New Balance 851 Men's Shoe Review
- Extremely light
- Fast on court feel
- Low to the ground ride
- Outsole durability
Think of the MC 851s as a set of high performance tires. You're going to find great traction and you're going to be able to hit the corners faster than ever, but if you use them for the daily commute they are going to wear out fast. The MC 851s will not last long, and many players will not find them supportive enough, during the grind of daily practice. That being said, few will find a faster shoe than this one. Our testers who saved the MC 851s for matches got the most out of this playtest. With minimal support and cushioning, they found the trade off to be exceptional speed on match days. Rather than being the only tennis shoes you'll need, think of these as the pair to pull out of your bag for your next big match or tournament. We found it best to train in a beefier shoe (New Balance's 1187 makes a perfect choice) for better support and durability, and to grab the MC 851s when competing.
New Balance, a major player in the running shoe arena, brings the "less is more" concept to tennis with the MC 851 tested here.
While in running some athletes are going so minimal they are running barefoot, in tennis we need more protection. For example, good luck playing barefoot on a hard court if you are a toe dragger (in fact, please don't try it even if you think it is possible). Other runners are wearing shoes designed to be very light weight, flexible and fast. Minimalistic in design, such shoes allow for a more natural movement of the foot but sacrifice support and stability.
In the MC 851, New Balance offers an extremely light weight shoe. We weighed a size 10.5 at an incredibly light 12.3-ounces, which makes the MC 851 the second lightest shoe we currently offer (the Yonex SHT108 just beats it at 12.2-ounces).
The MC 851 is about as minimalistic in design as we've seen for a performance tennis shoe. The uppers are a combination of light weight mesh and a synthetic Drag Tip material. An Acteva Ultralite midsole lives up to its name, providing a light weight yet cushioned ride.
Being so light and mobile, the MC looks to have speed, breathability and comfort covered, but can it meet our needs for support, stability, durability and traction? To find out our testers hit the courts for a month-long playtest. Read on to see how the MC 851 performed.
Comfort - Score: 3.5
Often with very lightweight shoes, cushioning is minimal while providing a low-to-the-ground feel. The New Balance MC 851 was no exception. Chris enjoyed the immediate comfort. He said, "These shoes require absolutely no break-in. On the first wear I was able to go all out and not have to worry about blisters or any discomfort. The uppers were very soft and supple and moved well with my feet. On the cushioning front, the forefoot felt especially minimal. I felt very low to the ground in these shoes. Being a skinny bloke, the minimal cushioning was not an issue. The shoes felt slightly more cushioned under my heels. I never felt any jarring on hard landings and was happy with the amount of cushioning."
Mike agreed, saying, "Right out of the box I thought the MC 851s were well cushioned and needed no break-in time. They were comfortable shoes to wear on and off the court."
Finding the cushioning to have a short life span was Jose. He said, "For the first couple of weeks the cushioning was great. Beyond that, though, the cushioning started to wear down. I started to feel everything on the court."
Mark wasn't surprised with the thin cushioned feel. He said, "They had a slightly spartan feel in terms of cushioning, which is not unusual for a low-to-the-ground shoe style, but the soft, almost sticky sole helped compensate for this."
Not getting an ideal fit was Granville. He said, "The MC 851s did not fit my feet well. The shoe seemed to sit askew on my feet. They were too tight on the inner toe box while being roomy elsewhere in the toe box. I removed the stock insole and replaced them with my usual aftermarket insoles for a better fit."
Ventilation - Score: 4.4
As all the testers agreed, this shoe provided excellent ventilation. Granville could feel air penetrate the shoe. He said, "The shoes remained very cool on my feet despite the heat on the court. I felt the wind blowing cool air over my feet from the excellent ventilation."
Chris was just as impressed saying, "The mesh on the uppers did a good job of letting air in and heat out."
Jose, was surprised that, "Sometimes I could actually feel the breeze coming into the shoe." Mark offered, "The use of mesh throughout the upper provided really good ventilation for my feet during several sessions on hot days."
Mike agreed, adding, "I thought the shoe had good breathability. The mesh allowed air to flow through the shoe, making my feet feel cool throughout play."
Arch Support - Score: 3.2
The arch support ran low, requiring some of our testers to insert more supportive insoles. Mike was satisfied with the support, saying, "The arch support on this shoe fit my feet well. I have a standard arch and had no problems with the arch support on these."
