What makes the Altra Superior 4.0’s so… superior?

Having been running at a leisurely pace for a little over the past decade, I always saw sneakers as a kind of tool – not dissimilar to the shorts or shirt that I would pick to wear; long-sleeves for a chilly day, shorts for the summer heat. Originally, I picked out my running footwear exactly how most other runners out there choose theirs: part Cool-factor combined with part Comfort-factor.

I had always been led to believe more cushion was the way to go to protect frail joints against harsh heel strikes, leaving the flat soled trainers for the real hardcore track runners. Early on, I cycled through my fair share of brands and styles before settling on the notion that Salomon trail runners were just “for me”, perfect in every way. In fact, they did treat my feet wonderfully! Propelling me through my first races – everything from 5K’s to 50K’s, with hundreds of miles of trail running and mountain scaling dispersed throughout these years.

I wanted to do a kind gesture which included jumping on the purchase of Altra sneakers for Ciara that she had sitting in my REI shopping cart for so long. I knew this brand from all of the crazy endurance and ultra-runners that I followed on social media; it seemed the further folks ran – the more of them I saw committing to this new-to-me Altra brand.

By now, if you’d heard the name tossed around, you are probably familiar with their wider toe boxes and the ‘zero-drop’ mentality – this means the heel and toe hit at the same height from the ground, for a more ‘natural’ approach to running.

I liked the idea of strengthening the legs, ankles, and toes by use of a tool: the sneaker, not trying to mask discomfort and to focus leg compensation to other muscles – in my mind at least, it always seemed like doing anything unnaturally is just asking for trouble, pain, and more damage down the road!

Finally after several months of Ciara using her Altra’s to run trails and commute to and from work, I finally had the opportunity to try on my first pair after running an event together in Burlington, VT – we made the stop into Skirack (they are seriously super friendly and have a ginormous selection – check ’em out next time you’re in town!).

First off – the staff actually offered to measure my feet.. what? I thought this was a lost art! No shoe connoisseur had measured my foot since I was a wee-tiny kid buying my yellow Converse high-tops! As it would turn out, I had been wearing size 11 daily for the preceding 8 years or so.. when they actually measured my foot at a size 9.5 – I was shocked.

I loved them! I seriously enjoyed them very much, but I didn’t feel like I was at the running store to actually buy shoes.

I didn’t need shoes – I had my Salomons that proved to be still quite comfortable during the Leprechaun 10K earlier that morning!

I took my Altra’s to the SkiRacks treadmill and.. man, they still felt good! 

Just to talk myself out of an unnecessary sneaker purchase that I would later regret – I tried on a $180 pair of Salomons, knowing I would undoubtedly fall in love with something high end and forget my new zero-drop loves.

Well that didn’t happen. I was unimpressed – to say the least!

The Altra’s felt thin enough to sense whatever surface irregularities were underfoot, but cushy and grippy enough to be comfortable and protective for the long haul. There was a certain rocking under the ball of my feet, somewhat similar to being propelled forward.. but it felt almost like using different areas of my feet, muscles that had never been tapped into before – in a good way!

I left that day with my first pair of Altra Superior 4.0’s under my arm.

In short, I never once regretted my decision to buy those shoes!

End of story. 

Alright, the review is over – time to throw on the Altra’s and go for a run, right?

Not quite yet mister! …I’m sure I have left you with so many unanswered questions. What about transition time from Salomon to Altra? Comfort and durability over the course of a 154 mile (abuse-fest!) thru hike? Grip and the sense of security on wet vs dry surfaces? Cost worthiness? Changes from prior generations of the Superior?

Let’s tackle that last one first since I know the answer to that quite honestly: I don’t really know! I have had zero experience with the Superior 3.5 (or older) version. Why? Because I never had a need to! I love the 4.0s – they are what I know, they are what my feet and legs currently enjoy! Sure I have read and watched reviews of prior models, and I have heard so many make claims that this model has updated fabric, softer this and that, but as of 397 miles (as of writing this 6/2019) I have only found zero reasons that make me want to go pick up and try out a pair of 3.5s, despite them being often times incredibly on sale.. just about everywhere!

Next please… how about the ‘transition time’ from my Salomon Speedcross 4’s (which were also the wide-model, chosen simply because I knew feet swell after some time being stuffed into the shoe and now, I would never return to a ‘regular’ narrow sneaker) to the Altra zero-drop line up? I hear people recommending tapering, slowly transitioning to a zero-drop shoe. I honestly think: Yes, most people should consider trying any Altra on a shorter run first or even start with a walk, or even wear them to work to get the feel for how you walk and feel so refreshed in them, because you probably will feel it in your shins, feet, ankles – most people I know with Altras have to some degree! But that doesn’t last long – just listen to your body and don’t over do it, play it safe!

