Altra Superior 4 Review

For those of you who remember the original Altra Superior from 2012 (review) or its more popular 1.5 version in 2013, this model emerged at what many would consider the end of the minimalist movement where trail runners and ultrarunners were moving toward a more moderate or even maximal end of the shoe spectrum. Yet, here was a shoe with an extremely low profile that was responsive, flexible, and provided a decent amount of protection. The Superior pioneered the removable rock plate with its Superior 1.5 which now looks positively retro and cool.

For several iterations, it seemed as though Altra was trying to beef up the Superior, edging closer in stack height to Altra’s moderately cushioned Lone Peak. This trend seemed to peak with the Superior 3.5 (review), a shoe that I found both more protective and somewhat frustrating to run in due to causing me some heel pain in runs longer than 20 miles. With the Lone Peak becoming more dialed in, the Superior 3.5 seemed a bit too clunky and heavy. In the Altra Superior 4 ($110), however, the company gets back to the roots of the Superior, shedding about two ounces of weight and creating a fun and nimble ride.

The Altra Superior 4. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Altra Superior 4 Upper

A lot of weight savings takes place in this redesigned upper, which allows the Superior 4 to shed several ounces from version 3.5. An accommodating, seamless toebox with welded-on overlays is made of Quick-Dry Air Mesh that has some stretch to it. Initially, I was concerned about the low-profile toecap lacking protection from kicking rocks or catching toes, but after doing it several times I found it provided sufficient protection. The midfoot features a sort of wrap that is integrated into the lacing and burrito tongue, but this wrap also extends to the shoe’s heel cup. Combined with what feels like an insufficient number of eyelets, it seems impossible to dial in a foot-hugging fit that so many trail runners crave. I found the fit of the Superior 4 sufficient as I didn’t slide forward in the toebox, but on cambered or highly technical terrain my foot moved around and became irritated.

The burrito tongue is a very nice feature in this shoe that does not bunch or cause pressure and it reminds me of the Brooks Green Silence’s tongue which is a cult fave among shoe geeks. However, a fatal production flaw that Altra made was in using comically long shoelaces in the Superior 4. For a shoe that was designed with so much attention to detail, it seems ridiculous that this model shipped with horrendously long shoelaces. Honestly, I’d expected that in 2019 shoelaces would be completely obsolete in running shoes, and every company would be using a quicklace system, a la Salomon, which would also improve the ability to dial in fit in the Superior 4.

The heel cup of the Superior 4 is highly flexible and really lends nothing in the way of structural support. I feel like I’m returning to a true minimalist shoe when I run in them, and runners needing additional medial or lateral support should look elsewhere.

The Altra Superior 4 lateral upper.

Altra Superior 4 Midsole

Traditionally, the Altra Superior had an 18mm stack height. That stack height was increased to 19mm in the Superior 3.5. Now, with the Superior 4 we see a stack height of 21mm which makes this the most forgiving Superior ever in terms of responsive, yet soft, cushioning. I really enjoyed the increased cushioning and I had far less issues with my heel and feet getting beat up in the Superior 4. Altra uses its new Quantic midsole material which seemed to hold up well during the approximately 200 miles I have in this shoe. The Quantic material feels more poppy than A-Bound and it seems to compress less. I’m still a major fan of Altra’s EGO midsole material used on the Escalante 1.5 and King MT, and I wish they would extend the EGO midsole across more shoes in the line-up.

There is also a removable StoneGuard which is 1mm thick and weighs one ounce. This removable StoneGuard does little to dampen sharp rocks and the repeated pounding of technical trail, and it’s high time for Altra to put a thin rock plate between the midsole and outsole of this shoe. The Superior 4 is extremely flexible so that minimalists will love it, but I found it almost too flexible on hard terrain and during climbing. Additionally, Altra uses a Natural Ride System which does very much mimic barefoot running, but for many runners the Superior 4 will be too flexible and not protective enough on rocky trails.

The Altra Superior 4 medial upper.