Both Chris and Granville added Superfeet insoles to improve the arch support. Chris said, "The footbed felt a little flat for me in these shoes. I ended up installing a pair of black Superfeet insoles, which improved both the arch support height and lateral stability through the arch area and heel."
Though the arch support felt a little low, it didn't bother Jose on court. He said, "The arch support felt slightly lower that medium. At first look, the shoe seems to have little to no arch support. However, once I put the shoe on, I did feel some support."
Mark felt the shoe could have had better support. He said, "I have a pretty middle of the road foot type in terms of width and arch height, but the arch support was a bit too shallow for me in the MC 851."
Foot Support/Stability - Score: 3.1
With such an extremely lightweight shoe it was no surprise support and stability suffered some. Not expecting much support or stability, Chris said, "I would call this more of a match day shoe, as it is light and very fast, but not super rigid and stable for the grind of everyday practice. The flex from the chassis made it feel fast. The shoes flexed very well on toe-off, allowing a quick first step and a fast sprint to the ball. Laterally, I felt the shoes could be beefed up, because in stock form they twisted quite a lot. Fortunately, the low-to-the-ground ride had me feeling secure, and with the aftermarket insoles I was moving around confidently."
Mark also felt the support and stability could have been better. He said, "The traction of the sole was so good that when I planted my foot I felt like the tread of the shoe would do its job, but my foot slid a bit inside the shoe as I pushed off because there is not much supportive material in the upper. A little more material in the upper would remedy this, but then it would not be such a light, speed-oriented shoe."
Granville said, "This shoe is designed for speed -- so there will be some compromises, and stability is one area of compromise. As noted earlier, my feet do not sit in the shoe comfortably. Some roominess in the toe box added to the odd fit. Also, the soft and supple materials did not offer much support laterally."
Feeling vulnerable when changing direction was Mike, who said, "The shoe didn't really have the best foot support or stability. When I changed direction the shoe didn't support my foot, and it felt like I was going to roll my ankle. I would have to say that these weren't the best when it came to support and stability."
Jose was happy with the support and stability, given the MC 851's weight. He said, "The shoe had a glove-like fit, so I didn't have any problems with my feet moving around in the shoe or my ankles rolling. The support and stability rate well with me for such a lightweight shoe."
Overall Sole Durability - Score: 3.5
The playing styles of our testers vary, as do their opinions on the durability of the MC 851. Chris was pleasantly surprised with the durability. He said, "Being light and fast, these shoes didn't seem to be built for durability. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they held up. As I've found with other New Balance shoes, traction remained impressive even when the outsoles started to show wear. Considering I tended to save these shoes for matches, while practicing in something more stability oriented, I expect to still get plenty of life out of my pair."
Mark was happy with the durability/weight trade off. He said, "I gave it a 4 in the durability department because for such a light shoe, it is pretty darn durable. Like all my shoes, the toe box portion in the MC 851 was the high wear area."
Granville was happy with the wear. He said, "It seems to hold up well over the whole outsole. The wear patterns for me are at the toe and outside forefoot (as usual). These outsoles held up well under some extensive playtesting."
Seeing some premature wear was Jose. He said, "After about three weeks of playing I started to notice some wear on the sole of the shoe. I didn't expect the shoe to have a durable sole since the shoe is really light, but shoes usually last me six to eight weeks before I see some wear."
Mike felt the durability was lacking. He said, "The durability on this shoe wasn't the best. I started seeing wear within two days of playing for about an hour each day. I usually like shoes with great durability, and these shoes did not have it."
Toe Durability - Score: 3.4
There was plenty of protection for toe draggers. Mark found the uppers at the toe to be more durable than the outsoles. He said, "The outsole feels pretty soft, but the toe cap is a firmer compound and slowed the wear considerably."
Happy with the toe durability was Chris, saying, "The toe durability was solid. The uppers feel pretty thin, but they resisted abrasion very well. I drag the toes on both shoes and found plenty of scuffing on these, but there were no major durability issues."
Traction - Score: 4.3
With superb tack on the hard court, the MC 851s excelled in the traction department. Jose was happy with his sure-footed movement. He said, "I didn't have any problems at all stopping, starting or changing directions. Since the shoe is lightweight it made it easy to adjust to any speeds. The sole of the shoe provided good grip at all times, whether it was lateral movement or just sprinting and stopping."
