Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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Altra Superior 2.0 Review
When I initially saw the redesign of the Altra Superior 2.0 ($110) last year around this time, it occurred to me that this could be the Altra trail running shoe that I’ve been waiting for. The shoe appeared to be a lot more like the Lone Peak and a whole lot less like its predecessor, the Superior 1.5. That kind of information means a lot, to Altra fans. The problem was, I wasn’t that big of a fan. The idea of running long distances in a zero-drop shoe frankly scared me due to the fact that I frequently rotate out shoes with a higher drop. I envisioned Achilles issues, calf cramping, lower-back spasms, and various other malaise effecting middle-aged adult men with imperfect gaits.
But, I also imagined a less-cushioned, less-responsive minimal shoe like the original Superior. I had yet to try this second (or third) generation of Altras which have been totally redeveloped, from upper materials to EVA foam. So, I dedicated a few solid weeks of running primarily in the Superior 2.0, capping off the stretch with a solid 8,000-foot climb up the local hill in December to truly see if my fears of the zero drop were warranted.
First of all, size up in this shoe at least a half size. I learned this the hard way and Altra was kind enough to send me a half size larger than I typically wear in their shoes and the difference was immediate. The Superior 2.0 is one of the best-fitting running shoes I’ve ever worn, hands down. The fit, with the generously natural-last toe box, and snug midfoot and heel reminds me of the original New Balance Minimus last in the MT110. I reference that shoe often because, for my foot, it is hard to find a better fit. When I first looked at photos of the shoe, I was concerned about a shallow toe box, but this is remedied by getting the correct size. I will say that the toe box isn’t as deep as the Lone Peak 2.0, but this snugger fit keeps it more locked down on technical terrain.
The upper is completely seamless and features a very tough dual-density mesh which I’m sure some runners will complain is too hot. I didn’t have this problem, but I didn’t run in temperatures warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. This tougher mesh also really prevented any dirt or sand from getting into the shoe. A tough but minimal welded-on toe bumper covers the entire front of the shoe around all toes which was very appreciated. The heel cup is minimally reinforced and the upper maintains a very low profile and flexible fit overall. It felt dialed in right out of the box.
A simple, slightly asymmetrical lacing system made it easy to establish a snug fit, and a gusseted tongue kept small rocks and dirt out when the well-padded tongue moves out of place toward the toe box (a cosmetic issue if one at all). The heel cup also features a Gaiter Trap, a tab with velcro underneath which accommodates Altra gaiters as well as other brands that use velcro on the back rather than a strap underneath the shoe.
If you haven’t tried A-Bound EVA foam, Altra’s recycled EVA, then you’re missing out, in my opinion. I have found it to be incredibly responsive and durable, and after almost 200 miles in the Superior 2.0, I’m not seeing any creasing, wrinkles, or paint flaking. I actually feel like I’m at that sweet spot of the shoe now where every run in them feels better than the last. Despite this fantastic amount of cushioning for a relatively lightweight package (8.7 ounces), the Superior 2.0 maintains a minimalist ground feel appropriate to its heritage.
The Superior 2.0 comes replete with a removable rock plate which sits very nicely beneath the insole. This one-ounce StoneGuard offers just the right amount of protection without sacrificing flexibility or ground feel. I actually had put about 50 miles in the shoe prior to realizing that I’d left the StoneGuards in the shoebox, and the ability to remove them to save weight on less technical trails was appreciated.
Altra’s updated Trail Claw outsole is a great combination of durable traction mixed with softer, less-lugged rubber which doesn’t get in the way of your footstrike on buffed-out trails or roads. I was worried about durability with some of the softer rubber toward the center of the outsole, but my Superior 2.0s show barely any wear.
Altra keeps the Trail Rudder, a tab of outsole rubber off the back of the heel, purportedly to aid in steep downhill running. I cannot attest to this feature helping or hindering any type of running, and a simple weight saver for those not impressed is to excise the offending rubber with an X-ACTO Knife.
Zero-drop shoes have never been my cup of tea, and I’ve always considered my sweet spot to be between 4-6mm of heel drop. I think that the reason I’ve eschewed zero drop was simply because I learned it didn’t work for me during the minimalist craze when I was trying to wear bonafide slippers on trails. I’ve learned since that combining zero drop with a sane amount of cushioning, I barely notice the difference in my gait or post-run soreness. The Superior 2.0 does a very nice job of incorporating a minimalist ground feel, flexibility, and natural fit with a just-enough amount of cushioning that it can really handle ultra distances above 50k. The outsole handles dry and rocky terrain, snow, soft mud, and clay well while not feeling awkward on dirt or concrete.
The Superior 2.0 will be a great shoe for runners looking for a natural last, plenty of toe-box room during ultras, and a pseudo-minimalist feel with more than enough protection. Some runners could handle 100 miles in this shoe, but for me it feels like a 50k to 50-mile specialist ready to take on rocky and buffed out trail alike.
I do think some Altra devotees and runners with high-volume feet might be disgruntled by the lower-profile upper and toe box. However, this might be just the trail shoe Altra was intending to design to gain more of a crossover audience in the trail running market, and in my opinion the Superior 2.0 is a ‘must try’ trail running shoe for 2015.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Have you run in the Altra Superior 2.0? What features of the shoe do you really enjoy, and which are your feet struggling with?
- For those of you who ran in the previous Superiors, how is the 2.0 similar and different for you?
- Like Tom, many people have become fans of zero-drop shoes because Altra shoes simultaneously offer no drop along with some of the creature comforts found in non-minimalist shoes. How does the marriage of concepts work out for you in the Superior 2.0?