Saturday, October 10, 2020

Altra Running Escalante 2.5 Multi Tester Review

Article by Peter Stuart, Nils Scharff, and Sally Reiley

Altra Running Escalante 2.5 ($130 / 140€)


Introduction

The Altra Escalante 2.5 is, in fact, the 3rd version of the Escalante--unless you count the half versions plus the Escalante Racer and then it’s the 5th? Or is it the 4th? Whatever, it should be a full model number different than the 2.0, because it is radically different, not just a tweaked .5 version.


Anyway, the Escalante is back and it’s got a brand new upper, rides a little softer and loses about 0.8 oz / 22g in weight. All in all it’s a pretty fun shoe. 


Pros:

Peter: Comfortable upper, decent amount of cushion

Sally: Very comfortable, soft sock-like knit upper that is breathable and stretchy and accommodating to all foot shapes

MInimal yet bouncy and soft, well cushioned flexible feel that makes running at all paces fun

Nils: One of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn! Upper feels like your favourite sweater! Cushioning feels plush as well (without bottoming out)!

          

Cons: 

Peter: Upper feels sloppy at speed, beat me up a bit

Sally: Toe box just too roomy for my narrow foot, lacks lateral hold

Nils: Too roomy for my feet! I can tighten the laces far enough to get a good enough hold for easy to moderate paces but the fit and stretchy upper doesn’t hold my foot well enough for anything speed related! Not enough heel hold for my overpronation on the right foot.

Sally’s Women’s Color Way

Stats

Official Weight:  men’s 8.5 oz / 241g,  women’s 6.9 oz / 196 g

Samples:   7.3 oz / 206 g US W8

                  9.8 oz / 279 g US M10.5

Stack Height: 24mm (0mm drop)

Available now for $130 / 140€


Tester Profiles


Nils is 30 years old, and lives in Heilbronn Germany. I've done all sorts of sports for all my life, often 5-7 times a week. But my young running career just started 3 years ago with a company run which I joined together with some colleagues. From there I never let go. I ran roughly 1000km in my first year, doubled and then tripled that number in 2018 and 2019.  I've run 4 marathons to date with a PR of 3:14:49h. My other PRs are 18:14 for 5k, 37:33 for 10k and 1:25:07 for the half.


Peter lives in Austin, Texas and has been a sub 3 hour marathoner as well as a 1:25 half marathoner in recent years


Sally is a lifelong runner and mother of five who ran her first marathon at age 54, and has now run the past seven Boston Marathons and one Chicago, with a 2017 Boston PR of 3:29, good for 8th in her age group. Along the way she has raised over $240,000 for Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital running with Team Eye and Ear. A relative newbie to road racing, she has achieved All-American status in the 10K (44:04) and 5K. To commemorate her 60th birthday she ran the NYC Marathon in November finishing 2nd in her age group with a PR time of 3:28:39.  Sally is a compact (petite) runner at 5’2’’ and 105 pounds.



First Impressions and Fit

Peter: I remember being pleasantly surprised by the original Escalante and was excited to see how this little speedster has developed over time. They’re not the most exciting looking shoe, but the upper is very soft and the fit is really nice. I was excited to run in them, but a little nervous as I’ve had a nagging achilles for a while. Altra is one of the few shoes that I have to size up in. I’m usually an 11 and I’m ALWAYS an 11.5 in Altra. So the Escalante 2.5 runs true to Altra size. I’d recommend either getting them in what you get other Altras in or going up half a size from your usual.

Nils: First thing I noticed about the Altra Escalante 2.5 was the design of the shoe box. Altra points out the benefits of their zero drop shoes, which adds a nice touch! Once opened the box revealed a really cool designed shoe! 


Sure, the form of the toe box is something that one needs getting used to, but besides that the denim blended shoe could easily be worn casually. As the Escalante 2.5 is my first Altra shoe ever, I was a bit nervous about sizing. But turned out that my regular 10.5 fits perfectly lengthwise. Unfortunately my foot is more on the narrow side, which leaves me with a lot of room in the shoe. Paired with a very stretchy upper that makes for not the best lockdown. The first steps in my flat were really comfy and I instantly liked the Escalantes! 


Sally: When I tested the Escalante 2.0, it was my first ever Altra ever. I knew it to be zero drop, minimalist, and foot shaped, but I struggled with the stiffness, both of the midsole and the upper material, and the poor fit of the shoe on my narrow foot; and the dramatic tongue slip on the 2.0 was then a total deal breaker. 


