Maybe you remember the barefoot running boom. Maybe you’ve just had a slew of injuries and you need something new. Or maybe your friend has been going on and on with their Altra running shoe reviews.
And now you’re ready to find out why this brand has become so popular?
I first pulled on a pair of Altra running shoes when they came on the market in 2009. YIKES, I’ve been writing and testing gear a really long time!
That first run wasn’t love for me, but it was for many of my friends who continued running in them the last decade. However, they have changed over time and now I’ve got some new thoughts.
In fact, now you’ll see a number of Altra shoes floating round my house and in the running shoe rotation.
Altra Shoes – Alternative Design in Running Shoes
The name “Altra” was chosen by the company’s founders to reflect their commitment to offering ‘an alternative way of thinking about the design of running shoes.’
The name came to be from a crazy path of a young marathon runner named Golden Harper. He grew up running and finished his first marathon while setting a world best record at age 12!
Later, he started altering regular shoes to create a zero drop with cushion…it slowly became a bit of a black market thing.
People would literally buy a shoe from the running store owned by his family and then ask him to rip it up and remake it as zero drop footwear!
Suddenly, he realized they were doing this for nearly a 1,000 people. Maybe making a shoe would just be easier.
And yes all of this happened before the barefoot craze that was popularized by Born To Run and one of my running idols Scott Jurek.
What’s the big deal about this shoe compared to things like Vibrams?
“this shoe delivers many of the benefits of barefoot running with the comfort, cushioning and support that distance runners love.”
This was the predominate shoe used by Ultramarathon runners (until Hoka One One came on the scene, now it’s split), which makes me think it’s got to be great for those of us doing the measly little marathon in comparison right??
What Makes Altra Running Shoes Different?
Altra is the only running footwear company to feature the cushioned Zero Drop™ platform and FootShape™ toe box technologies.
Prior to Altra, the majority of running shoes featured narrow toe boxes and a heel-to-forefoot drop of 10 to 12 millimetres. Altra designed shoes with the same stack height under the heel as it does under the toes.
This zero-drop concept offers a level platform underfoot, encouraging a stride that is naturally balanced. In fact, the zero-drop idea was actually coined and popularized by the founders of Altra.
And, just as important, every Altra shoe has a large, foot-shaped toe box and a wider forefoot. This allows a runner’s toes to relax, spread out, and move naturally, while the big toe stays in a straight position for maximum stability and power.
When Altras first came out in 2011, ‘barefoot’ shoes were all the rage. They had wide toe boxes and no heel lift, but Altras were different because they had a thick layer of cushioning underfoot. This gave them a unique ride that helped the brand stay in business long after minimalism died out.
So, in short, Altra running shoes have three key features that set them apart from other brands:
- Zero drop
- Wide toe box
- Gender specific
Reminder: These are NOT a minimalist shoes. Minimal shoes have no cushion and are designed for your foot to really feel the ground, they are mostly protection.
What Does Zero Drop Mean and Why Does it Matter?
Zero drop means that the stack height of the sole is the same under the heel as it is under the ball of the foot.
As mentioned earlier, before Altra, most running shoes added extra padding to the heels to help protect runners and prevent injuries. Consequently, 8 to 12 mm of drop from heel to toe or more was common in many running shoes back then.
This means that when standing ‘flat footed’ in the shoes, the heels were actually 8 to12 mm higher than the toes.
The brand Altra is well-known for its commitment to a zero heel-to-toe drop in all of its footwear, regardless of the amount of cushioning in the sole. And so, every shoe in Altra’s lineup is designed with a zero drop that puts the heel and forefoot at the same level.
They designed this to help with optimal alignment, cultivate better form, and encourage a low-impact landing.
Here are some more benefits of zero-drop shoes:
- More natural running gait
- Improved ankle mobility
- Better posture
- Improved balance
Why Would You Want a Foot Shaped Toebox?
Another feature shared by all Altra running shoes is that the toe box is designed with the natural shape of the foot in mind.
It may sound a little odd when you first hear that they make a foot shaped shoe, but once you see it things begin to click. I don’t know about you, but my toes aren’t shaped like the image on the left.
The most significant advantage of a foot-shaped toe box is that it allows your toes to splay, or spread out, while running.
This natural toe splay helps runners gain more stability, build stronger foot muscles, and maintain a straight great toe, which increases the power produced with each stride.
