I travel the world to watch people run. Most of the time it’s in a big city at one of the major races like Boston or London. When I’m feeling lucky I get the chance to watch trail races. For a few years now Altra has been at or near to top at virtually every trail race in the USA. The shoe that shows up more than any other shoe of theirs is the Superior. I decided early this year to test it out.
I’m fortunate that I can put on any shoe in the market and go for a run. A buddy of mine just did an organized run on the last 20 miles of the Western States 100. Altra was there giving any runner a chance to run the 20 miles in a pair of loner Altra Shoes. He didn’t do it for fear of a bad experience. My view is that’s the best time to test a shoe out. The run was a prelude to planned races later in the year. It’s the best time to test new equipment. For me the best test of any new running shoe is a long run. I’m fortunate that I can do that.
The running I did in the Superior 3.0 was varied in length a difficulty. My first run was 13 miles on soggy wood chip trails. I did a bunch of 3-5 milers. Finally I races a 15K Trail race. Luckily those runs and the weather we’ve had gave me the opportunity to test these shoes in every conceivable situation outside of snow and ice.
Weight M’s. 9.3oz
Weight W’s. 7.7oz
Midsole Stack. 20mm/20mm
Midsole Offset. 0 mm
Category. Neutral S2 – minimal support
The overall fit for men and women is quite similar.
Heel – Medium to Wide – The lack of a proper heel counter allows you to cinch the heel down nicely.
Midfoot – Medium – A normal running shoe tongue and wide spacing of the eyebrow creates a good fit across the top of the foot.
Forefoot – Wide – It’s the Altra signature foot shape last that gives it the wide fit up front.
Toe Box Height – Medium to low on the men’s and low on the women’s.
Overall Size – Fits like the average running shoe. If you are a size 10 in your road shoe you’ll be a size 10 here.
Other Fit Notes
- There is a trend in trail shoes for these slick flat nylon laces. Altra has done a nice job sourcing a softer lace that will stay tied with one knot. Because all the other laces like this don’t stay tied I instinctively double knotted.
- The insole is a nice molded insole that creates a fairly decent arch. One note on this. I told a story earlier this year about customizing your fit through lacing and insoles. If the arch is too high in this or any Altra, simply pull the insole out of the shoe and trim the arch out of the insole. It’s the only way with Altra. You can’t buy an over-the-counter flat insole because it won’t cover the wide shape of the forefoot.
- The shoe comes with a rock plate insole that will change the fit of your shoe if you use it. I’ll discuss it’s use below.
As with any trail shoe there are two areas of function we want to know about.
1. How supportive is it?
2. How does it perform on technical terrain?
Trail shoes shouldn’t be overly supportive. They should be functionally fluid because we ask them to be good on lots of different terrain. Because your foot rarely lands on an even surface while trail running, true built in support is rather useless. What makes a shoe more supportive is getting it close to the ground with a wide base. The Superior delivers on both of those qualities. It’s not minimal but it’s close and that’s good for lot’s of people. The naturally wide base of an Altra is functionally sound for trail running.
Big aggressive lugs all over the shoe give you lot’s of great traction. More importantly there are hard firm lugs for digging in and soft supple lugs for grip on the rocks and roots.
There is no rock plate built into the shoe. The shoe comes with a set of rock plate inserts you can put underneath the insole. Personally I liked the shoes much better without the rock plates. I didn’t feel any added protection when I hit the rocks but I did feel the inserts affected the ride of the shoes a great deal. I was not a fan of that new ride. I ran a few times in the shoes with the rock plates and didn’t feel real natural while running. As soon as I removed them my natural form came back.
Interesting to see the tail on the Superior. The very first trail running shoe in the 90’s the adidas Response Trail had the tail. It was a feature build to give your foot more coverage going down hill. In other words it’s there to catch the ground earlier than your typical trail shoe.
Here on the Response Trail 21 you can see the tail still in use. Adidas used to put cut lines on the tail so you could cut the tail off if you didn’t want it. As you can see in the picture above of the Altra shoe, you can’t do that. It’s there for good.
You’ll also notice the are is a Gator catch on the heel as well. That should be standard on all trail running shoes.
Without the rock plate inserts there is a good amount of flexibility in the forefoot. This is great for the uneven terrain and for going up steep hills.
If you like to feel the trail you are running on, the Altra Superior 3.0 is a great choice. A feel of the trail allows you to pick your route easily. Rock protection and security is not in the Superior. Gripping traction and nimbleness is.
Five great things about the Superior 3.0
- Ground Feel – You have quick feet and want to feel your way over the trail.
- Traction – You’ll love it!
- Fit – The wide forefoot is good for most. The security in the forefoot is good.
- Lightweight – Feels great going up!
- Zero Drop – the flat offset works best on the trail where and uneven surface is a given. The flat offset gives you a better surface to run on.
Three Things that annoy me
- The rock plate insert – Either build a rock plate as part of the shoe or don’t ask me to pay for it.
- Rip Stop Upper – It’s stiff and looks cheap.
- Laces – You shouldn’t have to double knot your laces. The trail running industry has got to figure that out.
At the races I see this shoe in use in a few different ways.
- 50K or shorter I see runners run the entire race in the Superior.
- I see runners use their Altra for the first 60,70 or 80 miles of 100 and then put on a Hoka for the remainder.
- I see runners do just the opposite and use the Superior over the last 20-30 miles because light feels fast.
Outside of the adjustment you will need to make going to a shoe this flat and low to the ground, there is very little downside to the Superior 3.0. It will work great for anyone looking for enjoyment out there on the trails.
A special note to trail walkers/light hikers. This might be the best shoe out there for your effort. You’ll appreciate the lightweight feel and the traction.