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Road Running Shoes • August 18, 2020

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon 3 Review

new balance fresh foam beacon 3 - feature

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 8.5 oz. (255 g) for a US M10.5/ 6.9 oz. (195 g) for a US W7.5
  • Features Fresh Foam X midsole (more info below)
  • Lightweight and bouncy, really works great at any speed
  • Likely will be the best non-racing New Balance shoe of 2020
  • It’s so veiny

ROBBE: So here we are. After writing reviews for BITR for nearly three years, after editing reviews for nearly two, I have finally made it to reviewing my first ever New Balance shoe. In fact, the only New Balance shoes I’ve ever owned in the past weren’t even real running shoes– a pair of 574 and some leaden paperweight of a trail shoe from the local outlet.

However, what I can tell you is this: I think I got onto the NB train at just the right time, ‘cause the Beacon 3 hit me good as it rolled into the station. It’s not perfect, but the lightweight, nicely-cushioned shoe gave me some real comfortable miles just when I needed them, which is to say– all the time, because I’m done with summer running. You can cash me outside in the November rain starting about sometime next week.

JARRETT: The Beacon 2 was one of my favorite shoes last year. I put about 400 miles in it as it was versatile enough to handle easy days to tempo work to the stupid hilly Morgantown marathon. Ever since we saw the Beacon 3 back in December at TRE, I’ve been annoying everyone asking for it. Literally annoying everyone. I talk about New Balance all the time to anyone that will listen. Really, like endlessly. [Editor’s note: He does.]

THOMAS: For me, the last two Beacon editions were mildly overhyped. Many runners raved about the shoes, but I just didn’t get it. The only thing I can think of is that I got my pair before a line change that made the Fresh Foam midsole more responsive than the pairs I received.

This time the Fresh Foam X feels bouncier and I like it much better. Funny enough there has been a lot of chatter about whether or not this is actually Fresh Foam or Fresh Foam X. Our team did some digging and this is what we found out:

Fresh Foam X is a thing, but it’s really not. It’s just a slight tweak on the original Fresh Foam compound to make it softer, less dense, and– as a result– more lightweight. Basically, the shoes in the Fresh Foam X collection will have that variation of Fresh Foam for a midsole. That’s it. Material composition is the exact same, it’s just a different durometer. On one hand, I’m glad they differentiate the softer vs. firmer Fresh Foam (unlike the FuelCell), but it’d be nice if a better explanation was provided from the get-go.

new balance fresh foam beacon 3 - side

The Good

ROBBE: Having literally no New Balance experiences to compare this shoe against, I can give you a pure, unfiltered view of the shoe, or at least that’s what I tell myself.

And what I’ve found is this– it’s a really nice, lightweight daily trainer that can maybe transition into tempo.

The Fresh Foam X midsole is soft-ish, meaning it has some plushness, but not so much that you feel like you’re working against it. And it returns a nice bounce, which I was pleasantly surprised by. I hate using the Goldilocks metaphor, but not enough to use it again! The midsole felt just… right. It really provides a great slab of cushioning all down the midsole, so you get a nice ride out of it no matter where you land.

I felt this shoe just rolls, especially as you pick up the pace a little bit. On downhills, it provides a lot of impact absorption while rolling right into the next stride. It really reminded me of the HOKA ONE ONE Rincon, which I loved, but died out around 150 miles. Here’s hoping the Fresh Foam X lives longer.

In terms of the upper, I didn’t have any issues with heel slip, despite the elf-ear collar thing. Which, by the way, I loved. It was super easy to pull on the shoe. The ultra-reflective ‘N’ logo is for some reason really cool as well. Now, I did have other issues with the upper, which I’ll detail below.

JARRETT: We shall start off the good with the most controversial part of the shoe: the midsole. What is it? Fresh Foam? Fresh Foam X?? Fresh Foam XXX starring Vin Diesel and Samuel L. Jackson?! Spoiler alert: it’s FFX. Just like it says on the tongue and insole.

Honestly, it doesn’t really matter what the midsole material is. All that matters is that it feels good. Boy does it feel good! It’s soft and bouncy. For sure softer than the Beacon 2.

I used the Beacon 3 for a track workout, easy recovery run, and Saturday long run. All were great in their own way. As I sped up, it felt bouncy and fun. As I slowed down, it was softer and cushioned just right.

The engineered mesh upper fits great. The midfoot is hugged well and the toe box isn’t anywhere near as sloppy as the 2 was with the puckering. Additionally, the design is slightly transparent to help it be more breathable. Is this one of the reasons for the veiny design?