I intended to taper slowly into higher mileage.. that is, until the day came when that simply did not happen.

Two days into owning my Superiors, I went for a light run on asphalt which promptly spat me onto rustic dirt roads – 5 miles turned to 10, 10 to 15 and before I knew it – I had put down an 18 miler that morning and felt fantastic! My feet felt super light and it’s misleading to say that I grew to know every pebble and crack in the road, but in a sense, I did! I felt like I knew where my feet were landing, what they were landing on and how to best propel myself off of every surface! – This was a good observation!

At the time of writing this review I have logged just under 400 miles on my first pair of Altra Superior 4.0s – and what could that possibly mean? YES! They are so comfortable I picked up a second pair to wear around work for a few weeks until those too are transitioned to my next pair of mud puppies!

As so far with my first pair of 4.0s though – they have seen just about everything I can think a shoe would experience in its’ lifetime!

I wear them to work, which consists of a 1 1/4 mile walk in each morning, and a 1 1/4 mile light jog back to my car each day. I used and abused them on the Run-a-muck 50K race which took place on both asphalt and the hilly dirt roads of Vermont. They were the only footwear that I took on the 154-mile Northville-Placid Trail located in the Adirondack mountains of New York – where they experienced everything from snow, rivers, knee-deep mud, leaves, roots, bare rocks, more asphalt and gravel!

Most recently (like.. two days ago!) I took my Altra Superior 4.0s on the ~15 mile Chocorua Mountain Race put on by RockHopperRaces. Located in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, they saw more mud, four knee-deep streams, countless roots, slick bare rock, billowing mounds of leaves. I can now say that, with nearly 400 miles of love and abuse on these Altra’s, they actually slowed me down tremendously on this run. They slipped on the up-hill and running down-hill any of the leaf-covered or wet slab rock sections was downright brutal!

But, in their defence, I should have known better.. I should have invested in those Lone Peaks that I had my eye on! But overall, they are still crazy comfortable! Nothing hurt from running in them, they are still super soft and cozy on my toes and ankles despite needing to tie them slightly tighter than when I first got them – but they still feel super precise on each toe-off.

Overall, I still feel secure in these shoes despite the grip faultering a bit. They may soon become resigned to simply dirt road sneakers moving forward, but that certainly doesn’t mean that I love them any less!

As for the wear and tear? The fabric on the upper does feel thin, like.. it scares me how thin it felt! But after the daily abuse of catching toes on roots and rocks – we cannot believe how well our Superiors have held up during the Northville-Placid Trail!

During our thru hike in the Adirondack mountains, I wore them during one of our waist-deep river crossings, the algae-covered boulders on the bottom reminded me of buttered up bowling balls… absolutely terrifying! The grip held up (despite being scared out of my mind that I would dunk all of my backpacking and camping gear on the first day at mile 9), we made it through that raging river, my Altra’s dried out super quickly in the abundant sunshine, and also for the record: with snow, mud and icy water daily – I never ended up with any blisters!

So.. are the Altra Superior 4.0s truly worth the $110 price tag? Heck yeah, I sure think so! I mean.. if you can wait until REI.com has another one of their 30% off sales and catch them that way – well that is just ducky! Unfortunately, I bought my second pair two days before they went on sale, but anyway found out my size was not offered once the sale hit.. so no real loss to my wallet!

I would definitely recommend trying them on just to get the most satisfaction out of them – I can assure you, there would be a much different review of these shoes had I simply opted for a size 11 as I self-prescribed myself prior the years.

Once again, I am thrilled that my awesome friends have shown me the trail to the Altra spectrum – and I cannot wait to eventually try on other varieties in their line of zero-drop foot attire! Superior 4.0s are here to stay in my mountain trail running arsenal and I’m amped to someday (soon.. I hope!) lace up a pair of their Lone Peaks – and rest assured I will share my epic adventures with you!

Do you rock a pair of Altras? Let me know what you think of them in the comments below!

Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to check out some race reviews and accounts of crushing adventures in my Altra’s!

 

You can also check out Part 1: the first fantastic 100 miles on the Northville-Placid Trail right here!

Have an epic day and go crush some veggies & vert! 🙂

 

-Erik

 


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