Altra Superior 4 Outsole

Backed by popular demand, Altra finally removed the much maligned trail rudder with the Superior 4. This makes the design look much sleeker and low profile and I didn’t notice any performance issues. The TrailClaw/MaxTrac outsole design is the best Altra’s made in terms of wet rock, snow, and muddy surfaces although I am seeing some significant wear around 200 miles in the midfoot area where I foot strike. I was very pleased by the downhill traction of this shoe which could even be improved with an upper that could be dialed in by the wearer to increase confidence.

On longer outings of around 25 miles, I did notice significant forefoot soreness which was exacerbated by sharp stones poking through. Again, a bit more robust and non-removable rock plate would be appreciated as long as it didn’t increase weight too much.

The Altra Superior 4 outsole.

Altra Superior 4 Overall Impressions

In my review of the Superior 3.5, I stated that it was the best Altra shoe I’d worn. I was wrong, and in hindsight I find that it did betray the heritage and purpose of the Superior line. It was trying to be something different. With the Superior 4, trail runners get a lighweight, slipper-like, nimble package. The Superior 4 is very fun to run in… for a while. I think its upper limits are probably 50k for a featherweight professional like Altra runner Hayden Hawks as he wore them to win the 2019 Chuckanut 50k. For regular runners over 160 pounds, I wouldn’t try to take the Superior 4 over 20 miles. This is a go-fast shoe, not a plod-along shoe.

That being said, I think that Altra has created something that has been neglected in the market; a true minimalist shoe that is great for hiking, shorter trail runs, and even speedwork. The Superior 4 is 8.7 ounces of lively and supple trail shoe for fleet-footed runners seeking a minimalist feel with good protection. I would like to see a bit less flexible midsole which could be the result of an implanted rock plate, and I think this would make the Superior better for climbing and also be a benefit on rocky terrain. Creating a true midfoot wrap that isn’t completely incorporated into the heel of the Superior 4 would be beneficial because it would allow the wearer to dial in fit. Keep the burrito, and lose the extra five inches of laces or add a lace-lock feature to make the Superior 4 feel locked in on the ups and downs.

Call for Comments

I look forward to hear commentary and likes/dislikes and experiences you’ve had with the Altra Superior 4. Leave a comment to share your thoughts on this shoe.

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a shoe brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

The Altra Superior 4 view from the top.

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 18 comments

  1. John K

    Just a quick note about laces. It’s probable that Salomon’s lacing is patented, and so until the patent(s) expire(s), you won’t see anything like Salomon’s quick lace in any other manufacturer’s shoes. I can find patents on shoe-closing strategies that go back at least as far as 1977.

  2. Kim Neill

    Tom, your shoe reviews are always great. Thank you! Here is my experience with the Superior 4: I have worn every edition of the Superior since its beginning. I ordered the Superior 4 when it first came out. I was disappointed in the upper/lacing fit–it is much different than previous versions. It seems like the lacing should go one more “row” closer to the front of the shoe. Perhaps this is just more noticeable in the larger sizes (men’s 10.5)? Because of this I sent the shoe back without even running in it. The rest of shoe features were fine: cushioning, traction, etc. My favorite version so far is the Superior 3.5. I stocked up on a few pairs, since I probably won’t be wearing the 4.

    1. Kim Neill

      Just one more little tidbit to add to my comment: I always replace the laces with elastic cord laces and lace lock. I would love for Altra to make their lacing holes just a tiny bit bigger so that alternate laces can more easily be put in their shoes (on all their shoes). I really dislike Altra laces and the tiny holes or oval slits they use for lacing.

  3. Tom Caughlan

    John K –
    You’re right, it is patented. But, I think the patent expired. Upon digging further, I found this:

    “I checked in with the company and learned that the patent for Salomon’s old speed lacing clasp had expired, that this was a new toggle, and, in the early versions of the Speedcross 5’s production run, they had these faults. Fortunately, the clasp’s shortcomings have been addressed and by the time this review is published the laces will remain secure, as they always have for me with this one exception. 1 out of 100 ain’t bad.”

