Thursday, September 03, 2020

Altra Running Paradigm 5 Review: Altra's Most Cushioned & Plush Gets a More Breathable Mesh Upper

Article by Jeff Beck and Don Reichelt

Altra Running Paradigm 5 ($150)


The Paradigm 5 is still Altra’s biggest and most plush road shoe in their line up, with a ride that feels even more padded than it’s stack height would suggest. It brings a completely new mesh upper and a retooled, but still very similar, midsole outsole. Following Altra’s naming scheme where a new model gets a full number and the revision, typically an upper change, gets a .5 name, the Paradigm 5 is very similar to the 4.5 underneath the foot. So much so, if this had been named the 4.6 I wouldn’t argue it. But if that sounds like a criticism, it isn’t - Altra vastly improved the biggest problem with last year’s shoe: the upper.


Weight:: men's 11.2 oz / 318 g (US9)  /  women's 9.2 oz / 261 g(US8) 

Paradigm 4.5 weight  12.2 oz / 348g US M10.5

  Samples: 12.6 oz / 358 g M10.5, 14.3oz (woof!) M12.5

Stack Height: 31mm/31mm

Available now including at Running Warehouse here.  $150


Jeff/Don: Plush without being mushy

Jeff: Upper is much more breathable than last year’s knit

Jeff: Outsole has plenty of rubber for traction and durability

Don: Very stable for a BIG shoe

Don: Looks good for such a large shoe


Jeff: Some heel slip issues

Jeff: Even heavier than last year

Jeff/Don: Sizing is off, shoe runs at least a half size large


Tester Profiles

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. 

Don is a competitive ultra runner with all kinds of races under his belt including a 16:27 100-mile trail PR and a third place finish at the 2018 Badwater 135. He primarily runs trails in Colorado but also holds a marathon PR of 2:45. 

First Impressions and Fit

Jeff: Iowa Hawkeye and Pittsburgh Steeler fans rejoice - Altra has your team shoe! Also it is apparent from the get-go that the Paradigm 5 didn’t change that much from last year’s 4.5 beyond the upper. It’s still the beefiest road shoe in the lineup, with the same stability features that have been around since the shoe’s inception; an EVA medial guide rail and a few plastic StabiliPods in the forefoot and one in the rear. Midfoot fit is top notch, roomy but not sloppy, and the toebox is classic Altra - that is to say lots of width and decent vertical space as well. 

Sizing isn’t as great. This shoe runs very large, at least a half size, if not a full size. I like to have about a thumb’s width in front of my big toe, especially for bigger trainers that are meant for long runs, but this is much more than that. I’d strongly recommend you try them on for size before buying a pair.

Don: As a proud Iowa Hawkeye, I’m a wee bit sad I didn’t get the Black and Gold colorway, but the Americana colorway I ran in actually looks darn good. 

I haven’t run in the Paradigm before, and really haven’t run in any super maximal shoes… so pulling this out of the box was a bit of an experience. When I opened the box, I was surprised that aesthetically, it actually looks quite good for a super max shoe. Getting it out of the box was interesting, however, because as runners, we aren’t known for our upper body strength… so good luck lifting this thing out of the box.  I kid… but the Paradigm doesn’t fool around with it’s weight, as this might be the heaviest shoe I’ve ever reviewed.  

Initial try on shows that the upper is going to be amazing, but like Jeff, I found the sizing to be quite a bit off. I’d probably go down a half size only, but then again I don’t mind a generous fit usually. Oh, and bonus, Altra finally got the laces figured out, they don’t stretch to me knees! 


Jeff: The upper got the biggest overhaul in the Paradigm 5, going to a lightweight mesh that is super breathable and comfortable. Outside of the toe bumper and reinforced eyelets, the midfoot-to-forefoot of the shoe is almost completely mesh. 

However, Altra may have overcompensated for that with a very built up heel collar and counter. 

The toe bumper is overly reinforced for a road shoe. 

The tongue is somewhat unremarkable, in that it is medium thickness and height, and is gusseted to stay planted. I experienced some heel slip issues, but using a runner’s loop in the second top eyelet solved the problem. Overall the upper is improved from last year’s knit, but like most good uppers, it disappears on the foot.

