Altra Superior Review

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Altra Superior Review

All of us have our standard post-long-run practices. Beer. Calorie-rich food. Maybe a shower. And, of course, that wonderful moment where you take your feet out of the shoes, peel off the sweaty socks, and spread your toes across the floor… stretching those tired and bruised little buddies. The feeling is so good that a large number of runners have started clamoring for more space in the toe box, so that their toes can enjoy a little more freedom during the run.

Altra has been leading the market with shoes that not only provide more-than-ample toe room in the toe box, but also a diverse offering of “zero drop” shoes. Their latest offering, the Superior, offers a truly lightweight (7.9 ounce), zero-drop shoe for those of us who live on the trails. The Superior is the second trail shoe from the growing company and takes a full two ounces off their previous trail shoe, the Lone Peak.

The Altra Superior.

Upper
There are two notable points on the Superior upper. First, there are the string/cords running from the reinforcements to the lacing-points. It isn’t the first time that a company has employed some kind of connection between the two pieces to help create a secure fit. What is unique to the Superior, is the weight of the cords (relatively light) and their connection with the sides of the upper (they aren’t connected). The design is a bit more exposed than I tend to like on a shoe. Since it’s winter, I didn’t have the opportunity to snag a stick through the cord. Through snow, ice, and snowshoes, the cords proved to be durable and did a fine job of cinching down around the midfoot.

The second is the large toe box. Comparing insoles between the Superiors and a few other brands (Brooks, New Balance, Scott, and Vasque), the toe-box on the Superior is dramatically different. Beginning near the ball of the foot, it is broader than comparable shoes by up to 3/4″. The additional width is towards the medial side of the foot, providing more room for the big toe. Of course, the additional room was noticeable, but it was also effective. During the first week of running in them, I took the Superiors on my long and short runs, trails and mixed course. My toes have never felt better after a run.

The remainder of the upper is pretty standard fair. The mesh is very open. Reinforcements are durable. And, the toe bumper is on the small side of things.

The Altra Superior’s medial upper.

Midsole
The Superiors have a multi-layered approach to the midsole. They include an insole, a removable rock plate, and then an EVA and “Abound”-based sole. With all three pieces, they have an approximately 14 millimeters stack height. With the rock plate removed, the stack height is a slim 12 mm. And, you can remove everything and go down closer to 10 mm. Personally, I enjoyed leaving the rock plate at home. I found the insole and EVA layer (and the solid outsole) provided enough protection and ground feel for me. Regardless of where you land on it, being able to dial in your ride is a great feature. The three-piece system offers a lot of options without being over-designed.

The EVA/Abound midsole is not the softest material out there. If you are looking for spongy cushioning, you won’t find it here. However, Altra prides itself in producing shoes that have longevity and a durable midsole is certainly a large part of that goal. The midsoles on my Superiors show almost no compression after three weeks of regular training. And, although they don’t compress much, the materials have above-average flexiblity (especially with the rock plate removed).

Altra Superior and its removable rockplate (and insole).

Outsole
Altra picked some durable rubber for the Superior’s soles. While you don’t usually see a lot of wear on soles during the winter, the Superiors have some of the densest rubber of all the shoes in my closet. The tread is composed of ramps laid in alternating directions. This design provided average traction on ice, snow, and frozen dirt. While the design does pick up a lot of small rocks in the tread, it does shed snow very well and, I suspect, would ditch mud just as easily.

The Superior still has the mysterious “Trail Rudder” design on the heel. I agree whole-heartily with Tom Caulghlan’s comments from his review of the Lone Peak: I didn’t notice a difference. I am very curious to hear your opinions of if you have found this design to be useful. I suspect my rudders will meet the utility knife here soon.

The Altra Superior’s outsole.

Overall

The Altra Superior is a relatively simple and effective zero-drop trail shoe. While still being a durably-built model (aside from the questionable cords on the upper), it provides a lighter and less-cushioned alternative to its older brother, the Lone Peak. Those of you who are looking for ample toe room and a bit more protection than barefoot shoes should give the Superior serious consideration. They will stay in my shoe rotation for those days when I can avoid/afford wet toes, want to get personal with the trail, and am running under 15 miles.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in the Altra Superiors? If so, what do you think?
  • If you’ve tried both the Lone Peak and the Superior, what say you about their similarities and differences?
  • The concept of cushioning and zero drop is still unique in trail running shoes. Have you or would you try this kind of ride?
Adam Barnhart: discovered from an early age that he loved running , but didn't like starting guns. As a result, he is frequently found wandering the area trails around Anchorage, AK, but only at races after considerable peer-pressure is applied. When not trail running, Adam keeps pace with his wife and kids, works as a pastor and, with the Alaska Mountain Rescue Group.

