Trail running shoe review: Altra Superior 3.5, £110

Altra Superior 3.5 trail running shoe

Altra as a brand was born from the ultra running scene in the US and have often been thrown into the minimalist silo of running shoes with their zero drop profile and wide toe box, but are they the next shoe trail you should be buying? This offering, the Superior 2.5 is designed for those looking for a stripped back, lightweight and lightly cushioned running shoe that can handle the mud. Here's how we got on with it. 

Overall fit/size

As you'd expect from a shoe that champions a 'natural foot shape', there is room in this shoe. So much so in fact it's hard not to think how many shoes don't fit properly if you have wide feet.  The extra width in the toe box is welcome too, again for those with wider feet, it makes sense but also there were no squished little toes or bashed big toes - despite some serious miles on some rough ground all toenails are still accounted for.  You'd be right in having concerns about fit and foot movement in the shoe, but the fit on the heel is reassuringly snug and holds your food in place and gives you confidence to attack the ups and downs.

Grip/outsole

Altra Superior 3.5 trail running shoe

The shoe features surprisingly aggressive lugs that are well spaced meaning you have no worries of the tread clogging up with mud on clay based trail. It has two types of rubber; the outer edge of the sole has the harder/more durable rubbere compared to the inner that features the softer/sticky rubber. Testing began in early May through to the end of August on UK trails; granted the great weather has lead to trails being in good nick, but this shoe dealt with everything thrown at it. Dusty gravel trail and Cornish greasy coastal paths weren't a problem and the shoe was surprisinglt at home on longer road sections, but importantly the mud they did face was dealt with confidently. Autumn and winter may well present some new results and this will be updated accordingly, but the only surface that presented some doubts was wet rock (though that's often the case with most shoes). There was a bit of sliding, but it wasn’t unwarranted or surprising by any means. Any concerns about the prominent lugs wearing out have been put to rest as with about 150 miles the wear seems expected.

Midsole

As Altra’s most “minimal” shoe, the midsole is still fairly substantial with a stack height of 21mm, so it’s not one for the true barefoot crowd. The midsole provides enough protection (combined with the removable stone guard) for your feet on rocky and rooty trails and you feel able push the downhill sections without worry, but it’s not so much cushioning that you lose all connection to the trail - you can still feel what is going on under foot to help negotiate those slightly more technical sections. We found with this degree of cushioning, a general milage sweet spot for this shoe would be about 25-30 miles; any runs much longer and the lower legs might start to grumble. If you are going much further and still want Altra, then perhaps look towards the Lone Peak or The Timp.

 

Upper

Altra Superior 3.5 trail running shoe

The upper is a rip-stop material and has shown very little wear or possible signs or tearing at the usual flex-points near the front. This material breathes and drains fairly well too, great for keeping your feet happy in miserable conditions. The tongue has a gusset down each side to stop debris sneaking in, which worked well, but it did seem to be needlessly big and spongy. The shoe also has a 3 point “Gator Trap” which will hold the Altra gaitors firmly in place if you’re that way inclined. The toe features a fairly rigid bumper that goes all the way around the front of the shoe, protecting your toes if you have a habit of kicking roots and rocks (just don't go actively kicking things!).

 

Durability

Durability-wise the Superior was just that. Over 200 miles clocked and there haven't been any issues; the usual place you’d expect to see trail shoes start to fail (upper and lugs) are holding up well and the midsole has retained its feeling of cushioning too thus far.

Pros

It takes some getting used to and it won't be for everyone, but for those seeking solace from cramped feet then the fit of the Superior was spot on.

The removable stone guard, though not quite a ‘rock plate’, is a great feature; a flexible plastic layer that goes under the insole and adds extra protection on those gravelly sections. The weight difference with it in was negliable, so it was left in. 

Cons

There is no avoiding the look of Altra shoes and though utterly irrelevant when they're covered in mud, it has to be mentioned that the unique shape and styling does have somewhat of a marmite affect on people. Plus if you have big feet, they do start to resemble clown shoes the larger they get. Some more interesting colours would also be welcome. 

The “Trail rudder”, a rubber tail that extends out the back of the shoe and seems to serve no purpose. It certainly caused no issues, but then it didn't prove useful either. 

To summarise

The final impression is that these are a highly capable, all round trail shoe. Where feel and sensation are paramount, the Superior helps the runner connect to a variety of surfaces with confidence. What the shoe really makes us think is what if Altra did a 4mm and 8mm drop verison of this shoe? It would be a real contender against standard, moderate distance trail shoes. 


Tester info:

Leo Pinnock

Weight: 72kg

Shoe size: UK 9.5

Recent races: NDW 100

Current milage in the shoe: 200 miles

Other trail shoes in rotation: HOKA Speed Goat 2, Inov8 Roclite 290