So naturally I had low expectations of the Escalante 2.5… and wow, what a pleasant surprise! This version is a totally different animal, and immediately felt like a favorite pair of soft bedroom slippers, yet with the ability to add a little pep in your step. They are soft and comfortable, and seem to stretch in all the right places to fit my foot. I have worn both versions in my true size W8, and they seem roomy. So far so good, let’s try running them!


Upper: 

Peter: The upper is the best part of the Escalante 2.5 It’s soft, supple and fits like a glove. There are 5 eyelets and lacing is efficient and simple. I’ve had to tie them in double knots as they like to untie themselves. The tongue is very thin but stays in place and does its job. It would be nice if the tongue was connected to the rest of the upper on the sides--’bootie style’--as there is a tendency for the sides to fold under when I put them on. I didn’t find the upper to be too warm, so it seems to breathe just fine. 


The biggest issue with the upper is that it seems to get sloppy when things get fast. While running easy it’s a great lockdown, but on speed workouts I found my feet slid around in them and I didn’t love cornering in them. There’s a decent amount of padding around the ankle which helps the fit and comfort.

Nils: I totally agree with Peter! The Escalante 2.5 is one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. Unfortunately the sloppy lockdown holds back the midsole’s capabilities. For easy to moderate paces on flat pavement everything works fine and you really can enjoy the shoe. 


But there are too many occasions in which the upper just doesn’t work for me: Fast efforts - I took the Escalante to the track and while the midsole performed great but there was so much slipping around within the shoe, that I developed hotspots and a blister under the ball of my foot. Steep terrain - doesn’t matter if it’s uphill, downhill or sidewards - the upper wasn’t able to hold my feet where they belonged to. Trails - I took the Escalantes to a moderate trail and twisted my ankles twice due to the bad lockdown (luckily not severely).

Next point to raise is my slight overpronation on the right foot: Despite some padding around the heel counter, there is basically no heel support at all in the Altra Escalante 2.5. It’s actually one of the worst shoes for me in that regard. I understand that the idea is to support the natural movement of the feet / ankles. But in my case it feels like the Escalante 2.5 intensifies my overpronation. Therefore it’s one of only two shoes I ran this year which made my left ankle and calf hurt (after 20k, but still!).

Last but not least I want to point out that I somehow managed to already draw some of the strings of the knit in the forefoot. Therefore there might be some durability issues here. It’s ludicrous, but despite so many negatives, I still love the upper of the Escalante - it’s so damn comfy!


Sally: The upper is amazing on this shoe in the new version. It is made of a very soft, breathable stretchy material with a sock like fit. As it is designed to be shaped like a natural human foot, it has a very wide toe box with plenty of height to wiggle your toes. I have a narrow foot so I tend to swim in them a bit, but I can assume they would be an awesome choice for a wide foot. I struggled with a dramatic tongue slip to the lateral side in the 2.0, but Altra has remedied that in this improved model with a thinner tongue that sits nicely in the center comfortably. One word for this upper is accommodating, in a very good way.


Midsole

Peter: Altra touts Altra Ego midsole with Innerflex grooves,which are a tennis string kind of array of grooves in the top of the front of the midsole. For as much cushioning as the shoe has upfront (the stack height is 24 across the board), it’s surprisingly supple. It’s soft but not mushy feeling and it flexes in a really natural way. 


It’s hard to totally explain the feeling of the midsole, but I’ll try. While I find them soft and to return some energy, I also have the feeling that I’m bottoming out a little bit. I really notice this during the first half mile of a run or so and then again if I get tired. I’d be interested to see what just a little more stack height would do. For example, the Altra Torin has a stack height of 26 mm and an additional footbed and it rides like a dream. I’ve never felt like I was bottoming out in the Torin. 

Nils: I can totally see what Peter is talking about here. Especially when tired the midsole doesn’t give me the protection I want. But for everything below 10k-15k it’s really fun for me, and from the first step. “Natural, but soft and with some bounce” is how I would describe it. The Altra EGO foam can totally fly when you pick up the pace but unfortunately that’s something you don’t want to do because of the sloppy lockdown. Therefore I am really curious how this exact same midsole performs in the Escalante Racer with an supposedly more secure upper. 


Sally: I found the midsole to be soft without being squishy, and pleasantly bouncy with decent energy return. I attribute a mild bottomless sensation to the novelty of a zero drop shoe, especially when contrasted to all the massive stack height carbon shoes we have been testing of late. I equate the Escalante 2.5 to a fast and fun slipper that you want to wear all day.