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  • I have yet to try the superiors but I run all my miles in Altras. I have used the Instinct, Provision, and Lone Peak shoes for runs up to 50k and love the feel of zero drop + protection.

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  • After many happy miles in the Altra Lone Peak, my experience with the Superior is more of a "love-hate" relationship. The love; fantastically comfortable, lightweight shoe. The wide toe box, foot-shape design, and zero-drop give a refreshing, natural feeling to running. The zero-drop requires a bit of biomechanical stride adjustment, so if you have been in a more traditional shoe, give yourself time to adapt. Now the hate; the Superior's big advantage over the Lone Peak is lighter weight, 7.9 oz vs 9.9 oz. But this weight reduction seems to come with significantly less durability and quality of construction. After less than 200 miles in the first pair of Superiors, the sidewall mesh separated from the soles at the flex points. Altra did replace the shoes at no cost. Time and miles will tell on the second pair. I see my review on the Altra web site was removed, but check out some of the other reviews on the web site and you get the idea. As to the funky sidewall strings, they seem mostly cosmetic and detract from the ruggedness you would expect from a trail shoe.

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    • It is very interesting to hear they removed your review from the website. I always wondered about that and didn't want to believe they would take those measures - but it was suspect only seeing glowing reviews on the website. I am a fan of Altra, but I believe the company should have the integrity to leave all reviews as they came. Not cool.

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      • I too, had my review removed from the website, though it was not particularly scathing,just objective. The sidewall strings on my shoes detached at less than 100 miles and the stitching came loose at the heels as well. They were replaced free of charge. I did find them comfortable and do enjoy the wide toebox from Altra (also own the Instincts and Lone Peaks) but found the traction to be lacking on trails covered with either leaves or gravel. The Lone Peak soles provide me with much more secure footing.

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        • I have durability issues with the uppers, too. After only a few miles. See here for a picture: [broken link to "Altra Superior Durability Issue" photo on runblogger-forum removed].

          Since I reside in Europe returning them was not an option (they are not sold over here). Did some makeshift repair with neoprene glue.

          Looking at the reviews at Altra's homepage these are not isolated cases.

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    • I just hit 71 miles on my Superiors and had them crumble. Contacted Altra and they basically told me that it's a known issue and that I should buy a new pair that will be released in January. They also gave me a 40% off coupon

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  • "a removable rock plate"

    That's a neat idea... I could see this being useful.

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  • I've been running in Superiors for several months and comfortably finished a rainy, muddy 50k in them back in December. I've found them to be stable on wet, muddy surfaces, and they drain well. I find them cushy enough to run on roads as well and I prefer them on roads when it rains or snows. Overall I think they are comfortable and I would say I am 90% pleased with them.

    Problems:

    1) One of the cords on the outside of the right shoe broke off during my last trail run. Actually, the cord didn't break off; the leather strip up by the laces that was holding the cord in place actually came unstitched. So the cord is just hanging there now. I haven't noticed a difference in the way the shoe feels at all.

    2) My right shoe has a noticeable hump in the stitching under the right toe. I had to put extra padding there so that I couldn't feel it while running. (This is the third pair of Altras I've bought that have had problems with the right shoe. One pair I had to exchange.)

    Note:

    I've found the fit to be considerably different from the Intuition/Intuition 1.5. I asked before I bought the Superiors if the sizes were the same and I was assured they were. However, the Superior is much wider than the Intuition--so much so that when I lace them up the eyelets are touching in the middle. The length is about a centimeter longer as well. Obviously this hasn't prevented me from running long distances in the shoe, but it might bother some people.

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    • Norma,

      Thanks for your comments! Sad to hear (but not entirely surprised) that one of the cords is no longer functional. No change in how the shoe fits, though? That's positive news. It may be worth chopping all the cords off to see if the cords are simply an aesthetic feature.

