Altra Running Shoe Review
Altra is one of the few companies that make running shoes designed to fit a healthy human foot. It seems bizarre that most running shoes are designed to induce foot damage, until you realize that this is true of virtually every shoe, and society has become so used to badly designed to shoes that an anatomically correct shoe looks strange. A shoe designed for a healthy human foot will also feel strange, and it can take some adjustment to work out what the correct fit should be. Many Westerners have worn damaging shoes for so long that they have bunions, or the beginning of bunions, as their feet become twisted to fit these poorly designed shoes. Often people confuse Altra shoes with wider/shorter shoes when actually they are fairly average in their length-to-width ratio, just with a human-shaped toe box. In addition to being designed to fit a healthy human foot, the Altra shoes are close to zero drop, allowing for rather more natural biomechanics. I've run in most shoes that Altra makes, so this page is an overview of their range.
1 Road Shoes
Altra's road shoes vary quite a bit in their weight, cushioning, and target market. There is no easy way of putting the shoes into categories or organizing them naturally, so the order below is based on my shoe rating.
- Escalante. The Escalante is my "best of the best" road shoe. The use of long-lasting, springy TPU foam, a comfortable upper, and lightweight make this an outstanding shoe. This is not only my top recommendation for experienced runners, I also recommend it as the starting point for all new runners. Altra Escalante Review.
- Escalante Racer. There's a lighter weight version of the Escalante that works nicely. It's about 1oz lighter, 2mm less midsole, a little firmer but it still has plenty of bounce. It's one of those shoes that encourages you to run further.
- Solstice. The solstice is Altra's entry-level shoe, and is cheaper than many others. I've been amazed by how comfortable and long-lasting it's proved. This is not only a great introduction to the Altra approach to running shoes, but it's one of the best road shoes they produce. Altra Solstice Review
- Vanish-R. This is Altra's first "racing" shoe, and is by far the lightest, weighing only 5.3 ounces. While that's not to the standards of the best ultralight racing shoes, it's still a pretty light shoe. It has good cushioning-2-weight ratio, but I found a number of flaws. Like a number of Altra shoes, it has a very little height in the toe box. I also had some longevity problems, retiring my pair after only hundred and 35 miles. I'd still recommend it, as is one of the few options available for an ultralight shoe that will fit a healthy human foot. Altra Vanish-R Review
- Paradigm. The Paradigm 4.0 has the same TPU midsole as the Escalante, but it doesn't have quite the same bounce. It's as softly cushioned as many of the Hoka range, but it doesn't match the Hoka Clifton. Altra Paradigm Review
- Duo. The Duo is somewhat firm with a moderate weight (8.4oz/240g), and has a good height in the toe box (overcoming a common Altra problem.) The sole acts as a magnet for tiny stones, which can be quite annoying, and a lack of longevity is a concern. However, if you're after a shoe with some protection from stones or uneven surface, but don't want to much soft cushioning, this may be a good option. Altra Duo Review
- Instinct. I loved the instinct 2.0, and I still have a pair I run in occasionally. They were amazingly soft underfoot, and had an upper that was so padded you could mistake it for a skateboarding shoe. The last version I've tried, 4.0, returned to that earlier style after a number of versions that were overly firm. I've not yet tried in the 4.5, so I can't comment on the latest iteration. Altra Instinct Review
- One. Like the Instinct, the One has had a bit of a roller coaster ride over the various versions. The earliest versions were as comfortable as a pair of slippers but lasted like they were made of milk chocolate. The latest version I've tried, 3.0, has good longevity, but is neither as soft nor as comfortable as the early versions. The biggest problem with the One is the existence of the Escalante. While the One is cheaper than the Escalante, the difference in longevity means that I believe that the Escalante will be cheaper on a per mile basis. Altra One Review
- Torin. I haven't run in the Torin 3.0, only the 2.0 and prior versions. While it's not a heavy shoe, coming in at just under 10 ounces, it's quite firm. It has similar firmness to the Duo that weighs a little more. (I haven't tried the 3.5 yet.) Altra Torin Review
- Provision. This is an Altra shoe designed to reduce pronation. Because I dislike shoes that interfere with natural biomechanics, I've not reviewed the Provision, nor do I plan to in the future.
