Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Altra FWD Experience Review: Altra Rises above Zero with a 4mm Drop Up Tempo Trainer 6 Comparisons

Article by Sam Winebaum

Altra FWD Experience ($140)


With the FWD Experience Altra launches its first road running shoe with a built in drop of 4mm. All previous Altra have been zero drop by spec. 

So why an Altra with some drop ? According to Altra having some drop makes the rest of Altra goodness including the Foot Shape toe box and matching of midsole/outsole to foot anatomy more accessible to more runners. The FWD provides a new kind of introduction to the brand and one I welcome. 

Don’t worry! Altra will for sure continue with zero drop shoes. According to Brian Beckstead, co-founder of Altra, they have  been working on options for more drop for over 8 years, prototyping insoles with removable heel lifts as coming from higher drop shoes to zero a period of adjustment is wise. I have always said (but was not aware of these efforts) they should include “training heels”. 

In the early days of Altra, I often cut a piece of sockliner and inserted it at the heel. I will say less so recently as Altra has improved the weight balance and foam of their zero drop shoes making the “low heel” for this heel striker at slower paces much less of an issue. 

Altra’s Foot Shape fit and careful anatomical matching of foot bones to the midsole (including Inner Flex cuts into the top of the midsole) and their outsole design continue. I can say they really shine here with some drop in the mix..

So we now have a new Altra “experience” that is for sure with a 4mm drop shoe,  a 32/28 stack height and very low weight of 7.7 oz US9. The new compression molded EVA blend foam and geometry make the FWD a clear and strong competitor to uptempo to daily trainers such as the Hoka Mach (and X), Salomon Aero Blaze, Saucony Kinvara all similar stack height shoes. 


  • An Altra with 4mm drop is most welcome! Low heels at slower paces gone

  • Versatile, responsive and direct riding uptempo to daily trainer, light trails just fine too 

  • Old school uptempo shoe ride vibes

  • Responsive, moderately firm midsole gives the FWD performance pop yet is well cushioned.

  • Foot Shape front of upper with splay yet great hold and under foot toe bones following geometry is stable allowing the front of foot to push off and broadly and decisively so.

  • New CMEVA foam: Very light weight for decently big 32/28 stack height at 7.7 oz US9


  • Tongue rotates. 

  • Top of the rear Achilles collar is high and quite rigid. Could use more flex, angle to the rear and or padding.

  • Wish that instead of CMEVA the FWD had a lighter, softer more rebounding supercritical foam 


Approx. Weight: men's 7.7oz  / 218g (US9)  /  women's oz / g (US8)

  Samples: men’s  7.48 oz  /  210g US8.5

Stack Height: men’s 32 mm heel / 28mm forefoot ( 4mm drop spec) 

                      women’s  30mm heel / 26mm forefoot ( 4mm drop spec) 

$140  Available now including at Running Warehouse HERE

FWD Experience Video Review

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Sam: The upper is classic Altra fit with a generous Foot Shape toe box at Altra’s “Standard” fit so more generous than the Rivera’s “Slim” fit but not quite as broad as their “Original” fit. I have found even for my narrowish feet Slim fit to be overly narrow and Standard just right as this fit provides plenty of both foot splay and security. In the context of the uptempo nature of the FWD and its 4mm drop, if you have found other brands’ offering in the category overly snug you now have a very solid new option here.

The engineered mesh is dense, quite thick and at the same time quite pliable. There are zero overlays here and only a moderately stiff toe bumper which is internal. So we have a very clean look (although the white will for sure not stay that way with use) with a now smaller Altra logo at the lateral heel.

The tongue is moderately padded, not particularly broad and has no gusset. While the midfoot hold is just fine the tongue does rotate. A thinner and broader tongue or a gusset might solve this issue.

The heel counter is quite pliable with support provided by the rising rear midsole side walls into which the foot sits. Heel hold is excellent. Often Altra with their notched low ankle collars have had not the best hold for me but not so here. 

The achilles collar rises high and vertical and is quite stiff. I would prefer a more swept back design and more padding at the rear.

Of course we must discuss the famous Altra Foot Shape toe box. Here it is in the Standard fit so neither overly narrow, as I found Rivera, or sloppy wide for me as in Original fit Altra have been. 