    Excerpt taken from: https://www.podiumrunner.com/the-rundown-100-miles-in-salomons-speedcross-5_176404

    So, at least part of the lacing system’s patent has expired. My point is why aren’t other companies experimenting with this? To release an otherwise really good shoe with stupidly long laces is poor quality control on Altra’s part.

    1. John K

      Thanks Tom – always interesting to figure out what is going on in the industry… who knew laces could be so complex? :)

  4. Peter

    Interesting review, but I really hope Altra don’t take the advice to add a non-removable rock plate! I have been running in Superiors for a few years now (just one year behind as I buy them on sale), and the best thing about them is the flexible mid-sole. I run in these as my cushioned shoe for 100-milers. They are not really close to being a go-fast shoe in my mind.

    Regarding the shoelaces I find this varies from year to year, and even within the same model with Altra. I’ve bought two pairs of 3.5’s and one came with comically short shoelaces, so I had to skip a hole just to be able to lace them, and the other pair with a more normal length. First, I just thought it was a weird cost saving thing, but maybe it’s just a lack of quality control.

    I agree about the EGO midsole – running in my Escalantes is an absolute joy. I’m considering moving to the MT King’s after I saw how light the most recent version is in the recent shoe overview article on irunfar.

    Thanks for the review – looking forward to picking these up when the 4.5’s come out ;)

    1. Alex

      I think EGO might be a little too soft for trails–although maybe the thicker rubber would firm it up a bit–but otherwise I just want to second all of this. A flat, relatively thin shoe becomes awfully stiff when you build a real rock plate into it. And I’ve run on tire shredding gravel to AT rocks for 50 miles, and never felt it lacked cushion or protection.

      So, these things are highly personal. But I’d be disappointed if the Superior got more built up, into territory already occupied by other shoes in Altra’s line.

  5. Tom Caughlan

    Alex –
    You’re right.. everything is subjective. This version of the Superior is great, but my feet get beat up on rocky terrain. Even five years ago I wouldn’t have had a problem, but my feet don’t take it like they used to. Altra’s latest Stoneguard mirrors the skeletal structure of the foot and didn’t seem to impact flexibility too much in the LP 4.0. I certainly wouldn’t want to impact flexibility too much.
    My take on EGO is that its a bit more firm than what I’m feeling in my Timp 1.5s and LP 4.0s, and I really like it on trails. Weirdly, Altra just released the Supulante as a casual shoe?? Its a blend of the Escalante and the Superior which would be amazing. I can’t confirm that it has an EGO midsole.
    https://www.altrarunning.com/shop/lifestyle/mens-supalante-alm1999c?variationId=220#hero=0

  6. Tim

    Love these shoes on either road or groomed dry trails. They feel like running barefoot but more cushioned. Really frustrated with the insoles – compress under the ball of my foot in 3 runs leading to them feeling lumpy. Replaced with some old inov8 insoles and they are spot on. Laces aren’t too long if you use the top holes which locks the foot really well. Ups and downs are good and even technical as you’re so light on your feet. Only thing they won’t do is off camber as your foot slides sideways off the sole.

  7. Greg H

    If anything, I’d like to see the Superior become lighter. I think there’s more than an ounce to lose. Heck, just cutting the ridiculous laces in half would shed a couple of tenths.

    It’s a tough game to have a shoe that’s light, but still has a bit of protection from hard/sharp stuff. Currently, nothing really comes close to the Salomon S-lab Sense 7 for lighter trail shoe in terms of overall performance and quality, but they’re classic narrow running shoes. The Superiors are legitimately wide in the forefoot, which inevitably makes them sloppy on descents, when wet, and on rooty trails or anything off camber—-but I’d say that’s true of all Altras. This isn’t a criticism. It’s a reality of a wide toe box. The heavy models with stiff uppers that can minimize this, but there’s only so much that can be done with lighter materials.

