Saturday, August 07, 2021

Altra Running Superior 5.0 Review: Smart Changes!

Article by Dominick Layfield

Altra Superior 5.0 ($120)

Introduction

Dom:  The Superior is the lightest shoe in Altra’s trail shoe line-up.  Its character remains fundamentally unchanged in the latest iteration.   This is still a lightweight, soft, flexible shoe that prioritizes ground feel over protection and support.  Consequently, it is not a shoe that will suit everyone.


Dom:  In version 5.0, Altra has made minor adjustments.  The “Stone Guard” removable rock plate is still there, albeit with an improved design.  The upper retains its ‘burrito’ tongue and slipper-like feel.  The updated outsole has noticeably improved grip and a little more rock protection.  The very soft heel of version 4.x has been stiffened with a real heel counter, making the new shoe a little friendlier to heel strikers.

Pros:

Dom: Light and flexible

Dom: Excellent ground feel

Dom: Grip improved over previous generation

Dom: Very pretty shoe.

Dom: Slightly stiffer heel makes shoe a little friendlier to heel-strikers


Cons:

Dom: Less spacious than previous shoe, particularly in toe height.


Tester Profile

Dom 49, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  In 2019, his only notable finish was at the multi-day Dragon’s Back race in the UK.  All 2020 plans were wrecked by Covid and California forest fires.  In 2021, he’s trying to inch his way back to racing!



Stats

Estimated Total Weight: men's 9.63 oz / 273g  (US9) including 24.5 g / 0.86 oz “Stone Guard” removable rock plate)

Sample Weights: 

men’s US 11: 10.69 oz  / 303g including removable rock plate (9.8 oz / 278g without rock  plate)

men’s US10 : 9.88 oz / 280g  including removable rock plate ( 9.0 oz / 255g without rock plate)  i.e. rock plate weighs 0.86 oz / 24.5 g / 0.86 oz  rock plate

No change in weight from Superior 4.5 (RTR Review

Stack Height: 21mm, 0 drop

Available now. $120.  


First Impressions and Fit

Dom:  I’ve worn and enjoyed several generations of the Altra Superior.  I was particularly delighted by version 4.0 which heralded a dramatic change to a very soft, flexible shoe with a burrito tongue and glove-like upper.   This is not a shoe that will suit everyone, but that is where the magic lies.  With version 5, I was nervous that Altra would mess with the design in order to make the shoe more mainstream, and in doing so, destroy the character that makes the shoe so great.

Top: Superior 4.5 Bottom Superior 5.0


Dom: In this regard, I’m happy to report that the changes in version 5 are minor, and that the feel of the shoe is very similar to version 4.x.  The most significant differences are twofold: firstly, the outsole is more substantial, making the shoe grippier, and slightly increasing rock protection; secondly the heel now has a heel counter, which makes the shoe a little more friendly to heel-strikers and more predictable on steep, technical descents.  Otherwise the character is essentially unchanged: on your foot, this is instantly recognizable as a Superior.  If you loved the old version, you can rest easy.  Conversely, if you tried Superior 4.x and hated it, chances are that you’ll feel the same about version 5.0.

Dom: For the uninitiated, the Superior is notable for being a soft, flexible shoe with a compliant, unstructured upper.  It has a relatively wide toe box, but fit is generally less spacious than traditional Altra shoes.   In regard to fit, compared to the previous iteration, version 5 is slightly tighter-fitting, which seems to be due to three factors: a more voluminous footbed, increased padding in the heel, and a shallower toe bumper.  Offsetting this is a little more stretch in the forefoot fabric.


Upper

Dom:  The upper of the Superior v 4.0 was a fresh new voice that stood out from a cookie-cutter field.  It was a striking, soft, slipper-like feel.  In version 5, Altra have made minor functional improvements -- and a significant cosmetic upgrade -- while retaining the flexible, slipper-like feel.

Dom: The biggest functional change to the upper is that the new heel is more substantial, with more padding around the heel collar, and a tangible heel counter.  Personally, I’m ambivalent on this: I didn’t feel that there was much wrong with the old design.  

The more supportive heel may improve security on steep, technical descents.  More importantly, I suspect that it will also make the shoe friendlier to heel strikers.  That said, the Superior remains a shoe that is better suited to runners who prefer to land on their forefoot.

Dom:  It is worth noting that the shoe has an overall slightly tighter fit compared to its predecessor.  