Don: While I cannot compare this to Paradigms of past, I am able to say that this is just an all around great upper. It felt just right where it needed to, and didn’t give me any issues on runs of any distance. 

Like Jeff said, parts of this upper do feel a little overdone for a road shoe, but if you’re going to make a 14 ounce shoe, why not, right?! I didn’t find any of those overengineered spots to be any bother to me, and didn’t notice anything that stands out as being a detriment to the shoe. 

The girth of the tongue on the Paradigm is what I consider to be perfect for a shoe, it’s not paper thin, but also not a memory foam mattress on the top of your foot. It’s just right with just enough padding to do its job perfectly. 


Jeff: Lots of thick foam, very little flexibility, and a few subtle stability elements - that’s the Paradigm 5 midsole in a nutshell. Altra introduced their Ego midsole a few years ago, and it is a solid blend of plush and responsiveness in the 31mm stack. Some shoes of this size can be mushy, appropriate only for recovery purposes, but the Paradigm doesn’t go that far, and can be a daily trainer for many runners. 

The medial Guide Rail is substantial, but as a supinator I didn’t feel it at all. The plastic StabiliPods didn’t register either, making it one of the few shoes that claims to give support only when needed and lives up to the hype. 

Don: The midsole of the Paradigm is ultimately where it’s going to make its money. There’s A LOT to unpack here (literally.) 

EGO is just about my favorite foam on the market these days, as I find it to be the perfect mix of responsive without feeling spongy or losing stability like other super responsive foams. I’ve run a lot in the Escalante line, and even though the stack height of the Paradigm is nearly a centimeter bigger than the Escalante, that same pop is noticeable. Kudos to Altra for making a super max midsole that your foot doesn’t just get lost in. 

Similar to Jeff’s experience, I didn’t notice the added stability elements the Guide Rail and StabiliPods at all. With this much cushion, I’ve usually noticed a fair amount of instability in shoes (which is why I’ve never really run in a big boy shoe before) but these added touches really secure up the midsole well. 


Jeff: Altra didn’t fix what wasn’t broken, and the foot inspired outsole remains with five toe shaped rubbers pods at the front and a decoupling running just off-center. While there is some exposed midsole in various spots around the shoe, none of them are in high wear areas, and the durability should be top notch. I do question the choice of white rubber, but ultimately shoes are made to be worn, so the fast transition to brownish-gray was inevitable. The shoe doesn’t have much flexibility, but it isn’t the outsole’s fault - anytime you have 3+ centimeters of EVA under the foot, there isn’t going to be much room to move.

Don: A good outsole is like an umpire in Major League Baseball. If you notice them, it’s probably because they’re not doing their job well. But I honestly didn’t notice anything of note on the Paradigm to even consider it, which means a job well done here. 


Jeff: The Paradigm 5 rides exactly how it looks. It’s a big, lumbering shoe that is made for smooth easy miles. It’s not ideal for faster runs, but it also isn’t so plush that strides are extra laborious in them. The lack of midsole flexibility plays into the shoe’s easy ride. Runners looking for support should embrace the Paradigm, but most neutral runners shouldn’t discount it. Personally I’ve had issues with different support shoes in the past causing knee pains mid run, but I had none with this shoe. 

Don: I was honestly impressed at the ride quality for such a big shoe. Altra managed to keep a decent amount of pep in a massive shoe, which is not easy to do. As you might guess, going fast in this shoe probably isn’t the best idea, but the few pick ups I did were not terrible. That EGO foam still does it’s job nicely! 

Most impressive to me is the stability of the ride on this shoe. As I mentioned earlier in this review, I’ve only ever worn super max shoes in short bursts because how unstable they’ve always felt to me and my running gait. But the Paradigm managed to use just the right elements in this shoe, combined with EGO foam, to give the user the perfect blend of plush, responsive, and stable ride. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

Jeff: Altra has delivered another plush cruiser for taking down lots of easy miles. The overhauled upper is a success, and while the midsole and outsole are slightly changed, the shoe performs very similarly. There isn’t much snap at toe off, and the shoe has gained almost a half ounce from last year, but this isn’t the shoe that anyone should be taking to the track or for faster runs, so it is hard to see either of those things as deal breakers. Runners who need support should find it, and neutral runners will likely not feel the very unobtrusive support features. The Paradigm is a solid big mileage shoe, and a great shoe big runners.