The toe box is particularly well executed here with plenty of room and excellent hold and comfort leaning slightly more towards “comfort” than a pure performance fit.

While initially I felt they were a bit short at my usual true to size with a few runs they stretched just enough so now the fit is perfect with thin or medium socks.


The midsole foam is a compression molded EVA with the lowest specific gravity foam yet for Altra. Low density does not mean the foam is soft. It is quite firm and responsive but it is light and quick responding. 

The low density foam leads to the FWD’s very light weight of about 7.7 oz / 218g in a US9 on a considerable stack height of 32mm at the heel and 28mm at the forefoot. Compared to the similar Hoka Mach 5 at 30/25, we are at about the same weight with a touch more stack height. 

The geometry is very well executed, in this Altra’s first shoe with drop. The heel is for sure a 4mm drop by the numbers but also by the feel of the foam, no low heel feel here at all as the heel does not compress far on landings. 

Further, the midsole side walls rise at the far rear. Thus, heel landings are very stable but not blocky in feel in transition to midfoot with the flow forward more neutral in feel, less impeded by foam rising at the midfoot but also still very stable in a more neutral shoe sense. 

The foam (and ride) is on the firmer side but well cushioned and light on foot. It is responsive in feel as opposed to bouncy or springy, Altra describes the feel as “direct” and I agree. The return is quick and with a for sure up tempo and a bit old school in feel. The FWD  tends to get more dynamic as pace increases. 

I do wish for a touch more squish or bounce. Substituting a super critical lighter foam for the CMEVA could make the FWD lighter yet and more modern (reactive) in feel and I wish Altra had done so.


The outsole is fairly typical Altra with longitudinal bands of rubber corresponding to foot bones with deep grooves cut  into the midsole as well as unseen Inner Flex grooves cut into the top of the midsole. I would call the FWD’s  flex somewhere close to a rigid rocker but with some continuous long flex, a good combination for faster paces.

The heel rubber has a prominent short but quite sharply angled bevel.  On landing there is a clear impulse forward from this crash pad and for sure no bottoming out due also to the firmer foam above. 

The rubber should prove durable. I have no wear whatsoever to date at about 25 miles of running both roads and dirt/gravel trails beyond a bit of scuffing at one heel. There is quite a bit of exposed midsole as outsole but it too has proven durable with no wear there either.

One of my runs was with Brian Beckstead of Altra on easy dry Utah trails and I was surprised how well they gripped. Not really a surprise as I have always been surprised how well Altra grip on such trails , I think in large part due to the anatomical design of the outsole and sufficient lug profiles.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

It was time! Altra branches out with some drop at 4mm in the FWD, opening the brand’s experience to more runners who may have not cared for zero drop or who choose Altra but wish to mix in some drop.

The ride is on the firmer side and highly responsive. There is no plate and none is needed with the semi rigid rocker which when the shoe is pushed provides some propulsion off the front due to the outsole and firmer foam. 

I would characterize the ride as uptempo- leaning to faster days or for those seeking a sharper responding feel. In a sense, it is a more old school quick ride with as a huge bonus the front fit and platform that really allows the foot to splay and push off. I do think a supercritical foam could reduce weight yet further and give the FWD a more modern rebound effect. 

The fit is true to size and was on the short side initially, but stretched to a perfect fit after a few runs. I do note the rear Achilles collar area might use some mellowing as it is quite rigid, high and vertical and not as padded as I might like. The tongue rotation could be worked on with a broader and maybe thinner tongue and/or a gusset

Altra is to be commended for evolving, and rising to a 4mm drop shoe delivering a snappy very light trainer that while not a plush one is quick, stable, and retains the anatomical fit and clearly felt toes in the game front ride Altra is known for. 

Sam’s Score: 9.29 / 10

Ride (50%): 9.2  Fit (30%): 9.3  Value (15%): 9.5: Style (5%): 9.5 


Altra FWD Experience Video Review (9:37)

6 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE Roadtrailrun 

Altra FWD

7.7oz  / 218g (men’s US9)

32 mm heel / 28mm forefoot ( 4mm drop spec) 


Altra Rivera (RTR Review)

8.9 oz  / 252g (US9)  29mm heel / 29mm forefoot

The Rivera is over an ounce heavier, lower stack and of course zero drop. Its Slim fit is for sure less accommodating than the FWD’s and is almost too narrow for my narrower to medium foot. Rivera has a firmer not as inspiring or as quick rolling a ride. Any day of the week FWD for me. And same applies versus somewhat higher stack Torin.