I attribute this to a combination of factors: the new footbed is thicker and made of less compressible foam; increased padding around the heel collar tends to push the foot forward; and the toe bumper is shallower.  

 Footbeds: Top: Superior 4.5  Bottom: Superior 5.  Superior 5 footbed is thicker and made of more resilient foam that does not pack out as much.


As a consequence, I was aware of toe contact with the upper, particularly with the removable rock plate inserted.   However, after about a hundred miles of running, I haven’t experienced any discomfort as a consequence: no blisters, hot spots, or nail irritation.  

So in my case, at least, this concern has proved to be largely hypothetical.  Runners with touchy toenails might find the shallow toebox to be a real problem.


Dom:  Also of note: Altra have removed the front anchoring ring used for gaiter attachment, and the velcro flap at the rear is smaller.  This seems a reasonable compromise, as gaiters are likely to see less use with this shoe than the beefier models in Altra’s lineup.


Dom:  I wear my running shoes exclusively for running, and typically pay little attention to their outward appearance, so it feels a little frivolous to remark on this, but the new Superior is a strikingly good-looking shoe.  

Altra have dispensed with the retro-futuristic wireframe mountain graphic on the side of v4.5 and delivered a clean, sleek, modern vision with understated branding elements and a sublime colorway.  Additionally (to my happy surprise) the upper fabrics do an impressive job of shedding mud and dust, and my sample pair look just as good after ~100 miles of running as they did out of the box.  



Midsole

Dom:  Because the midsole is relatively thin, its presence is less conspicuous compared to a higher-stack shoe.   In the Superior, the relatively squishy, springy ‘Quantic’ foam feels just right.  It is light and soft enough to take the edge off what might otherwise be a harsh ride, and to keep the shoe pleasingly flexible.

‘Stone Guard’ removable rock plates: top is previous version (from Superior 4.5) bottom is new version (from Superior 5).  Weight is decreased by about 10% from 54 g to 49 g per pair.


Dom:  One signature characteristic of the Superior has always been the removable “Stone Guard” rock plate.   I can never quite make up my mind about this.  On the one hand, I love the idea of a shoe that can be tuned to suit different terrain.   In this regard, it works nicely.  The effect is modest but useful.  Without the Stone Guard, I found the Superior v5 protection to be adequate for most uses and for smoother trails.  (It’s worth noting that protection is slightly enhanced over v4.x, presumably due to revised outsole.)  With the plate inserted, protection from sharp rocks is noticeably improved, and I was able to run through rocky areas without having to worry much about carefully placing my feet.    On the other hand, the Stone Guard, while thin, still reduces the volume available inside the shoe, making the fit snug.   Nevertheless, the stretchy forefoot fabric and the conformable nature of the shoe ensure that comfort remains excellent.


Outsole

Dom:  One of my reservations over the previous versions of the Superior was its outsole which I felt had a tendency to lose grip under high loads.  Just when you most needed traction, during rapid changes of direction and on high inclines, the shoe felt less than perfectly trustworthy.  I attributed this to the softness of the outsole, which allowed the lugs to buckle when heavily loaded.   I am happy to report that  v5.0 has a new outsole that solves this problem.   It also seems to provide just a little more rock protection too, with the result that I’m more comfortable using the Superior v5 without the rock plate.


Dom:  It’s not all roses in regard to the outsole.  While dry traction is definitely improved, wet grip is still only adequate.  Compared to class-leading materials like the Vibram MegaGrip, the Altra ‘MaxTrac’ outsole rubber doesn’t perform nearly as well on wet, slippery rock.  On the other hand, during a gloriously damp run in the Tetons, which became progressively muddier, I didn’t experience any unexpected skids.


Ride

Dom:  From my point of view, the ride of the Superior is pretty close to perfect.  It could be argued that the shoe could be more springy, more protective, more supportive, firmer, grippier, etc.  But I see the Superior as a daily training shoe that will strengthen your feet, improve your proprioception, and nudge you gently toward a more forefoot-oriented gait.  It’s not a shoe that is well suited to long distances or particularly rough or technical terrain.  Nor is it an obvious choice for racing.  It is soft and flexible enough to transform your running experience and connect you closely to the ground underfoot.  The Superior provides just enough cushion and protection to bring a natural barefoot-like experience to a mainstream audience.


