Monday, September 20, 2021

Altra Paradigm 6 Review: Lighter Weight, Softer Ride, More Minimal Upper. 10 Comparisons

Article by Jeff Beck


Altra Running Paradigm 6 ($160)


Introduction

Jeff: Altra’s biggest road shoe is back, and if you squint, it doesn’t seem like much has changed - but upon further inspection, virtually everything has changed. The upper has been reworked and is much more breathable, but the big shift is under the foot. 


Altra tells us the following about the Paradigm:

The first Altra shoe inspired by and developed with an Altra athlete. Meet the Paradigm 6, a shoe that is blurring the line between support shoe and everyday trainer. Altra Elite Athlete and two-time Olympian Kara Goucher’s input helped us take this shoe to the next level, adding an Altra EGO™ MAX midsole and slimming down the overall design while maintaining its key support features.

The Paradigm 6 is one of the first Altra shoes to feature their EGO Max midsole material, and if this is a glimpse of what is to come at Altra I’m far more optimistic than I was a few weeks ago. We’ll get into it in much more detail below, but this shoe brings soft and bouncy in ways not many shoes do. Unfortunately, there are some issues as well, but this is still a big step forward.

Pros:

  • Toebox is an Altra, plenty of room up front - Jeff
  • EGO Max midsole does soft and bouncy right - Jeff
  • Very reminiscent of the first gen Paradigm in profile and overall spirit - Jeff
  • Breathable upper - Jeff
  • Surprisingly lightweight for the size, dropped 37g / 1.3 oz in my US10.5  from last year - Jeff
  • GuideRail doesn’t announce its presence if not needed - Jeff

Cons:

  • Upper is sloppy/baggy in the midfoot - Jeff
  • Tongue likes to slip off to lateral side pretty quickly - Jeff
  • Awkward fitting upper makes it hard to stay on platform - Jeff

Stats

Approximate Weight: men's 10.2 oz / 289g (US9)

  Samples: men’s  10.9 oz / 311g (US10.5)

37g /1.3 oz lighter than Paradigm 5 in a US10.5

Stack Height: 30mm, zero drop

$160. Available now including at our partner Running Warehouse HERE.  


Tester Profile

Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 30 miles per week on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR's are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.


First Impressions and Fit

Jeff: Remember when Ford unveiled the 2005 Mustang that was clearly a call back to the first generation of the car? That’s this for the Paradigm. There are so many little details that harken back to the first gen Paradigm - a shoe that I enjoyed so much I wore out two pairs of them. 


It was Altra’s first really thick stacked road shoe, and this feels like a big step forward for a shoe that had grown a little boring. If you want a thick cushion with a big toebox and zero drop, it’s a no- brainer, get the Paradigm. It might not impress you much, but it does it’s job. 


Well, version 6 impresses me a whole lot. This is a big shoe for them, and not just literally. Fit is true-to-size with a thumb’s width in front of my big toe.


Upper

Jeff: Altra stuck with a breathable engineered mesh for the majority of the upper, with a few very minor overlays. The most striking difference is the lack of last year’s built up toe bumper, this year’s bumper is effectively a graphic that resembles a really big U. 

Which is great for a road shoe, where toe protection is a very low priority. The heel counter is very pliable, and flexes in when pressed on either side from the outside.

I’m going to go ahead and get the bad part out of the way. That’s a joke, since we always start with the upper, but every element of this shoe besides the upper is really good while the upper is...well, it exists. The engineered mesh upper is actually pretty nice. There’s not too many overlays, which is good in a road shoe, and the mesh is both soft and breathable, with a little bit of stretch. It also incorporates InnovArch which is more of an underlay than overlay. It’s a built in piece of fabric that links up as one of the top eyelets and by looks alone seems like it should help lock down the foot, but I couldn’t get it dialed in fit wise in any appreciable way. If anything, they caused a bit of the bite and abrasions.

The big issue I have with it is in the midfoot. It’s full-on baggy. The cut and shape isn’t extraordinarily big, but it is just big enough, paired with just enough stretch, to create a less than ideal fit. And by that, I mean I frequently found myself on the lateral edge of the insole. I didn’t experience any heel slip issues, and my foot felt pretty planted in the shoe, I just couldn’t get the right lockdown without overdoing and leaving lace abrasions on the top of my foot. The tongue is not gusseted, and I found myself constantly working to bring it back to center. It didn’t get much padding, which could have helped me really crank down the laces to get a better fit without causing lace bite. I would like to point out that the laces are perfectly sized, which sounds like a small feather in the cap, but there have been a number of shoes released in the last few years with laces much too long - getting it right is always nice.


