New Balance Summit Unknown Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
For those runners who loved the Vazee Summit v2, rest assured that the Summit Unknown stays very true to the shape and feel of that shoe, so much so that it can be hard to tell them apart except by looks. On one day of testing, we set out to traverse a ridge between a number of peaks in Colorado and didn't realize until about halfway up the first mountain that we had accidentally worn the Summit Unknown on one foot and an old Vazee Summit v2 on the other. It provided for a great day of comparison testing, and the honest assessment was that these shoes feel virtually the same.
For those new to the shoe expect a somewhat narrow fitting shoe with a high stack height that protects the heel well but doesn't lend itself to a tippy or unstable ride. The Hydrohesion rubber found on the outsole does a fantastic job gripping all surfaces but shines when the ground is wet. It is among the most lightweight that we have tested, and feels that way while running in it, while also not compromising at all in performance. If you want a light shoe that can truly tackle any terrain and doesn't have to be held in reserve for special days, this is an excellent choice.
The midsole of the Summit Unknown features New Balance's Rockstop protection, which is not exactly what we would describe as a rock plate, but still manages to dull the force of a blow from sharp rocks on the bottom of the feet. REVlite foam is also used throughout to give lightweight cushioning that doesn't feel as springy or bouncy as the foam found in the Altra Lone Peak 3.5, but never the less cushions the foot well while running. The rubberized "toe protect" bumper does an adequate job of protecting the toes, but is by no means a piece of hard plastic. The upper is made of lightweight, breathable mesh with interior reinforcements, but no longer has the large number of overlays that were present in the Vazee Summit v2. This shoe does a good job striking a balance between foot protection and sensitivity, although the scale is tipped a bit toward sensitivity.
We love the fact that the outsole of this shoe is made of one single piece of rubber with only tiny pieces cut out to aid in flexibility, a design that we have seen leads to greater wear time and longevity. The whole sole is covered in roughly 4mm deep lugs that are multi-directional and do a good job gripping soft dirt and grass, and also a fairly good job on dry talus. Where this shoe shines is when it is raining, or the running surface is wet, as the Hydrohesion rubber grips wet rock better than most. The traction on this shoe is guaranteed not to let you down.
With its interior sleeve-like tongue that wraps and cradles the entire foot, this is a shoe that effectively keeps the foot in place without having to be cranked down tight to do so. However, we found that its 10mm heel-toe drop means that the heel has quite a lot of foam underneath it, mildly adding to the sensation that we could roll an ankle while side-hilling or even going down steep hills. By no means is this shoe as unstable as the similarly designed Salomon Speedcross, yet it can't be denied that it is not as stable as the low riding Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4.
The Unknown is a very comfortable shoe. The fit is long and narrow throughout, from the heel to the arch and on to the forefoot, so it may not be a good choice for those runners with wide feet. However, the upper is very flexible and not too confining, and we didn't experience any issues with our average width feet. Worth noting is that this shoe is available in Wide sizing as well as regular, so this may fix width related issues for those with wide feet. There is very little padding in the upper, but it truly fits like a glove.
We had only the minor complaint that we felt a hint of pressure across the top of the tongue where the crease between our ankle and foot is, and so we knocked the score down slightly. We also noticed that the insoles like to slide around when they get wet. However, in the water bucket test the Summit Unknown scored impressively high. It was the third best at not absorbing too much water when submerged, and second only to the Salomon S/Lab Ultra at managing to shed water after only five minutes. If you need a shoe for wet conditions, this one makes an excellent choice.
Our pair of size 11 shoes weighed in at 20.0 ounces, virtually the same weight as the far more cushioned New Balance Fresh Foam Gobi Trail v2. This was the third lightest shoe in this review, and out on the trail we certainly noticed a feeling of lightness that helped us glide to our best possible stride.
The Unknown is a very form fitting and precise shoe that is sensitive in the best kind of way. There is more trail feel in this shoe than the Nike Terra Kiger 4, although it wasn't as sensitive as the super thin zero-drop Topo Athletic Runventure 2. Since it offers a decent amount of underfoot protection but also a flexible, sensitive ride, you get the best of both worlds!
We enjoyed the Summit Unknown best for off-trail peak bagging missions that often involved a bit of scrambling thrown into the mix. However, this shoe is capable of handling any sort of trail running conditions and is ideally suited for wet weather or frequent stream crossings.
At $110 retail, this shoe now lives on the lower end of the spectrum, and since it is one of the higher scorers in this review, we think it makes a good value purchase.
The New Balance Summit Unknown is a very comfortable and light shoe that fills a similar niche as the Scarpa Spin. Despite its relatively high 10mm of heel-toe drop it is still fairly stable and is perhaps the lightest everyday, all-around trail shoe in this review. Lovers of the old Vazee Summit v2 or anyone who wants a quality shoe at a reasonable price are encouraged to check it out.
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