Outsole

Peter: Outsole has rubber in a relatively foot shaped pattern that covers all the right spots. There are grooves in-between that allow for lots of flexibility. So far wear is minimal and I haven’t found any issues with traction.

Nils: Besides the Altra typical foot shape pattern there’s nothing to report here. Traction has been fine for me so far on anything I ran on. Also durability shouldn’t be an issue compared to the soft midsole or the upper. I still can see the micro pattern on the rubber after ~50k.


Sally: I had to laugh when I placed my bare foot on the bottom of this shoe - my foot was so much smaller and straighter than the “natural foot shape” of the outsole! But I enjoy the quiet grippy ride of this unique looking outsole.


Ride

Peter: So as I hinted at earlier, there are positive and negative aspects of the ride in the Escalante 2.5. The first few steps can feel kind of harsh--as if I’m bottoming out with each step. I get used to it pretty quickly and at certain paces, the Escalante 2.5 is a really fun shoe. There’s a lot of flex and they feel like an extension of my foot. 


The ride gets a little rocky when I pick up the pace too much (did a sprint workout in them). The upper has a fair amount of stretch and that leads to some foot movement. The other issue I have with the 2.5 is the zero drop of it all. I noticed that towards the end of runs I really miss having some height in the heel. It feels like I’m landing on the toe and then falling back onto the heel. I’ve felt like I was working harder than I’d like to at the end of runs. Again, this isn’t something I’ve experienced in the Torin, but it does remind me a little bit of Newtons.

Nils: Like I already mentioned, I’m not used to Altras. But I ran dero drop before e.g. in the Inov-8 Terraultra G270 and never had problems with it. Unfortunately this changed a little in the Escalante 2.5. As Peter describes, it feels like I’m landing on the forefoot and then fall into my ankle (and overpronation) from there. While I’m able to keep track of this and it’s a great way to work my ankle strength, but for recovery runs on tired legs or on longer runs (20k+) it started to hurt. 


Sally: I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the ride of this minimalist shoe. It felt light and fast and responsive, almost as though my feet were freed and on vacation from all those other shoes that try so hard to be IT.  I admit to not testing these on any runs over 10 miles as of yet, but they felt like great daily trainers at the shorter distances and at everyday (not race) paces.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Peter: The Altra Escalante 2.5 is a fun shoe. It’s not a long-distance shoe for me, and it’s not a speed shoe either. And not really an easy or recovery day shoe either. 


So what is it? Well, it’s a fun shoe to go do some tempo or fartlek work in or to get some zero drop miles to build up your achilles. It’s a very natural feeling shoe that I like running in for brief periods of time. It’s a nice shoe for focusing on form and running a little more lightly on your feet. I haven’t found myself wanting to take them out day after day, and If I were going to get one pair of Altra it would be the Torin.

Score 7.5/10

A perfectly decent shoe that would work best for lighter and more efficient runners. It’s not the most versatile shoe and may morph into a lifestyle shoe for me because it’s super comfortable. 


Nils: The Altra Escalante 2.5 is in a tough spot for me. I really like it due to it’s comfort but I just can run it on the right occasions like an easy run with friends or a dedicated ankle strength session. For someone with wider feet and / or better ankle strength than me the playing field might open up. I tried a longer run as well as an interval session in the Escalantes. And while the Escalante might be capable of both types of runs for some it just hasn’t worked out for me. The  zero drop in combination with the lack of ankle support holds the shoe back. And for the latter one it’s the lacking lockdown. I will keep the Escalante in my rotation nonetheless for the described use cases and first and foremost casual use because it’s so damn comfy and in order to slowly strengthen my ankles. 

Score 8.3/10

 (-0,3 for to wide fit; -0,5 for sloppy lockdown; - 0,2 for bottoming out on longer runs; -0,2 for durability issues with the upper; -0,5 hurting my ankle (lack of ankle support))

I understand that a wide last, zero drop and basically no ankle support are part of Altras idea of natural running. But a last can actually be too wide, especially when it’s paired with an upper which isn’t capable of giving the runner a proper lockdown. Don’t get me wrong: I really like the comfortable fit of the upper. But without having run in it yet I truly believe that the Escalante Racer is a better shoe to actually run in because of its supposedly better lockdown. Another idea would be to offer a more narrow last in the standard version and additionally offering a wide version of the shoe. But that might bring a lot of the die-hard Altra fans on the fence.

