New Balance WC 996 Shoe Review
- Improved support/stability
- Available in widths
- B width feels on the narrow side
Building off the 851 model, the New Balance 996 uses new technologies to keep a low-profile design with improved stability. The addition of ProBand technology makes the stability better than ever. Combine that with the NDurance one-year guarantee, and these shoes are ready for the toughest of competitors. Our three playtesters found the 996 to shine in the lightweight and durable performance category, but our playtest team did find some fit issues and struggled to find complete comfort from this shoe. We should note, however, that New Balance shoes are available in different widths, and choosing the correct width could cure some of the fit issues that our playtesters experienced (our team tested the shoe before it came to market, so were locked into the standard B width). Those issues aside, the team did find better traction, stability and durability from this model, and that makes the 996 a solid option for those who want to feel supported, but not weighed down, on the court.
Comfort - Score: 3.1
With different foot types, our playtesters had varying opinions on the comfort of the New Balance 996. All of them wore the standard B width shoe, but with her medium to slightly wider foot, Karly may have been better served with the wider D model. She said, "These shoes were extremely soft, had absolutely no break-in period, and offered exceptional padding. However, the shoes fit narrower at the forefoot, which put a lot of pressure on the inside and outside of my toes. It took about 15 minutes into my hit for the pressure to start causing discomfort. It was extremely distracting because I was constantly thinking about how tight they felt on my toes. I tried loosening up the shoe as much as possible, but it still didn't relieve that pressure. If I were to wear these shoes again, there's no doubt I'd go up a width size to a D because the width in the forefoot was just too narrow for my medium wide feet."
Carol also had a concern with the comfort. She explained, "I believe this shoe sacrificed a lot of comfort for its lightweight feel. The cushioning was decent and did the job around the heel of my foot, but I felt that it was inadequate around the arch and toe box. My toes were moving around the large toe box quite a bit, which led to some rubbing and discomfort."
Deviating from the other two opinions was Brittany, who found this shoe to deliver out of the box comfort with no break-in period. "I wore the B width and found it to be the perfect width for my narrow foot. I thought the cushioning was excellent. I would describe it as more gel-like and pillowy rather than supportive, and it was present throughout the length of my foot."
Ventilation - Score: 3.5
Though the 996 sports a lot of mesh in the upper, our testers were not all convinced of the shoe's breathability. It was just about average for Brittany, who said, "My feet weren't overly hot, but they weren't cool, either. I didn't have to immediately take my shoes off after playing tennis, but I would take them off shortly after to dry out my feet. I would note that I playtested these shoes during the month of February in around 60 degree weather."
Carol offered, "I wasn't blown away by the ventilation feature of this shoe, but I also never experienced any discomfort from over heating. I think New Balance did a good job with the combined mesh to allow comfortable breathability."
Karly disagreed slightly. She said, "The mesh material on the upper really helped to make this one breathable shoe. The 996s kept my feet cool and dry, and I never had to worry about my feet feeling overheated on the court, which was great. There are no complaints about the ventilation from me."
Arch Support - Score: 3.5
Our team all agreed that the arch support sat lower than medium. Carol thought the arch support was partly to blame for the lack of comfort, explaining, "I think the arch was a little lower than what I'm used to and that was part of the reason the shoe didn't really feel as if it fit correctly. The shoe did mold to my arch and I felt snug and controlled through this area of my foot."
Brittany said, "While I thought the arch was somewhat nonexistent, it didn't bother me at all. My medium arches had no problems in this shoe, and I didn't have any pain or support issues."
Concurring with the other playtesters, Karly added, "I found the arch to fall a tad below average, but it wasn't low enough to cause any pain or discomfort. I usually don't have any problems with my arches, and this was no exception."
Foot Support/Stability - Score: 3.4
One knock against the New Balance 851s was a lack of support and stability, but New Balance has amped up both features for the new 996. However, the toe box was too big for Carol, and that negated the promise of new found stability in this shoe. She said, "The shoe fit too long and too wide. My toes were moving around quite a bit, and I kept feeling as if I were stubbing my big toe during front and back movements. Movement was a little more tolerable side to side, but I felt less confident. I think the ankle and arch support were good, but this was completely overshadowed by my struggles in the toe box."
Karly didn't have any issues and considered the stability to be average. She said, "The shoes definitely offered more support than I was expecting because of how low they fit around the foot. The low cut didn't affect the stability because the shoes held my feet really well, so I didn't experience any sliding in them. I also liked that they felt low to the ground, which helped prevent the fear of rolling my ankles. I wouldn't say the stability was outstanding, but the shoes offered enough support that I could move aggressively and confidently."
Enjoying the foot support and stability the most out of our playtest team was Brittany, who found the 996s to be a perfect fit for her foot. "I would say that there was a decent amount of ankle support for the shoe even though the ankle collar is pretty low around my ankle. The support was increased from the previous version thanks to the NDURE cage that wraps around the upper. However, the support was around average compared to all the other playtest shoes."
