Saturday, December 29, 2018

Altra Running Superior 4.0 Review: When Less is More

Article by Dom Layfield, Jeff Valliere, Dave Ames, and Shannon Payne

Altra Running Superior 4.0 ($110)


Introduction
Dom: The Superior is the lightest, lowest-stack shoe in Altra’s trail shoe line-up.  (I’m not counting the King MT, which sits in a niche category of OCR and deep mud.)  I complained that the previous version of the Superior was too heavy and felt almost indistinguishable in feel from the Lone Peak, Altra’s next shoe up.    Version 4.0 of the Superior is very different: dramatically lighter and softer, with a new midsole material, and a spectacular glove-like upper.


PROS

  • Sleek, glove-like fit from soft upper
  • Soft sole and low stack allows amazing ground feel for near-barefoot experience
  • Has removable rockplate insert (“Stone guard”)


CONS

  • This is a minimal shoe: little rock protection, no structural support
  • Squishy midsole may not be to everyone’s liking
  • Outsole grip only adequate
  • Runs a little large, particularly with stone guard insert removed

Stats
Official weight:  7.9 oz/ 224 g; 6.6 oz/ 187 g (without sock liner or Stone Guard)
Dave’s US M9:  9.5oz/269g (including Stone Guard) - - 8oz/227g (w/out sockliner or Stone Guard)
Dom Size US M10:  8.7 oz / 247 g (without Stone Guard)  9.7 oz / 275 g (including Stone Guard)
Stack height:  21 mm (zero drop) without Stone Guard insert.
$110 Available January 2019,


Reviewer Profiles
Dominick Layfield, 47, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  
Jeff Valliere runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's.
Dave Ames is 37 and keeps in sub 3 shape in Southern California while transitioning to Ultras. He is a professional running coach and trains a mix of at least one quality workout, one long run and aerobic miles on both roads and trails
Shannon Payne: 33, runs up and down most things in Colorado, ideally just uphill but downhill seems to be an unfortunate side effect of that. Doesn't have many training stats to report on as sadly she is not at all Strava-savvy, but has won Mt. Washington a couple of times, been on the US Mountain running team, and has a couple of top 5 Pikes Peak Ascent finishes. She also dabbles in cycling but is recreational at best.


First Impressions
Dom:   I was excited to see that Altra had made substantial changes from Superior 3.5.  Most conspicuously, the Superior 4.0 now has a “burrito” construction (where tongue is an extension of the upper fabric, wrapping from inside of the foot).  This type of construction has become a rarity in modern running shoes, but I’ve always found it works well.


Dom:   Next up, weight!   In recent years, I’ve been complaining that Altra’s trail shoes have been steadily creeping up in weight.  In the update from Superior version 3.5 to 4.0, Altra trimmed off a full 104 g / 3.7 oz (per pair, size US M10, including the Stone guard insert).


Dom:  My first run was euphoric.  I’ve recently been testing a slew of heavily cushioned shoes that insulate the foot from the ground.   Arriving with serendipitous timing, The Superior 4.0 was a revelation. The midsole foam is very soft and it was a joy to feel the earth beneath my feet.  In my review of the Superior 3.5 on RTR, I remarked that the Superior 3.5 seemed overbuilt considering its position as the lightest of Altra’s now five-level trail shoe lineup (Superior, King MT, Lone Peak, Timp, Olympus).  Version 4.0 is significantly lighter and softer, and provides a transparent ride that will make all but the most hard-core minimalist runners happy.


Dave:  Superior 3.5 was a real solid trail cruiser for me.  It was my first introduction to the Altra trail line (I was doing more road stuff a while back, now I am trail Ultra training) - - I was excited to see how Superior 4 lined up against an already well made 3.5.  The fit is really solid on the 4, true to size with no issues and the new wraparound upper laces up far better than the upper did on the 3.5, giving me much more of that lightweight racing flat feel for the trails. The 3.5 was kind of a rough lace up, given its hard shelled upper, and once muddy or dusty it took some work lacing up!  Given this is already a fast “ripper” of a trail shoe, I want to be locked and loaded into it, especially around the midfoot, and the new upper does this. Also, I absolutely love the colorway of the Navy blue. It’s classic, it’s conservative and just plain looks great on your foot!


Jeff:  I was initially struck by the lightness of the shoe, the supple upper and smoothed over, classy look in the blue colorway.  Upon initial step in, the Superior 4.0 feels very Altra like, with a low heel collar and wide toe box, but with the burrito style tongue/midfoot providing a very comfortable and secure wrap.  Cushioning feels very soft and the shoe is quite flexible, yet not overly so. At first I missed the stone guards, as they were hiding underneath the paper in the box and was questioning how this shoe would work for me on the rocky trails I frequent here in Boulder.  I eventually ran across the stone guards once I dug through the box and they really helped to dial in the fit for me. The Superior 4.0 is likely better fitting than any other Altra I have run in previously. Adding the stone guards provided that little bit of extra substance that I hoped would prove adequate on the rocky, technical trails.


