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Review: New Balance Summit Unknown

Written by

Sarah Colligan

Trail Running Expert.

This expert review is written by

Sarah Colligan

Trail Running Expert.
Sarah has been running for a little over seven years, but she fell in love with trail/ultra running about four years ago. She has run thirty-one races at marathon or ultramarathon distance, including three 50-milers and one 100-miler (so far).

As a wife/mom/photographer/writer/wannabe farmer, Sarah uses running to burn off the crazy (and so she can eat more food)!


We usually consider 10 ounces a "medium" weight for a running shoe: less than 10 and we are entering the lightweight category and above 10 the shoes start to be heavy.

Heel-to-toe drop

Heel drop is the measurement in mm of the difference between the height of the heel and the toe of the sole.

A lower drop (0mm - 5mm) promotes running on mid-foot and fore-foot, while higher drops (8mm - 12mm) are more traditional and meant to support a heel-striking gait.
Expert score

Expert Review: New Balance Summit Unknown

Quick overview

Best for
Long, slow training runs, short trail races (up to half marathons), marathon and 50k trail races
Best for on dirt trails, on paved trails, through grassy sections or cross-country courses, over very rocky area, in muddy area, through creeks and streams, along moderate trails, along highly technical trails
The Summit Unknown provides good traction on most types of terrains and surfaces
Lack Traction
Average Traction
Provide Traction
The Summit Unknown offers just the right amount of cushioning
Little cushioning
Medium cushioning
Highly cushioned


244 g
Heel to toe drop



Pros and cons according to our running expert

Pros and cons according to our running expert

  • Lightweight
  • Great for dry dirt trail
  • Tongue doesn't bunch
  • Great for speed
  • Good grip
  • Wouldn't use in deep mud
  • Not for extreme icy conditions

Our verdict

In the New Balance Summit Unknown, I was pleased with the lightweight (under 9 oz) design of this all-terrain shoe. The padding, narrower heel and mid-foot, and the protected toe box made it easy to just put them on and go because they hugged my narrow feet without shifting. They performed well on steep downhills/climbs. Once I started running, I forgot I was wearing new shoes, and that feeling continued on subsequent runs. I never got hot spots or blisters.

Introduction New Balance Summit Unknown

The New Balance Summit Unknowns are priced between $90 and $110, and offer a design similar to New Balance’s 1400 road shoe.

These shoes, however, have a rock plate. The midsole is soft and light, as well. It is recommended as an all-purpose, all-terrain trail shoe.

Cushioning Type
The Summit Unknown is a perfect mix of... Read more responsive and plush: good shock absorption
Cushioning Amount
The Summit Unknown offers just the right... Read more amount of cushioning
Little cushioning
Highly cushioned
The Summit Unknown is extremely flexible at... Read more the expense of some structure
The Summit Unknown offers great stability for... Read more runners who needs the most support for
Not particularly stable
Very stable

Impressions New Balance Summit Unknown

On my first run, I decided to test the shoe on a trail that had both dry sections and muddy sections. When I put the shoes on, I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t feel like “new” shoes. Since my feet are narrow at the heel and midfoot, I usually end up with blisters or hot spots in new, wider shoes, especially when water or mud are involved. However, these hugged my feet and drained surprisingly well, and I never had an issue. While some reviewers commented that the attached tongue was a problem for them, and they found it would bunch as their runs went along, I never found I had to adjust them.

On subsequent runs, I tested the shoes on more technical, rooty downhills and some steeper climbs. I always felt connected to the ground, which isn’t something I experience in every shoe. I felt there was just enough padding to give these shoes a comfortable plant, but it wasn’t so much that I felt I was awkwardly lugging the shoes around. They fit my feet well from the first run to the last.

I found that they are not superb in heavy mud over 3 inches deep or on thick ice, but I wouldn’t NOT buy them because of that. I still slid around a bit as I do in some of the other shoes with less tread. However, the comfort, lightweight design, and performance on every other type of trail terrain I encountered made me consider them to be well worth their price.

These shoes also stand up well to normal wear and tear. Snagging them on thorns or stubbing them on rocks didn’t seem to cause any major damage. I never noticed any tearing in the mesh, and the rubberized toe section was great protection for a toe-stubber like I am.

I think the Summit Unknowns are a great racing shoe for 50K or less. I found them to be fine for road sections, but they definitely show well on a dry dirt trail, with technical spots. And they grip well on steeper climbs, which impressed me. I never felt unsafe or like I couldn’t trust the shoes to hold me in place on a steep downhill. I plan to use them in my lineup for an upcoming trail 50 miler, just to see how they fare over a 50K.

Protection New Balance Summit Unknown

The toe box of the Summit Unknowns is rubberized and protective, but the mesh is light and allows for drainage. The exterior heel area is rubberized, as well. While the toe box is not overly wide, it is comfortable and I never had rubbing or contact blisters on my toes, even when wet.

While these are by no means a minimal shoe, they don’t have a significant amount of padding like one might find in a Hoka (or similar) trail shoe. However, I felt that the rock plate kept my bony feet from feeling the rocks and stones, and there was enough padding in the sole to make my feet comfortable and protected.

The rock plate in the Summit Unknown provides... Read more adequate protection from sharp rocks on the
Not present
Solid protection
The Summit Unknown provides good traction on... Read more most types of terrains and surfaces
Lack Traction
Provide Traction
Water resistance
The Summit Unknown offers great water... Read more protection. Not completely waterproof but
Water Resistant

Durability New Balance Summit Unknown

I never noticed any significant wearing on the mesh upper, even after some wet, muddy trail and on some sharp rocks, roots and thorns that I expected would be likely to cause tearing or holes to develop. The entire shoe held up well, even though I put them to work and did my best to push the fabric and rubber to their limits.

I expect they would perform well on tougher terrain than I tested, as well, such as rocks and longer climbs/descents. I would definitely have them in my lineup for an ultra trail race.

Responsiveness & Speed New Balance Summit Unknown

As a middle-of-the-pack runner, I liked that the Summit Unknowns made me feel fast. While I am more accustomed to a heavier, “meatier” shoe, I liked that the lighter weight made me feel like I was able to push off and lift my feet more easily.

I would definitely choose these shoes on a fast dirt trail course, even one with some technical spots. I pushed my speed on a few different runs, and my feet always felt light. The shoes wore in well, and I felt they actually enhanced my performance when it came to speed.

Comfort and Fit New Balance Summit Unknown

The Summit Unknowns fit true to size and are lightweight and responsive. The padding and traction would be great for any runner who likes a fast run or climb on dry dirt trail. I was able to put them on and go with very little adjusting.

Some reviewers talked about needing to adjust the tongue of the shoe repeatedly due to the design, but I never found that to be an issue, even when wet. These shoes also drain well in mud and streams.

The Summit Unknown has average sizing: buy... Read more the usual size
Buy size smaller
Buy size bigger

Conclusion New Balance Summit Unknown

While the Summit Unknowns don’t necessarily have the toothy tread that would make them my first choice for deep mud or thick ice, they shine in every other way as an multi-purpose, all-terrain trail shoe. They are light, responsive, form well to the foot, have a comfortable amount of sole padding, and they drain exceptionally well for runners who don’t mind splashing through the occasional stream crossing.

This page contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

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