I am a casual runner who owns tons of different pairs of runners. I also happen to have a penchant for writing and acting like I can give advice.
The culmination of all of these qualities is this blog where I write in depth reviews for older models of shoes. Don’t be fooled though, just because I am reviewing older models it doesn’t mean they are useless or worse than their current models. In fact if anything most of the shoes reviewed on this site are still available for bargain basement prices. So read on kind reader and learn about shoes and all of the tech that go into them.
Oasis in the trail desert: New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi
I’m always a little sceptical when a running company releases a trail going version of their road shoes, especially your bigger ones like Nike or Adidas. It might be because they have so many different models of shoes on the go at once, or just general lack of thoughtfulness but they usually end up being shitty. The upper wears out, your foot slips around in them or perhaps it just feels like exactly what it is: a road shoe with a super aggressive outer sole slapped on the bottom. There’s a reason why companies such as your Inov-8’s and Salomon’s are so big in the trail running world; they design their shoes from the ground up as trail running shoes ratherthan creating them as an afterthought.
Out of all of your big ‘mainstream’ running companies one that has stood out to me as the most as a trail friendly company is New Balance. When you look at their current models on offer they actually have a pretty decent number of trail focused shoes as compared to Nike or Adidas with a few of their models being purpose made as well. However, a fair chunk of New Balances trail offerings are retro fitted versions of their road going shoes. I had this in mind when I was staring down a pair of New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi’s on the shoe rack at New Balances DFO store. But then I looked at the price tag ($80) and decided fuck it lets have a go.
So what is the Fresh Foam Gobi? It is the trail going version of the Fresh FoamZante, which is one of New Balances more popular models. Much like its road going brethren the Gobi is a lightweight, neutral trail shoe with a 6mm offset in the Fresh Foam midsole. Now I will admit that I have a mixed opinion on the Zante but not with the Gobi, this is a hidden gem of a trail shoe for many reasons I’m about to outline bellow, so buckle up buckaroo we’re going to get into the nitty gritty of this thing.
If there is anything New Balance knows, it’s how to make an upper. Out of all of the shoes I’ve worn New Balance shoes consistently have some of the best uppers going around and the Gobi is no exception. Being based on the Zante the Gobi’s upper has a very lightweight minimalist feel. The majority of the upper is made out of a more porous and hardier mesh than what you find on the road going Zante. Over the middle of the forefoot splaying up to heel this is covered by an extra layer of thicker mesh which from what I can tell is used to help protect the top of the outsole from the inevitable sharp rocks or wayward sticks that your average trail runner might run into. Capping off the outsides of the upper on the toe of the shoe is some rubber panelling to once again protect the outside of the foot.
The inside of the shoe acts like a sheath with a seamless inner sleeve which, admittedly, is made out of a lighter but coarser material than the road going Zante. This sleeve then welds into the re-enforced heel which is now covered in neoprene instead of the softer plusher mesh then you get from the Zante. This is all topped off by a rougher sturdier tongue laced down by coarse flat laces with high-vis strips run through them.
So while this may sound like they just made a nasty feeling version of the Zante this is far from the end result. The lighter weight material and the extra re-enforcing around the upper does detract from the plushness but not in a badway. This is a trail shoe, and trail shoes should feel hardier than their road going brethren.
The upper fit is absolutely on point as well. I find that trail shoes can run very narrow or incredibly shallow in order to secure your foot for the coveted feeling of security whilst running over the trails. While the extra re-enforcing in the Gobi’s upper certainly does make for a much more secure fit than the Zante you never feel like the shoe is constricting natural foot movement and splaying in any way. This sometimes isn’t the case with more serious trail shoes.
Overall the upper of the Gobi is a great blend of plushness re-enforced with just the right amount of ruggedness in order to create a very easy wearing shoe. For every day trail running this is probably one of the best uppers going around. Just note that the porous upper breathes and lets water through very nicely.
Imma put it out there; I’m not the biggest fan of Fresh Foam. I feel like it’s the sort of thing where NewBalance put a lot of time and effort into creating Fresh Foam and marketing it as the best thing since sliced bread. Then Adidas released Boost, which delivers everything Fresh Foam promises and more, causing New Balance to sigh a collective “Fuck”. There’s nothing wrong with Fresh Foam but it’s just an okay midsole material unless some actual thought is put into its use. An example of this is the Zante v2 which had this weird mixture of being firm but not too firm and ended up honestly feeling kind of shitty.
The Gobi, thankfully, doesn’t suffer from this affliction as New Balance has ramped up the firmness on the Fresh Foam in order to give it a very consistent feel. Underfoot the Gobi does feel firm but with the surplus of foam underfoot there is no lack of cushioning. This gives you a shoe that feels good at pace but also has enough to it that you could quite easily kill a 25KM trail run run in them without complaint. Another bonus of the firmer midsole/innersole combo is that you get a good sense of ground feel from the shoe which is important for trail runners (although admittedly some more than others).