Shannon: Straight out of the box, I was really impressed with the aesthetic changes to the Superior 4. This shoe looks sleek, and “sleek” is not generally a word I would use to describe an Altra. And “Fits like a glove” is not generally a term I’d use either. The new Superior is both sleek and fits like a glove, without the sometimes loosey-goosey fit and bunching of the upper that occasionally comes with having the foot-shaped-toe-box that the brand is widely known for. It's spot-on true to size with my women's 8 fitting perfectly.  Altra is axing the heel counters from all of their shoes, and in my opinion, that adds to the slipper like feel of this shoe, there is no accompanying “lack of security” feeling that sometimes comes with heel-counterless shoes. This shoe locks you in. Only drawback: these laces are, ah…long (see below photo). It's fine though, just shove them down the inside of the shoe and you're good to go. Other than that, so far, so good!
Sizing and Fit
Dom:  On the foot, the fit of the Superior 4.0 is roomy and comfortable, but the upper grips securely around the midfoot, with a very pleasing slipper-like conformable fit.  As with the previous version of the shoe, I felt that sizing was a little generous, and the removable Stone guard makes this more complex. If you like a snug, performance fit, I would suggest you consider dropping down a half size (in US sizing), particularly if you think you’re more likely to use the shoe with the Stone guard removed, and/or you use thin running socks.




Shannon: Again, fits like a glove. True to Altra’s philosophy, there is ample room in the toe box, but it's nowhere near as wide as some other models. However, for the folks who love the extra width afforded by some other models (The one-and-done Duo, the Torin, etc) fear not! While it's not as wide, the stretchy fabric that overlays the forefoot is very yielding and would certainly accommodate anyone needing a bit more room. Anyone who has struggled with tougher overlay materials and too-tapered toe boxes will rejoice in this shoe.


Upper
Dom:  The Superior 4.0’s upper is fabulous in both comfort and performance.  In harmony with its sole, the upper is soft and flexible throughout, offering a completely neutral glove-like fit.  In fact, the feel of the upper reminded me of the original Merrell Trail Glove (I’ve not tried recent revisions).


Dom: The forefoot is wrapped in a single piece of light fabric with some stretch to it.  From the midfoot to the rear is a thicker, less extensible fabric that contours to the foot while providing sound midfoot retention. There is a heel counter, but it is very flexible and thin, and one has to feel around to discern its presence.


Dom:  The 4.0 foregoes a traditional tongue, using instead a burrito-type wraparound construction.  I haven’t seen this architecture since early iterations of the Nike Terra Kiger. I’ve always liked it and don’t know why it is not more popular.  It works brilliantly here. Comfort and foot retention are outstanding.


Dom:  The 4.0’s upper is impressively impervious to dust, but I worry somewhat that it may feel a little hot and sweaty once summer rolls around.   I’m also somewhat skeptical at the usefulness of the gaiter attachment points at the front and rear. With such a lightweight shoe, will runners really use gaiters?   And one final small point: the laces in my sample pair were bizarrely long. I had so much extra length to use up that I threaded the laces back an extra pass through the second top eyelet.




Dave:  The new wraparound upper is outstanding.  As mentioned above, the older upper on the 3.5 was just too tough in terms of lace up and molding to the foot.  There was too much plastic creating more of a “cage” like feel which really took a lot of miles to break in. The new wraparound fits immediately like a glove on your foot, but also allows still that classic Altra splay in the toebox.  The midfoot wrap is well, “Superior,” and I feel very confident every step of the way in the dirt. The lacing is perfect and created no abrasion on the top of my foot. The heel collar, via the new rounded geometry is also a great update, being that is much more softer and flexible than in the S3.5, which on longer runs of 2.5 hours and beyond, would flare up a calcaneal spur.  I have not had any heel issues in the 4. It feels great on my foot!


Jeff:  The upper is a work of art, one of the best out there, striking a fine balance between comfort, flexibility, security and style.  The wrap around burrito style tongue is extraordinary, reminding me of my old Nike Frees that even though fairly worn down, I still wear regularly as a day to day casual shoe.  The fit here with the Superior 4.0 is gently wrapping and secure, adding to comfort and ease of entry.
Jeff:  The heel counter is thin and flexible, adding to the comfort and flexibility factor and all around natural running feel, while retaining good heel hold and reasonable structure.


Jeff:  Lacing is sure and secure and I achieve “one and done” snugness, without ever having to retie or second guess.  The toe bumper is surprisingly solid and adequate for such a light and flexible shoe.