Conclusions and Recommendations


Dom:  I was a vocal fan of Superior v4.0 and v4.5, and consequently was nervous that Altra would harm the character of the shoe in v5.0.  Instead, they made smart changes that will add mainstream appeal without losing the magic of v4.x.  In the process, they also delivered an exceptionally fine-looking shoe.


Dom:  As ever, I feel obliged to caution that this is not a shoe for everyone.  Altra may have made it more mainstream, but the Superior remains far from a mainstream shoe.  It is light, soft, flexible, and provides only modest protection.  The shoe is neutral and unsupportive.   But in return you get a sublime trail feel and wonderful, natural running experience.  Yes, it’s that good.


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Altra Superior 4.5 (RTR Review)

Compared in detail above, but summary of differences 

  • New outsole is stiffer, gripper.  Previous outsole was so soft that lugs had tendency to buckle.

  • Rock protection slightly improved, presumably due to more substantial outsole

  • Heel has been stiffened.  Has a real counter, and more padding.

  • Shoe is slightly stiffer in torsion, presumably due to stiffer outsole + heel.

  • Shoe remains very flexible by most people’s standards.

  • Weight unchanged.

  • New rock plate has clever design, but weight savings are meager.  (49g vs 54g)  

  • Insole updated to different, more resilient foam.  Feels thicker, which makes shoe fit more snugly.

  • Height of toe bumper has decreased, which -- coupled with fatter insole -- makes the toe box notably shallow.  This could aggravate touchy toenails.

  • Anchor for gaiter has been removed from the front of shoe; velcro attachment at rear has been downsized.

  • New colorways are really nice.  This is a strikingly pretty shoe!

  • Laces a little long, and have tendency to come untied.  (Stretchier laces would probably help in regard to latter, but would diminish the foot retention.)


Altra King MT 2.0 (RTR Review)

Dom: These shoes have similar stack heights, both zero drop.  The King has a firmer ride in a stiffer shoe, with better wet grip.  The Superior is a softer, more flexible shoe.   King is targeted at obstacle-course racers and extra muddy, wet conditions.  The Superior is more of a generalist, for everyday trail running.


Altra Lone Peak 5 (RTR Review)

Dom: Theoretically the next step up in Altra’s trail range, the Lone Peak is a bigger, stiffer, heavier, more protective shoe with 25 mm stack.   It is also very differently sized, with old-school Altra extra roomy fit.  If you have extra wide feet or just like a lot of space, consider moving up ½ size in the Superior to get the equivalent feel.  


Inov-8 Terraultra G270? (RTR Review)

Dom:  On paper, the TUG270 seems very similar to the Superior.  Both are zero-drop (which is unusual for Inov-8 but axiomatic for Altra).  Weights are in the same ballpark: Superior 5 is lighter without Stone Guard, slightly heavier with plate inserted.   Stack heights -- when one has decoded the obfuscated stats from Inov-8 -- are each around 21 mm.  But in practice the shoes are different in character: the Superior is a much softer, more flexible shoe and with stretchy forefoot and glove-like fit..   The TUG270 feels more conventional.  Traction and support are better in TUG270.  Ground feel is better in Superior, which also has more room for toe splay.  Both are outstanding shoes.  Personally, I would pick Superior for daily training, but TUG270 for race day.


The Altra Superior is available now including from our partners below.


Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does this follow Altra's recent trend of tightening up the midfoot? I have wideish feet (not quite wide enough for wide fit but wide enough that traditional brands are a pain) and have found that their shoes just seem to be getting tighter year by year. I tried on the new Rivera but found the midfoot just too tight.

Dom Layfield said...

I haven't tried on a pair of the Rivera. And I wouldn't have described Altra's fit idiosyncrasies as "tightening up the midfoot", so I'm not entirely sure we're on the same page here.

However: Altra Superior fit is notably snug (compared to older Altra shoes), as is the Timp. The Lone Peak, on the other hand, is much more generously sized. Personally, I prefer the closer "performance" fit, but I understand it is not to everybody's liking. To me, the Lone Peak just felt oversized. If you need the extra space of the LP but want a lighter, more flexible shoe, I would suggest you try Superior 5 in 1/2 size bigger than you would normally choose.

Curt said...

Hey Dom!

Great work as always. Any noticeable changes to the Quantic durometer? I find myself wanting it to be just *slightly* firmer, ala the Escalante Racer. Otherwise thanks again and stay healthy! Tough right now.