Wednesday, February 28, 2018

New Balance Summit Unknown Initial Review: Fast, Stable, Comfortable & Light Trail Rocket

Article by Sam Winebaum

New Balance Summit Unknown 
The New Balance Summit Unknown is a light, agile, and protective trail runner/racer which sets the bar very high for performance and all terrain versatility. Very stable, it is firm but not overly so, and has a very supportive and comfortable snugger upper ideal for its speed purpose.

Its directional 4mm lugs provide good all purpose traction and also help make it excellent on road, making it a very fine hybrid.

It can be characterized as a New Balance 1400 for trail. It shares the 1400's light weight although as a trail shoe it weighs approx. 1.5 oz more, agility, 10 mm drop and Revlite midsole while adding a RockStop plate, more trail oriented upper and the lugged outsole. New Balance told us it should fit similarly to the upcoming 1400v6.

It is somewhat "more shoe" underfoot and up top with a slightly more relaxed fit than the excellent NB Vazee Summit Trail v2 (RTR review) one of my trail favorites of 2017.  It does gain about 0.5 oz over the Summit Trail which I assume mainly comes from the additional outsole coverage density and to a lesser extent the upper.

Weight:  8.85oz/251g US M8.5 sample. Approx. 9.1 oz/259g US M9
Offset: 10mm
Midsole Stack: 19mm heel/9mm forefoot, add 4mm lugs and sock liner for approx. total 27/17.
$110. Available April 2018

Fit and First Impressions
Summit Unknown fits me true to size. It has a consistent secure fit from heel to toe. The toe box is  narrow but has no pressure points given its soft mesh.  The look screams speed and security with the extensive web of foot forming underlays contrasting with the rich orange red color.

The mesh is soft over the toes so there is plenty of toe overhead room. It is a relatively narrow shoe but not unpleasantly or uncomfortably so.

The upper is No Sew with the outer layer asoft dense mesh. It is more breathable and should drain better than the Vazee Summit Trail v2 with its dense mid foot Fantom Fit panels
New Balance Vazee Summit Trail v2
An extensive array of underlays sits below the outer mesh, well protected from trail hazards. Inside that, and covering the underlays is a very thin mesh laminate to keep out trail dust but which should allow good breathability and drainage.
The inner construction features a stretch bootie which incorporates the tongue which is very similar to the Summit Trail. The stretch tongue is lightly padded and provides enough padding over the lace up. It is important to firmly pull the tongue up prior to lacing as it will want to stretch back towards the front otherwise. The stretch in the tongue, if properly pulled up and laced, along the upper and its overlay,s provides a great overall "custom" foot hold which I find adapts well to terrain variations with less of the tendency to want to try to collapse medially at mid foot felt in the Summit Trail v2.  The heel counter is firm and substantial.
The Toe Protect bumper is fairly firm but not noticed as it does not extend over the toes and the soft mesh. While snug up front there is enough vertical toe wiggle room. 


We find New Balance's trusty RevLite in the midsole, same as in the 1400 road racer cousin and the Summit Trail. I personally think RevLite is best suited to trail shoes as I find it overly firm, but as intended, nicely responsive in road shoes. At least for me, a 10K is the limit in the 1400 although many faster runners use it as a marathon shoe.
The midsole geometry appears to fill in the mid foot area with more of a bowing out than the Summit Trail's more abrupt vertical side walls. Combined with the new upper and more extensive mid foot lugs and outsole, this additional mid foot support is clearly felt.

The Hydrohesion outsole sees a change from the Summit Trail getting a denser array of lugs including at mid foot where there were none in the Summit Trail. 

The outsole really takes the edge off the firm RevLite foam. The soft ground performance suffers somewhat with more mud accumulating, especially in the heel mid cavity and from the denser array of lugs overall.
I think this new array which now includes lugs at midfoot, combined with the cored out area in front of the heel, makes the Unknown more versatile and more comfortable underfoot on firm terrain and even roads than just about any trail shoe I have run. with the possible exception of the  heavier Salomon XA Elevate (RTR review), also a versatile do anything trail shoe.
The RockStop plate appears to be a bit shorter and is no longer called out as 3/4 but as Forefoot and thus does not extend as far back under the mid foot as in the Summit Trail. This gives the Unknown a more distinct flex point whereas the Summit had a longer somewhat easier flex but no distinct flex point as Unknown has. As a result the Unknown is an very good on uphills. The rock protection is excellent but you will feel the trail and the rocks given the relatively thin forefoot stack. Trail feel and agility over terrain is excellent. 


Wait a minute what are they doing on an indoor track? I ran all matter of "terrain" in my testing from a track, plenty of paved roads, rocky dirt roads, some fields, and some rooty, rocky single track. I did not get on highly technical mountain terrain due to snow coverage. On all terrain the Summit Unknown was agile, stable, well cushioned and fun to run. Roads were a big surprise as I even got in a 12 miler through the Swiss countryside with a mix of pavement, concrete, farm roads, and fields. Everywhere I went the Unknown was well if firmly cushioned, very stable, and responsive. The forward toe flex does favor faster paces. Grip was excellent on all surfaces.  


I found the Summit Unknown to be an outstanding choice for all around, less than super technical trail running, at speed and for moderate distances. I tend to like such a shoe for my 5-15 mile runs where I will see a mix of terrain and where some agility is needed and it for sure fits the bill. Some may run it as an ultra shoe or on technical terrain despite its firmer cushion and relatively thin, if well protected forefoot.  If I was to recommend improvements it would be to move a few millimeters of heel stack height to the forefoot.

