Altra Escalante Review

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The Altra Escalante is a wonderful shoe. It's one of the few shoes that using TPU foam rather than the traditional EVA foam. This TPU foam should last much longer than EVA foam, but it also can feel quite a lot bouncier. I was a little disappointed by the Saucony Freedom which seemed a little dead in its responsiveness, whereas the Escalante has a really nice spring to its feel. It's also quite close to being zero drop, and unusually is actually slightly negative drop, with the forefoot higher than the heel. The upper is a nice, stretchable material, though it's not terribly breathable. The toe box shape matches the human foot, but like many Altra shoes, I find there is not enough height in the toe box. The cushioning-to-weight ratio is right up there with the Hoka Clifton, a remarkable feat. This is the best cushioning to weight ratio I've seen in a TPU midsole shoe, in spite of the weight savings Saucony put into the upper on their Freedom shoe. The Escalante is one of those rare shoes that makes you want to go for a run, or to run further, even when you know you're too tired. Putting it on after wearing other shoes gives me a sense of comfort and excitement, and I regret that the need to test other shoes means I have to put them to one side for a while. I rated the Escalate as "best of the best" and is my highest rated all round running shoe. (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

Altra Escalante top view
Altra Escalante outside view
Altra Escalante underside view
Altra Escalante inside view

1 Characteristics

  • Cushioning . The Escalante uses expanded TPU beads instead of the more usual EVA foam. That's the technology that's found in the Adidas Energy Boost and Saucony Freedom and it's a relatively new technology. The idea is that TPU provides more spring than EVA foam and it lasts longer. The Escalante is better cushioned than the Boost, and quite a bit lighter. Like the Boost, it has the springy, bouncy feel that makes TPU cushioning so attractive. The level of cushioning is actually up there with the massively cushioned Hoka shoes, and it's virtually the same as the Hoka Odyssey. The Escalante provides this level of cushioning with a midsole that is much thinner (25mm compared with 45mm in the Odyssey), so you don't have the stilt effect that can create additional stress on the ankles. Other than being nicely springy, I didn't find the cushioning was strange or unusual, unlike the Freedom that was just slightly weird. The Escalante has a moderately thick insole, but it seems to be rather more resilient than some shoes I've tried.
    I compared the Escalante with the Hoka Clifton side-by-side, which is not something I'd recommend as the difference in heights can cause injury. This height difference was dramatic, but the shoes felt surprisingly similar in cushioning. If I landed heavily I could feel the extra thickness of the Clifton, but not during more normal running.
  • Drop. Altra always claim issues a zero drop, but typically I find they're out by just a few millimeters. The Escalante is actually a slightly negative drop shoe, with the forefoot higher than the heel. I doubt if many runners will notice this, as it only about a millimeter. I found that overall, the Escalante felt very natural under foot, and the almost zero-drop is part of the success.
  • Structure. There's nothing about the Escalante to interfere with your running form. The midsole is slightly higher under the arch, but this shouldn't be enough to make contact, or create pressure that could irritate the plantar fascia. There is no medial post or other structures that would try to limit pronation.
  • Flexibility. The Escalante is quite flexible, and the forefoot is springy; I'm not sure if that really improves running economy, but it certainly doesn't hurt. The gaps in the rubber outsole allow the forefoot to bend evenly, rather than causing a crease in a specific area.
  • Outsole. As you can see from the pictures above, the Escalante has harder rubber outsole under most of the sole of the shoe. This hard rubber actually protrudes a few millimeters, so I've seen no evidence of midsole abrasion at all. The shape of the sole does not create any stone traps.
  • Shape. The shape of the Escalante means that there is relatively little reason to cut open the toe box. When looking from above, the shape of the shoe matches the human foot reasonably well, though like all Altra shoes it's a little exaggerated, and there is not quite enough room for the smallest toes. If you look at the shoe from the side, there is not quite enough headroom, but that wasn't too much of an issue with the Escalante. Overall, the shape was good enough that I didn't have to cut open the toe box, though issues with the upper did cause me to open the Escalante up (see below).
  • Upper. The upper part of the Escalante is mostly seamless, and quite stretchy in one direction. It's thick material that make it is one of the less breathable shoes I've tested in a while. With the exception of the toe box issues, I found the upper extremely comfortable. The ankle opening is rather more cushioned than a typical running shoe. It's close to the massive cushioning that made the Altra Instinct 2 feel a bit like a skateboarding shoe. The main issue with the upper is that the toe box upper folds down during toe off and pressed on my toes. This was not a major problem, but I found it did make my toes ache slightly. After about 200 miles in the Escalante, I gave in and cut open the toe box. I was surprised how much difference it made; it's a bit like a slight headache that you don't really notice until it's gone. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
    Here you can see how the toe box upper folds down and presses on my toes during toe off.
  • Tongue. The Escalante has a traditional styled tongue that is sown in along one edge to keep it in place. I think this is probably one of the best approach is to tongue design. There is no padding in the tongue at all, but the material that used seems to spread the forces fairly well, so I don't think many runners will have an issue with the laces irritating the top of the foot.
  • Lacing. The Escalante has flat laces that work reasonably well, but they're a little slick, and I had a few occasions where they came undone mid-run.
  • Heel Counter. The Escalante has only a slightest hint of a heel counter, and unless you probe carefully you're unlikely to detect it. While I'd rather there was no heel counter at all, this is one of the more benign designs.
helping-hand.jpg

