A relatively young upstart in the world of running shoes, Altra was founded by two high school running buddies, Golden Harper and Brian Beckstead, with the goal of making shoes built for the way people naturally run. After testing prototypes in grueling races like the Wasatch 100, the brand released the Instinct (men’s) and Intuition (women’s), Altra’s first shoes, in 2011. These models, and all those that followed, showcased three core technologies that continue to separate Altra from other brands.
Best Altra Running Shoes
- Daily Road Trainer: Escalante 3
- Max Cushioning: Olympus 4
- Best for Long Runs: Torin 5
- Best for Road Racing: Vanish Carbon
- Best for Cross-Training: Solstice XT 2
- Best for Uptempos: Rivera 2
- Best for Trail Racing: Lone Peak 6
- Best for Overpronators: Provision 6
- Best for Technical Trails: Superior 5
- Daily Trail Trainer: Timp 4
The Expert: I became a runner in middle school and have covered running and outdoor gear for years, both on-staff at Runner’s World and as a freelance journalist. Running shoes is the category of gear I’ve written about the most, and I have firsthand experience with models from a range of brands. To write articles like this, I talk with brand reps about the company’s latest shoes and tech, consult RW tester feedback, and draw on my own experience with the running shoe industry. With direction from RW editors, I combine all that info to choose what shoes make it onto this page.
At the Core
The first of those three core technologies is FootShape. Unbox a pair of Altras and you’ll see that the forefoot is much wider than on other shoes; the enlarged, anatomical toe box allows the foot to expand and gives the toes room to splay. Altra now has three different FootShapes: original (the widest), standard, and slim (the narrowest). The varying shapes suit differing runner preferences, though shoes are offered in only one shape.
The second feature is Balanced Cushioning, which refers to the shoe’s heel-to-toe drop (the difference in height from the heel to the forefoot). Unlike those from most other brands, Altra shoes have little or no drop, meaning your foot sits flat rather than sloping downward from heel to toe. This can help promote your natural stride and encourage a lower-impact landing.
Finally, women’s-specific Fit4Her lasts are tailored to match the biomechanics of female feet. These shoes are built narrower through the heel and midfoot and better accommodate women’s longer arches.
A Natural Take on Tech
Over the past few years, shoemakers have poured resources into developing newer and better cushioning foams, and Altra is no exception. The company uses three main cushioning materials in its shoes: Ego, Ego Max, and Ego Pro. (Quantic, another cushioning material the brand developed, is being phased out.)
Ego debuted in 2016 on the Escalante and King MT. Compared to traditional EVA foam, it’s formulated to provide a springier feel and more durability. Ego Max debuted in fall 2021 on the Torin 5 and the Paradigm 6. It’s made from compression-molded EVA and tuned for a softer feel than Ego, but it isn’t as responsive. Ego Pro is Altra’s top-shelf foam, and it’s made from thermoplastic elastomers (TPE) formed in a supercritical fluid process. The result is Altra’s lightest and most responsive cushioning material, and it debuted on the Vanish Carbon racing shoe.
Altra has also developed GuideRail, a notable innovation that gives runners more support. GuideRail has been around for years (confusingly, Brooks has also launched tech with a similar name and function), and it’s a layer of midsole foam that projects up from the footbed along the medial side of the foot. It’s designed to keep your foot aligned in the shoe, and helps counter overpronation during your stride. You’ll find it in support shoes like the Provision 6.
How We Test and Evaluate
The models below represent the best Altra running shoes for both road and trail. To recommend them, we gather feedback from our Runner’s World staff and team of more than 300 wear testers, which includes runners of all ages and speeds living across the U.S. We also analyze data from our RW Shoe Lab and mechanical tests, where we’ve checked and re-checked the energy return of Ego foam and assessed the stability of Altra’s supportive GuideRail system. When available, we’ve linked to full reviews for more in-depth looks at the individual shoes’ performance.
Daily Road Trainer ESCALANTE 3
Weight: 9.3 oz (M), 7.7 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
Since its debut, the Escalante has been a sort of Goldilocks shoe. With its moderate cushioning, it’s soft enough for distance runs and daily training, yet light and bouncy enough for speedwork. Our testers have worn it for everything from marathons to track workouts. The latest version comes with a narrower, “sock-like” upper with added elastic for a closer, more comfortable fit around your foot. Underneath is the same Ego cushioning, which creates a ride that balances shock absorption and energy return. For a lighter, leaner pick, try the Escalante Racer.
Max Cushioning OLYMPUS 4
Weight: 11.6 oz (M), 9.6 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
Take one look at the burly sole on the Olympus—it has a towering 33mm stack height—and you can tell it’s built to have a plush ride. Although that might scream “clunky” to some runners, its compression-molded EVA midsole provides cushioning and responsiveness at all paces. The updated upper creates an improved fit, and Altra’s trademark spacious toe box accommodates foot swelling on longer efforts. Traction is excellent thanks to the Vibram Megagrip outsole, and the TrailClaw lugs work well on both hard-packed and loose surfaces.
