next stride.
One of the highlights of the 690v2 is how the upper and the midsole seem to work so well together out on the trail. Not once did I feel my foot moving off the edge of the sole on a steep gradient, nor did the foot slip and slide inside the shoe. The upper and the gusseted tongue do their jobs well to keep the foot firm and secure, reducing blister-causing friction and increasing confidence when the trail gets really gnarly. The tongue has been stitched to the sides of the upper which keeps trail debris out of the shoe, reducing friction even further.
All in all the New Balance 690v2 has been a pleasure to test, I would classify this shoe as a lightweight racer for anything up to 32km. Having said that, it also obviously depends on the runner, as more experienced runners could take it up to ultra distances without any issues. One thing to look out for would be sizing, make sure you go into a decent technical running store to get fitted with the correct size. The toe box is nice and roomy so it could be easy to get a size that is too small, which will cause issues for your toes on the steeper gradients.