Midsole

Jeff: And now I’m done being grumpy about the shoe, because here on out, it’s all good stuff. And this midsole is made of the good stuff. I haven’t been able to find out what the makeup  of the EGO Max midsole is (possibly some EVA variant but I’m just guessing?), but regardless of its initials, this midsole is really good. It gives you a very nice soft landing, but rebounds quickly with some bounce. Not quite as bouncy as Nike’s ZoomX as in the Invincible, but it’s much easier to adapt to and run in than the Invincible, which is a very polarizing shoe. 


It is interesting to see that Altra still lists the Paradigm as a 30mm/30mm stack height. When it debuted it was one of the biggest shoes (vertically) on the market, and now there are dozens of shoes with a higher stack height. I’m not necessarily saying this shoe would be better off 40mm/40mm, as much as pointing out how shoes have changed since I first put a Paradigm on in 2014. What’s nice about it is how flexible the midsole is with the high, but not crazy high stack height. One of the ways Altra achieves the flexibility is a series of grid like grooves cut into the top of the midsole that Altra calls Innerflex. The outsole design contributes as well, but there’s a really surprising amount of flexibility in the shoe, both bending forward in your stride as well as bending the two sides down. That helps a big chunk of foam from feeling like a big chunk of foam. 

The GuideRail extends up on the medial side of the foot, primarily at the heel and tapers down as it gets to the midfoot. 

It looks and feels like it is higher than other similar passive guidance systems (the design on the Brooks Transcend/Glycerin GTS is much lower, but is far more invasive for neutral runners) but it isn’t nearly as rigid as other guidance systems, and that may be the difference in how aggressive the support is.


Outsole

Jeff: The Paradigm 6 has Altra’s Footpod outsole, which goes back to their roots of having the outsole design resemble the bones of the foot. The rubber is grippy and soft, and seems to have average durability. There is some exposed midsole, not just in the channels but also in the center, just in front of the heel, but that shouldn’t be a durability or grip concern. It’s one of those outsoles that works well without being the star of the show.


Ride

Jeff: Soft and bouncy, which is a fun combination. I had some concerns, as a supinator who doesn’t need any medial support, but the GuideRails really don’t come into play for my stride. There have been other support shoes that have given me knee pain or other issues, and the Paradigm 6 support is so subtle, it might as well not be there. That’s the highest praise I can give.


Conclusions and Recommendations

Jeff: There’s a lot to appreciate about the Paradigm 6 between the lighter weight, softer ride, and more minimal upper, but the loose fitting midfoot ruins it from being a complete home run. If you have a very wide midfoot they may work perfectly for you, and you’ll probably be on Instagram or Reddit raving about it. And you should, it’s a great shoe. The soft and bouncy ride means it can excel as a pure recovery shoe or a solid big-mileage daily trainer, and neutral runners don’t have anything to fear from the Guide Rails. But most importantly, if this is what the EGO Max midsole can do, I’m really curious to see all the other places Altra puts it, because this shoe got seriously fun - and it’s 100% the midsole’s fault.

Jeff’s Score: 8.1/10

Ride: 9.5 (50%) Fit: 6 (30%) Value: 8 (15%) Style: 7 (5%)


10 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Altra Paradigm 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Paradigm 5 ran large, 6 fits true-to-size. The 6 is softer, bouncier, and lighter, making it a much better all around shoe. The 5 doesn’t have nearly the flex of the 6, and really excels as a recovery day shoe for the day after a big effort - the 6 can be your bread and butter shoe. I think the 6 is a big step up.


Brooks Glycerin 19 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Brooks’ big daily trainer got a big step forward this year, and the latest iteration of Loft DNA foam feels very similar to EGO Max, with the Altra holding a very slight edge in softness. The Glycerin toebox is very good for a traditionally shaped shoe, and it holds the foot much better than the Paradigm, but I think the Paradigm is more comfortable underfoot. If longtime Glycerin fans want just a bit more cushioning and don’t mind zero drop, the Paradigm 6 is waiting for them.


Hoka Bondi X (RTR Review)

Jeff: You know how to make the Paradigm 6 look like a minimal racing flat? Put it on at the same time as the Hoka Bondi X. The Bondi X is so much bigger in every aspect (except toebox, while this is likely Hoka’s biggest toebox it isn’t Altra big) but it isn’t as soft as the Paradigm. The carbon plate in the X makes it more rigid, but I don’t know if that translates to a better shoe. Save the $40 and go with the more versatile Paradigm. 


