Thursday, April 02, 2020

Altra Running Provision 4 Review: A New Approach to Support. Gentle and Dynamic.

Article by Sam Winebaum

Altra Running Provision 4 ($130)


Estimated Weight:: 10.15 oz / 288g men's US9 / (US9)  / women's / (US8) 

  Samples: 9.88 oz / 280g US8,5

Stack Height: 27mm heel, 27mm forefoot, 0 drop

Available now including Running Warehouse here


Sam: The Provision 4 is what Altra calls a “guided support” shoe. As such it has no firm medial post with its midsole a softer and quite bouncy Abound foam. The support comes higher up where the upper meets the midsole and via the upper itself. This approach follows a recent trend towards “rails” of firmer foam or plastic such as in the Altra Paradigm, Brooks in the Ravena, Transcend, and Adrenaline and Nike in the Infinity React.

Altra’s approach to support is made up of three components:

  • The “star” is the InnovArch system of three (white above) medial straps connecting to the laces loops. Each strap essentially functions independently, supporting as needed in a non prescriptive way, as the foot moves in the gait cycle. The straps are connected to an arch band of soft padded and aerated mesh, wrapping the foot below the sock liner and extending all the way under the foot to the lateral side where the band is attached, being free floating on the medial side but for its attachment to the straps and the lacing.  
  • The Provision 4 has a medial side only Guide Rail, essentially a soft foam extension of the midsole, which rises quite high up in an arc at the ankle collar. 
  • A low rigid TPU collar wraps the heel on both sides
  • There are full coverage, non stretch panels on both the lateral and medial side.
  • Finally the Provision has a wide base for inherent stability 

Not usually a support or stability shoe fan, I do appreciate a stable rear platform combined with a more flexible and agile forefoot. Seeing this more gentle and seemingly more anatomical and flexible approach to support combined with plenty of cushion and very decent flexibility up front for the 27mm stack I was intrigued.


  • InnovArch plus Guide Rail plus side panels provides great support without being obtrusive in any way
  • Superb foot hold back to front (trail shoe worthy) with no slop anywhere even with the giant foot shape  toe box
  • Soft highly cushioned ride with almost no sense this is a zero drop shoe.
  • Well balanced, no low heel feel
  • Handles most all paces. Well decoupled
  • Wonderful thick rebounding sockliner (approx 6mm thick) with a raised top sole. Clearly can be substituted for aftermarket insoles with plenty of room remaining.


  • While admirably flexible up front, a bit front weighted and lacking pop. Firmer rubber needed?
  • Midsole foam could be a touch firmer overall or maybe that wonderful PU sockliner thinner
  • Some breathablity concerns at the midfoot and rear of the shoe given full laminated panels plus inner InnovArch. 

First Impressions and Fit

The fit is spot on true to size for me. Despite having a super wide toe box my narrower to medium feet are well held by the upper materials and InnovArch system which is as much about a secure fit in a wide platform and big toe box shoe as support system as far as I am concerned.


The upper is relatively thick but pliable engineered mesh with plentiful ventilation up front and supportive full coverage overlays (the diagonal striping)  plus InnovArch at the midfoot

The white InnovArch straps connected to the arch wrap below are the signature feature of the Provision’s upper. 

The arch wrap is only connected on the lateral side. Cinching the laces through the white straps wraps the arch.

The straps are of different lengths and have different degrees of stretch with the rear most one able to extend and wrap the most. The second strap is held against the upper by non stretch mesh loop but can also extend while the third only extends a small distance and with more tension than the others. 

The idea behind the system, which I find more effective all around than the A Straps found in the Torin, is to adapt the shoe to the amount of support via the arch band and strap/lace combination needed at any given moment dynamically during the gait and over a run and of course also for different shape feet. By wrapping within the relatively substantial outer mid foot shell of the upper with its full overlays there is both dynamic room and security. I found it effective in the sense that without resorting to firm rails, a post, or an over constricting upper my foot was always well held with the support adapting as needed. In fact is was as well held as in most trail shoes, something that in a more rigid and constraining fashion the Torin 2.5 did very well making it a trail worthy upper unlike more recent Torin.

While the mid foot is securely and dynamically held  what about that gigantic foot shaped toe box? Well it to is super well held, roomy and with oh so much foot splay. I do not have a particularly wide foot yet never felt there was to much room or to much play. This said the overall platform up front is very wide.

The tongue is free floating and not connected to the straps. It is moderately plush, quite wide to lock in with the rest of the mid foot and as with the heel collar is lined with a raised texture pattern to prevent slip,

Before heading to the midsole and as in this case it is clearly part of the overall cushioning system let’s talk about the sockliner or as I would call it the third density of the midsole. It is 6mm thick and has raised top texture which feels pleasant underfoot. 

Unlike the usual footbed the Provision’s is PU (polyurethane) and branded Perfx. A Google search revealed Perfx is from long time shoe last maker Jones and Vining and is said to be breathable and very long lasting. PU is used in a different injected form in the Brooks Levitate, in the La Sportiva Unika with a similar ride feel and as inserts in the La Sportiva Jackal.

Until I looked more closely at the shoe and the footbed I was puzzling over how much more bouncy and soft yet not overly mushy the ride was compared to other Altra. The footbed clearly provides some softer rebound unlike other footbeds contributing to a very plush ride one that is maybe a touch to soft for my tastes at faster paces.


