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Trail Running Shoes • August 9, 2023

New Balance SC Trail Review: Almost Ready to Rip

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What You Need To Know


8.8 oz. (249 g) for a US M9,

8.0 oz. (226 g) for a US W8

Stack Height / Drop

36.5 mm in the heel, 26.5 mm in the forefoot (10 mm drop)

Best For

Crushing race paces on mild to moderate trails

Key Features

FuelCell midsole, Vibram Litebase outsole, synthetic mesh upper, carbon fiber plate

On The Run
Comfortable FuelCell ride Great Litebase grip on most surfaces The upper needs a spot of work


MICHAEL: While the carbon fiber craze may have jumped the shark on the road side of things, we trail folk are still singing happy days when a new model drops with all the plated super foam tech that’s now ubiquitous for race day on the tarmac. Of course, there’s been some debate as to whether or not stiff carbon plates are actually all that helpful on the trails, especially technical trails, but that won’t stop brands from trying and trying again to carry over some of the advantages and secrets from their more refined road racing models onto the dirt.

It seems simple, right? Take proven tech from the road scene, beef it up a little, slap on a knobby outsole, and you’ve got yourself a Vaporfly for the trails. Well, as it turns out, there are a few more pieces to the trail super shoe puzzle. Some have come closer than others to solving said puzzle, but an industry-changing shoe like the Vaporfly 4% still seems to evade most brands. Of course, that won’t stop them from trying or stop us from getting excited about every new release.

The latest brand to do just that is New Balance, debuting the SC Trail. Despite its relatively simple naming (and even more simple logo design), the SC Trail is souped up with all the juicy tech from New Balance’s uber-successful plated road lineup, just waiting to be let loose on the trails. Sporting a lightweight mesh upper, a nice heaping of soft, responsive FuelCell foam, a full-length carbon plate, and a Vibram outsole, the SC Trail has all the makings of a great racing shoe that we know and love from New Balance. Of course, there remains one question to answer, can all these separate pieces fit together and solve the puzzle of the perfect carbon-plated trail racer?

MATT: I was possibly more anxious to try out this shoe than others as I have a deep admiration for its road counterpart, the New Balance SuperComp Trainer (SC Trainer, for short). You see, last year, when I decided to step out of my comfort zone on the trails and chase a BQ with my first road marathon, the SC Trainer was the workhorse that carried me through the majority of my miles. I loved the shoe so much that as I am now gearing up to race Chicago in October, I’m also on my third pair of that same shoe, so you can say things are getting pretty serious (in my best Kip voice).

How would this magical shoe translate to the trails? Well, New Balance made some obvious adjustments, namely applying a totally different upper, slashing the stack height down to a (hopefully) safe level, and outfitting the outsole with tried and true Vibram Litebase. They also retained some of the major components that made the SC Trainer so great, talking obviously about the killer combo of FuelCell midsole foam and the snappy carbon plate insert.

I’ve seen carbon-plated trail shoes fall flat more than impress of late, so my fingers were crossed that the Super Comp Trail would borrow some of the magic from the road and give us another winner.

What we like about the New Balance SC Trail

MICHAEL: I should start this section by saying this: I have never felt this much super-shoe-like propulsion in a trail shoe before. Naturally, it’s not quite on Vaporfly levels of bounce and spring through the step (this is brought on by some needed flexibility in the forefoot of the plate because, you know, trail stuff), but the ride of the SC trail was a truly unique experience for me.

The FuelCell midsole is soft and responsive, and the combination of the plate and rocker is suitably tuned for racing. New Balance’s midfoot landings feel luxurious in this shoe — there’s a soft bounce from the heel, a slight feeling of the carbon plate kicks in, and before you know it, you’re off your toes and into the next step. On fire roads and smooth single track, the feeling is exhilarating.

Every super road racer begins primarily with a supercritical midsole, and the SC Trail is no different. At first, I was skeptical of FuelCell’s potential on the trails. Sure, it’s featured in one of my favorite road shoes of all time, the Rebel v2, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned from supercritical foams on the trails, it’s that they can be wildly unstable, and FuelCell is about as soft as they come. Surprisingly, there were very few turned ankles during my time in the SC Trail, and I think this is due to several different reasons.

First, the wider base of the shoe naturally helps with stability. Second, the plate helps stiffen the heel of the shoe, and lastly, the foam is so soft, it soaks up trail chatter and smaller rocks and roots that would otherwise influence footfalls and cause them to go awry. All that being said, if you already have a predisposition to weaker ankles, I definitely would recommend being cautious with the SC Trail. There’s no denying this midsole is a little squirmy and is more than likely going to throw a little AI in with your MJ.

For the SC Trail, New Balance opted for a good old carbon plate. No forks, no frills, no fuss. As far as tuning for the trails go, it’s noticeably more flexible in the forefoot than the stiff plates we’ve grown accustomed to in shoes like the RC Elite v2, but otherwise seems to have a similar geometry and rocker. It’s an interesting choice considering how nearly every other brand either uses a fancy Carbitex plate (a la Speedland and Saucony) or some sort of split deal (like the Hoka Tecton X).