Just like the Beacon 2, the Ultra Heel works as it should. No blisters or uncomfortable rubbing and it also doubles as a pull tab to hold on to. New Balance is loving the flared out heel and I’m not mad about it.

The Beacon 3’s outsole is pretty much the same as the 2, but a slightly different pattern. It’s still the Ground Contact Fresh Foam with 5 strategically placed rubber pods. While there may be some cosmetic wear to the exposed foam, it’s not a big deal. It grips great to provide sure footing while taking corners at higher speeds.

THOMAS: The thing that shines in the New Balance Beacon 3 is the ride. The shoe feels soft and firm at the same time, to be more specific, the Fresh Foam X gives a small amount on impact and then firms up to feel propulsive. There is just enough flex under the forefoot giving the runner the ability power off the toes and get a snappy takeoff. This Beacon 3 is smooth.

Just a touch of rubber on the outsole does the trick, in terms of traction. I ran in a tropical storm and I felt confident on wood decking, brick pathways, concrete, pavement, and loose gravel. I even took the Beacon 3 on a hilly single track trail in North Carolina. Would I have preferred a trail shoe? Of course, but all said and done, I ran much faster in the Beacon 3 than I did in HOKA ONE ONE Torrent 2 on the same trail loop. A week of libations with the family on vacation may have contributed to the slower times.

The upper breathes well and contours to the foot better than the previous models. The tongue is a good thickness, enough for comfort without being puffy. The reflective “N” is a nice touch. You can read more of my thoughts on the upper in the next section.

MEAGHAN: I’ve been anxiously awaiting the Beacon 3 ever since my brother’s dog ate my Beacon 2’s. I wish I was kidding. But good news– they were worth the wait! The upper looks and feels pretty similar to its predecessor. The collar and tongue are just slightly padded to give you a comfortable fit. The heel counter is a bit more rigid than the previous model (more on that later), but NB kept the light, somewhat transparent engineered mesh upper for a breathable, airy ride. Also, I love the fit. This shoe hugs the foot, but also offers a nice, wide toe box– a must for my wide feet.

The midsole of this shoe has been slightly updated with Fresh Foam X. It’s a cushioned, bouncy, responsive ride that I am loving. The midsole/outsole are basically one and the same, the outsole being made up of “Ground Contact” Fresh Foam and a few rubber pods for the high-wear areas. The exposed foam is showing some wear, but I’ve had no issues with traction.

I typically don’t wear the same shoe on back to back days, but I just got back from a week-long vacation and I wore the Beacon 3’s every single day I was there (even though I packed 3 other pairs). That’s a pretty good sign.

Shop Beacon 3 – Men Shop Beacon 3 – Women new balance fresh foam beacon 3 - heel collar


The Bad

ROBBE: First– no issues with the midsole. Great stuff, so keep that coming, New Balance.

Let’s talk about the upper. For starters, I felt the shoe ran long. It felt fine in the midfoot, but the toe box felt like it had enough room for some Chernobyl-type feet (i.e. too many toes growing in all directions). For the life of me, I could not get a good lockdown. My feet were sliding about so I never really felt secure in the shoe.

Also, I just don’t like the material on the upper. It feels cheap to me and it’s somewhat stiff. Off the top of my head, I can pick out about 30 other uppers that I’d prefer. Also, the design is kind of weird/lame/uninspiring. If you’re a dude, you might get someone pregnant wearing the Beacon 3  because that’s how bad it wants you to be a dad.

With the high stack comes less stability. I felt a little bit wobbly until the pace picked up. But hey– it’s not a stability shoe. 

And dear God, get rid of the veins.

JARRETT: Immediately I noticed the shoes felt a little long. I compared them to the Beacon 2 and they definitely looked longer. While I’m normally a 10.5 in NB, I could have gone down to a 10 here. I had slight heel slip issues, but once I heel lock laced, all was good. 

Last year I had two complaints. The sloppy toe box was fixed. The tongue wasn’t. Make it gusseted or attach it another way and it’s solved. You got this, Beacon 4! I believe in you (and the run).

My lightweight wide shoe gained some love handles this year. Last year’s version weighed 8 oz, while these come in at 8.7 oz. Let’s just blame covid and ignore the ice cream sandwiches. For real though, I gotta stop with the late-night dessert.

THOMAS: The Fresh Foam X family of trainers has this organic look going on in the design. I think it is supposed to look like coral. It looks like wrinkles or a veiny sack on the heel counter. I’m not feeling it.

