We are back with another shoe review from Altra.
After my less than ecstatic review of the Altra Lone Peak All-WTHR boot I was less than enthusiastic to purchase a new trail running shoe from Altra.
Altra have long been my go-to shoe for long distance running and rocky trails as they hit many of the criteria for healthy footwear. I have had a pair of the Superior 2 that have lasted ages and that I loved, so I figured it was worth the punt on a newer version.
Now, in general, Altra are far from what would be described as barefoot or minimalist, and the Superior 4.5 with it’s 21mm stack height are no exception.
Whilst lacking in flexibility and ground feel, they do offer some great benefits that minimalist shoes offer, namely a zero drop sole and a lovely wide, foot-shaped toebox.
I am pretty harsh on shoes and had fairly trashed all my other trail shoes, so I used my recent mountain challenge as an excuse to fuel my shameless addiction to new shoes.
The route I was taking on the mountain was hard packed and rocky so I wouldn’t be needing the aggressive tread of the King MT, just solid, resilient tread with good traction.
Out the Box
First impression was that the Superior 4.5 is a nice looking shoe. Not too flashy, but well built.
Most importantly they have managed to avoid the ‘clown shoe’ appearance of many foot-shaped shoes.
Like the previous incarnations of this shoe they supply you with a plastic ‘StoneGuard’ removable insole. The idea is that this gives you extra protection from sharp rocks and stones.
Coming to these shoes from a barefoot and minimalist background, I instantly do away with them. I’m sure if you are a ‘tenderfoot’ transitioning to more minimalist shoes then this may be a bonus. I now have a collection of these things if anyone wants a pair.
Altra have (thankfully) also done away with ‘trail rudder’ feature. This was an extended flap of sole rubber that poked out backwards from the heel. The idea was to increase traction and stability on downhill sections.
My only interaction with that was getting it caught in a tree root. That said they did make good anchor points for trail running crampons in winter.
The Superior 4.5 does still incorporate the Altra GaiterTrap, a flap of velcro that attaches to Altra running gaiters, as well as a front clipping point. As I don’t own a pair of their gaiters I can’t really comment on the effectiveness.
The shoe was nice and light for such a wide trail shoe, coming in at 274g per shoe (in a UK 10 without StoneGuard).
Size-wise they were spot on, as Altra usually are, not including the very undersized LonePeak All-WTHR boots.
The main part of the upper is a strong, fairly stiff (although quickly softens), almost plastic-coated material. Padding is fairly minimal and the heel cup is not very rigid, which I like.
The tongue and the toe box region of the upper are a very breathable mesh-like material. I was initially concerned that this might be a weak spot but so far so good, they really held up well.
The tongue is attached, not only at the base, but along the entire length of the inner edge. I really like this feature as it means that the tongue is always in place and not migrating around the shoe.
The laces were the perfect length for me and were grippy enough to stay tied without the need to keep re-doing them.
One thing I really liked about the uppers on this shoe was the toe rand. It’s really sturdy and offers a really good amount of protection. In my fatigued state in the middle of the night, I stubbed my toe and tripped on multiple occasions and was very pleased to have that rand.
As mentioned earlier the sole stack height is 21mm whilst still retaining a zero drop heel differential (i.e. the toe and heel are exactly the same height as if you were barefoot). Altra use a Quantic midsole, which is both lightweight and responsive.
In reality this offers a little amount of give when running over gnarly terrain without being too squishy. The stack height is enough to protect your feet and avoid fatigue and yet is still low enough to keep your feet reactive to terrain change.
The shoes have a fairly shallow and widely spaced lug set up. It’s very similar to the Lone Peak. The soles are also in the standard Altra MaxTrac sticky rubber.
These shoes are in no way suited to classic mountain running in Ireland or Britain. They just aren’t aggressive enough for our soggy, semi-liquid hills.
But on hard packed trail, where you want a bit more grip and traction than a standard running shoe, they do well. The MaxTrac rubber is okay. It’s not super sticky like other brands, but also not super resilient.
The black rubber on my shoes has already worn down to the next layer on some of the lugs. There is still plenty of life in them, I’d just like to see a little less wear this early on. But like I said, I am very hard on shoes.
Compared to Vibram Five Fingers or even Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FG the ground feel is very poor. But compared to a standard trail shoe, I’d say the feel would be very responsive.
This is why I think Altra are such a good transition shoe for those wanting to take a foray into minimalist shoes.
My experience wearing them
Out of the box they were like putting on slippers. Very comfy with no ‘wear-in’ period.
Along the stony trails here where I live the traction was more than good enough, and up on the mountain they still performed well on the hard packed paths.
On larger, flat, wet rocks I was a little less confident on the stickiness of the soles, but they were more than adequate.
The mesh of the toe area was lovely and airy. As someone who suffers from really hot feet this was great. The mesh also allowed for really good drainage when running through streams and puddles.
My main concern was how resistant to tearing the mesh would be.
There have been many incidents where I have caught my foot on a sharp rock, and every time I have looked down fully expecting to see a tear in the shoe. I am happy to report back that this has yet to occur. Whatever the material is, it’s pretty resilient.
The shoe has felt really stable. The relatively (to conventional shoes) low height and reasonable sensitivity of the sole allows for a quick reactive run.
The shoe is flexible enough to allow your foot to react to changing substrate, and wide enough to facilitate good, natural toe splay. You can get a snug fit with laces without restricting the toes.
The only real slips I had were on downhill sections on loose gravel, but even deeply lugged shoes would struggle here.
One thing I noticed with the shoe was white marks occurring on the upper. At first I wondered if there was some glue issue. I then realised that it was a build up of salt. The ventilation allows the moisture to evaporate leaving salt from your sweat on the fabric. Easily washed off.
Over the course of hundreds of kilometres of up and down mountain trails on the lead up and execution of my challenge, the only issue I had was the insole shifting on the downhill sections. I think it was the sheer volume of steep descent combined with my tired, lumbering gait that did it.
Luckily, I have multiple pairs of old Altra and was able to swap out the insoles, but do be warned, it seems that it is quite difficult to buy replacement ones. Conventional insoles may well be too narrow to fill the space.
Altra have redeemed themselves in my eyes after my lack lustre jaunt with the Lone Peak boots.
I love the way the shoes look (they match my shorts), how they feel, and generally how they performed.
I’d go as far to say that the Superior 4.5 are my favourite of Altra’s trail shoes (for general trails and paths). They are great to run on the road to get to the base of the mountain and then pretty good on hard packed trails. For forest trails they also work really well.
I would like them to have a slightly more resilient sole and for Altra to make new insoles readily available.
Altra now have the Superior 5 out. They do these half (.5) updates regularly, constantly making subtle improvements without radically changing the shoe. This means that you can pick up the 4.5 for about £80 as opposed to £120 for the Superior 5. For me that’s a real win.
So, with zero drop and wide, foot-shaped goodness the Altra Superior 4.5 is a great transition shoe that can handle most low-level trails and is available at a fairly decent price.