Review of the Altra Superior 4.0 trail shoes

February 20, 2021 — Nico Cartron

A quick review of Altra's trail shoes: the Superior 4.0


(Version fran├žaise disponible ici)

I run regularly for about 5 years, and usually just went with classical shoes designed mainly for road running. They work well when running on roads (obviously) but also in woods/forests, provided it's not too muddy.

Since I didn't want to be stopped by mud and enjoy going out in the woods even with tough conditions, I figured out I should buy proper trail shoes! :)

Zero Drop?

First things first: for around 3 years, I run exclusively with Altra shoes, or "Zero Drop".

What's that, "Drop"? Put simply, that's the difference in height between the forefoot and the heel. Most running shoes have a drop beween 8 to 12-14 mm: the heel is higher than the forefoot part, therefore most runners have a foot who meets the ground with the heel first, with the shoes "taking care" of cushioning.

Without going into too much details on forefoot running (there are many articles available on the Internet), let's say that it is more natural.
Do this simple test: run barefoot, and you'll very quickly realise that running this way is different, as you don't have your shoes to cushion the shocks. Naturally, your body will "switch" and run more using your forefoot.

My transition

As almost all runners, I started with heel strike running, but quickly I had knee pains, such as Iliotibial band syndrome.

I did some research on the Internet, and since forefoot running seemed interesting, I did a transition over a period of 5 months, starting with "run 95% of the time heel-strike, 5% forefoot", and gradually increasing the forefoot part every week or 2.
I did it this way because the worst mistake one can do when transitioning to forefoot running, is to do it too quickly: you won't be using the same muscles when practicing forefoot running - especially you'll clearly feel your calf muscles as being heavily used, and yeah it hurts a little at the beginning! ;)

And indeed, since I'm running only forefoot, I didn't experience any pain.

/!\ Now careful! I'm not saying you should do it nor that it will fix all your problems! In my case it helped and I recommend it, but of course you should also do your own research and make your own judgment.

Altra and me

When I deciced to switch to forefoot running, I had to chose a running shoes brand - I took the decision to go for Zero Drop (rather than a low drop such as 4 mm), and therefore, choice was really reduced: back 3 years ago, apart from Altra, a very few brands had something to offer.

I started with a pair of Altra Impulse, and since then I almost exclusively use Altra - even though I have had:

  • a pair of Topo Athletic (Magnifly 2) which I liked a lot, unfortunately Topo is not that present in France,
  • 2 pairs of Merrell Vapor Glove (3 then 4).

I ran with those Altra Impulse, and then Paradigm 3.0, Kayenta, Solstice, Paradigm 4.0, and currently, I'm rotating between Provision 4, Escalante 2.5, and finally those Superior 4.0.

One of the unique features of Altra is their so-called "Toe Box": the front of the shoe is (very) large, giving toes a lot of space, which proves useful when running and avoids too much compression.

Right, so are those Superior 4.0 any good?

As explained above, those are my very first trail running shoes, so I decided to go for a light and comfortable model, bearing in mind that I wouldn't be using them for a 200 kms trail in the mountains :)

Their look is rather nice and sleek, and I like the dark colors, as I won't be upset when back from a muddy run!

Altra ships those shoes with a "StoneGuard" midsole that you can put under the sole, and is designed to protect your feet against e.g. sharp stones.
I didn't use them that much, as I found that it made the shoes less comfortable, and also it's not that rocky where I live and run :)

Those Altra are trail running shoes, so I'm using them mainly when running in the woods, but as they are light and comfortable, if I have some road running, that's not really an issue.

Lacing system works really well - which has not always been the case for me with Altra, so worth mentioning - I have the feeling that Altra is experimenting with those shoes, which is good.

With regards to how the foot is hold, it's also very good: it's not too much as with my Provision (where I have regularly painful ankles when doing runs > 15K because the shoe applies too much pressure on my malleolus).

Alternating paces is not an issue: as the shoes are light, it's easy to speed up, even when there's mud on the shoe - actually the mud goes away very easily, unlike other shoes where you have those bloody 10 cms of mud which make it hard to run (hello Escalante!)

Here are the Superior after about 10 runs, some of them in the mud:

As you can see, the look is still there and the shoes did a great job at giving me some grip and removing mud when I was running on concrete (roads, ...).

Weight

Those shoes are really light:

  • 272 grams (size 46 US, which is 11 UK and 13 US),
  • compared with 333 grams for my Provision 4.0,
  • and even 295 grams for my Escalante, which I found light!

Of course, the real weight is slightly less, since you should remove the mud which I have on all those shoes ;)

Wrap-up

Once again, this article is a quick summary after about 6 weeks and 120 kms.

With the ongoing Covid crisis, my goal is not to run a long trail (in which case I would probably have chosen a different Altra model), therefore I'm happy with those Superior: they're excellent for what I'm using them for, i.e. running when it's too muddy/rocky for regular running shoes.

Let me know if you liked this (quick) review by pinging me on Twitter, and if I should post similar ones for the next shoes I'll buy.

With that, thanks and happy running!


Tags: English, Running, Trail

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