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      • I keep meaning to cut it off. The cord isn't stretchy at all, so I'm not sure their function is anything more than cosmetic. It is somewhat disheartening that the cord is perfectly fine, but the stitching failed. O_o

        Honestly, I had a hard time deciding between the Superior and the Lone Peak. While I do like the Superior overall, I will probably choose Lone Peak when they die. (which hopefully doesn't happen too soon)

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  • I like my Superior's so far. Decent weight, good underfoot protection (I do not use the rockplate), ok traction, much much better flexibility than the Lone Peak or Instinct (both strap on bricks IMO) just-right cushioning (yes I like a little cushioning but not squishy), and #1: best toe box available for those with wide feet. LOVE the shape. Nearly all other running shoes are too tapered toward the toes.

    p.s. I'm with you on the rudder - that's gotta go.

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  • Your review on their website was removed? LOL.

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  • Less than 200 miles into my Superiors and the sidewall stitching of the inside forefoot of both shoes began to tear away from the sole. Their durability is quite questionable. Overall, the shoes are quite buttery and I enjoyed the roominess the toebox offers, but the fact that they couldnt hold up to 3 weeks worth of semi-technical trail running is a sad, really. I think the extra roominess in the toe box allows the forefoot to "slide" around a bit more, putting pressure on the weak sidewall stitching and compromising its durability.

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  • I am a big fan of the last in this shoe. It has been the first trail shoe that I didn't feel like my arch was hanging over the side of the shoe. Along with removing the tail flap, I had to change laces because the were way too long.

    I've been a little skittish about taking them beyond 13, so I'd be interested to hear from folks that have run long (50m?) in them.

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    • I blew out my first pair in less than 200 miles. I ran HURT 100 in my next pair with absolutely no shoe or sock (Drymax) changes. My feet felt fantastic (relatively) and the shoes didn't seem too beat up (relatively). Will they hold up for another rugged 100? Maybe. They ride great but it would be prudent to have a backup.

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  • Isn't the "rock plate" actually a stability wedge? If you look at the wedge, it's higher on the medial (inside), which they claim offers stability.

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    • I'll double-check when I get home. But, by my memory, the rock plate is the same thickness all the way across.

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      • I'm pretty sure it is. The stability wedge comes with the Provision.

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        • Just checked the site, yes, they're claiming its a removable rock plate....wonder how well that works?

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          • If you keep in mind what it is and how it is made, it works pretty well. It's not a hard-plastic plate. It's not anywhere near the outsole. But, as a semi-flexible plate near the foot, it helps spread-out the pressure of a sharp rock fairly well.

            Again, have to keep the expectations reasonably dialed to its construction.

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  • After two 20 mile runs the shoes mesh material began to tear. I am 5 foot 10, 152 pounds so i am not a large runner. The tread is pretty much useless in mud. The build quality is very sloppy. There was glue splattered all over the logo on the outside of the shoe.

    I do love the wide toe box,rock plate and overall feel of the shoes but I question how a shoe could have made it to production with such a poor choice of materials? I am not alone in having these shoes tear/break down in a VERY short period of time. So i know it was not just a fluke regarding the pair that I purchased.

    Hoping the next version will be a bit more tested with regards to durability.

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  • I'd like to hear other's people opinions on long runs too, after seeing the incoming reviews I don't feel confident switching to the superiors from the lone peaks. Its disappointing to see that the shoes seem to be made for shorter runs (less than 15 miles?).

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  • I find the trail rudder holds debris and flips it on the back of my calves and eventually down into my shoes. I noticed this when hiking in So. Utah through the sandy desert. Not a fan of gaiters because my feet get hot and sweat to much. Was interested in trying these new Altras but might wait because of the durability problems. Love the lone peaks but the tread (little triangles) wear away after 200 miles and then they become my road shoe

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  • I am still desperately waiting for these to be stocked in the UK.

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    • you can buy them via amazon steep price for the questionable quality though.

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  • I'm only 60-70 miles into my pair, but so far they've been great. Loads of room for my toes, but they hold my foot securely enough that I'm not jamming my toes on the downhills. So much room I wonder if I'd get blisters on the bottom of my feet on something really long, but I've done a long run of 16 miles in them so far with no problems. I like them so much I wear them all day long in addition to my runs -- so comfy. I'll post again when I have a few more miles in them.

