Sunday, July 26, 2020

Altra Olympus 4 Review: New Heights!

Article by Jeff Beck


Altra Olympus 4 ($170)


Introduction

Altra uses a very consistent naming scheme across their road and trail shoes. Full number changes (from 1 to 2 for example) mean a massive overhaul, while the subsequent half number updates (1 to 1.5 for example) mean a minor change, usually focused on refining the upper. The Olympus 4 does NOT disappoint. A massive change in every facet brings the best looking and best running Olympus to the market. The upper has been simplified, the midsole is narrow up top and flares out to give the shoe a huge footprint (meaning tons of contact patch/traction), and the outsole has much more Vibram rubber ringing the perimeter of the shoe giving a more consistent performance. Last year’s shoe was a solid trail cruiser, this year’s is an outstanding trail cruiser.

Stats

Weight:: 11.6 men's / (US9)  /  9.6 women's / (US8)

 Sample: 12.1 ounces / 343 grams Men’s US10.5D

Stack Height: 33/33 Forefoot/Heel

Available  $170


Pros: 

-Altra toe box is still the champ

-Better cushioning and traction than Olympus 3.5

-Looks much more refined than earlier models

-Upper breathes and holds the foot well

-Drops a half ounce on last model


Cons:

-Trail cruiser isn’t ideal for technical trails

-Lower cut heel counter likes to let little pebbles into shoe

-Price. $170 is a lot of money, and $20 more than last year’s model


Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39. In December he raced his first 50 mile trail ultra


First Impressions and Fit

Jeff: If the Olympus 4 is a sign of what’s to come, Altra is trending up - way up. I’ve liked and ran in almost every version of the Olympus, but it’s always been a bit unwieldy. As Altra’s biggest trail shoe you shouldn’t expect it to be super nimble or agile, but the level of protection didn’t seem to be on par with just how big and bulky they were. That changes now. When I saw early shots of the Olympus 4 I was sure they were mislabeled and meant the Timp, Lone Peak, or maybe some altogether new model - there was no way an Olympus could look that svelte. Clearly, I was wrong. But don’t think that Altra ruined the shoe by making it a big departure from the lines’ previous design. This is still an Olympus in all the ways you want, but now it doesn’t look like it serves an orthopedic function, and the midsole cushioning is much more resilient. 


The fit is spot on true-to-size, with a perfectly adequate toebo...sorry, I couldn’t even write it without breaking. It’s an Altra toebox. It’s huge. 

They all are, it’s just what they do. Narrow-footed runners might be swimming in it, but medium to wide-footed runners should find a very comfortable home in the Olympus.


Upper


Jeff: On paper, the upper hasn’t changed much. Last year’s model was engineered mesh with some overlays, and this model is primarily engineered mesh with overlays. In reality, the upper is very different. First, the 4’s mesh has a more open construction, making it super breathable. My first run in the Olympus was 11 miles in Phoenix, and it was just under 100 degrees by the time I wrapped up. Every part of me was hot, except my feet - and keep in mind my pair is the black and dark blue colorway. This shoe just breathes. The lack of substantial overlays doesn’t hurt the performance much. Granted, the upper holds the foot perfectly fine, as opposed to the bear hug that more technically-oriented trail shoes go for, but this shoe wasn’t meant for those runs. The toebox is standard for Altra, with plenty of width, and they’ve built up an overlay over the big toe area. So runners who wear through shoes with their toenails will have lots of resilient material to burrow through until they hit failure. 


Also, the The shoe has a non-obtrusive, but very effective toe bumper. 

At first glance I didn’t realize that the toe bumper even existed, but when I caught a rock at mile 10 of that first run and hit the deck pretty hard, my toes didn’t suffer. My skinned knees and hands weren’t loving it, but my feet had zero issues with the spill.

The tongue is on the thinner side, but you would really have to crank down the laces to get any direct lace feel. 

A thicker tongue would be slightly more protective, but this tongue isn’t lacking in that department, and that has to help the overall weight loss of a half ounce from last year’s shoe. 


The tongue is gusseted with thin bands on either side to keep it planted, and you may notice that the top of the tongue has a small notch in it. Somewhat reminiscent of the Nike Vaporfly, the notch fits perfectly for the tendon or ligament at the top of the foot.

Altra is still using their velcro Gaiter trap on the heel along with their metal anchor point at the front of the laces, but unlike previous years they’ve done away with the side flaps that gave their gaiter four points of contact. For what it’s worth, that’s not a bad change. The side loops were very narrow, and despite trying a dozen times, I found it very hard to weave the gaiter straps through the loops while the shoe was on my foot. Best result was to install the gaiter, then put the shoes on, which seemed very awkward (especially when it came time to tie the shoe). Having just two points of contact for the gaiter is just fine.


Lastly, the laces are great. A number of Altra shoes in the last few years have shipped with laces that were way too long, not the case here. The laces are the right length, and have a nice texture to them that give your knot a good chance to stay tied. While that may read like a backhanded compliment, so many great shoes ship with bad laces, and in this case, they’re perfectly solid.



Midsole

Jeff: While the upper is good, the midsole is where the magic happens. Altra is still using their A-Bound recycled midsole material, and it’s comfortable. But more importantly, it’s everywhere. There are higher stacked shoes out there (not many, but they exist) but the Olympus has an enormous footprint width-wise. 


Like a number of other high-stacked trail shoes, the Olympus kind of resembles the bathtub approach where your foot sits deep into the shoe where the midsole is around and above the bottom of your foot. It makes it look like a higher stack than it actually is, and it really helps the stability of the shoe. 