This design allows your toes to spread out, which provides you with the ability to get more power from each stride.
And so, the goal of Altra’s foot-shaped toe box is to make a shoe that is as close to the human foot as possible. This allows the shoe to bend and flex in the same way that the foot bends and flexes while running.
It also encourages good running biomechanics, which improves performance and lowers the risk of getting injured while running.
In fact, this is such an important feature that I went in search of other brands who do the same. Here are the top wide toe box running shoes.
Why We Need Gender Specific Running Shoes?
Finally, all Altra running shoes for women are designed with FIT4HER™ technology.
Women’s feet are typically shaped differently than men’s feet, so Altra designs its women’s shoes with a narrower heel, longer arch, and unique metatarsal spacing to better accommodate women’s feet. This means they are narrower through the midfoot and heel.
Having been inside places like the New Balance technology area, I know that MOST company’s makes a male and female last to produce each shoe model. (A last is the mold that is used to form shoes.)
But, like I mentioned above, Altra has taken it even further with their last, making changes that truly account for the differences in a woman’s foot:
- Narrower heal
- Longer arch
- Different upper for our foot shape — ever notice how women often get pain on the top of our foot and then need to do some fancy trickery with our laces to relieve pressure?? Yup it’s because shoes aren’t made for that.
The one person I might say that Altra Running Shoes are not idea for would be someone with flat feet. Flat feet running shoes really need to help support the arch to prevent overpronation. While some Altra’s have support, none are quite as built up. However, if you love them and run with flat feet, checkout insoles.
Note the above pictures are not to discredit any brand, but to help provide an example of how these are different.
5 Best Altra Running Shoes
Since I’ve been running in the low profile Saucony Kinvara for almost 10 years, I’m already a super fan of low profile shoes.
Barefoot running didn’t work for me because I felt without any cushion my feet simply hurt or my joints didn’t feel right.
So Altra is that nice middle ground of both!
I tested out a few different Altras on short runs and the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t have any calf soreness which often occurs when people transition to a more minimal shoe.
Best Altra Cushioned Stability Shoe – Altra Provision
The Altra Provision is a great stability shoe that is lightweight and lets you run in a natural way. It has Altra’s well-known EGO midsole, which provides lightweight cushioning for soft landings and explosive takeoffs.
For those with flexible arches or who tend to overpronate, this is the ideal shoe. Altra designed the Provision with GuideRail technology, which provides medial support when you need it
The Altra Provision is a lightweight and supportive running shoe that will keep you stable throughout your run.
We know I’m not a big stability shoe person and yet these don’t feel like a stability shoe at all. I think it’s because they have a good amount of cushion and aren’t stiff.
- 10.1 oz. Men’s / 8.3 oz. Women’s
- Zero drop model
- Highly cushioned with more of a maximal shoe style
- Designed for the road, but the outsole would do great providing grip on basic trails
- Available now for $140
I’ve taken these out for quite a few miles now and surprised myself by finding my calves didn’t scream. I think a good sign that I’ve been rotating through a large variety of heel stacks.
This is one that I’d recommend if you’ve been considering a stability shoe, but aren’t going to let up on all the hip, glue and core work that will make sure you aren’t relying on the shoe.
Best Altra Minimal Neutral Shoe – Altra Escalante
I have friends like ultra runner Jenny who swear by this particular model. While others have said it feels too minimal for them, that’s what a lot of you love.
“I’ve been wearing them exclusively for 5+ years now and they are so comfortable. The foot shaped toe box is probably my favorite part. It means that your toes get to splay naturally in the shoe almost like you are barefoot.
The zero drop did take a little bit to get used to when I first started wearing Altras but now I can’t imagine wearing anything else.”
This lightweight shoe features Altra’s EGO midsole foam, which provides a soft, bouncy ride without adding unnecessary weight. There’s enough cushioning underfoot for everyday training, and Altra changed the shape of this shoe to make it more versatile.
The sock-like upper of this shoe is what sets it apart. It is lightweight, breathable, and comfortable to wear. Along with Altra’s signature wide toe box, the knit upper accommodates a wide range of foot shapes.
In short, the Altra Escalante is a lightweight, flexible shoe that works well for both speedwork and longer runs.
