iRunFar’s Best Trail Running Shoes guide captures models that perform well on a range of terrain and that are suitable for a breadth of anatomical differences. The Altra Olympus 5 ($180) has proudly made the guide.
Although the Altra Olympus 5 hits the pocket hard at $180, it offers the runner a predictable, cushioned, and enduring ride. I definitely consider this Altra model a top pick for backpacking and long-distance hiking, as well as for long, slow days out on the trail. The Olympus 5 is not a fast and nimble shoe. I don’t feel quick in it, even though I have gears — well, at least sometimes. The Olympus 5 has a steady and strong governor, and it performs in its prime on long, zone-two days.
This Altra model seemingly holds two disparate principles at once. It is maximalist, with an actual weight of 11 ounces (313 grams) for a U.S. men’s size 9, with an impressive 33-millimeter stack height, coupled with Altra’s signature zero-drop and original FootShape Fit. Maybe for others, this doesn’t seem contradictory, but I am constantly running in different pairs of shoes weekly, and the majority have been minimalist and low-drop shoes. Thus, it took my brain a run or two in the Olympus 5 to adjust to its vast amenities and long-distance qualities.
I am hooked on its modest cushion, grip, and structure. I am pleased to have another shoe that can also weather the weather as the weekly mileage creeps up. With lots of weather having hit the U.S. West Coast of late, I have been able to really test the Olympus 5’s drainage, outsole, and integrity — in mostly rain, a little snow, and some ice.
Altra Olympus 5 Upper
Altra designs shoes for feet and body mechanics that prefer a more natural feel and require a wide toebox for splay, and the Altra Olympus 5 fits that bill. For decades, shoes have been designed to force feet into a very narrow, blade-like coffin. Toes are often held tightly together without adequate freedom to move, flex, and extend while the remainder of the foot is girded tightly into place. Narrow shoes have their purpose in the running world — however, Altra’s original FootShape Fit and large platform are designed to counter the restrictive nature of a lot of running shoes and to help runners find a more natural and suitable biomechanical gait. The toes and a wide toebox do matter in the long run.
With that being said, at first glance, the Olympus 5 looks clunky and block-shaped. The clunky look does transfer into a slightly clunky feel, but with the intent of maintaining structure and security for long runs or extended hiking excursions. As a side note, Altra does make an Altra Olympus 5 Hike Low GTX with added Gore-Tex technology. Overall, the fit of the Olympus 5 in all dimensions, including volume, is true to size — resulting in a fantastically snug feel.
The upper is an engineered mesh with decent drainage, which I can report thanks to nonstop rainy testing conditions. The mesh is fortified with thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) protection at the forefoot with extra coverage above and along the big and pinky toes. The upper heel collar is suitably cushioned and forgiving for lateral and medial ankle movements. Below the built-up cushion, there is ample heel structure with TPU overlay reinforcements below the padding to keep the heel in place. Additionally, there is a substantial medial heel counter to prevent excessive overpronation and to maintain a balanced cushioned platform landing. It is a solid, well-built heel.
The heel design also incorporates a significant and integrated pull tab. Similar to the Altra Timp 4 — read our Altra Timp 4 review — I frequently use the tab to ditch the occasional decomposed granite that inevitably finds its way into my shoes. Like other Altra models, there is a Velcro tab for Altra’s proprietary gaiter and a corresponding plastic loop at the base of the tongue for upper connection. I did not wear the gaiters, but if I continue to wear the Altra Olympus 5 in the drier months, it may be a necessary investment.
I should have known better than to wear my short ankle socks in the Altra Olympus 5 the first time. Again, like the Altra Timp 4, even though there is a subtly comfortable padded tongue, the top edge of the tongue is a thinner, flexible, and rubber-like material that has a tendency to cut into the lower leg/ankle. I advise wearing quarter or crew socks while running in the Olympus 5 to avoid this possible bloody issue.
Altra Olympus 5 Midsole
The Altra Olympus 5 midsole is similar to that of the Altra Olympus 4. Not many changes were made for the next iteration of this long hauler. It is a little surprising that the Olympus 5 uses industry-standard Compression Molded EVA considering that Altra uses the EGO Max in some of its other models, such as the Altra Timp and Altra Mont Blanc — check out iRunFar’s Altra Mont Blanc BOA review. The EGO Max is designed with training performance in mind and undoubtedly increases the comfort and responsiveness of the shoe.
The Olympus 5 is designed with the former Compression Molded EVA, which still withstands the test of the trail and maintains enduring comfort, but without the spring and pliability. Notwithstanding, the Olympus 5 boasts InnerFlex technology that adds “grid-like grooves in the midsole” to augment flexibility and more natural movements underfoot.
Altras have historically been criticized for breaking down quicker than other running shoes, but the Olympus 5 feels different. This midsole has staying power. The stack height, coupled with the standard EVA foam, functions as a solid ground protector. Although it might take away some ground feel and responsiveness, it was designed to keep the “run far” runner out on the trail for the adventure at hand.
Altra Olympus 5 Outsole
I was impressed and at home with the Altra Olympus 5 outsole design, material choice, and overall feel. I run a lot of miles in other brands and models that also feature Vibram Megagrip, which allows for exceptional grip and flexibility over technical terrain. Despite the Olympus 5 not being designed for rocky and slick ground, the grip performs well during the wet winter months. The wide shoe base, coupled with the Vibram technology, takes any worry or thinking out of long descents and steep ascents — even in the drastic weather conditions in which these shoes were tested.
The majority of the lugs are under the forefoot and are TrailClaw designed, meaning they are designed to better protect the metatarsals. There is another set of perimeter lugs to provide base traction and security. The lugs are many and shallow at strategic underfoot locations. There is exposed midsole down the middle of the outsole with a “Y” shaped groove to shunt material, debris, and water. Since this shoe is already hefty, keeping a little weight off the outsole doesn’t overly affect the underground friction and stability.
Altra Olympus 5 Overall Impressions
The Altra Olympus 5 grew on me quickly despite an ambiguous first outing. The initial run was a little tough because I had only been running in very light minimalist trail and road shoes through the early winter months after cutting my mileage and diversifying my movement to other sports for the off-season. The weight, bulk, and sharp tongue left me with hard-to-heal cuts, but after several days of consistently running into the sunrise, I came to really like the Olympus 5. These shoes fit into that slow, long-distance niche and their design and structure keep the runner in the desired slow-paced zone. The Olympus 5 isn’t a fast and technical shoe but has enough protection in case the runner finds themselves in some rocky situations. The Olympus 5 is made to support a long day outside on the dirt while maintaining natural foot and ankle movements, fortified with an all-around structure that is secure landing after landing.
Check out our Best Trail Running Shoes guide to read more of our thoughts on the Altra Olympus 5 and how it compares to other top shoes currently available.
Call for Comments
- Have you run in the Altra Olympus 5? How did you find them?
- Are they more durable than other Altras in your experience?
[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]
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