Sam's Score 9.5/10
-0.4 for thin forefoot cushioning on rougher terrain and for longer distacnes. Move some stack from the heel to the forefoot while maintaining  flexibility and it would be near perfect. 
-0.1 for length of stretch tongue. It could be a bit longer or a touch less stretchy. 

The Summit Unknown improves on last year's Vazee Summit Trail v2 RTR review) with an improved upper and and an outsole suitable for a wider variety of terrain, including firmer smoother terrain. It is more stable, comfortable and versatile. New Balance has slotted the Summit Unknown to plug a hole in their line between the very minimal MT10v1 and their heavier trail shoes such as the 910v4 and Hierro v3. 

Noice the colors? One could also say the Unknown is filling a market gap for a decently protective, lighter, faster racer in Salomon's S-Lab line between the very minimal Sense (RTR review) and the now heavier 2018 Ultra (RTR preview)  It is is more stable and responsive for me than the 2017 S/Lab Ultra (RTR review), and may match up most closely to the upcoming Salomon Sense Pro 3 which is at about the same weight (RTR preview). And Summit Unknown is $70 less than S-Lab models..

We received one pair for this review. Jeff Valliere our lead trail reviewer is hoping to receive a pair and we will update the review with his test results and more comparisons later this spring. I am particularly interested in how Jeff compares the Unknown to the similar purpose and slightly heavier Brooks Mazama (RTR review)

New Balance presents the Summit Unknown and Hierro v3 to RoadTrailRun
$110. Available April 2018

Reviewer Bio
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running trails and roads and run shoe geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half. 

The Summit Unknown was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.

Comments Questions Welcome Below!

Visit our 2018 Previews Page here for 2018 run shoe, apparel, and gear previews. 
Watch our YouTube Channel  here for 2018 Run Shoe Previews and Wearable Tech Reviews 
Visit our Index Page here for over 80 in depth 2017 & 2018 shoe and gear reviews

Like & Follow Road Trail Run  Twitter: @roadtrailrun 
Instagram:roadtrailrun   RTR YouTube: RoadTrailRun

RoadTrailRun receives a commission for purchases through the stores below. 
Your purchases help support RoadTrailRun's work. Thanks!

FREE 2 Day Shipping EASY No Sweat Returns


Anonymous said...

Hi Sam,
Thanks for the review, as this shoe has been on my radar because I run light trails with the NB 1400V5 and was looking for more protection. I was wondering how they compared with the NB Gobi 2? It is about 9 oz. with 17/23mm and based on the Zante? I never ran in it, and didn't really care for the fit of the Zante, but was wondering if you did?

I'm glad they made the under arch wider than the Summit because I found the Summit was just too unstable for me-and sent them back after trying in the house. I too thought NB would be wise to lower the drop to 8mm in the heel and exchange 2 more mm up front (on the 1400) The forefoot of the 1400 is just too thin for me for over 10K.

sam winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for writing. I ran the Gobi 1 and liked it a lot. It leans more towards road than trail and if I recall is a bit softer and of course has less aggressive lugs. If your trails are light it might work as I ran it on smooth single track in UT with no issues but would hesitate except for short stretches to run it on rooty rocky stuff here in New Hampshire. As for the Summit Trail I found the arch pretty carved out but only noticed really noticed it when I ran a very wet and muddy 25K trail race where my feet got quite sore.
Sam, Editor

Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links to all shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews. Shopping through links on articles help support RoadTrail Run and is much appreciated

Anonymous said...

Thx for the review. My friend recently gave me a pair of the Vazee Summit V1's and it was a gamechanger for me. Very lightweight and grippy - great for technical trails.

Summit Unknown looks like a further improvement - do you know when these will hit running warehouse? I can't wait to buy a pair

sam winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Unknown is yet more versatile but may suffer a bit in the wet compared to Summit Trail, I expect Running Warehouse will carry and according to New Balance release date is early April.
Sam, Editor.

Anonymous said...

Really pumped for this shoe. Any idea whether NB will offer the Unknown in widths, as they did with the Vazee Summit?

sam winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Have just asked NB about widths and when I hear will post a comment and change review if need be.
Thanks for asking!
Sam, Editor

ninedeeb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ninedeeb said...

Have only perused through a few reviews but they are very in-depth and appear to be free from bias!

I love the sound of these shoes, but that drop sounds so big! Did you find that the heel got in the way of forefoot running?

sam winebaum said...

Given the firmer midsole drop is noticed but not an issue for me. What do you run in now? Maybe a touch less agile than Summit Trail but more stable and better suited to longer runs.
Sam, Editor

ninedeeb said...

Hi Sam,

I am slowly weening off the MT10 and running more often in the S-Lab Sense's although I wasn't crazy about Salomon's latest iteration of it. I like to stay agile.

sam winebaum said...

Then you might first look at Summit Trail v2. Sam, Editor

ninedeeb said...

Hmm. Interesting. We have a lot of technical trail out here in Austin and I found the Vazee V1's sloppy through that kind of terrain. That being said, I only know of a few folks on the internet that felt the same. I'm willing to at least check out the V2s and the Unknown's.

rms said...

Good to hear the arch has been filled in somewhat, as that was my primary issue with the VS; it's hard to see fitting this in my rotation, however, not needing high drop for Achilles issues, and many other shoes will do just as well for shorter outings.

sam winebaum said...

Curious as to what other shoes might fill your need for shorter outings
Sam, Editor