New Balance Summit Unknown v3 Review

This week a somewhat less discussed style of trail running shoe, the New Balance Summit Unknown v3 gets a review. The New Balance Summit Unknown has changed a lot over the years. The Summit started life as a rival to the nimble fell shoes like the Walsh PB Trainers. This was back in the days when there were very few trail events and off road running in the UK was fell racing in the summer and cross country in the winter. The number of off-road races has increased dramatically and the surfaces that you are running on are much more varied. The New Balance Summit Unknown has become a much more versatile shoe to reflect this variation in terrain.

The first thing that I noticed when putting on the V3 version of the Summit Unknown is that the toe box is much roomier, which results in a straight big toe. This is a complete contrast to the pointed snug toe box of the previous versions. This has made the Summit Unknow feel very comfortable. The previous versions had felt nimble and fast but not the sort of trainer you would wander about in. This extra comfort also comes from the softness of the midsole. The midsole is made of New Balance’s Fuel Cell. This is their ‘go faster’ foam. It’s responsive, with lots of energy return but the latest version of the foam is also initially soft with a cushioned feel. These two factors extend the uses of the Summit Unknow from only nimble racing to a lightweight trail shoe that you can use for longer training runs, as well as races and other fast outings.

That doesn’t mean that these shoes will ‘do it all’. They are a light and flexible shoe and I found that the cushioning was OK on tarmac. Good enough to get me to my trail, but a few miles on tarmac in the middle of a long trail run didn’t feel good. This isn’t a problem as such because they are not designed to plod along the pavement at any point.

The Summit Unknown is flexible both medially and laterally, so it bends to the ground. This is ideal when you are trying to make forward progress over rough ground. The shoe bends and absorbs a lot of the rocks and tree roots so that you can push on. The feeling of the shoes is nimble, despite the soft feel to the midsole. The midsole responds to the force you put through it, so if you are out for an easy few hours the shoes don’t ‘push you’ to run faster than you want to go. However, if you pick up the pace you get the energy return from the midsole and the shoes are with you all the way.

I can see why British international mountain runner Jacob Adkin remains a New Balance sponsored Athlete. The Summit Unknown v3 will offer him everything he needs in a trail shoe to race over a variety of mountain running courses.

The heel to forefoot drop is 10mm but in reality, it feels a lot lower drop and a lot more stable than the Summit Unknown V2. The heel cup is a half plastic cup. This gives the heel a snug, stable fit so your heel doesn’t slip around inside the shoes when you are running on a camber. The tongue is soft and thin but has enough padding so that you don’t feel the laces. The tongue is also gusseted to stop debris from getting into the shoes. The upper is light and soft with no stitching or over lays to rub and there is a firm toe protector.

The midsole has a rock plate between the outsole and the midsole. This is a very thin nylon and very flexible. You aren’t aware of it at all when running. It is designed to stop sharp rocks from piecing the shoe and going into your foot. It also reduces the chance of getting bruised feet when running over boulders etc. The outsole rubber is New Balance’s ‘Hydro Hesion’, which is a sticky rubber designed to grip to wet surfaces. I found this to be effective on wet rock and wood. You can feel it sticking to the road on a damp day. The lugs are big, to make them more durable and 4mm in depth. The Summit Unknown is not designed for deep mud like a cross country racing shoe but offers enough traction to deal with most trail conditions. If you need a longer stud for muddy farmers’ fields etc then there will be a soft ground version of these shoes available in early 2023, so keep in touch.

The upper pulls nicely around the foot but the roomier toe box does give your toes a bit more freedom than in the previous models. The straight big toe means that you can get a better toe off. This coupled with the flexibility of the forefoot makes the Summit a great shoe for uphill running as you can really power through the big toe. When descending I also find that the extra room and straighter big toe shape meant my toes didn’t get bashed or pushed into the toe box as they could spread out.

In conclusion the New Balance Summit Unknow v3 is a versatile trail running shoe best suited to more broken trails, for those runners who like a shoe that responds to the ground. Great for moving quickly, yet a lot more versatile than before, so it felt good at any pace but is not a road-to-trail shoe. If you are looking for a softly cushioned shoe for longer trails and easier runs, then the New Balance Hierro v7 would be worth considering.

Other Considerations
NVii Terra TT: These are a very similar nimble shoe with good grip and a soft feel to the midsole. They are narrower but, come with two insoles so you can use the thinner insole to increase the volume in the shoes. Interestingly these shoes were worn by Scout Adkin (Jakob Adkin’s Sister) on her way to a Bronze medal in the European Trail Running Championships in 2022. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/nvii-terra-tt-review-high-grip-trail-running-shoes/
Altra Superior 5: If you prefer a lower drop then the Altra Superior 5 would be worth considering. These offer a similarly responsive ride and a broad rounded toe box. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/altra-superior-5-review/
Scarpa Ribelle: The toe box is pointed like the older Summit Unknown V2 and the Ribelle isn’t quite as flexible. They have a rocker so they give you a bit of a helping hand on the firmer trails. The grips is on a par. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/scarpa-ribelle-run-review/
Scott Supertrac RC 2: These offer more grip in the mud with a slightly longer stud. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/scott-supertrac-rc-2-0-review-trail-fell-running-shoes/
Icebug Capra: These also offer a straight bit toe. They aren’t quite as flexible and have a more solid protective feel. The rubber is exceptionally grippy:
https://www.northernrunner.com/search/capra
Saucony Peregrine 12: These are a narrower fit and a 4mm heel to forefoot drop. The lugs are slightly longer and they offer a bit more traction in the mud for that reason: https://www.northernrunner.com/saucony-m56/peregrine-t164

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