FuelCell foam and a carbon plate are a familiar recipe by now but how doe it taste on the trail?
Out of the box and into The Alps
Until now New Balance didn’t have any carbon plated trail racing shoes. The only competitive trail shoes they have are the New Balance Hierro v7 and the Summit Unknown. The former is a fine shoe and Andy will be reviewing it on the website in a few days. But it isn’t one of the new trail shoes with super foams and a carbon plate. New Balance decided to change that and they are launching this year the FuelCell SuperComp Trail, a new shoe coming with FuelCell foam, a carbon plate and an excellent Vibram grip for the outsole. I first ran in it in the Alps for a 55km challenge that we did with Tim and Sandra (check the YouTube video here).And while this may seem like a crazy idea, the shoe worked perfectly well. Let’s review it!
Weight in On’s sample size: 235g (8.28oz)
Stack: Heel 31mm – Toe 23mm (8mm drop)
Upper – Racy rather than robust
The upper of the New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail is an engineered mesh upper that offers a true to size fit with a rather narrow width. It’s comfortable and like I said the first run I did in the shoe was a very long one and I didn’t face any issues like chaffing or rubbing. The heel tab allows you to easily put the shoe on and New Balance included a technology called ToeProtect to keep your toes safe from rocks. While it works, it certainly isn’t the sturdiest toe bumper on the market and this doesn’t help the shoe be one that will work on very aggressive terrains (at least rocky ones).
The only complaint that I may have about the upper is the tongue that is super, super thin. And that could in my opinion, offer a bit more padding. That being said I didn’t face any lacing pressure.
First of all, and as Alex, I didn’t experience major chafing nor issues with the upper while running with the shoe for the first time on a 55km trail. This is maybe the best proof that this upper is at least comfortable and adapts to my foot morphology. That being said, I agree with Alex regarding the narrowness especially on the front of the shoe. Therefore, if you have a very wide foot, maybe you should consider going ½ a size up. Unlike Alex, I like the thin tongue and generally the lacing system that works well enough for me.
Regarding toe protection, our trail was quite technical and muddy but without being too rocky. In those conditions, the technologies used are enough. Nevertheless, for a more rocky environment, I would not be so confident. While running in the Alps, I even experienced a situation where I missed some protection. A rock pushed by my pole directly hit my right toes and created a quite unpleasant and painful situation.
Finally, I can guarantee you that the upper is really breathable. I did some hiking in a forest with a lot of dust and even some sand and while going to shower after I had the foot full of dust and sand.
Midsole – True trail or mixed terrain master?
The midsole of the New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail is a super interesting piece of technology. It features New Balance FuelCell foam, a carbon plate and the Energy Arc technology that all together create something very interesting and that works surprisingly well. The FuelCell foam that New Balance used in this shoe is the same FuelCell as the one on the New Balance SuperComp Trainer v1 which in my opinion was one of the very good variations of FuelCell that existed.
For this midsole New Balance created a 10 millimeters drop with 31 millimeters in the heel and 21 millimeters in the forefoot. I could see this shoe working with a slightly lower drop but nevertheless, the 10 millimeters work fine. The carbon plate is noticeable, especially when picking up the pace. But despite offering some stability and rigidity in the midsole, it still has a bit of flex in the forefoot, which is nice, especially when climbing. Finally, the Energy Arc technology is a bit less noticeable than in some other New Balance shoes like the SuperComp Elite v3, or the SuperComp trainer, v1 or v2. It looks a bit more like the energy arc technology on the New Balance RC Elite v2. And you can feel a bit less of that trampoline effect coming from it.
What I would say is great in this shoe is that the FuelCell foam acts really like a dampening piece of material yet offering some cushion, rebound and not being too mushy like some other FuelCell iterations (New Balance Rebel v2 for instance).
The shoe shines most on not too steep terrains. Like long distance or long, steady climbs around 4/5% gradient. It really really allows you to pick up the pace and to feel like you’re carrying some speed with you. And that’s very pleasant. I would see the shoe work perfectly fine on courses like Western States 100 Or even on some mixed road gravel races.
Alex has already explained the technical side, therefore I will directly jump into my feelings about the midsole.
We had the privilege to interview one of the product managers who developed this shoe. In which, he explained to us that this shoe wasn’t just a road shoe with a trail outsole. It’s funny because while finishing my trail, it was exactly what I was thinking about the shoe. Don’t get me wrong, for me it is really a good point and not a drawback. While running in them, especially when the path wasn’t too firm and not too technical, I really had this feeling of running on a very good road super shoe while having a good grip.
The cushioning brings rebound but also stability. However, unlike road shoes, I’ve not tested hundreds of trail shoes but this midsole is far my favorite for any trail as long it’s not too rocky nor technical.
Vibram Megagrip Goodness
During my first test of the shoe in the Alps, the conditions were horrendous. With lots of rain, lots of mud and very cold temperatures. When I started running, I was extremely concerned that the answer wouldn’t provide enough grip for those conditions. I genuinely don’t know which you would have worked with such amounts of mud on the course. You also need to visualize very steep descents in the Alps, and with the mud those descends can become really dangerous.
For the outsole New Balance opted to partner with Vibram and their Lightbase and Megagrip technologies. Vibram is a tested and renowned outdoor provider and on this shoe, their rubber compound works really well. The grip didn’t disappoint me at all. And that is a big thing to say given the conditions we faced on the 55 Kilometer challenge day. I had enough grip and I had enough traction 95% of the time. It was only in sections where there were more than 5/10 centimeters of mud under my feet that the shoe was getting lost.
So kudos to New Balance and Vibram, for putting together this outsole and adapting it on the New Balance FuelCell SuperComp Trail.
Totally agree with Alex, the grip works really well even under tough conditions! I would add that after around 70km / 44 miles in them (including some hiking) the outsole doesn’t show any major signs of wear and I would therefore guess that it will have superb durability.
Top Tier Competitor
The FuelCell SuperComp Trail is a fantastic trail racing shoe. It will address the needs of people looking for a shoe for middle to long distance. I would say up to 100 kilometers especially on so not too technical rolling terrains where they can produce some speed thanks to the shoe. €200/$200 is reasonable given the market competitors like the Nike Zoom X Ultrafly or the Hoka Tecton X 2. Yet I would love to see this shoe at a lower price point like €180/€180. Because it would make it an even more competitive offer on the market. That being said I would rank it in the top three shoes on the trails that I have tried so far. And that is really thanks to the perfect combination of a very good upper, midsole and outsole.
The best trail shoe I’ve ever tested, so far. I would definitely use them again except on very technical or rocky terrain where I could miss some protection and would also like to have a larger platform. Is it worth its price? I would answer yes. It’s expensive but still 20-25% cheaper than the competitors mentioned by Alex.
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