Jeff:  I find fit to be generally true to size, particularly when employing the stone guard, though without it feels a bit overly roomy, but that is common with Altra of course.  I have found in the past that downsizing just means my toe will likely be bumping the front, with there still being a lot of room in the forefoot, so I suspect the same here (but again, this is typical with Altra).


Jeff:  Overall though, I find the fit to be the closest to a “normal” fit (again, employing the stone guard) of any previous Altra and works reasonably well for my slim low volume foot.


Jeff:  Ventilation seems to be moderate with a closed mesh upper, great for keeping out dust and dirt, but could potentially be a bit warm in the summer.


Shannon:  I don't think I need to reiterate how much I like the upper of this shoe. Normally, I don't nitpick the upper of a shoe as the ride of the shoe is generally what grabs my attention, but something about the fit, feel, construction and lightness of this shoe’s upper just gives it an awesome feel from the get-go, its glove-like-yet-accommodating fit is half of what makes this shoe awesome.


Removable Rock Plate (“Stone Guard”)
Dom:  A signature feature of the Superior series has always been the removable rock protection insert, that Altra call the “Stone Guard”.  This is a thin sheet of plastic that slides underneath the regular footbed. In previous versions of the shoe, I’ve been unconvinced of its value.  On the one hand, I love the idea of a shoe that is tunable to the terrain you’re about to run, or just adjustable to your personal taste. But prior versions of the Stone guard have been heavy (at 70 g, 2.5 oz per pair), and I thought they changed the fit of the shoe too much.
Even the “Stone Guard” protective insert went on a diet!  Previous version weighed 70 g.
New version of Stone Guard (left) is more perforated and more flexible than older version (right)
Dom:  Version 4.0 of the Superior also revises the Stone guard, making it slightly thinner and lighter (now 56 g, 2.0 oz per pair).   I still found that the Stone guard took up a noticeable amount of volume, but the new, slimmer plate makes the issue more tractable: the difference now is comparable to wearing thick or thin socks.   In the Superior 3.5, I felt that the stone guard significantly changed the character of the shoe; in the 4.0 it just adds a little protection while retaining the pleasing underfoot sensitivity and feel.


Dave:  Note: I’ve now run with the “stone guard” in the S4.  Where I train in SoCal, it’s pretty smooth and dry, so it is definitely not like the trails I grew up with in Central NY (rocky, rooty...the Beast Coast!) - - However, by adding the Stone Guard in I notice I basically have a bit more underfoot.  Again, there is not much to test here in SoCal, but the Guard gives the shoe a bit more pop. It makes what I think is a weak new midsole (I like the previous A-Bound better) come back to life a bit, while giving the protection one may need on more aggressive terrain.


Jeff:  I love the stone guards and feel as though they add a lot to the shoe for me in terms of fit and protection.  They take up just enough room to improve fit to the point where I don’t feel as though my foot is sliding around as much inside the shoe.  They also add enough protection for me to tolerate rocky, technical trails for at least shorter runs, or runs with shorter sections of rock without negatively affecting the ground feel and ability to contour over the terrain underfoot.


Midsole
Dave:  Unfortunately, after all that greatness above, here is where the 4 struggles compared to the 3.5.  I think I like the old A-Bound midsole on the 3.5 better. After multiple runs of varied distance, trail tempos and Fartlek and some hilly “steady state” runs in the 4, it’s lacking the pop I felt in the 3.5.  I’m just not 100% sold on the new Quantic midsole compound. It’s not as smooth for me and I find myself struggling, a bit more “stuck” in the heel and having to force more of a toe off which can be a nightmare in zero drop shoes.  A-Bound got me to the forefoot smoothly, quickly and efficiently. I did not leave a run feeling beat up. In the S4 I haven’t felt the greatest post run. Is it light, yes. Does it fit well? Yes. But it lacks the snap I fell in love with in the 3.5.


Dom:  I disagree with Dave.  In Superior 3.5, I felt the midsole to be competent but unremarkable.  On the other hand, I absolutely love the squishy, soft, sensitive feel of version 4.0.  I’m uncertain how much is attributable to the new “Quantic” midsole material. But I can tell you that running anywhere (road or trail) in this shoe put a big grin on my face, and made my running feel energetic and nimble.


Dom:  I would also note that the softness of the sole stack makes the shoe very surefooted.  Instead of teetering on rocks, the shoe conforms around them. The flip side is that protection from penetration is slight, and landing in a vee between two rocks hurts.  In the Superior, you cannot just charge heedlessly through rubble in the same way that one can in, say, the Hoka Speedgoat.


Jeff:  I fall somewhere in the middle between Dom and Dave, but probably closer to Dom’s assessment, where I find the midsole to be soft and cushy, yet lively and energetic.  The Superior is a quick and nimble shoe, which is in part a result of the midsole, but much of that in my opinion is because of the low weight and slim build. For a flexible “natural” running shoe that is this light weight, cushioning is impressive.  That said however, compared to the Timp 1.5, Lone Peak or other more deeply cushioned and protective shoes, you’ll definitely be more likely to feel rocks and roots underfoot. I don’t say that as a knock however, just more of a protection ranking in the Altra line up.