- 5 oz. Men’s / 6.9 oz. Women’s
- Super lightweight zero drop model
- More minimal style for ground feel
- Also comes in a racer style that’s even more minimal
- Great for recovery runs
- Available now for $130
Best Altra Trail Running Shoe – Altra Lone Peak
The Altra Lone Peak has an EGO midsole that gives you the right amount of cushioning for the trails while still letting you feel the ground. It’s one that many Boulder, CO runners really love.
The MaxTrac outsole provides plenty of grip and traction as you run over uneven and slippery terrain.
Plus, Altra’s signature features were designed specifically for trail running. The zero-drop cushioning improves ground feel when running over roots and rocks, and the FootShape toe box allows your toes to splay for better balance on uneven terrain.
Ultra runner Camilla taking the Lone Peak on adventures.
The Altra Lone Peak is a great choice whether you’re going on a short hike or training for an ultramarathon.
This is one of the shoes I hear about frequently from Boulder trail runners. While a little heavier than some models, that’s largely due to the sole outsole providing the traction and grip we all so desperately want on the trails.
- 11 oz. Men’s / 9.2 oz. Women’s
- Zero drop model
- Minimal to moderate cushion
- Canted lugs for tons of grip and a good stone guard for technical terrain
- Available now for $130
This is one of the few models they’ve made it up to version 7, which says a lot. It means runners are repeatedly asking for the shoe and love it (otherwise they stop making it!).
Somehow the shoe manages to be breathable and quick drying, while still having the structure you need for the trails and the sturdiness provided from the outsole and rock plate to keep your feet happy on more technical trails.
Note if you opt for an older version of Altra trail shoes they may not be as breathable based on previous runner reports.
Best Altra Everyday Running Shoe – Altra Torin 7
Technically the Altra Paradigm designed with Kara Goucher is their max cushion shoe at 30mm stack height, but it’s also a stability model. And I wanted to make sure to give you another neutral shoe for long runs.
I was not a fan of the 6, but the 7 has fully redemmed itself with the great padded tongue and heel collar. I can see why this is their most popular model. It absolutely has a great amount of cushion and overall just feels nice. If you’ve been thinking about dabbling with Zero Drop, I’d start here.
The cushion felt very similar to the Paradigm, maybe just slightly less.
- 9 oz. Men’s / 7.3 oz. Women’s
- Zero drop model
- 28mm stack height
- Not so plush you lose yourself, but a truly comfortable ride
- Great grip on the outsole again for roads or easy trails
- Available now for $150
- See my full review of the Altra Torin 7
I’ve noticed that all the Altra’s now come in pretty great color ways. And I like the gradient on the midsole which often makes it not look as big and bulky as the huge white of some Hoka’s.
Best Altra Hiking and Walking Shoes – Altra Olympus
Once you decide you like Zero drop shoes, you’re going to want them for everything you do. And it’s important NOT TO WALK in your running shoes.
Weird, I know. But if you’re taking long walks that’s actually a different stride and wear pattern than running. So get yourself walking shoes. Look at me giving you reasons to buy more shoes.
I wasn’t a big fan of these for running. While I usually don’t mind a big stack height, for some reason my ankles or legs hurt after any running in these. But not so with walking!
- 11.6 oz. Men’s / 9.6 oz. Women’s
- Zero drop model
- 33mm stack height
- Not so plush you lose yourself, but a truly comfortable ride
- Outsole that will work through the wet and dry of your trail time
- Available now for $170
Jacqueline says: “The 3.0’s were my fav trail shoe ever!!! But these are even lighter & grippy’er than the previous model. I didn’t have to break them in at all. Walked right on the Appalachian Trail for an 8.5 mile section hike & my feet and knees felt great! ”
Could you run in this shoe? Of course, but it’s heavier and not as nimble as the Lone Peak.
The higher stack and wider base make for a more natural stability in the shoe. Same idea as the maximal design of Hoka. I’ve seen a number of folks comment on how nice that is in a cushioned shoe on a long day.
Looking for more running shoe reviews? We’ve got them on our running gear reviews page!
- Benefits and drawbacks of Zero drop shoes
- Comparing Hoka Models
- Comparing ALTRA to Hoka Running Shoes
- How to properly fit a running shoe
- When to replace running shoes
This is one of the keys to running shoes for me, there are a lot of great options out there, but we all have something that feels slightly better for us and you’ve got to test to figure it out!
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