New Balance Summit Unknown ReviewAugust 21, 2018
- Excellent grip
- Better than expected protection
- Tongue design
- Firm ride
The New Balance Summit Unknown is an excellent, all around, lightweight daily trainer. With New Balance’s REVlite midsole, the Summit Unknown has a racing pedigree but with a few extra millimeters in stack height to accommodate every day training. The Summit Unknown is the lighter and faster little brother to the Summit KOM. It is still a very comfortable shoe, with just enough padding around the heel and a stretchy sewn in tongue that you feel like you can wear it all day, but not too much padding so you forget that you are in a very fast shoe. The shoe does run a little small and narrow mainly because of the sewn in tongue. This seems to be true for pretty much every shoe that has a sewn in tongue. The biggest problem comfort wise with the Summit Unknown is that the tongue is too short and slid down under the laces as soon as we started running. This is really annoying but is really the only major shortcoming of this shoe.
Possibly the best part of the Summit Unknown is how it straddles the line of being a race ready shoe and an everyday trainer. Lots of shoes attempt to do this but few do it well (see the Best in Class from last season, The North Face Flight RKT, as an excellent example). The Summit Unknown is fast enough to handle short distance races, but comfortable enough to go really far as well. It is not the fastest shoe, nor the most comfortable, but instead of being mediocre at both, it manages to get both attributes (speed and comfort) to work together for an all around excellent ride.
The New Balance Summit Unknown is a comfortable enough shoe. It lacks the plushness of its big brother the Summit KOM but has the firm feel of a purpose built shoe. The upper is sturdy with extensive overlays that allow the shoe to breathe well without being too flexible. It has a sewn in tongue, that generally works really well in keeping debris out and is comfortable but it does make the shoe run a little small and snug. Also, the tongue seems to be too short and kept falling down into the shoe while running. Usually after stopping once or twice to pull it up it would eventually stay, but this just seems like a design flaw and oversight. Adding a loop to the tongue to lace the laces through would probably solve the problem. The REVlite midsole is firm but forgiving and fairly flexible. It retains the same level of firmness over the length of a run instead of breaking down and losing its cushion.
Security of Fit
The Summit Unknown has a very secure fit. It laces up well without any bunching or tight spots. There is no slipping in the heel and overall you feel very secure. It does run fairly narrow mostly due to the sewn in tongue. Since it is narrow in the midfoot, there is little to no movement in the shoe while running. When running hard, or cutting sharp down switchbacks, the Summit Unknown holds your foot really well and inspires confidence when running downhill. The mesh upper with integrated overlays did a really good job of securely holding our tester’s feet.
While the Summit Unknown is not a hard core race shoe, it is a fast everyday shoe that proved it can go any distance we tested. It is versatile in what it is capable of doing and responds well to any speed. With its solid grip and forefoot rock plate our testers found the confidence to really push and know that it will stick and help push you forward. New Balance uses its competition inspired REVlite midsole material so it can go fast and feel comfortable doing so. It may not be the fastest shoe tested this season, but it is very close.
This is another strong category for the Summit Unknown. The shoe has a unique tread pattern that grips well on pretty much any surface. The lugs are not especially deep so it can struggle in deep mud or snow, but on any dry or even moderately wet conditions is performs very well. The excellent grip, combined with the snug fit, inspired confidence when our team needed it. The 10mm drop is a bit high nowadays and some testers felt it pitched them forward a bit.
The Summit Unknown uses New Balances very popular RevLite midsole. The RevLite midsole is fairly firm but it maintains a similar level of cushion throughout the run. Unlike softer shoes that lose their cushion over the course of a run, the Summit Unknown gives consistent cushion. The ride is pretty snappy and flexible and really just a good all around ride.
The protection of the Summit Unknown is as good or better than what you would expect from a shoe in this weight class. The forefoot rock plate protects well from sharp objects which is definitely needed since the rubber outsole is not solid rubber and would otherwise allow rocks to poke through. The firm midsole also does a good job of protecting against most obstacles. The upper provides adequate protection. The toe bumper works as well as you would expect. The upper is very thin, but the tough mesh and overlays that are integrated into the mesh, do a good job of stopping rocks from poking through. But, it is thin so testers reported they could still feel sharp bits poking through.
Out testing spans the course of several months. Our testers spend a few weeks running at least 50 miles (typically much more) in each shoe. They live all over the country so each shoe can be put through our testing protocol in a variety of terrains and conditions. Each tester is encouraged—to the best of their ability—to test the shoes in as many different terrain environments as possible: in the mountains, on dirt roads, buffed single track, technical terrain, etc. In addition to varying terrain, our testers have to test each shoe at different efforts including a long run, easy running and fast running. As mentioned above we test for six different criteria: comfort, speed, security of fit, agility, responsiveness and protection.
Gavin Coombs brings 20+ years of running and racing experience and a background in run specialty retail to his reviews.