Shannon: Being a person who generally likes a firm, extremely responsive ride, this midsole was extremely soft, but didn't have the mushy feeling that I have found in some other Altra models. Granted, it also has significantly less stack height than other models I have run in, and I think that's where the magic happens. With that being said, I again felt as though the ideal balance was struck with this shoe between soft cushion without sacrificing a nimble, forgiving ride. Take that with a grain of salt however, as I did not run in the previous version of this shoe, and by Dave’s assessment this may lack the liveliness of its predecessor, but I liked it!


Outsole
Dom:  If there is a weakness of the Superior 4.0, it is that outsole grip is merely adequate.  The lugs are relatively shallow, and outsole rubber soft. On moderate terrain and/or gentle running, grip is fine, but when pushed hard, the limitations of the traction become apparent.  One day, I decided to break a Strava CR on a local downhill segment that is loose and steep and found my feet breaking away more than I would normally expect.

Dom:  On the plus side, I really enjoyed the sole geometry.  The heel is narrow and rounded, as all good trail shoes should be.  For years, I’ve been perplexed by myriad trail shoes with wide, flaring, flat heels that make no sense at all.   I have to believe that the manufacturers know this also, but have found that they need to make their trail shoes this shape because consumers expect it.

Dave:  The new MaxTrac rubber outsole is great!  I’m confident, secure and don’t feel the shoe working too hard underneath me, which I find sometimes aggressive outsoles do.  Note: I run primarily all wide open / single track, dry terrain here in SoCal. I’m going to leave some of the outsole comments up to Jeff V who’s running the real stuff out there in Colorado!


Jeff:  I find the outsole to be versatile and while it may not excel in any one area, it does a good job at covering a wide variety of terrain, though I would say it performs best on smoother, less technical terrain and surfaces that fall somewhere between rock hard (rocks and nearly rock hard dirt) and sloppy mud/slush.  The sweet spot here is soft to moderate dirt and duffy trails, where the smaller, yet still reasonably aggressive lugs can get some bite. Grip on rock and slabs is average to slightly above average and declines slightly when wet, but is overall good in most conditions. As with the rest of the shoe, the outsole is flexible, which is good for contouring over the terrain underfoot, but again, protection can feel a touch exposed, especially for prolonged exposure to rock hopping and hard technical terrain (even with the rock plate, but especially without).


Shannon: This outsole handled a lot of surface types, and was impressive in doing so. From hard packed dirt to scree to slickrock, it felt great on all of them. Only thing I didn't put it through was mud as it's a bit dry out here right now.


Ride
Dom:  The Superior 4.0 pushed all the right buttons for me.  With or without the stone guard inserted, the ride was sublime.   Without the insert, you’ll feel every little ripple of the trail. If you’ve never experimented with minimal shoes, this may be a revelation.   The ride is soft, sensitive, but still forgiving. Sliding the stone guard into the shoe, the ride maintains the same character (unlike version 3.5), but adds a modest amount of protection.  Overall, the feel is natural, precise, flexible, and invigorating. It has been years since I’ve enjoyed a shoe this much.


Dave:  It’s a really good shoe.  A really well designed one.  But if Altra went back to the A-Bound midsole, from the 3.5 and put it on the 4, we’d have a perfect shoe for me here.  It’s still not 100% smooth for me and I “sink in” a little too much via the new Quantic midsole. This is exactly what is leaving me a bit more beat up after runs.  I’m finding transition to be a bit sloppy, as well by getting stuck in the heel. If you literally squeeze the A-Bound midsole on the 3.5 and squeeze the Quantic on the 4, you’ll immediately feel the difference with the A-Bound being much firmer which I am a fan of, and you’ll notice the softer more plush feel in the 4.  I personally just like a firmer midsole compound in almost everything I run in, whether road or trail.


Jeff:  The ride of the Superior 4.0 is smooth, especially for a somewhat minimal and light shoe and overall is a very fun ride on more moderate to easier terrain, giving the runner a nice sense of a natural running feel with proprioception, yet with enough cushion and protection to not feel beat up afterwards.  On rocky technical trails, the ride suffers some due to the lesser cushion and protection, but I would reiterate that the Superior 4 is not necessarily made for much of that.