If you look closely at the pictures, you might notice just how much the midsole flares out near the bottom, and that design gives plenty of protection without racking up extra weight. A few of the earlier Olympus models looked bulbous with a massive built up and out midsole, and while I appreciate tons of cushioning as much as the next runner, that extra weight really added up.


Experienced runners know that all Altras have two oddities - massive foot-shaped toe boxes and a zero drop platform, meaning that the cushioning underneath the heel and the forefoot are the same. While some runners have issues with the geometry of zero drop, this shoe really feels like there’s a slight difference. It’s not that the forefoot feels that much thinner (it has great protection, more of that in the ride), but the heel just has so much squish. It’s not mushy or dull, but there’s a ton of protection. Past versions felt good, but not this good. I haven’t run in this year’s Hoka Stinson 6, but I put a lot of miles in last year’s Stinson 5, and this shoe feels closer than it ever has in all around protection. The extra 5-6mm of stack height of the Hoka makes it still hold the crown, but I could see many runners favor the more nimble (just slightly) Olympus 4.


Outsole

Jeff: Another spot that seems like a mild change, but the reality is much greater. The Olympus 4 has lots of Vibram Megagrip rubber, with metatarsal-shaped lines of lugs from the ball of the foot forward. 

There is some exposed midsole in the center of the middle of the shoe, with more rubber wrapping around the perimeter of the shoe, with more decently sized lugs in the back of the shoe, leaving a hoof-shaped opening at the center of the rear. That’s the same general design they’ve been using for a few years, but this version’s minor changes shine through. Primarily, the more aggressive lugs in the front quarter of the shoe provide much more traction. In more than 40 miles of trails in Arizona and Colorado (with another ~5 on road) I’ve yet to experience any kind of slippage. 

The grippy Vibram rubber paired with a more aggressive design works well, and the extra large contact patch the shoe has doesn’t hurt either.

Durability doesn’t seem to be an issue thus far. There are ten “lugs” in the exposed midsole section (I put in quotes because they don’t really do much besides look the part) and thus far they are wearing down some - but every other part of the shoe seems just fine.


The outsole has a few designed flexpoints, and the shoe is better for it. While many shoes that are 30+ millimeter high have a hard time giving your foot much flexibility, the Olympus 4 has plenty of bend. By comparison the Saucony Xodus 10 (which has a 7mm lower stack in the forefoot) doesn’t bend nearly as much, even with much more force.


Ride

Jeff: In a word (or two), soft and springy. For those of you who care less about brevity, it’s got the Goldilocks vibe where it protects the foot incredibly well without every feeling sluggish. There’s no rock plate, but absolutely none needed as the midsole and outsole dull any rock strikes enough to be non-eventful. 

Most of my runs have been super easy (I’m doing most of my runs according to heart rate, staying in Zone 2) but when I have been able to pick up the pace the Olympus has a smooth toe off. 


You won’t confuse it with the Brooks Catamount (or even the Nike Pegasus Trail 2) for really fast stuff, but don’t expect a lumbering, stiff ride. I was able to keep up with RTR contributor Don Reichelt for 4 miles in them (full disclosure, it was his easy easy day, and I was gasping for air nearly the whole time) so they can’t be *that* slow.


Conclusions and Recommendations


Jeff: Altra has taken the Olympus to new heights with the 4. It feels like one of the most planted of the high-stack big-mileage trail shoes. The big toebox is always welcome, the outsole has even more grip than previous versions, and the upper is super breathable while holding the foot well enough for intended trails. It is a fun shoe to run smooth-ish trails, and holds up for longer runs without issue. Truly the biggest problem with the shoe is the price. The Olympus has been a $150 shoe for a few years, but this version jumped another $20 to $170, and that’s a very hard price point to swallow for what is essentially a really good trail shoe, but doesn’t really bring anything exotic into the mix. There’s no carbon fiber plate, no Kevlar upper, no super secret special sauce midsole - just a really good big mileage trail shoe. If you can stomach that, you’re getting an outstanding trail shoe that you’ll enjoy on the dirt, and your legs and feet will thank you when you’re done.

Jeff’s Score 9.6 out of 10 

Ride: 10 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 7 (15%) Style: 10 (5%)


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Altra Olympus 3.5 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. The 4 (12.1 ounces) is lighter than the 3.5 (12.6 ounces), has a more breathable upper, better traction, and a slightly bouncier ride - but with an extra $20 on the price tag. If you are the type of runner who wears shoes until they fail, the cost may be worth it. 


Saucony Xodus 10 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size, the Olympus toe box is exponentially bigger. The Xodus can handle virtually everything thrown at it, while the Olympus excels on easier trails. I might appreciate the extra toe room, but if I can only have one, I’d pack the Sauconys without hesitation.


Hoka Stinson 5 

Jeff: Both fit true-to-size. Hoka’s biggest trail shoe vs Altra’s biggest trail shoe, and we’re the winners because they both exist. The Stinson’s toe box is a little tight, especially compared to the mid-sized venue that is the Olympus toe box. The Stinson also brings a little more squish to the table, which can be felt later in a 3+ hour run, but doesn’t have the traction or breathable upper of the Olympus. All-around use, I’d favor the Olympus, but if you are planning on your first 50 mile or longer, you might want the Stinson’s extra padding.

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was a provided at no charge. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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1 comment:

Martin said...

Hi, what about heel and midfoot fit comparison between Altra Olympus 4.0 and Hoka Evo Mafate 2?