Overall Sole Durability - Score: 4.2
Brittany was surprised at how well the New Balance 996 held up on the court, saying, "I was even more impressed that the shoe comes with a one-year NDurance guarantee. I wore this for 20-plus hours on the TW indoor court, and I have to say that it is holding up quite well. Even under the toe, which I tend to wear out first, shows little to no sign of wear."
Carol agreed with Brittany about the great durability. She continued, "The shoe looks brand new after all my hitting. There's great overall durability thus far, and that NDurance guarantee by New Balance doesn't hurt, either."
Karly rounded out the sentiments on the solid durability that the 996 provided by saying, "For how light the shoes felt, I was quite impressed with the durability. I would say the 996s were tops in durability for its weight class. It took longer for the sole to smooth than other shoes with similar weights. Outside of their weight range I thought they provided average durability, but for a light shoe I was really pleased with the toughness of the sole. Not too mention they come with a one-year guarantee, which is a huge bonus!"
Toe Durability - Score: 4.1
The New Balance 996 has the NDURE cage on top of the mesh to help protect against toe dragging. Karly said, "There was good coverage around the toe box, and like the overall durability, I thought the shoe offered exceptional durability for its weight. I was happy with the shoe's toe durability."
An extreme toe-dragger, Brittany said, "The toe bumper is one of the first places on a shoe where I see wear. I am happy to report that the New Balance 996 held up to my standards. I can verify that the toe bumper goes up high enough to meet with the NDURE cage, providing plenty of protection."
Traction - Score: 4.2
Traction was another standout feature in the New Balance 996. Carol felt very confident that this shoe would support her in any quick movements on the court. She said, "Stop and go movements were made easy by the extra traction this shoe provided."
Concurring, Brittany added, "This shoe is also very easy to move in thanks to its low-to-the-ground feel. I had no trouble moving in any direction because I felt I had a good grip on the court. I felt very confident changing directions quickly and never had any problems with slipping or sticking to the court."
Adding to that was Karly, who found the traction to be great. She said, "Even after a little bit of wear, I thought the shoes did an exceptional job holding their traction. I was able to start and stop without sliding or feeling stuck to the ground. There was a good amount of grab on the court, so I could change directions without hesitation or problems."
Weight - Score: 4.3
While the New Balance 996 is over an ounce heavier than its predecessor it still maintains a lightweight feel, much to the delight of Brittany. She said, "I felt very quick moving on the court. To be honest, it felt like I wasn't even wearing shoes. No complaints from this playtester."
"Talk about a fast shoe!" said Karly. "I felt like I was much lighter on my feet, and I loved how my movement felt quicker than usual with these shoes on. It's safe to say the 996s are one of the lightest feeling shoes out there."
Carol was on the same page. She agreed that the shoe was lightweight, and she enjoyed how "they kept my feet very close to the ground."
Overall - Score: 3.6
Karly Ð "I loved the fast, lightweight feel!"
Carol Ð "I thought the durability, traction and light weight were the high performing features of this shoe. New Balance really improved traction for the tennis line. I felt confident that the grooves on the sole would support my movements. Regarding the weight -- it's true, this is a lightweight shoe that kept my foot low to the ground."
Brittany Ð "I loved how easy it was to move in this shoe due to the lightweight and low to the ground feel."
Karly Ð "The narrow fit of the forefoot really bothered me because of the pressure on the sides of my toes."
Carol Ð "I don't think this shoe fit me. I'd be curious to see how a smaller size would fit, especially in the toe box. My toes were moving around in the shoe far more freely than I am accustomed to or like. I definitely had rubbing and stubbing sensations in my toes from minor movements around the court. I like the lightweight feel, but I think cushioning and comfort were sacrificed. I never felt comfortable in this shoe, and when I was done playing I had no desire to keep them on."
Brittany Ð "I don't have anything that I really didn't like about this shoe. My one small knock would be the pinching of my socks on the side of my foot."
Comparing this shoe to other shoes they've worn, our testers said:
Karly Ð "I thought they were pretty similar to the Nike Courtlite 3s in terms of weight and stability, though I think the New Balance 996s offered the better durability of the two."
Carol Ð "In comparison to the New Balance 851s, I would prefer the 851s. The 851s were a far more comfortable shoe that fit my feet. I think the 996s have better traction and durability, but if I had a choice between which shoe to play a match in, the 851s win hands down."
Brittany Ð "I found this update to the 851s to be slightly different. While they both have that low-to-the-ground feel, I felt the 996s were a tad more stable and a tad heavier."
Playtester Foot Types:
Karly - Medium width, Medium-low arch
Carol - Medium width, Medium arch
Brittany - Narrow width, Medium arch
Review date: March 2013. If you found this review interesting or have further questions or comments please contact us.
All content copyright 2013 Tennis Warehouse.