Jeff’s Score 7.5 out of 10

Ride: 8 (50%)  Fit: 6 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style 7 (5%)

Don: The Paradigm to me feels like a Bentley of run shoes. It’s big. It’s heavy. But under the hood it’s got some pop, even if that’s not what it’s meant for. Having really never run longer distances in a maximal shoe before, I was quite impressed with the combination of ride quality and stability. 

For me, this shoe wouldn’t fit into my regular rotation most likely, but might find itself coming out of the closet after races (or thrown on as a last resort at the end of a long road ultra.) 

Someone who is looking for a shoe with a lot of cushion that still gives some pep (for a big shoe) combined with a stable ride will really love this shoe. 

Don’s Score 8 / 10 

points off mostly for weight, and fitting a half size too large. 


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Altra Paradigm 4.5 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Both shoes run larger than true-to-size, at least a half size. Incredibly similar, the only difference of note is the knit upper in the 4.5 has turned into a much more comfortable and breathable mesh in the 5. While I prefer the mesh, if you can find the 4.5 for a low enough price, and you live in a cooler climate, you wouldn’t be making a mistake.

Brooks Glycerin 18 

Jeff: Brooks fits true-to-size. Brooks’ biggest trainer, it doesn’t have nearly the forefoot stack of the Paradigm, and it becomes apparent when worn against each other. If you are looking for an easy day or long run shoe, I’d favor the Paradigm, while the Glycerin has a little more do-it-all potential.

Hoka One One Bondi 7 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Hoka fits true-to-size. Both the biggest shoes in their respective lineups, the Bondi is even bigger and even plusher. While the Paradigm has a much wider toebox, the Bondi leans into being maximal even harder with an even thicker midsole. I’d give the edge to the Hoka - if you are looking for supreme comfort, you might as well go all the way to the King. No, not the Nike Monarch, it’s the Bondi.

Mizuno Wave Sky 3  (RTR Review)

Jeff: Mizuno fits true-to-size. The Mizuno’s knit upper isn’t ideal, and the stack height is lower in the forefoot/higher in the heel, yet it surprisingly feels a little softer. One of the first Mizuno’s in a decade to not have a plastic wave plate anywhere in the midsole, the Mizuno is a little more plush, even though the Paradigm feels overall more cushioned. I’d favor the Mizuno.

Saucony Triumph 18  (RTR Review)

Jeff: Saucony fits true-to-size. The follow up to my favorite shoe of 2019, the Triumph is lighter and has a slightly lower stack height in the forefoot, Saucony’s PWRRUN+ midsole brings the heat. In this case I think the Triumph feels better for easy day runs and everything else - making it much more versatile. Might not be my shoe of the year for 2020, but in this comparison, I’d definitely favor the Triumph.

Saucony Endorphin Shift  (RTR Review)

Jeff: Saucony fits true-to-size. Similar stack heights and purposes, the Shift brings an aggressive rocker that makes the shoe run that much smoother and faster. While it doesn’t have an Altra level toebox, there’s adequate room up front. I’d save the $10, go with the Saucony.

Skechers Performance Max Road 4+ Hyper (RTR Review)

Jeff: Skechers Performance fits true-to-size. Similar underfoot protection at a substantial weight drop, the Max Road 4+ ride is word class fun. Unfortunately for me, and possibly one or two other runners, the Hyperburst pods collapse on themselves when I land making them a blister machine. Personally I favor the Paradigm, because it doesn’t actively cause me problems, but if you aren’t a heavy runner that lands midfoot and supinates, you should check out the MR4+.

Paradigm 5 is Available Running Warehouse here

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. 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. Great review, as for me this is the best fitting shoe that Altra has put out this year. The upper is great and the fit is what I look for from an Altra shoe.
    The Torin 4.5 plush and Provision 4 just didn't cut it for me. Both were narrow in the mid-foot and seemed to just get away for the Altra fit that I have come to know and love. The Paradigm is a major win in this department.
    I couldn't agree more about the EGO midsole, I love it. Soft with out being mushy and it has a good response to it, I feel like it's definitely a 500 mile shoe.
    I will be getting a couple pair of these this year.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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