Shannon:  For not being a minimalist-zero-drop fan, I really enjoyed this shoe. Initially I had reservations about the lack of cushioning material underfoot, and perhaps for a person like myself who is used to “more shoe” that may become apparent over higher mileage and longer runs, I didn't find that to be an issue for any of the miles I ran. It was a smooth, nimble, plush ride for being an ultimately pretty simply designed trail shoe, and is likely going to appeal to a pretty broad range of runners and a broad range of distance and paces.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Dom:   
The Superior 4.0 is a stellar shoe and a landmark in trail shoe design.  Both the upper and sole are remarkably soft and flexible. The shoe fits like a glove on your feet.  Consequently the ride is very natural, with wonderful underfoot sensation. The Superior is supplied with a removable rockplate that slides under the insole.  The stone guard works well, and provides modest protection while maintaining the soft and sensitive ride.


However,  this is clearly not a shoe for everyone.   Dave hated the squishy feel of the midsole; I loved it.  Even with the Stone guard inserted, this remains a very flexible, soft, lightly cushioned, totally unstructured shoe.  It is clearly not a good fit for a runner who needs (or likes) a supportive shoe. The forefoot is fairly wide and loose.  Given the zero drop and relatively low stack, the Superior is probably not a good match for a heavy heel-striker. But even with those caveats, this is a shoe that every runner should have in their closet, if only to use for short runs once or twice a week to strengthen their feet and improve their gait.


I loved almost everything about the shoe with the exception of the outsole grip.  Perhaps more than anything, I loved that the Superior 4.0 is bursting with character.  It feels like a refreshing antidote to design-by-committee shoes, where flaws are ‘fixed’ and personality is iterated out of each revision.  
Dom’s score:  10/10
-An amazing, innovative, risk-taking, brilliant shoe.   So much more than the sum of its parts. A classic!  
-Runs a little big.  Consider downsizing, particularly if you plan to run with the Stone guard removed, or if you use thin socks.
-Outsole grip is only okay.  But this is balanced by unparalleled ride and ground feel.
-Definitely not a shoe for everyone.



Dave:  
The Superior 4 is a well designed, well executed lightweight trail cruiser.  I love everything about it, EXCEPT the midsole. Throw the old A-Bound on it and I’ll give it a 10/10 right now.  Should you like a softer, more plush ride on the trails, then the S4 may just be that perfect shoe for you. I don’t want it to sound like I’m completely against the 4 here, because believe me, this baby can fly in the trails, especially at under 9oz.  It just depends if you like a firmer or softer ride on the dirt.
Dave Score:  8.5/10
-1 for wanting the A-Bound midsole back from the 3.5 vs. the new Quantic in the 4
-.5 for could use a bit more cush underfoot for my liking.  But just a tad. Not more like the new Timp 1.5.


Jeff:  
Overall I was impressed with the Superior 4.0, appreciating most the comfortable, relaxed fit and flexible nature of the shoe, with superb upper and good cushion.  Fit is the best of any Altra yet for me and I don’t feel as much foot slide with the Superior 4.0 (with stone guards) as I do with other Altra shoes. That said, I still struggle a bit in my usual technical rocky terrain, with both protection and my foot not being as locked as I prefer in technical stuff.  As such, after pushing their limits (and finding them), I appreciated and utilized the Superior 4.0 more on softer single track and double track trails and usually for shorter runs.
Jeff’s Score:  9.6/10
-.2 for wet traction
-.1 for foothold (I do feel a bit unfair docking for this, but is a reality for me despite being better than other Altra)
-.1 for protection (again, tough to take away here, but would like just a touch more protection to better withstand rocky trails, or longer sections of rocky trails).



Shannon: 
Dave thought the shoe was too squishy, Don thought it was perfect, I loved the soft ride, but it bordered on being too soft for my taste. I said “bordered on” because it was just firm enough. I loved the overall fit, ride and feel of the shoe. On the trail, this shoe is the perfect combination of lightweight, with just enough cushion and protection underfoot to make me confident that it would stand up to longer races/runs on the trail. I'm no minimalist and generally like shoes with a bit more cushion underneath, but after a few miles, I found that this was definitely a shoe that I wouldn't hesitate to put a bit more volume in. It's very well cushioned, but it doesn't sacrifice the proprioception and nimble feel that comes with being a lighter weight, lower drop shoe.


Shannon’s Score: 9/10
-The only thing I'm docking points for is the wildly and unnecessarily long laces, an issue easily addressed. Beyond that….unless you love LOTS of cushion underfoot, this shoe is a terrific option for just about any terrain at any speed.


Comparisons
Altra Superior 3.5  (RTR review)

  • Stack height unchanged (21 mm)
  • Dramatic weight loss compared to predecessor
  • Sole is softer and more flexible
  • Less rock protection and more ground feel:  Superior 4.0 with Stone Guard installed feels similar to Superior 3.5 without
  • Totally new upper is softer and has outstanding glove-like fit.
  • New Quantic midsole has squishier feel than A-Bound used in 3.5
  • Heel flap is gone.
  • Only two gaiter attachment points in version 4.0
  • Fit of the shoe is similar. (i.e. runs a little large, particularly with Stone Guard removed.)