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  • These shoes are so cute, I want a pair of the womens version so badly!! I appreciate the detailed and honest review :)

    I'm a huuuge Altra fan- I am in love with the Provisioness for distance running and have a pair of Instincts on the way that I can't wait to try!!

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  • I ran Lookout Mtn 50 M in these the day after I got them. Sounds stupid I know but I just knew they were perfect for me the minute I tried them on and didn't want to ware anything else. They were great and are my favorite shoe to date. No durability issues. I do feel the rudder gives me a little more confidence on really steep descents with loose footing but it could just be in my head.

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  • The Superior is really fun to run in, one of my favorites. However, I don't run long distances in the shoe, overall it is too flexible for me for long distance runs. That said, short mountain jaunts are super fun in this shoe. Here's a link to a review we just posted about the the Superior. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC1ZUIJ5zpY

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  • I'm a huge fan of the Superiors. My favorite shoe to date, though I'm very excited about the updated version of the Lone Peaks coming out soon. Altra is a truly revolutionary shoe company and it definitely shoes with this 2nd generation of their shoes. One thing that doesn't get mentioned much about the zero drop aspect is that since switching to the Lone Peaks last February I haven't rolled an ankle once in the thousand + miles of running... Not as important for road runners, but this is huge for trail runners.

    The superiors are a stripped down version of the lone peaks. And they drain well enough, I don't even mind getting my feet wet in them. They are dry enough only minutes later.

    Anyway... I'm a huge fan and really don't like wearing other brands now.. my feet go numb and my heels hurt. I'll stick with the Altra's!

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  • I picked up a pair when they first came out. I had high hopes, but ultimately they didn't work well for me. Good: tons of toe room, cushioned, but give good ground feel. Bad: huge through the mid-foot, poor traction. I'm really hoping they streamline the new Lone Peak. I like the originals, but they're clunky.

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  • Thanks for the review Meghan! I'm a fan of the Altra concept and the Superiors in particular. I'm 5'7", 145lbs and a neutral runner. I run ultras up here in the lovely Pacific NW. Prior to the Superiors, was running in the NB MT101 and MT110 and the Brooks Pure Grits. I still mix it up but often choose the Superiors unless it's super muddy (Hagg Lake style) or super technical (The Enchantments) where I need more grip or cushioning. My experience:

    Pros:

    - Super roomy toebox is not only more comfortable then a traditional toe box shape but enables the foot to splay out and that translates into feeling like a more anatomically natural foot placement and less stress on the plantar fascia (just my opinion). No hammered toes or blisters yet.

    - Light weight and breathable upper

    - Drains water well

    - Tread pattern seems to be a nice balance between minimal and aggressive "enough". It has worked really well in nearly all normal trail conditions (except deep mud...and haven't tried snow yet but then I'd toss on the YakTrax anyway)

    - Comfortable for short and middle distances (have run up to 50K in them)

    - They're so comfortable that I forget that I'm wearing a zero drop shoe

    - No rolled ankles even in the most gnarly, rooted, technical terrain I've encountered

    Cons:

    - Light weight and flexible sole (see Pros above) may be not enough "shoe" for me to comfortably run beyond 50K where I often find I need just a little more support or cushioning

    - The string things...purpose? (After snagging on a branch I cut them off with no noticeable change in shoe feel or performance)

    - I was skeptical of the "rudder" too, until I hit some crazy sticky clay mud in the Santa Cruz Mts and that goofy rudder appendage prevented my shoe from repeatedly sucking off while it helped to eject the gloppy mud so my feet didn't feel like 5lb snowshoes. It worked as advertised. I plan to keep them. But if you don't encounter shoe-sucking mud very often then what's the purpose? Doesn't seem to provide any benefit as a "rudder" but then again it's so unusual that I haven't noticed if my biomechanics actually need me to have a shoe "rudder" or not. Jury is out on that one. (glad to see they are trying new things though)

    As to build quality, mine have performed very well with no problems yet. Have about 200 miles on them so far. Quite happy so far and plan to get another pair from Altra.

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    • Sorry, meant to say "Thanks for the review Adam"!

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