2 Update after 240 Miles

I've really enjoyed my first 240 miles in the Escalante. It's been a truly wonderful shoe to run in, and I've been struggling to move on to the other shoes I need to test. Not only has the Escalante proved to be remarkably well cushioned for its weight, the springiness of the TPU foam has made it feel remarkably responsive as well. I cut open the toe box at 150 miles which greatly improved the comfort for my toes, but I doubt if many runners will have to do that. I have had reports of the toe box upper causing other runners some issues, so I'm not alone in having issues. I've also had a report of one runner finding the tongue a little too thin so the laces irritate the top of their foot. Otherwise I've heard only good things from the running community. As you can see from the photo below, there is very little wear on the outsole, and the upper shows no signs of abrasion either. There is a tiny bit of midsole compression under the ball of the foot, but it's so minor it's hard to detect. There's a little bit more compression of the insole under the ball of the foot, but at the 200 mile mark it's not enough for me to consider Replacement Insoles. So far, the Escalante is living up to the longevity promise of the TPU foam, and is one of my favorite running shoes.

There's no noticeable wear on the outsole.
Even a close up of the forefoot reveals only a hint of abrasion.
The only sign of wear on the upper is a slight creasing of the shoe where it bends.
There is a bit of compression in the insole, but it's quite minor when compared with other shoes.

3 Update after 320 Miles

At 320 miles, the Escalante are showing their age. The good news is that the upper looks perfect, and there's almost no signs of wear on the outsole. I've highlighted a couple of minor wear patches, but they are very minor.

Escalante April Outsole (2).jpg
Escalante April Outsole (1).jpg

The bad news is that the insole is completely dead and the midsole is starting to compress. The Escalante has a relatively substantial insole that was about 5mm thick when it was new, but it's now collapsed under the ball of my foot so that it's only about 1mm thick post run. Like most foam, it will bounce back a little if you don't wear the shoes for a few days, but it collapses again quite quickly when you wear them again. I've used Replacement Insoles to offset this, and the Inov-8 6mm insole works reasonably well. It's not quite the same shape as the original, but it's pretty close. Even though it's a 6mm insole, it's also not as thick as the original. This is partly because the Inov-8 6mm insole is only 4.5mm thick in the forefoot, and partly because it's slightly corrugated, to the effective thickness is probably more like 3mm. The Sof Sole Athlete insole also works quite well, making the Escalante much softer (possibly too soft for some.) It also adds a couple of millimeters of drop and about 1 oz of weight.

The Inov-8 and Sof Sole Athlete Replacement Insoles in situ.
The Inov-8 and Sof Sole Athlete Replacement Insoles overlaying the original insoles.

Unfortunately, there's also some compression of the foam midsole, with a noticeable depression under the ball of my foot. The TPU foam has lasted longer than the traditional EVA foam, but it has its limits. I think that the replacement insoles can give the Escalante a little more life, but I suspect the end is in sight.

4 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes. This table lists the key attributes of What to Look for in Running Shoes. For more detailed information, on the shoes see detailed shoe comparison.