2 Trail Shoes
The Altra trail shoes can reasonably be put on a spectrum of cushioning/protection, from the King MT that's relatively minimalist through to the Olympus that massively cushioned. I think the Timp is the sweet spot, though the Superior/Lone Peak comes a close second. However, I really like the entire range, using different shoes depending on how much protection and cushioning I need.
- King MT. The King MT is the least cushioned of the Altra trail running shoes. This seems to be partly a firmer foam, partly a much thinner midsole, and partly what appears to be a plastic protection plate. The outsole is an aggressive 6 mm Vibram, one of the more aggressive in the Altra range. The midsole foam is TPU, but I don't think there's enough of it for the difference to be noticeable. This is an excellent shoe for soft surfaces, but the lack of protection tends to slow me down on the Rocky caltrops. On the other hand, the lack of protection forces me to pay close attention to the trail surface, and I like to think this makes me a better runner in the long run. The Velcro strap over the laces is mildly annoying, and you can't simply cut it off as the laces are widely spaced underneath so you need the support. Altra King MT Review
- Superior. The Superior has a tiny bit less cushioning and protection than the Lone Peak, but also weighs less. When running technical trails, I find the Superior and the Lone Peak to be quite similar, even when wearing one on each foot over rugged trails, and I've not noticed any difference in the grip from the two tread patterns. The Superior is light enough that I'd probably choose it over the Lone Peak, though I can't feel the weight difference when running, it probably adds up over the miles. The superior comes with a flexible plastic insert to go under the insole, which Altra calls a "stone guard." I tried running with one shoe with and the other without the stone guard and I couldn't detect any difference in the feel, though the insert did reduce the shoe volume slightly. Altra Superior
- Lone Peak. It's claimed that the Lone Peak is one of the most popular shoes for hiking the Appalachian Trail. It's certainly a great trail shoe that gives a nice level of protection without giving up too much feel. The Lone Peak has rather more padding around the ankle opening than any other Altra trail shoe, something that's nice when your ankle turns. It also keeps the Lone Peak nicely attached to your foot without any undue stress over the top of the foot. The 4-5mm lugs provide reasonable grip on soft surfaces, as well as working well on roads for those mixed trail runs. Altra Lone Peak Review
- Timp. I love the Timp, and it's my preferred choice for ultra-distance runs on rugged trails. It's one of the few shoes I've completely worn out and brought a second pair. For me, it has just the right blend of protection, cushioning, and grip for technical trail running. The 5mm lugs work reasonably well on soft condition without causing a problem on road. For things a little less rugged, I might choose the Lone Peak or even the Superior, and for things over 50 miles I might like the extra cushioning of the Olympus, but the Timp is always my first thought. Altra Timp Review
- Olympus. While the Olympus has vastly more midsole cushioning, the protection from rocky caltrops is almost identical to the Timp. This is because the Olympus has a thicker, but softer foam, resulting in the same perceived protection. The Olympus is a lot softer on hardpacked trails or road surfaces, something that is nice on longer ultra-distance runs. While the midsole is not that much thicker, I did feel that my ankle twisted a little more than in the Timp, but that could just be luck. The Olympus has a Vibram sole, but slightly shorter 4mm lugs compared with the rest of the Altra trail running shoes. Altra Olympus Review
- Lone Peak Boot. I really wanted to like the Lone Peak boot, but the waterproofing is just not good enough. I'd rather have non-waterproof boots than one that leaks, as a leaky boot will fill with water and keep your foot wet all day. I found myself migrating from waterproof boots to hiking in trail shoes with waterproof socks, a combination that works much better for me. Altra Lone Peak Boot Review