20121015_154152You may not know it from all of the reviews I do for a lot of brands, but I’ve taken a strong liking to shoes from Altra.  I reviewed the Instinct over a year ago.  I was one of the first people to have a pair of those shoes, and I love them.  I say love because my original pair is still alive and kicking!  I’ve obviously moved on to new pairs as well as different models, but it’s a testament to Altra that I can still slip into my original ones with well over two thousand miles on them and have them feel as good as new.  Today’s offering from Altra is the Superior, their new performance trail shoe.  Sneak preview…I like it a lot. 

Altra has another trail shoe called Lone Peak, and I have run in those too.  I chose not to do a review of them as I honestly couldn’t fully test them in the environment I live in.  Lone Peak is a serious trail shoe, and there just aren’t any serious trails around my home near Dallas, TX.  I can say that I really like the shoe, but every time I take them out on a trail I just feel like I don’t use them properly and thusly don’t need them.  Enter Superior.  I’ve waited on this one for a while and had hopes that it would fit my needs on the “trails” I run in my area.

I don’t get on the trails much, but I really enjoy running on the grass and dirt.  It brings back fond memories of my high school cross country days, gives my joints a break, and strengthens my legs so what’s not to like?  For the most part I never figured I would need/want a trail shoe, and I was right, but one day I wondered if a trail shoe would improve my off-pavement experience so I got the Lone Peak.  I liked it a lot and really thought a lighter more flexible shoe was what I was really looking for.  I found all of that and more in Superior.

THE TECHNICAL

Looking at the shoe you can see all the, now typical, Altra attributes.  The shoe is rounded and wide looking at the toes.  Looking at it makes you think your foot should just sit in there and feel very natural.  The sole is level or zero drop (a term Altra coined and I think is cool).  The shoe has a 19mm stack height and is fairly customizable.  The 19mm is with the contoured insole and stone guard in place (it’s removable but we’ll get to that).  If you take the insole and stone guard out there is a smooth, flat foot bed that stands around 15mm for you to enjoy.  This also takes about 2 ounces off the shoe so it goes from the listed 8.9 ounces to around 7, and that’s a pretty cool trick.  As I mentioned before this shoe has a removable stone guard.  The Lone Peak has a stone guard sandwiched between layers of the sole, but Superior lets you decide if you want the protection/weight, which is great.  It does add a little weight and stiffens the shoe up some, but it’s not so much that you’d notice it unless you’re sitting there doing a comparison.  The sole is a multi-layered set up comprising of A-Bound (a rubber composite Altra uses in all their shoes), EVA, and blown rubber.  On the outsole there are five rows of multidirectional lugs that offer traction for both going up and down hills.  The upper is a nice breathable mesh that doesn’t offer a lot of protection from debris but it’s no worse than a standard shoe. Throw in some asymmetrical lacing, heel tab, and a trail rudder, and you have it all.

THE LOOK

Altra just keeps getting better in the appearance category.  Being a new company they currently have the opportunity to just get better.  The first shoes lacked in the styling department, but it was understandable as a start up with limited funds.  Now that they are establishing themselves as a real player in the industry they have the ability to do more, and it’s obvious.  This shoe just looks good to me.  It’s subtle with the dark or light gray (men’s and women’s) mesh with the slight splashes of green and black as highlights.  It’s a trail shoe with an earthy color palette, but it doesn’t scream it at you.  Overall it looks stylish and sleek, having ditched the bulky look of the original offerings from Altra.

THE FIT

This shoe is on an entirely new last so it fits differently than other options from Altra.  I am a huge fan of the original lasts, and while I was excited about this shoe, I had a few apprehensions given the new shape.  All it took was putting this shoe on to send those concerns out the window.  In fact I just might like the fit of this shoe more than the others I have.  It’s slightly narrower through the mid-foot so it kind of has a huggy performance feel to it.  The foot shape is there, but it too is a little cut down so the toe box feels a little snugger.  You still feel like you have all the room you want in there, but you also feel like you could just go fast in this shoe, which is why I call this a performance trail shoe.  It’s because of the feel.  It just feels like a performance shoe.  The heel fits nicely for me, but I have had some people tell me they felt it was narrow.  I personally never really concern myself too much with the fit of the heel on a shoe.  As long as it doesn’t rub or cause some other issue then I think it’s fine.  For me it’s more about the toe box mid-foot fit so you may want to try this one on before you buy it so you can get a feel for the heel yourself.  The only issue with fit for me was sizing.  For men, the shoe runs about a half size small so my first pair didn’t fit.  At the time the shoe was new enough that no one knew this was a problem, but Altra now makes it a point to let people know.   One final fit issue is the laces.  The ones that came with the shoe were too long and too thick for the holes.  I’m sure it’s not a big issue for most, but it bugged me so I swapped them out for some quick pull laces, and this shoe is perfect.

THE PERFORMANCE

I think this category is a mixed bag for people.  For me and my trails this shoe is awesome.  The lugs dig into the dirt and give me great traction.  On gravel I shift a bit but not so much that I think it’s a problem.  I also had some initial issues with the trail rudder in sand and mud.  The little flap on the back is designed to stabilize the foot on steep descents where you might be using a heavy heel strike or have your foot slip out from under you.  On my trails it mostly flicked sand and mud up my back so I cut them off, and they are good to go.  I also love the sole on the pavement.  Yes, it’s a trail shoe, and I know that, but the trails in my area are a bit different as the pictures below show.  One minute you are in the woods on a dirt path, and the next you are running along a concrete path to get to more dirt trails.  For this multi surface scenario the Superior is great.  It runs really well on flat paved areas so it’s kind of a go anywhere shoe for me.  In fact I’ve logged a 15-mile run on pavement in them and felt great.  It’s not every day you find a trail shoe that will do that.   Lateral traction on trails is great because the shoe is very flexible.  The flexibility is one of my favorite aspects of this shoe because trails are uneven, so having a shoe that can allow my foot to deal with that while still offering tons of protection is great.  I tested the shoe on gravel with and without the stone guard and found I couldn’t find a scenario where I need the guard.  A rock or root would have to get through the blown rubber outsole, the EVA, the A-Bound, and possibly the insole before it would get to your foot.  I tried standing over sharp rocks and stomping on them and could never get anything to poke my foot.  Did I feel that there was a rock there?  Of course, but did my foot care?  Not at all.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I think this shoe is a bit of a homerun for Altra, and I mean that.  It’s a shoe I can wear on multiple surfaces and it works well.  I even worked an event in them where I was on my feet for 10 hours, and they felt fine.  How many shoes can you say that about?  The tech and style put into this shoe are right up there with what I’m coming to expect from Altra.  They are constantly trying to innovate in the industry and I think they’ve done so from the beginning.  Now that the styling is on the same level as the innovation I think the sky is the limit, and Superior is just the start of great things to come.

Disclaimer:  I liked the things Altra was doing so much that I have now joined their team and work with them.  That however does not influence my reviews at all as this blog is not attached to my work with Altra.  Everything I write here is and always will be my actual and honest opinion on the products I test out.

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