Dom: In the update from 3.5 to 4.0, Altra changed everything about the Superior.  The new shoe is dramatically softer and lighter. There wasn’t much wrong with the conventional upper of the 3.5, but the upper of the 4.0 sets a new benchmark for comfort and performance.  (Time will tell if the durability is also there.) The previous Superior 3.5 rode much better with its Stone Guard insert removed. But the new shoe works well both without (for an amazing semi-minimalist feel) and with the Stone Guard inserted (providing moderate protection without altering the ride too much.)  To my mind, the only regression is in grip: the stiffer outsole rubber used in 3.5 had more bite when pushed hard.


Altra Lone Peak 4.0  RTR review)
Dom: The Lone Peak 4.0 is a step up from the Superior 4.0 in terms of upper stiffness, sole stiffness, and unfortunately, weight.  It is substantially heavier than the Superior 4.0, and provides only a little more rock protection. Ground feel in the LP is excellent, but not as good as Superior.  The LP is a better choice for long efforts, but the Superior is far more exciting and would be my pick for daily training.


Alta King MT 1.5  (RTR review)
Dom:  Like the Superior 4.0, the King MT 1.5 is a low stack (19 mm vs 21 mm in Superior) trail shoe from Altra.  But there the similarities end, as the King is stiffer and toothier, and has much less cushion. It’s also a lot heavier (319 g vs 247/275 g).  King for OCR, deep mud, and gnarly terrain. Superior for everything else.


Topo MT-2  (RTR review)
Dom:  This is perhaps the closest shoe in character to the Superior 4.0 that I’ve worn in recent years.  Both shoes are light and soft, with excellent ground feel. Both have relatively wide forefoot. But mostly it is a question of degree: Superior 4.0 is slightly lighter (without Stone Guard, slightly heavier with), much softer, with far more ground feel.   The MT-2 is more conventional. I would pick the Superior for daily training just for the pleasure of feeling the earth beneath my feet, but opt for the MT-2 for racing. (Maybe my feet are wimpy, but I can’t imagine going further than a 50k in the Superior, whereas I’ve run several 100k races in the MT-2.)


Topo RunVenture 2  (RTR review)
Dom:  Another comparable shoe from Topo, the RunVenture 2 is also zero drop, with similar stack height, and soft, unstructured upper.  Slightly heavier than Superior 4 (with Stone Guard), the RunVenture 2 includes a rockplate molded into the midsole. I enjoyed the RV2, but found the rockplate took away too much ground feel.   If you like the protection of a rockplate, the Runventure 2 might be a better choice, as the Stone Guard in the Superior 4.0 is flimsy. Personally, I’d choose the Superior.
Hoka
Nothing from Hoka that I’ve tested feels anything like this.


Montrail FluidFlex
Dom:  The most similar shoe that I can think of is the (long discontinued) Montrail FluidFlex.  Similarly squishy sole and unstructured, neutral feel. Superior forefoot more spacious, and Superior upper a giant leap better.  It’s worth noting that at 8.1 oz, the FluidFlex is the only trail shoe I’ve tested that is lighter than Superior 4.0 without the Stone Guard.


Merrell Trail Glove
Dom:  I’m ashamed to say that I only ever ran briefly in the original Merrell Trail Glove.  I recall being entranced by the amazing glove-like feel of the upper. Until the Superior 4.0, nothing I’d worn provided the same sensation of the shoe conforming closely to my foot and seeming so anatomically aware.  Given the non-existent cushioning of the Trail Glove, I found I was only able to use it for short runs on the very smoothest of trails. In a way, the Superior 4.0 can be seen as a Trail Glove with cushion -- a taste of minimalism for the rest of us.


Salomon S/Lab Sense SG 7 (RTR Review)
Jeff:  A bit of a stretch comparison, but both are light, minimal and low, with excellent proprioception.  The SG 7 is even lighter, more responsive with comparable ground feel, though is more protective in part because of the Profeel Film and the more substantial lugs.  The SG 7 is much more responsive, more nimble and can be pushed in technical terrain with superior foothold and traction. Durability however is a concern with the SG 7 and would recommend as a pure racer, whereas the Superior 4.0 is more durable and a better pick for day to day use.

The Superior was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
See our Reviewers' 2018 Run Favorites Articles HERE
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24 comments:

Grant Humphrey said...

Would the torrent not be in the same league as this? Looks great, but nervous about the +- 5mm loss in the heel from my hokas?!

Virre said...

Is the cushioning comparable to Altra Escalante? I found that shoe worked quite well on groomed trails, and even some technical trails if you concentrated on footing....

Curt said...

Great review guys! I always appreciate how thoughtful you are in reviewing a new shoe. As someone who really dug the Trail Glove 1, I'm eager to try the Superior 4. Although I do tend to like firmer shoes...