All-in-all I think the Altra Escalante 2.5 is a nice and even versatile shoe for people who are used to Altra and have wide enough feet to wear them comfortably. For everyone else the usability is quite niched down and maybe not the best shoe to implement zero drop into your rotation. There are other options on the market like maybe the Escalante Racer, the Torin 4 / 4.5 (Plush) or some trail shoes which make it easier for you to get to know and like zero drop.


Sally: The Escalante 2.5 will make all the earlier Escalante fans happy, as the magic of the early versions is back. The 2.0 was admittedly a dud, sorry. The 2.5 is a minimal, bouncy, responsive and very comfortable natural shaped zero drop shoe that is fun to run in. Like the others, this would not be my choice for serious marathon training or tempo work, but this shoe does have its place in a rotation. If it weren't for the bright coral color of my pair, I would wear them often as everyday casual wear; they are as comfortable as a pair of favorite broken in bedroom slippers. 

Sally’s score: 8.4/10


Comparisons


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. Altra Escalante 2.0 (RTR Review

Sally: W8 in both. The 2.0 was my first experience with Altras, and while they were basically comfortable, I had some issues running with them. The 2.5 is an entirely different animal and deserves its own model number! The new version is a lighter and much more flexible shoe with a softer more breathable upper that stretches to accommodate your foot comfortably. The stiff upper of the 2.0 felt very restricting, particularly in the toe box; the 2.5 is much more forgiving. 

The heel counter of the 2.0 was stiff, the 2.5 is more flexible and softer. 

The tongue on the 2.0 slipped laterally to a ridiculous degree, whereas the tongue on the 2.5 is thinner at top and now sits comfortably in the center of your foot. 


Basically, the 2.5 brings back all the good features of the earlier versions that the 2.0 somehow lost. Skip the 2.0 on sale (the clearance racks will be loaded with them!) and definitely go with the much improved 2.5.


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. Altra Torin 4 (RTR Review)

Peter. If I had to pick one great Zero Drop shoe to have in the quiver it would be the Torin. It’s a forgiving and enjoyable ride that I’ve put a ton of miles on. Pull them out WAY more often than I would expect. 


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. Hoka Rincon 2 (RTR Review)

Peter: The Rincon has more cushion and is more fun to run in. The fit is narrower on the RIncon, so for wider feet I’d lean towards the Altra. For pure ride I’d go RIncon.


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. New Balance Beacon 3 (RTR Review) 

Peter: I’m pretty sure the Beacon 3 is my shoe of the year. It’s versatile and as a balanced ride. So, um, Beacon.

Sally: W8 in both. I likewise love the NB Beacon 3, was surprised to like it as much as I do. As Peter summarizes, the Beacon 3 is versatile and balanced. With a full arsenal of shoes to choose from, I keep reaching for the Beacon 3, so the Beacon for the win.


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. Hoka Mach 3 (RTR Review)

Peter: These ride pretty similarly, but I find the Mach 3 to be just a little more forgiving. 


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. Saucony Kinvara 11 (RTR Review)

Nils: The Kinvara is maybe my favorite one-to-do-it-all shoes of this year. It has a relatively low drop with 4mm and is in contrast to the Escalante a very stable (but neutral) shoe! In the forefoot we have the exact same 24mm stack, but the Kinvara shows no sign of bottoming out even after 42.2k. The Escalante is a niche product in comparison which isn’t for everyone. US 10.5 in both shoes.

Sally: W8 in both. I find the Kinvara an all around great shoe, especially for the one or two shoe quiver runner. (I actually preferred the Kinvara 10 over the 11?) Not everyone is going to want or like a zero drop shoe - if they do, go with the Escalante, but otherwise the Kinvara is more versatile.


Altra Escalante 2.5 Vs. Inov-8 Terraultra G270 (RTR Review)

Nils: I just want to compare the Escalante to the only other zero drop shoe I ran in recently. The trial focused G270 gives me no issues at all in regards to heel support and zero drop while the Escalante caused actual pain towards the end of a 20K. Both give a nice natural flex, ground feel and even a lively ride. The Escalante feels softer in the midsole, which also causes a bit of bottoming out during longer outings. Both have a lot of room in the upper as well. The biggest difference here for me is that I can get a proper lockdown in the upper of the G270 (despite the roomy upper), while the Escalante’s upper stretches way too much and makes me slide around. G270 = US10, Escalante = US10.5.

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no charge for testing. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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