This approach has its drawbacks I’ll get to in a second, but one aspect of this plate I really enjoyed was the feeling it created in the heel and midfoot, where the plate is noticeably stiffer and really helps compress all the FuelCell foam underneath and return the energy back to your stride. Contrasting this with the other carbon-plated shoe I’ve tested (the Speedland SL:HSV), it’s clear the geometry and stiffness through the heel feel of the SC Trail feel like they are truly adding energy to the system, not simply acting as a rock plate or adding accentuating a rocker feel.

Lastly, we have to pay some homage to the outsole, a classic example of Vibram Litebase goodness. While the lugs are definitely quite understated, an issue we’ll get to in a second, they definitely punch above their height in mm. It’s a testament to how great Vibram is; this outsole feels like it has more bite than some outsoles with twice the lug height. Once again, if the yellow hexagon is on the bottom, the grip is gonna be awesome. And while I don’t have many great things to say about the upper (more on that in a second), I should mention that the perforated tongue is super light, airy, and protective, so that’s cool. Also, it’s super lightweight, and the lockdown around the heel is pretty good.

MATT: Heading out for my first run, I did my best self-talk to ensure I stayed objective and did not try too hard to convince myself I loved the shoe, this was not the SC Trainer, and despite its name, it needed to be judged independently.

That being said, there is a lot to love about the construction of the Super Comp Trail. I’m here to confirm that regardless of the surface, FuelCell foam plus Carbon plate equals winner. The combination should be up there with peanut butter and jelly, steamed crabs and beer, Coke (the soda, you heathens) and bonking late in an Ultra.

As Michael commented, the shoe just feels alive on the trails, and you get this great blend of cushioning and responsiveness that rolls along through your stride. I also agree that New Balance’s decision to use a full-length plate seems to serve a dual purpose, as it helps counter the softness of the FuelCell foam without making it dull but also serves as a practical layer of protection.

I also feel as if the stack height is just right for a Super Comp branded shoe. Clearly, the nearly 50 mm stack on the road shoe would mean certain death on the trails, so they had to dial things back, but I think going too far would have taken away some of what makes this shoe stand out, and while others that are more susceptible to a rolled ankle might steer clear, I found the shoe stable and quite solid throughout all of my runs.

Although Michael already touched on it, it would be unfair to gloss over the Vibram Litebase outsole. It’s tried and true and sometimes taken for granted when companies like New Balance, Hoka, or Merrell apply the tacky and grippy rubber by default to their trail models. However, not every brand has figured that out yet (not naming names here), and you know when you have Vibram underfoot, that is one less thing you have to worry about when it comes to the performance of the shoe.

What we don’t like about the New Balance SC Trail

MICHAEL: Understandably and unsurprisingly, the SC trail is not the final completion of the complicated puzzle that is trying to create the perfect carbon-plated trail shoe. Unfortunately, many of the negative aspects of the shoe I will mention outweighed the positives, and for certain racing applications, these drawbacks took the SC Trail out of contention for me as a race-day pick.

First, and most notably, the fit of this shoe is definitely off. The insole of the shoe, the perforated entirety of the insole with punched holes, began to feel like a wire mesh was being pressed up against my bare feet when it got wet in thin socks. Thankfully, I learned my lesson and wore mid-weight socks on my next few runs in the shoe and had fewer issues, but this still wasn’t a confidence booster for this SC Trail’s potential as an ultra racer. Blisters on the soles of your feet are plain spooky.

Moving onto the upper itself, I found the fit to be really difficult to lock in, especially around the forefoot. Interestingly, the lacing chain is very short on the SC Trail, so any unwanted lateral movement in the forefoot of the shoe is simply there to stay. Similarly, the fit throughout the midfoot is so-so. I can’t tell if this is also due to the shorter lacing chain, lack of structure on the sidewalls of the shoe, or the super stretchy laces, but it all worked together to result in multiple re-ties every run to try to feel secure on descents.

Moving on from the upper, let’s talk about the versatility of the SC Trail. While I did mention earlier that the Vibram Litebase outsole punches above its lug height, there’s still only so much technical, sloppy terrain you can tackle in lugs this short. Naturally soft, loose terrain is a little much for the SC trail to handle. As I’ll mention in the conclusion, that’s okay for some racers but ultimately a deal breaker for me for most of the 50k racing here in the Southeast. As Matt mentioned in his review of the Nike Ultrafly, we should just start labeling shoes as East Coast or West Coast. This sentiment holds for the SC Trail.

MATT: As much as I wanted the SC Trail to be everything to the dirt that the SC Trainer is to the roads, I stayed true to my word and passed unbiased judgment, which resulted in accepting some clear flaws in the shoe’s design.

First, as Michael agreed, the upper was a bit enigmatic to me. It seemed to be lacking a clear identity, as it is light and breathable, but it also felt a bit sloppy and challenging to lock in. While not as bad, it has a similar issue to the Hoka Carbon X3, where the mesh seems to sag in some areas, tighten in others, but ultimately not work in unison to achieve that dialed-in fit we all want on the trails.

