Our Favorite Trail Running Shoes
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Altra 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.
Read up on more new trail shoes for spring-summer 2019.
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!]