    Kyle Pietari ran Western States 100 in these. He finished top ten, but 15:59 is still 9:40 pace. So it’s not comparable to Hayden Hawks running 50k at 6 minute pace in them. My point is that this is a legit longer ultra shoe for anybody who used to a moderately lighter weight shoe, and who prefers a wider toe box. I regularly do 4-5 hour runs on highly technical, rugged trail in the Superior 4s with or without the rock plate and suffer no ill effects. It’d be my go to for a 50 or 100 miler.

    If you like lighter shoes, but don’t mind narrow, buy the S-lab Sense 7. Salomon puts 25 times as much money into R & D as Altra and it shows. That said, Altra is committed to the wide toe box and that makes many of us happy.

    On the subject of zero drop, I’ve found that there’s no perceptible difference between zero drop an 4mm, but at 6mm, the heel feels ridiculously high. Discuss.

  8. Andreas

    I agree with the most of your review. But not with the minimalist remark. This shoe is too fluffy to act as a minimalist shoe. I ran several 100k competitions in the alps with King MT. The upper material sucks but the traction and ground feel in comparison with Superior 4.0 is so much better. The evo material is firmer and allows your feet to react more naturally. The superior 4.0 has no protection and the problem is that your feet cannot feel the danger quick enough to react. And you will get hurt in technical trails where you need protection. You will get a more minimalist feeling in alpine terrain with a firmer stiff midsole. Note the huarache sandals. They are very stiff. Barefoot shoes or sandals are not usable in an alpine ultra so you have to switch to the next beat thing. My advice would be th Altra King MT.

  9. WeiDe

    i got these as i had all previous versions and wanted to like thema lot. i did some test runs, but what made me send them back was that my big toes was caught in the toeguard from the inside of the shoe. how does that work? the upper is so thin that once running downhill when raising my toed in the shoe as i progress into the next step, they pop above the stoneguard and when landing the big toenail is then caught on the stoneguard by having stretched the upper beforehand. made both big toenails hurt after one steeper 20min run.

  10. KenZ

    Altra’s main goal should be to fix their serious durability issues. Went through three pairs of 3.5s…. in less than 200 miles each. Sidewall blowouts. Luckily, I bought them at closeout. My King MT 1.5s did a sidewall blowout in 120 miles. And Altra isn’t the only one who can’t seem to produce durable products yet charge eye-watering amounts for them… my Hoka Napali ATRs blew out 3 of the 4 sidewalls by mile 170; at least Hoka is going to replace them for free with something else. I don’t know what type of conditions these things are tested in, but if you’re going to charge over $100 for a pair of trail shoes these days, they should last at least 400 miles of really rough mountain terrain, when wet.

    1. Halloween is #1

      KenZ, I agree.

      I really love the Altra feel and fit, but durability has been a serious issue for me. The eyelets on the Torin 3.5s were so weak that I now drill new eyelets into the “stronger” parts of the upper. I will say, however, that the latest version of the Torin (Torin 4) does seem to have better durability.

  11. William Nee

    I’ve had the Superior 4s for about 2-3 months and basically agree with the review. They are a joy to run in for my daily, semi-technical 8-10km trail loop.

    Just last week, however, the upper left hand eyelet (which sticks out from the shoe in a little loop) blew apart. This means: it is now all the more difficult to dial in the fit on that side, and could lead to side-to-side motion stability issues, and 2) the shoes laces now seem all the longer.

    In any case, a similar issue with the laces happened with my King MT 1.5s a year ago. I do wish Altra would reinforce the lace area.

  12. Lauren

    I am sad to hear they have added to the stack height in the superior once again. The shoe is getting closer and closer to the Lone Peak. I used to love Altra’s in their infancy as a company. They are so far away from where they began and what they believed in. I have made the switch to Vivobarfoot and put in my own insert for a a little cushion. A stack height of 20+ is outrageous and detrimental to runners.

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