Another tick in the Gobi’s box is the 6mm drop that comes over very nicely from the road going Zante. The shoe itself feels practically flat when running except for the aggressive toe off which you can thank the Zante’s sole geometry for. Either way the 6mm drop is a particularly good sweet spot for those of us who land on their heel, but it doesn’t get in the way at all when you forefoot strike like myself. However do know that the Gobi with its 6mm drop is not going to be a supportive shoe so don’t buy this shoe if that’s what you’re looking for.
Overall I think the Gobi does a good job of finding that mixture of cushioning with firmness that some trail shoes struggle to find. A lot of other brands just use straight up solid rubber and believe that you’re going to be spending your days running on nothing but soft ground or highly technical trails where responsiveness is key. On the other hand the Gobi hit’s that sweet spot of being useable on pretty straight forward trail while still having enough firmness under foot to hit some technical stuff should the need arise. Keep in mind though if you are going to be hitting nothing but technical trails then the Gobi is maybe not the choicest shoe you can go after.
The Outsole on the Gobi once again is very much a trailised(?) version of the Zante Outsole which, was as far as road shoes go not an aggressively treaded shoe in the first place. First thing you will notice about the Gobi’s outsole is that the tread itself isn’t overly aggressive. The lugs or pods that cover the bottom of the shoe don’t actually run that deep into the sole, you get maybe about 2-3mm deep if that. Upon closer inspection you begin to notice the makings of a well thought out Outsole though as you realise that the pods themselves are arranged facing from the heel down to aid in downhill grip and in the forefoot the pods are aimed backwards to promote grip for your forefoot. On top of the pods themselves the rubber is grained in order to give you an iota more of grip. While not the most impressive outsole set up it is certainly well thought out, especially for what is a trail going version of a road shoe. Another bonus of the low profile pods is that on harder trail the ride is smooth.
As for the rubber used on the outsole itself the Gobi steps away from the sticky compound of the Zante and heads into lightweight harder compound rubber. Once again it sits in that good midpoint of not having a super sticky rubber underneath it that just wears away in a second for the sake of traction but at the same time it’s not as hard as a Vibram outsole, in which the super hard compound can struggle for grip on smooth surfaces (ala rock).
As far as outsoles go the Gobi hits that butter zone of being something that is useful in most situations. If you’re running on fire trail and even need a cover a couple of KM’s on asphalt to get to the nearest trail then the Gobi has the perfect Outsole for you. That being said there’s enough meat there that you can hit something a little more technical or maybe have a little more confidence in that scary downhill then you otherwise should. Just know that once you start getting into the slippery stuff that’s a little more unpredictable or sloppy then you’d be aiming for something with deeper lugs and a more aggressive tread. That being said for the majority of trails the Gobi does a fine job in the outsole department.
The Sum of the Parts:
So when you wrap up all of these individual aspects of the shoe what you end up with is something that is a bit of a rarity these days; a well thought out trail going version of a road shoe. I know it sounds crazy, but true to their word New Balance has created a shoe takes a fairly decent running shoe and somehow transposes that into the trail world to make a fantastic every day trail shoe.
That’s what the Gobi is though; an ‘Everyday’ trail shoe meaning that they will take you off the beaten track but maybe not as far as other trail shoes will. So the second the trail begins to get muddy, slippery or wet you’ll be wanting to grab another pair of sturdier better studded trail cleats. However, I think that is the beauty of the Gobi as far as trail shoes go. It’s an easy going shoe, it fits like a road shoe, it has as much padding as a road shoe, and it breathes like a road shoe. The fact that this is a light trail shoe made by a predominantly road based company is this shoes saviour because it still has the creature comforts that you want. On the other hand I’ve seen it time and time again where a trail company will try to make a light trail shoe with a super narrow fit, retardedly complicated lacing system, or just a crappy Midsole material.
The long short of it is that for what this shoe has been designed for it is an absolute pearler of a product. If you want a trail shoe in your life that is a little less serious or can carry you 5km down the road to the next trail then the FreshFoam Gobi is the shoe for you.
What’s the new one like?
Well Gobi v2 has just been released very very recently so there isn’t any real feedback out there yet for the shoe and what it can do. However I will have a stab at telling you what it should be like from what I can see and what it draws on from the Zante v3 on which it is now based. The Gobi v2 has a much more streamlined upper with a lot less fused plastic running all over it like the Gobi currently does which might affect the toughness of the upper and the security of its fit. As for the midsole it will be changing to the new version of FreshFoam which moves from hexagons to squares meaning that the ride will get firmer once again. Finally as far as the midsole goes there seems to be less pods but hopefully the ones on might be a little more aggressive to make up for it. Overall it looks like a cruising update rather than a complete remake of the shoe as tends to happen from time to time. The bonus of this is that the Gobi v1 will get cheaper so it will be an even better bargain.