Full Review

Brand Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Asics 33-DFA Review Asics 33-DFA Worth considering $90 5.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 6
Saucony Type A6 Review Saucony A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 8
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adidas Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 7
Hoka Bondi 5 Review Hoka Bondi Recommended $150 6.1 11.6 18.1 38 42 5 7.1 4
Hoka Clayton Review Hoka Clayton Best of the Best $150 8.8 8.3 12.9 26 30 3 7.3 5
Hoka Clayton 2 Review Hoka Clayton 2 Review Pending $150 9.1 8.3 12.9 23 28 1 7.5 6
Hoka Clifton 3 Review Hoka Clifton3 Best of the Best $130 9.1 9.8 15.3 34 38 3 8.9 6
On Cloudracer Review On Cloud Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 8
Hoka Conquest Review Hoka Conquest Worth considering $170 5.0 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 3
Saucony Cortana 4 Review Saucony Cortana Worth considering $150 4.4 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 5
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Mizuno Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 7
Newton Distance IV Review Newton Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 6
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review Asics DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 6
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Mizuno Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin 2 Review Saucony Endorphin 2 Worth considering $115 8.0 5.1 9.6 15 13 -1 4.1 8
Adidas Energy Boost Review Adidas Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 6
Altra Escalante Review Altra Escalante Best of the Best $130 9.1 8.7 13.5 28 25 -1 7.9 7
Puma Faas 100 R Review Puma Faas 100 Highly Recommended $90 8.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 9
Saucony Fastwitch Review Saucony Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 8
Topo Fli-Lyte Review Topo Fli-Lyte Highly Recommended $100 6.0 9.4 14.6 23 24 4 5.6 6
Nike Free 4.0 Review Nike Free Recommended $120 5.3 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 6
Saucony Freedom Review Saucony Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 25 29 3 5.8 7
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review Asics Gel Lyte Not recommended $90 8.0 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9
Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 Review Skechers GOmeb 3 Worth considering $120 6.9 8.1 12.6 20 24 4 5.5 8
Skechers GORun 4 Review Skechers GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review Skechers GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 5
Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review Skechers GRU-R Worth considering $105 6.5 11.3 17.6 30 40 6 7.4 7
Asics GT 2000 Review Asics GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 4
New Balance Hanzo S New Balance Hanzo Worth considering $110 7.6 6.9 10.7 21 19 2 5.2 6
Hoka Hupana Review Hoka Hupana Recommended $115 6.1 8.9 13.9 31 36 7 5.4 5
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Asics Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 7
Altra Instinct 3.5 3.5 Review Altra Instinct 3.5 Recommended $115 4.9 9.3 15.2 24 23 0 4.5 6
Altra Instinct 4.0 Review Altra Instinct 4.0 Worth considering $120 6.0 9.8 15.3 29 25 -1 5.9 6
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Asics Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 7
Saucony Kinvara 8 Review Saucony Kinvara 8 Best of the Best $110 9.3 8.6 13.4 26 31 3 8.0 6
Nike LunaRacer 4 Review Nike LunaRacer Recommended $90 9.9 7.0 10.9 22 30 7 6.9 6
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review Nike LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 7
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Hoka Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 3
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review Pearl N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
Saucony Nomad Review Saucony Nomad Worth considering $110 4.3 10.5 17.2 25 27 2 4.5 5
Hoka Odyssey Review Hoka Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 4
Altra Olympus Review Altra Olympus Highly Recommended $130 5.4 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 4
Altra One 2.5 Review Altra One Highly Recommended $100 8.5 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 8
Altra One 3.0 Review Altra One Review Pending $100 6.1 8.8 13.7 23 23 0 5.4 7
Altra Paradigm Review Altra Paradigm Highly Recommended $130 6.4 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 4
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Asics Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review Brooks PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Salming Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 7
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review New Balance RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000 Review New Balance RC5000 Best of the Best $125 12.2 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review New Balance RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 8
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Skechers Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 9
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review Inov-8 RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 9
Topo ST-2 Review Topo ST-2 Highly Recommended $90 8.2 7.3 11.4 20 18 0 6.0 8
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Hoka Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 2
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Nike Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 6
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 6
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Altra Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 5
Hoka Tracer Review Hoka Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 6
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review Merrell Trail Glove Best of the Best $100 2.9 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 9
Topo Tribute Review Topo Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 7
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Mizuno Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Review Merrell Vapor Glove Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
New Balance Vazee Pace Review New Balance Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 6
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Asics Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 7

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot.
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, New Balance 980 Review, Brooks Transcend 2 Review.
Reviews of shoes that are not worth including on the table: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review.