As an aside, the Fluidflex still exists! I'm not sure how your review selection process typically works, but I'd be interested in reviews of a few old "classic" shoes that have been on the market forever. The new Fluidflex FKT2 would be interesting, as well as the VivoBarefoot Primus Trail.

Dom Layfield said...

@Grant Humphrey,
The Hoka Torrent is a very different beast. Torrent has a vastly stiffer sole and upper. Not to mention the 5 mm drop, higher stack, grippier outsole, narrower forefoot, more substantial heel counter etc. The Superior fits like a slipper. The Torrent feels like conventional (but excellent) trail shoe.

Dom Layfield said...

@Curt,
Thanks for the comment. If you really dug the Trail Glove and like firmer shoes, I think the Superior might be too squishy for your taste.

I am aware that the FluidFlex still exists, at least in some derivative. I lost enthusiasm for the shoe lineage when Montrail added a rockplate, a midfoot insert to stiffen the shoe torsionally, and more structure to the upper. In their efforts to make the shoe more "mainstream", they progressively took away most of the character of shoe. Just my opinion, of course, YMMV.

-- Dom

Curt said...

Thanks Dom! I'll definitely try the Superiors on at some point, but you're probably right. Nonetheless, I'm excited to see Altra return to some lower stack heights. If it doesn't work for me, maybe I can cross my fingers and will a slightly firmer, "Racer" version into existence...

Chris Lord said...

Thanks again for another excellent review. Having worn the line of Altra trail shoes (minus the Olympus) this one has my interest peaked. I loved the Superior 2.0, maybe my favorite trail shoe of all time and one that had me actually giddy on my first run. The LP4 has been a big disappointment and almost seemed to me like they were making the "new" Superior. The lightness and "slipper-like-ness" worry me a bit. How do you feel the upper will hold up with the trail starts to grab back? Altra upper durability has been suspect with new models in the past. Does this feel less substantial than the old Superiors underfoot? And would you compare the ride to the Ego of the Escalante? I know that was a super popular shoe for many folks, but it was complete failure for me. The Ego made the shoe feel stuck to the ground and a very unpleasant run, nothing like the bounce of the A-Bound.

Dom Layfield said...

Hi Chris,

The lightweight construction of the Superior 4.0 definitely makes durability a concern. So far, so good, but it's too soon to say with any confidence. (I've had the shoe for about a month and a half, but have also been using other shoes).

Version 4.0 feels noticeably less substantial that Superior 3.5. It's very soft and flexible. I have no experience with Escalante, so cannot provide insight there, I'm afraid,

-- Dom

Grant Humphrey said...

Thank you for the feedback as usual, Much Appreciated!!!

chris said...

Looks like an Inov-8 Trailroc to me in every way. Foot shape, stoneguard, flexible and soft and standard EVA.

Chris Lord said...

How’s the sizing? LP4 got me back to my natural 10, but Timp 1.5 went up 10.5. Where did you all fall with the new Superior?

The Stoat said...

Hi Dom, one question, how is the heel fit? V3.0 and 3.5 were fine for me when padding along non technical terrain, but the heel was to loose for anything more. How does the 4.0 compare?
Ben

Greg Simmons said...

How would you compare this to the Lone Peak 4 Toe Box room? I found the LP 4 almost too roomy in the toe box and my feet were all over the place in them?

I also wonder how this fits verus Zoom Tiger 4? I used altras for year until the low forefoot cushioning gave me blisters at fast paces, so I switched to Nike, but I always like their trail shoes

Curt said...

Any updated thoughts after a few more miles?

Unknown said...

You guys do amazing reviews. I have a question about the 4.0's fit for a 50k on very rocky terrain (the Cat 50k in Catoctin, MD this July). I saw here a concern that this is the very most distance it could handle, and rocks could be too uncomfortable, but I am hoping against hope that I could make it through all the same. I really like the 3.5 BUT the toe box wrinkles down on my toes so badly that it is too painful to go far now. However, I was able to literally stomp down on fairly edged rocks without the rock plate, so maybe this one with the rock plate will be ok for me? I am concerned about the distance, though... I just don't at all like more built shoes. Maybe I should try that TOPO MT one, but I simply adore Altra. Their LT, though, not at all. So, what say you, is it crazy to hope I can go 50k (actually more like 33 miles than 31... the wise-asses who run this event seem to be amused that trail changes has made it longer over the years) and in the heat (the bit about ventilation scares me)? The very old trailroc 245s were my go to on this type of terrain, but never liked the newer ones and think the former were too firm for that long a race. OR... would it work to swap to another pair of 4.0s at the turnaround? I've never done that and don't know if it really helps that much... anyway, sorry for the super-long post.

Dom Layfield said...

Hi Unknown,

The short answer is this: just buy a pair of Superior 4.0. Whether or not you decide that they are sufficient to handle a rocky 50k, you will enjoy running in the shoes over shorter distances.