Besides the aesthetic, the upper is sloppy over the toe box and runs a smidge long. Try a half size down from your regular size. To get a good fit, I lace a little tighter, causing a nice pucker in the material on the vamp. The heel counter works better in the Beacon 3 than in the 1080 v10, but caused rubbing on my Achilles. New Balance, you have a great platform in the midsole here, let’s make the upper look like a sleek running shoe and have the shoe look as good as it feels.

MEAGHAN: While the flared out heel is intended to protect the Achilles from hot spots, it had the opposite effect on me. I developed a hot spot on the back of both heels that turned into full-fledged blisters when I switched shoes. I recommend a thicker sock, or maybe one with a lip for this shoe. 

Also, the Beacon 3 got a little chunkier. My W7.5 came in at 6.9oz vs 6.25oz of the Beacon 2. Can I really complain about a cushioned daily trainer under 7oz though? Not really.

Shop Beacon 3 – Men Shop Beacon 3 – Women new balance fresh foam beacon 3 - outsole

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon 3 Conclusion

ROBBE: While the ride of this shoe is one of those rides you always hope for in a shoe, the upper leaves a lot to be desired. Fix the issues above the equator, keep the midsole as-is, and version 4 should be right in that do-everything and do-it-well wheelhouse. That said, if you don’t mind a little bit of extra room, or you go a half-size down, you’ll find yourself with an excellent ride for any distance.

Also, at $120– not bad at all.

JARRETT: The Beacon 3 is a Swiss Army knife and can be used for anything. Short. Long. Fast. Slow. Race. Whatever. 

I’m a big fan of the update. The FFX midsole really makes the ride better and more fun to run in. Buy the Beacon 3 in confidence!

THOMAS: Normally when I go on a trip, I take 3-4 pairs of trainers to choose from. After the first three runs in the Beacon 3, I knew it was the only road shoe I would need to pack for the week away. I was right. The shoe is a do it all lightweight trainer. Trying to figure out the shoe, it actually falls between two HOKA shoes. Not quite as bulky as the Clifton and more responsive than the Rincon. It sits right between them. That is a sweet spot to be. I can confidently recommend the Beacon 3– in fact, it is the best daily trainer from New Balance I have reviewed this year.

MEAGHAN: I love the Beacon 3. Hot spots and all. My favorite aspect of this shoe has got to be its versatility. You can use the Beacon for slow recovery runs, fast tempo days, and even race day (unless you own the NEXT%… then definitely use the NEXT%). If you’re looking for a great daily trainer, grab a pair of the Beacon 3. 

You can pick up the at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.

Shop Beacon 3 – Men Shop Beacon 3 – Women




Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Richard Bruce says:

    Hi from the UK,

    Great review, just a question, I have read many reviews over the last few days and your review is the only one that say the Beacon 3 has Fresh Foam X, even the UK website doesn’t mention Fresh Foam X. Can you please confirm that it has Fresh Foam X.

    1. DANIEL M says:

      I found this review to find more info about that as well. NB has been putting the X on all their shoes even though they don’t have Fresh Foam X which is very deceiving/confusing. The website doesn’t claim X and several other reviews do say it’s normal Fresh Foam.

    2. Jarrett says:

      It is Fresh Foam X.

      I think the most clear analogy I’ve come up with is to think of it like this. Fresh foam is whiskey and fresh foam x is bourbon.

      All ffx (bourbon) is ff (whiskey), but not all ff (whiskey) is ffx (bourbon).

  2. phl0w says:

    Better than TC as a do-it-all daily trainer?

    1. Robbe Reddinger says:

      Not better, but a hell of a lot cheaper.

  3. Jim says:

    Does the beacon compliment the 1080 in a rotation, or are the different shoes for different runners preferences? The beacon seems to be just a lighter daily trainer for those who prefer a lighter cushioned shoe as compared to the 1080.

  4. Marco says:

    Hi from Italy, thanks for your deep review!
    I’m a very satisfied user of Beacon v1. I have some doubts about the size, normally for the old Beacon I used the 10.5 US (as for the 1080v10, but these go slightly tight on the toe box as opposed to the Beacon). I don’t understand if I have to drop an half size or not, I can’t try them easily unfortunately…

  5. Paula says:

    I am a big fan of my Beacon 2 and looking to try out the Beacon 3. Looking for input on sizing- all of my running shoes, regardless of make and model, have been a size 7. The only exception was the Beacon 2 as a 6.5. Should I buy the Beacon 3 in a 6.5 or a 7?

  6. Jesper says:

    Thanks for a great review! Would you say the Beacons are comparable to the Altra Torin 4.5 when it comes to toe box width (especially on the big toe side)? That’s where most non-Altra shoes simply don’t work for me, but I’d love to be stuck with not only one brand of running shoes.

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