The Best Altra Running Shoes

Michael Charboneau
·8 min read
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

A relatively young upstart in the world of running shoes, Altra was founded by two high school running buddies, Golden Harper and Brian Beckstead, with the goal of making shoes built for the way people naturally run. After testing prototypes in grueling races like the Wasatch 100, the brand released the Instinct (men’s) and Intuition (women’s), Altra’s first shoes, in 2011. These models, and all those that followed, showcased three core technologies that continue to separate Altra from other brands.

Take a look at quick info on five of the top-performing shoes from our testing, then scroll down for buying advice and more in-depth reviews of these and other models.

At the Core

The first of those three core technologies is FootShape. Unbox a pair of Altras and you’ll see that the forefoot is much wider than on other shoes; the enlarged, anatomical toe box allows the foot to expand and gives the toes room to splay. The second feature is Balanced Cushioning, which refers to the shoe’s heel-to-toe drop (the difference in height from the heel to the forefoot). Unlike most other brands, Altra shoes have little or no drop, meaning your foot sits flat rather than sloping downward from heel to toe. This can help promote your natural stride and encourage a lower-impact landing. Finally, women’s-specific Fit4Her lasts are tailored to match the biomechanics of female feet. These shoes are built narrower through the heel and midfoot and better accommodate women’s longer arches.

A Natural Take on Tech

Over the past few years, shoemakers have poured resources into developing newer and better cushioning foams, and Altra is no exception. The company uses two main cushioning materials in its shoes: Ego and Quantic. Ego is the older of the two; it debuted in 2016 on the Escalante and King MT. Compared to traditional EVA foam, it’s formulated to provide a springier feel and more durability. Quantic debuted on the Superior 4, and its main benefit is low weight—it’s a bit lighter than Ego foam. Altra now uses it in several of its models.

Altra has also developed GuideRail and InnovArch, two notable innovations that give runners more support. GuideRail has been around for years (confusingly, Brooks has also launched tech with a similar name and function), and it’s a layer of midsole foam that projects up from the footbed along the medial side of the foot. It’s designed to keep your foot aligned in the shoe, and helps counter overpronation during your stride. InnovArch, used in the Provision 5, is a layer of mesh material on the footbed that wraps beneath the arch of the foot and connects with the lacing system. It provides a seamless layer of support for your arch and a snug, wrap-around fit.

Photo credit: Lakota Gambill
Photo credit: Lakota Gambill

How We Chose These Shoes

The models below represent the top running shoes from Altra for both road and trail. To select them, we gather feedback from our Runner’s World staff and team of more than 300 wear testers, which includes runners of all ages and speeds living across the U.S. We also analyze data from our RW Shoe Lab and mechanical tests, where we’ve checked and re-checked the energy return of Ego foam, measured the softness of Quantic midsoles, and assessed the stability of Altra’s supportive GuideRail system. Where we have them, we’ve linked to full reviews for more in-depth looks at the individual shoes’ performance.

—DAILY TRAIL TRAINER—

Timp 3

Leaner and slightly lighter than the maximalist Olympus (below), the Timp offers a middle-of-the-road approach to cushioning for trail runners. Although it has gained some bulk since the last iteration, the grooved Quantic midsole offers a flexible, cushioned ride, and the MaxTrac outsole features aggressive lugs for excellent traction in the dirt. A revised rolled mesh upper features drainage holes and added overlays for more protection. Even with its slew of trail-ready features, the Timp surprised and pleased our testers with its versatility for tackling miles back on the pavement. “The Timp’s cushioning has helped me increase my mileage on sidewalks recently without negatively impacting my knees,” one tester said. “On the trails, it’s one of the best shoes I’ve tested, which includes a number of different Altras and Hokas.”