Another negative is one that I saw a mile away based on all the miles I put on the road counterpart. The design of the energy arc in the outsole, which cuts a deep ridge into where the carbon plate resides, is a big enough space that I have come home from runs with entire pinecones, rocks, and chipmunks (ok, that last one wasn’t true, but you get the point).

Luckily, I found these items post-run while taking my shoes off, but I can imagine some potential danger in getting something lodged and it snagging a rock or root mid-run. Outside of that, just the added weight of picking up that kind of debris would be undesired.

Finally, again I agree with Michael regarding the true trail versatility of the SC Trail. While the Vibram rubber will keep you safe and upright, the underwhelming lug size and formation are not built to withstand muddy, sloppy conditions, and when combined with the aforementioned energy arc issues, the shoe has issues shedding debris.

It definitely can handle way more than something like the Nike Ultrafly, but I would still be hesitant to put it up against anything really technical or muddy.

New Balance SC Trail Conclusion

MICHAEL: For the right runner and application, the SC Trail has real potential to be a great race day companion. The ride is fun and snappy, traction is great in most conditions, and the shoe boasts a very respectable race weight, especially considering how soft the ride is. One race this shoe made me think of is the JFK 50 miler, where runners often opt to do a shoe change from their technical trail shoes to road super shoes, where the course turns from the AT to a crushed gravel path. The SC trail would require no such change.

Perhaps most impressively, this shoe convinced me that carbon plates really do have potential in trail racing shoes, even if some of the pieces to this ever-complex puzzle went missing for the SC Trail. When I first tried on the shoe, ideas about this being my next 50k pick immediately went through my mind. But fit and a versatile outsole are very important to me for east coast racing, and ultimately, the shoe slowly fell out of race day consideration.

That being said, even if some of those key pieces were missing, the overall picture New Balance was trying to put together is still very promising and exciting for the future of speed on the trails. The SC Trail is a seriously fun and fast shoe, and if you are looking for that extra little edge for your next dessert ultra, I would absolutely recommend giving it a try and seeing if the fit works for you, especially if you’re a fan of Times New Roman font.

MATT: Michael nailed it. If you choose the right weapon for the right job, the SC Trail could be a really impressive shoe. I love the feel underfoot, and in mild to tame conditions, the shoe really shines. It would also be a lovely road-to-trail shoe, up there with the Hoka Tecton X, in my opinion.

New Balance likely has some adjustments to make to the upper and fit, but I really hope they don’t abandon this idea because, with those changes, I really think they are closer than most to really figuring out the carbon plate application to the trails.

As a bonus, it appears Running Warehouse currently has the shoe on sale for $169.97 (Men | Women), which, if you tend not to encounter super-technical terrain, this could end up being a really solid deal for a trail shoe that you can have fun training in, but also would be totally worthy of race day.

You can pick up the New Balance SC Trail for $199 directly from New Balance using the buttons below.

Shop The Shoe

Shop New Balance SC Trail Men
Shop New Balance SC Trail Women

Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. Jumbo says:

    I love the idea of specifying whether shoes are for East Coast or West Coast (though would shoe companies really want to rule out half their American market?). However, I resist the claim that these are West Coast shoes. I’ve taken mine on the characteristically gnarly stuff we have in the northeast, and they’re great for that. Much better, in fact, than the Speedland GS:TAM and Hoka Tecton X2, both of which are, on my feet, either completely unusable (GS:TAM) or manageable but not ideal (Tecton X) for anything rocky or off camber. The SC Trail conforms to the terrain, giving it better traction than either of those, and it’s more stable too as it doesn’t produce the occasional wild deflections (looking at you, Tecton X). The upper is much better than either of those too, which are impossible to lock down unless you have a really, really high volume foot, and have inevitable lace bite. I sized up .5 on the SC Trail and fit is excellent. So yeah, I disagree with some of this review, but hey, every foot is different.

  2. Troy says:

    Excellent review, but next tone you might switch out the insoles. A pair of Inov-8 Boomerang insoles almost entirely fixes the fit and lockdown problems you’ve identified and makes SC Trail qualitatively better on everything from road and buffed single-track to moderate technical terrain here in the Colorado Rockies. This has great potential for a longer-ultra mountain shoe and more nimble than the Speedland GS:TAM and faster than anything out there except possibly the Tecton X 2. Plus it’s really fun to run in.

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michael bio photo
Michael Loutzenheiser
Southern Trail Reviewer

An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.

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Fav. Distance

Half Marathon (Trail)

  • 4:48

  • 1:16

    Half Marathon
  • 16:45

Matt Kucharski
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
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Matt is a recovering triathlete who fell in love with running and left the dark side behind. Trail and ultra running are where he is most in his element, but he can still be found routinely running the streets in and around Baltimore with the Faster Bastards. Aside from running, he is a lover of coffee, mezcal, beer, and 90s country music.

More from Matt
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Fav. Distance


  • 15:45

  • 9:19

  • 4:50

  • 3:07

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