Mizuno Wave Sky 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff: The Mizuno uses their Enerzy foam, which is similarly soft and bouncy, and compared to EGO Max it is clearly much more dense. I think the Paradigm is softer, while the Sky is bouncier. The Paradigm wins the toebox race by a country, and the upper is much softer than the Sky 5’s. Last year I named the Wave Sky Neo (the European counterpart to the Wave Sky 4 that shares a LOT of DNA with the WS5) my shoe of the year, but I think I’d favor the Paradigm for the softer ride and roomier toebox.


New Balance Fuel Cell Lerato (RTR Review)

Jeff: New Balance’s premium carbon plated daily trainer is an interesting shoe that doesn’t really fit any single role very well. While the materials are clearly premium and the shoe is very comfortable to walk in, I could never figure out what kind of run it worked well for - and the Paradigm feels the opposite. While I prefer the Lerato’s fit over the Paradigm (even though the toebox isn’t massive, it’s big enough) the Paradigm’s midsole makes it a good fit for a variety of easier paced runs, as opposed to the Lerato which excels at cruising the aisles of Home Depot.


New Balance Fresh Foam More v3 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Another truly massive shoe that makes the Paradigm feel like a child sitting at the grown-up table at Thanksgiving, the FFMv3 is higher stacked and softer than the Paradigm. It’s also altogether wider, and has a really big platform, but the upper keeps the foot locked down well. But it’s a very clear one trick pony - ideal for the easiest of your easy runs and especially so if you are a forefoot striker, while the Paradigm can pull that duty and be your daily trainer as well. If you want a purely easy day shoe, go New Balance, if you want more versatility, get the Paradigm.


Nike ZoomX Invincible Run Flyknit (RTR Review)

Jeff: One of the first shoes of the year to kick off the super cushioned/super bouncy/super polarizing nature of 2021, the Invincible is about the same softness as the Paradigm with more bounce and much less stability. The Invincible feels like a shoe that exacerbates your stride - minor flaws can become major ones if you aren’t careful, while the Paradigm doesn’t require the same level of care and concentration. The Paradigm toebox runs away with it, and its upper is much more breathable. This is another conditional one, if you want a fun and bouncy shoe that’s easy to run in, get the Paradigm. If you want a super fun and bouncy shoe that requires concentration and ideal form, the Invincible may be your shoe of all time.


Saucony Endorphin Shift (RTR Review)

Jeff: Big but not really soft, the Endorphin Shift uses PWRRUN, Saucony’s firmer and more budget conscious midsole material. It relies on a pronounced rocker profile to get going, and can similarly fill your easy and recovery runs like the Paradigm. The Saucony toebox is adequate, not great, but it is a much better fitting shoe through the midfoot. Close matchup that would be a coin flip - or ask if you want soft and bouncy versus a well-cushioned firmness with a fast turnover?


Saucony Triumph 19 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Saucony’s other big trainer, this time with the softer PWRRUN+ midsole - but it isn’t as soft as EGO Max. Another adequate width toebox to Altra’s massive one, the uppers are both similarly soft and breathable. The Triumph has been a favorite of mine for the last few years, but the EGO Max midsole gives the Paradigm the win in my book.


Skechers Performance Max Road 5 (RTR Review)

Jeff: Skechers finally cracked the code to making the super bouncy, fun, and runnable

 (the Max Road 4/4+ were agonizingly unstable upfront for my supinated forefoot strike and gave me twin pinch blisters on any run longer than three miles without exception) by adding a small H-plate to the Hyperburst midsole of the 5. The result is a higher stacked shoe moderate drop (6mm vs. 0 here)  that’s lighter, bouncier, faster, and less expensive than the Paradigm, and with the best upper Skechers Performance has put on a shoe. I like the Paradigm 6 a lot, but this is a massive win for the Max Road 5.

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

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Curious as to when doing shoe comparisons, it seems Topo Athletic shoes aren’t included as to how it/ they would compare?

Rachel said...

How does Paradigm 6 stack up (!!) against Saucony Axon? Seems like both shoes are intended for mellow/long stuff.

Also, the last paradigm I ran in was the 1.5, which I loved. Then they got clunky and ponderous. How’s the 6 in comparison?