Best for Long Runs TORIN 5
Weight: 9 oz (M), 7.3 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
The Torin 5 is the successor to the Torin 4.5 Plush, and as you’d expect, it’s a highly cushioned shoe designed for training and long distance runs. Altra dropped the Quantic cushioning in favor of Ego Max, which is lightweight and tuned for a pillowy ride. The mesh upper is designed for breathability, and it’s topped with a molded heel collar for a comfortable, secure fit. One caveat: Many reviewers on the Altra website complain that the tongue is overly stiff and causes irritation.
Best for Road Racing VANISH CARBON
Weight: 7.3 oz (M), 6.2 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
Many running shoe brands are designing new racing shoes with lightweight foams and carbon fiber; the Vanish Carbon is Altra’s take on the genre. The shoe features an all-new foam, Ego Pro, which is the brand’s lightest and most responsive cushioning material yet. It’s paired with a half-length carbon fiber plate for a snappy, propulsive feel, and the sole features a rocker shape to promote efficient toe-offs. It’s topped with a breathable engineered mesh, and it utilizes a slim FootShape, so it’ll likely feel a bit narrower than other Altra models.
Best for Cross Training SOLSTICE XT 2
Weight: 10 oz (M), 8.3 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
The Solstice is a versatile shoe that’s built to handle gym days and the occasional low-mileage training run. The latest version comes with a revamped caged upper that’s firmer than the outgoing model, and it’s designed to create a lockdown fit and keep your feet planted during lateral moves. It also features a toe cap for added durability and protection. The minimalist cushioning and flexible, zero-drop midsole gives you a good feel for the ground (ideal for weight lifting), and the full-coverage rubber outsole creates dependable grip for all kinds of exercises.
Best for Uptempos RIVERA 2
Weight: 8.8 oz (M), 6.9 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
A moderately cushioned trainer, the Rivera is a great pick for track days and tempo runs on the pavement. The second iteration comes with an all-new upper that’s designed around a slim FootShape for a snug, supportive fit at midfoot; the mesh material is also optimized for breathability. The Rivera’s low weight, responsive Ego cushioning, and flexible midsole help it deliver a smooth, energetic ride that’s ideal for training at faster paces (though it can handle longer runs, too).
Best for Trail Racing LONE PEAK 6
Weight: 10.6 oz (M), 8.7 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
The Lone Peak was Altra’s first trail shoe, and it continues to be a top contender—we named it one of the best trail shoes of 2022. Altra made notable changes on the upper, including ditching some overlays and adding midfoot lacing for a more flexible feel and an improved fit. The big highlight is the MaxTrac outsole, which delivers good grip on wet rocks and loose dirt. The midsole uses Ego foam for moderate cushioning, and a rock plate provides protection for your feet. Some testers felt it needed more protection, however. “After a long run on jagged, rocky terrain, my feet felt pretty beat up,” one tester said.
Best for Overpronators PROVISION 6
Weight: 10.1 oz (M), 8.3 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
The Provision 6, which we named one of the best support shoes of 2022, offers a less intrusive take on support. The main support feature is the GuideRail design, which gently corrects overpronation without interfering too much in your stride. On the sixth iteration of the shoe, Altra streamlined the GuideRail and revamped the upper with a two-pronged medial strap for an improved fit. In the midsole, tried-and-true Ego foam delivers softness and good energy return, which makes the Provision peppy enough for speedwork. “These Altras are light enough for the track,” one tester said. “When I ran fast, I felt like my whole foot was rolling through ground contact and toe-off very naturally.”
Best for Technical Trails SUPERIOR 5
Weight: 8.8 oz (M), 7.5 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
Don’t like a lot of shoe between your foot and the trail? The Superior might be just what you need. It’s about as close to barefoot trail running as you can get while still lacing something onto your feet. The Superior 5 features a thin layer of Quantic foam for lightweight, minimalist cushioning, and the midsole has grooves to help it flex with your foot. A removable rock plate allows you to add protection (or shed weight) as necessary, and a burrito-style tongue wraps your foot for a secure fit. It all rides on a grippy MaxTrac outsole, and the upper also includes gaiter attachments for taking on overgrown trails.
DAILY TRAIL TRAINER TIMP 4
Weight: 10.9 oz (M), 9.2 oz (W)
Drop: 0 mm
The Timp 4 is Altra’s workhorse trainer for trail runners. It provides a cushioned ride and plenty of grip, and the latest version comes with a few tweaks to make it even more dependable. In place of Quantic, it now comes with Ego Max cushioning, which creates a plush feel with improved durability, so it’ll last longer. The front of the sole is wrapped in a mesh web that helps the foam snap back into shape after impact, improving rebound and adding stability. Finally, the upper features a softer collar for a more comfortable fit.