After discussing that special footbed lets go below to the midsole itself. It is Altra’a Abound with apparently a layer of very light EVA below the foot. This soft black EVA is also used to create the medial Guide Rail as shown below.  

The Guide Rail is very soft and in no way impedes transitions as I have found Brooks versions of rails, while improved in the latest versions, in the Ravenna, Transcend and Adrenaline and likewise the hard plastic rails in the Nike Infinity React. Neutral runners such as I am should have no issues and shouldn’t even notice this high on the shoe medial support element of the most gentle kind. One will also notice that the medial side has fewer flex cuts in the side walls than the lateral side above to provide some support medially while allowing flex and decoupling laterally to transition.

The schematic above illustrates the otherwise unseen Inner Flex grooves in the forefoot. This key features allows the thick 27mm forefoot stack to flex without resorting to very deep flex grooves from the outsole side. By doing this the toe off remains stable while still being soft, maybe a touch too soft for me.

The end result of the entire underfoot platform (footbed, midsole, and outsole) is a quite soft, very pleasant riding midsole with some measured rebound and bounce. It does have quite as responsive a feel as Altra’s lighter Quantic midsole in the Torin do or the more distinct responsive bounce of the Escalante with its EGO midsole.


The outsole has rubber in all the right places and a deeply grooved rear crash pad leading to a full shoe length decoupling groove. The shoe flexes well with its most distinct flex point where the white rubber ends at midfoot.

The rubber seems to be of close to the same firmness throughout with the black rear slightly firmer. I do think the front gray rubber could be either thicker or firmer to provide a touch more toe off pop and wear durability.


The Provision 4 has a softer, very comfortable ride. There is very little sense that this is a zero drop  shoe. It feels more like 4mm, even at slower paces, more back on the heels, as it is well balanced and the decoupling and transition geometry effective. I found slow to moderate paces ideal, wishing for a bit more pop off the forefoot at faster paces. The upper “system” really helps keep the foot locked and centered on the shoe with the wide on the ground platform with upper support comfortable and secure enough that I would not hesitate to take them on trails where heavy duty traction is not required.

Conclusions and Recommendations

I was frankly surprised by the Provision. The support features and underfoot platform work with the foot and stride, never against it, as I often find “support” shoes and shoes with high forefoot stacks (here 27mm) do. Smooth and soft yet with some lively rebound and bounce, which I suspect is mainly coming from that 6mm footbed, they offer up a very pleasant daily training ride. Want a bit more snap? Try to substitute a thinner footbed. Are they a heavy duty pronation “control” option, no and I would maintain such shoes are “over prescribed”. This said they are inherently stable with the combination of Guide Rail and InnovArch for sure feeling like a more natural and very unobtrusive way to guide as opposed to the usual of controlling the feet, knees, and gait.  I only wish for a touch more pop and firmness at the forefoot as the pace picks up. Certainly they are a good option for any Torin fan. The Provision is also a great first zero drop Altra choice, but as we always caution, get into them slowly to let your legs adapt. This said the Provision is the first Altra or zero drop shoe I have run in many months and I had no issues running several days in a row in them.

Sam's Score: 9.1 / 10

Ride: 8.8 (50%) Fit: 9.5 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Altra Torin 4 (RTR Review)

I don’t have my Torin with me to compare closely but they are considerably lighter at 8.6 oz with only 1mm less stack but Quantic foam instead of Abound and with for me an awkward less secure fitting upper. The Torin ride has more response but overall I prefer the more secure bouncier Provision.  The upper support of the Provision 4 reminds me of the Torin 2.5 but with more toe box overhead room from the softer more pliable mesh.

Altra Instinct  4.5 (RTR Review)

I quite liked the Instinct with its super roomy fit and more responsive firmer ride. It is Inherently stable but not as bouncy or soft.  I prefer the Provision for slower paces and the Instinct for faster paces.

Altra Paradigm (RTR Review)

At 31mm of stack, so 4mm more than Provision I never much enjoyed its lumbering ride and bouncy but heavy feeling EGO midsole. 

Topo Ultrafly 3  (RTR Initial Review)

We are testing the Ultrafly 3 now. Very similar softer ride feels even though Ultrafly is a 5mm drop shoe.  I find the Ultrafly’s forefoot thinner feeling, not as stable and a touch overly flexible as while they bend in hand about the same instead of Inner Flex grooves from the top of the midsole they rely on grooves from the bottom with less extensive rubber coverage. As a result I found the forefoot more tiring and not quite as stable if a bit lighter feeling. Ultrafly has a beautiful, very easy fitting, thinner upper with a similarly very roomy toe box but lacks some of the support and guidance of the Provision 4’s upper. The Ultrafly upper will clearly be more breathable than Provision’s.

Brooks Transcend (RTR Review)

Even though improved, I much prefer Altra’s approach to support and rails. Brooks stiffer rails are in the way and it weighs about  0.6 oz more while having 10mm less forefoot cushion stack with the same heel stack. Transcend unlike Provision is not a shoe I look forward to running in. 

Nike Infinity React (RTR Review)

A tough match up. If I could take an Exacto knife to the hard lateral (especially) and medial Infinity rails to reduce their lengths big time the lighter more responsive yet as amply cushioned and inherently stable Nike would win.

Nike Vomero 14 (RTR Review)

The Vomero 14 is very stable at the rear from its raised sidewalls with a more lightly cushioned agile forefoot helped along by its big 10mm drop. While the Provision shines at more moderate paces, the Vomero shines as the pace picks up.

Watch our Provision 4 Video Review (9:19)

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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