Chris felt the tack of the outsole helped provide efficient movement. He said, "The rubber used for the outsoles gripped the court very well. The shoes also offered a fair bit of flex, and that seemed to help keep a lot of the outsole connected to the court. The resulting grip had me flying around the court at full speed. Great traction and a light and fast feel made these a good match day option for me."
Feeling traction to be one of the best attributes of this shoe was Granville. He said, "I like the stickiness of the outsole and tread. I was moving confidently, with no slips. They have a nice low ride, so traction is one of the highlights of this shoe."
Mark felt the traction outperformed the support, saying, "This ties into my comment in the support section; when making quick stops and starts I felt like the tread of the shoe planted well, but my foot moved a little inside the shoe when transitioning in an opposite direction."
Having similar sentiments was Mike. He said, "The traction on the shoe was good. I didn't slip at all, but the traction was so good that every time I changed direction I felt like I was going to roll my ankle."
Weight - Score: 4.6
At a shockingly light 12.3 ounces (size 10.5), it was clear this shoe was designed for speed. Chris moved well on the court, saying, "These were the lightest and fastest shoes I've worn since the Nike Air Zoom Vapor S2 (the original Vapor). They definitely blew away everything else I've worn this year when it comes to feeling light and fast. I was moving very well in them, and I'm saving my pair for matches, when I want to make sure I'm moving at my best."
Enjoying the ease of movement was Jose. He said, "The weight is the strongest aspect of this shoe. The weight made it easy to move around the court."
Mark noticed a better ability to accelerate. He said, "My ability to accelerate was enhanced by the light weight of the 851. However, stopping was slightly inhibited for the same reason. If there was a bit more material in the uppers these shoes would have felt more familiar to my feet. Then again, it would no longer be such a lightweight shoe, which a lot of players benefit from."
Granville, comparing it to a running shoe, said, "I don't think you could have a much lighter performance tennis shoe. If you're seeking lightweight shoes with little cushioning or support, you will love this shoe."
Mike agreed with Granville, saying, "Because I rely on my quick feet, the weight of these shoes was excellent. The weight on these felt like a pair of running shoes; very lightweight and quick on court. Unfortunately, they lacked support and stability."
Overall - Score: 3.7
Chris - "I liked the light weight, fast feel, traction, toe durability, looks and ventilation."
Jose - "I love the light weight of the shoe. It made it really easy to move around the court."
Mark - "For a really light, good looking, speed-oriented shoe, the MC 851 is pretty durable, and the shoe did not let me down in terms of traction or ventilation, either."
Granville - "Good traction and ventilation, lightweight."
Mike - "Good cushioning straight out of the box, very lightweight and good traction."
Chris - "I'd like to see just a tad more chassis stiffness -- perhaps a beefier midfoot shank."
Jose - "I didn't like the cushioning of the shoe, but because the shoe is so light something had to be sacrificed."
Mark - "The only part of the MC 851's ride that I could criticize would be the lateral support. Changing directions in them caused a little undesired foot movement within the shoe."
Granville - "Not crazy about the cosmetic. Does not fit my foot well."
Mike - "The lack of support and stability, and the durability."
Comparing the MC 851 to other shoes they've worn, our testers said:
Chris - "I would compare these to the Vapor S2, as previously mentioned. Compared to current New Balance offerings, the 900 comes closest, but these are even more minimal and fast. I'm not sure if New Balance was taking a page from its running heritage here, as running shoes are becoming extremely minimal, but it certainly felt that way."
Jose - "The toe box area is a little narrow, but they have the same feel as a Vapor 8 Tour, but without the extra room in the toe box area."
Mark - "It is a great match day shoe. I would probably train in a shoe with a bit more material in the upper because, although they are very light, they did permit my foot to slide around inside them. To me this shoe is a departure from other New Balance shoes and reminds me more of a European indoor court shoe rather than a standard hard court shoe."
Granville - "An interesting mix of features with little compromise in areas of strength and weakness."
Mike - "This was probably one of the worst shoes I've tested. Although the shoe was lightweight, which I loved, the cons of the shoe -- poor durability and support/stability -- outweighed the pros."
Playtester Foot Types:
Chris - Narrow width / Medium arch
Jose - Medium width / Medium arch
Mark - Medium width / Low arch
Granville - Narrow width / Low arch
Mike - Medium width / Medium arch
Review date: January 2012. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
All content copyright 2012 Tennis Warehouse.