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—BEST FOR TECHNICAL TRAILS—

Superior 4.5

Don’t like a lot of shoe between your foot and the trail? The Superior might be just what you need. It’s about as close to barefoot trail running as you can get while still lacing something onto your feet. Altra has worked to slim down the shoe over the past two versions, and the addition of lightweight Quantic foam saves weight and adds a softer feel. Removable rock plates allow you to add protection when you need it, and the burly rubber outsole creates plenty of grip for picking up the pace on dicey terrain.

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—DAILY ROAD TRAINER—

Escalante 2.5

Since its debut, the Escalante has been a sort of Goldilocks shoe. It’s cushioned enough for distance runs and daily training, yet light and bouncy enough for speedwork. And our testers have worn it for everything from marathons to track workouts. The Ego midsole provides responsive cushioning, and a breathable, sock-like upper keeps your feet comfortable. (Bonus: The low-key styling makes this a good candidate for casual wear, too.) It also comes in a lightweight Racer version for runners who prioritize speed.

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—BEST FOR LONG RUNS—

Torin 4.5 Plush

The Torin 4.5 Plush offers a cushioned ride in a relatively light package. (Some of that weight saving comes from the neutral Torin’s lack of additional stability features, but none of our testers felt unsteady in the shoe.) Still, the 4.5 weighs about an ounce less—in both men’s and women’s sizes—than its previous iteration, and Altra swapped in a new breathable knit upper and a padded tongue. Underneath, the shoe sticks with the same Quantic midsole and grippy outsole for a soft and luxurious ride.

Buy Men’s Buy Women’s Full Review

—BEST FOR OVERPRONATORS—

Provision 5

With its stable, cushioned ride, the Provision is one of the best support shoes on the market. The fifth iteration features a one-piece mesh upper and a simplified InnovArch system (two “fingers” instead of three), but everything from the footbed down remains the same as the Provision 4. The InnovArch layer offers extra support to the arch of your foot and a snug fit, and non-intrusive GuideRails counter overpronation without overcorrecting your stride.

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—BEST FOR CROSS TRAINING—

Solstice XT

The Solstice is an exceptionally versatile shoe that’s built to handle gym days and the occasional low-mileage training run. A grooved, highly flexible EVA midsole and full-coverage rubber outsole make the shoe agile and grippy, and the overlays on the upper lend lateral support to your feet—perfect for knocking out some shuttle runs and lunges, or whatever your workout looks like these days. A firm heel and wide toe box afford extra stability for lifting weights, too.

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—BEST FOR UPTEMPOS—

Rivera

An all-new shoe from Altra, the Rivera is a great pick for track days and tempo runs on the pavement. It’s made with a new last that gives it a more streamlined shape compared to other Altra kicks, and it feels light and lively underfoot. In terms of the amount of cushioning, its full-length Ego midsole falls right between the leaner Escalante and plusher Torin to soak up impact forces for a smooth ride, and the engineered mesh upper creates a comfy, sock-like fit. Overall, it’s an impressive addition to the Altra lineup—enough to earn a spot on our best lightweight shoes list and nabbed an Editors’ Choice Award, too.

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—BEST FOR ROCKY TRAILS—

Lone Peak 5

The Lone Peak was Altra’s first trail shoe, and the line continues today as a light, firm pick that’s well suited to trail racing. The latest version comes with an updated midsole—it now features Altra’s Ego cushioning material—that delivers a softer ride without added bulk. Testers raved about the MaxTrac outsole, which delivers excellent grip in all kinds of conditions, although they did report some issues with the shoe’s fit, especially in the heel.

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—MAX CUSHIONING—

Olympus 4

Take one look at the burly sole on the Olympus—it has a towering 33mm stack height—and you can tell it’s built to have a plush ride. Although that might scream “clunky” to some runners, its compression-molded EVA midsole provides cushioning and responsiveness at all paces. The updated upper creates an improved fit, and Altra’s trademark spacious toe box accommodates foot swelling on longer efforts. Traction is excellent thanks to the Vibram Megagrip outsole, and the TrailClaw lugs work well on both hard-packed and loose surfaces.

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