Hoka Mach 5 (RTR Review)

men's 8.2oz  / 232g (US9) 29mm heel / 24mm forefoot. 

Somewhat lower stack with a similar foam feel, the Mach is somewhat heavier and has a slightly more flexible forefoot. Very similar shoes. If you need more front room go FWD, if you don't flip a coin.

Hoka Mach X (RTR Review)

8.92 oz / 253g (US9)  39 mm heel / 34 mm forefoot (5mm drop spec) 

Hoka newest Mach adds a PEBAX plate and a layer of PEBA foam. It is yet more stable than the FWD with what we found to be a quite blocky heel that has it not as easy to run at slower paces as the FWD. While it is higher stack and has PEBA foam in the mix, the plate makes it about as firm (and responsive) as the FWD but slightly more cushioned overall. I consider both more uptempo in focus and found the FWD easier fitting and running.

Saucony Kinvara 14 (RTR Review)

6.8 oz  / 193g (US M9) 

31 mm heel / 27 mm forefoot, 4mm drop

At about the same stack the softer riding Kinvara is over 1 oz lighter and its softness is felt as a bit mushier than FWD. Its upper is lower volume, narrower and lighter.. The FWD has a more confident, decisive and stable ride. As a daily trainer of the more uptempo variety given its rubber outsole which gives it more response than the midsole as the outsole of the Kinvara,  I prefer the FWD in this match up. 

Salomon Aero Blaze (RTR Review)

8.36oz / 237g  (US9) 31 mm heel, 23 forefoot ( 8 mm drop spec)

While higher drop at 8mm vs 4mm, the Blaze and FWD have a similar ride. Both have firmer more responsive as opposed to energetic bouncy rides and a sense of being moved “forward” to a solid stable toe off platform. I do find the FWD upper more comfortable if a bit less performance secure.

The Altra FWD Experience is available now at Altra HERE and at our partners

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Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 66 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 was Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he gets very very lucky. Sam trains 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah be it on the run, hiking or on nordic skis. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

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

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Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Any comparisons to Topo (thinking Specter is probably the closest)?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sam. Maybe a comparison to the Cyclone 2?

cameron said...

Given Altra's now infamous quality control (just look at the reviews for the latest Olympus, for example) and overall lack of competitiveness with the big brands when it comes to things like race day shoes, I think this is an even harder sell for me. Without its core niche I don't really understand the appeal of Altra. Sure, FootshapeTM or whatever, but the brand was foot shaped shoes + zero drop. And they used to do it very well. I don't think they are competitive with Topo in the footshape + drop space given Topo's superior durability and shoe design (colors and aesthetics excepted).

I noticed Newton put out a shoe that looks pretty conventional, too, with an 8mm drop, so maybe these smaller brands are feeling pressure from investors to diversify.

Anonymous said...

I largely agree with this (was an Altra guy, now solidly a Topo guy) but this specific shoe looks promising on weight/stack.
I think a lot of Altra's market share is due to inertia from pre-Topo years (bigger distributor network for brick-and-mortar shoppers).

Anonymous said...

All of my Topo trail shoes have had QC problems, as well. The midsole separated from the upper in two pairs of MT-3 and a pair of mtn Racer 2. My MT-4 is going strong though so hopefully it’s sorted now. Their road shoes are a delight. Love my Specter and UF4.

Sam Winebaum said...

@anonymous Specter. Yes the Specter would be a close comparison. I prefer the more energetic Zip Foam in the Topo
@anonymous Cyclone 2. The Cyclone 2 considerably lighter more energetic, softer, bouncier and flexible. The FWD is firmer, more stable and responsive as opposed to springy bouncy. FWD would be a better daily trainer choice than Cyclone 2 for most while Cyclone 2 is for speedier shorter runs for me.
Sam, Editor