The longer answer is that shoe choices are subjective. A friend of mine ran Hard Rock in Montrail FluidFlex, which was a shoe that I loved but could only run ~50 miles in. The Tarahumara run ultramarathons in Huarache sandals. It's just a matter of what you're used to and how strong your feet are. Personally, I think a 50k would be about my limit in the Superior 4.0.

The Topo MT-2 is definitely worth considering. Light and Altra-like in shape. Sits in the middle between the Superior 4.0 and Lone Peak 4.0. A great, and underappreciated shoe. Again, get some and try!

In comparison to the Superior 3.5, the 4.0 is noticeably softer. Rock protection in 4.0 with stone guard inserted is similar to 3.5 without. Not sure what to say about 3.5 toe box wrinkling down on your toes: I've not experienced this, nor heard anyone else complain of it. However, the upper of version 4.0 is completely new, so it might not have the same issue.

I almost never change shoes in races. Seems like a huge waste of time. It's fine to have a backup pair of shoes in a drop bag in case things go dramatically wrong, but don't make this part of your primary race plan. i.e. start the race in a shoe you intend to wear for the full 50k.

One last thing: I understand that you don't like "more built shoes". Me neither. But what I choose to wear in races is often nothing like the shoes I wear for daily training. I like soft, unstructured shoes with great ground feel like the Superior 4.0. But when I'm going to be racing for 24+ hours, I choose a very different shoe. For a 50k, though, I think the Superior 4.0 could work.

-- Dom

Greg Simmons said...

How is the drainage? I am doing some trail races with water crossings in 10k length

Will said...

From Will (née Anonymous... I just put in my Google account when posting) - Thanks for the great (and quick) reply. Really appreciated. Problem for me is the wife has her limit with the number of shoes I buy and I wasted a lot on past choices I didn’t find worked, but I’m going with your advice on the 4.0 and, should they not be enough once my training runs get into the 20-26 range I’ll consider the MTs. Appreciate your advocating for a shoe I didn’t hear much about but now looking around others seem to praise. I’m new to trail-only racing (having done 50k, but as mountain obstacle course races where I could hardly actually run for long unbroken stretches) so knowing what can be comfortable enough is a big and important unknown.

Dom Layfield said...

Hi Greg,

I've not explicitly tested the drainage, but I see no reason why it shouldn't be good. Some shoes (e.g. Hoka Torrent, Brooks Cascadia 3) have a rand - a protective overlay around the periphery of the upper -- that limits the drainage. The Superior has nothing like this.

-- Dom

Dom Layfield said...

Hi Will,

Fully appreciate the friction from your wife, particularly if your choices don't work out. I can only suggest buying from a store that has a good return policy. Online I like Running Warehouse (and they do a 10% discount for RTR readers!).

In general, I can put a shoe on and walk around the carpet and tell whether it's going to suit me. The only exception I can think of is the original Nike Terra Kiger, which initially felt stiff and weird, and I would have returned them if I'd had the option. Since I was stuck with them, I persevered and after the break-in, they ultimately became a favorite shoe. That was extraordinary, though. Typically, I know right away, and will return shoes that feel wrong.

Good luck with your quest!

-- Dom

MarkB said...

Really appreciate your thorough reviews. Just would like to confirm fit, as I don't recall any of your testers specifically mentioning changing sizes between the 3.5 and the 4. I was a 12 in the 2.0, 3.0 and then went down to a 11.5 in the 3.5. I intend to use the rock plate insert on the 4.0.

A long time Altra fan, I've historically been either a US11.5 or 12 in a variety of their shoes. It's been frustrating as the fit seems to be all over the place from model to model and version to version. A comparison of reviews out there, and fit recommendations from online stores for the 4.0, have me thoroughly confused.

Thoughts on sizing for the 4.0 -v- 3.5? Based on what I've been reading, my gut tells me to get the 11.5. For what it's worth, I just returned a pair of Timp 1.5's in 11.5 as they were just a hair too small. I only noticed running downhill trails, and no combination of lacing techniques or thin socks made them work.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

They seem true to size... Same as my escalantes or torrins at 11.5 vs going up half size bigger with lone peak 4s .

Upper is great and my fav yet from a lockdown

Mark Ballou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Ballou said...

Thanks Anonymous. I ordered a pair of 11.5. That's what I wear in the Escalante too, as well as the Sup. 3.5. However, the Timp 1.5 replacements in size 12 I got are definitely a solid fit over the 11.5. I've been walking around in the house with the Sup. 4 and they seem snug, but length appears OK. I'm gathering the snugness is just a reflection of the new, very different upper design. I think I just need to hit some hills to truly see if the fit works for me. I hate to get a shoe dirty and then return it, but I just can't tell walking around inside.