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Hands-on Gear Review
Altra Superior 3.0 Review
Cons: Fit is still awkward, internal rub and pinch points, loose heel
Bottom line: We love zero drop shoes, but this one needs some serious refinement.
The Altra Superior 3.0 is an updated version of an already popular shoe that remains lightweight and flexible, providing great trail feel on the zero-drop platform that is a hallmark of all Altra shoes. For this new edition, Altra has directly addressed issues, and complaints with the previous version, namely they have changed the sizing a bit and also made the upper more durable and less prone to catastrophic blowouts. However, with these changes, the shoe has gained some weight and still suffers from an assortment of other comfort and fit related issues. While the very wide forefoot and the zero drop platform are unique features that trail runners apparently crave, we feel that compared to the rest of the competition, these shoes were in the bottom third of overall performance.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Men's Trail Running Shoes of 2017
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
All of Altra's shoes are made on a zero-drop platform, meaning that they have the same height in the heel as toebox. This is a feature that tends to take a little while for people's Achilles tendons and calves to adjust to, but once said adjustment is complete, seems to be almost universally loved by all. Speaking for ourselves, we love zero drop and would prefer to run and walk in them exclusively if shoe makers the world over gave us that option. However, as it stands right now, Altra is one of the only companies willing to offer this innovative design, and we roundly applaud them for doing so!
We must point out that despite our love for some elements of the Superior 3.0, we found it to be the least comfortable shoe in this review. Read on below for more details. It is the lightest and most nimble of the trail running lineup from Altra, while also giving one the option of adding in a removable StoneGuard rock plate for runners who want more protection or for individual outings and trails. While we think this idea is cool, we found that it altered the fit of the shoe quite a bit, and enjoyed running without it far more. Having talked to everyone we see wearing these shoes for the past three years, they have all said they rarely run with the StoneGuard in place. Therefore, our ratings and specs regarding this shoe, from weight to foot protection and sensitivity, are representative of the Superior 3.0 without this insert in place.
When it comes to foot protection, this shoe ranked near the bottom of our comparative testing, outperforming only the La Sportiva Helios 2.0. Of course, we should point out that it is very sensitive, which we will talk about later, but purchasers of this shoe should not expect to be able to tramp over sharp rocks all day long comfortably. It has an even 21mm of EVA foam throughout the midsole, which gives one more cushioning and impact absorption than it does underfoot protection. This is paired with one of the lightest weight uppers of any shoe in this review. While Altra has added rubberized overlays in places where catastrophic blowout was prevalent in previous versions, these additions do more to protect the shoe material than they do your foot from taking a blow on the front or sides. While we do think it is cool to be able to add in a removable rock plate insert, it changes the fit of the shoe enough that we would rather recommend purchasing the more protective Altra Lone Peak 3.5 if you feel like more underfoot protection is needed.
The Superior 3.0 once again features horizontal rows of moderately deep and aggressive lugs that despite not looking nearly as fearsome as the outsole of say, the Saucony Peregrine 7, proved to be very grippy and sticky. Especially when it came to our comparative tests on both dry and wet rock, we found that these shoes gripped just as well as the stickiest shoes in the review, the Inov-8 Roclite 290. With slightly shallower lugs than most, however, we found them to be not quite as good on grass and steep dirt, but that didn't keep them from performing far better than the completely different traction compound found on the Lone Peak 3.5's. 8 out of 10 points.
With zero heel-toe drop, these shoes have a completely flat platform from front to back. Understandably, this feature combined with a relatively low 21mm stack height meant that this shoe ranked with the best for stability. We thought it was equally as good as our best overall trail running shoe, the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4, and also equally as good as the lower to the ground Helios 2.0. As the best of the bunch, we gave it 9 out of 10 points for stability.
Unfortunately, we thought this was the least comfortable shoe in this review. Because we understand that comfort is a very subjective metric that can't be accurately quantified person to person, we only penalized it by awarding a score of 5 out of 10. Despite making the shoe longer to compensate for what used to be an entirely inaccurate sizing chart, we still think this shoe runs on the shorter side. In fact, our toes rested very close to the front in a size 11, the same size shoe that usually leaves us a healthy gap, which we like for trail running. It is also one of the widest fitting shoes in this review, which many people will love, allowing the foot to splay out upon landing and push off fully. However, we thought that the heel was also very wide, and so we experienced a fair amount of slippage there, especially while going uphill.
We also commiserate with the many customer reviews that we have read online about plasticky material lining the inside of the creating upper pinch and rub spots, not to mention discomfort. We experienced this as well, especially in the areas around the lace eyelets as well as the front of the tongue, where the shoe naturally creases, and there is a lot of extra material from the tongue attachment. All in all, we feel the upper of this shoe could still use a lot of refinement, or even a complete redesign altogether. It is nowhere close to as supportive or comfortable as the Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4, the New Balance Vazee Summit v2, or any other shoe in this review in our opinion.
Our pair of size men's 11 shoes weighed 20.9 ounces, half an ounce or so heavier than the previous version. This was still good enough for the third lightest shoe in this review. We thought that our experience running in this shoe certainly backs up the stats, as it feels light and nimble on the feet. However, we found it interesting that it is only barely lighter than either the Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 4 or the Saucony Peregrine 7, both of which had far more underfoot protection. If you are to add in the StoneGuard inserts to both shoes, then the weight jumps to 23.3 ounces per pair, making it heavier than the Lone Peak 3.5, a shoe that would still offer greater protection.
There is no doubt that this was the second most sensitive shoe in the review; only the very light Helios 2.0 was more sensitive. Undoubtedly, this will be one of the attributes that will make it most attractive to some runners. With 21mm of underfoot cushioning, it is not as low riding as the New Balance Vazee Summit v2, but the fact that its midsole is made entirely of compressible EVA foam means that it retains excellent trail feel. We gave it 9 out of 10 points for sensitivity.
This shoe will appeal most to people who want zero-drop, no matter what the price in comfort and performance, and who prefer a lightweight, low profile shoe. For those who want a zero drop platform but also more cushioning and foot protection, we encourage you to check out the rest of Altra's trail running selection. Due to its sensitivity, this shoe will thrive best on the trail, but also has the quality traction to handle rocky runs on talus or slick rock.
This shoe retails for $110, making it one of the more affordable shoes in this review. We appreciate that for less shoe we can pay less money. On the other hand, since we feel like it's not a very high performer, we would probably choose to spend our money elsewhere.
The Altra Superior 3.0 is the lightest and lowest profile zero-drop trail running shoe that Altra makes. With these attributes, it is naturally very stable and sensitive on the trail. This shoe has addressed many of the flaws of previous versions, including poor sizing and upper durability, but is also, in our opinion, the least comfortable shoe that we tested this year.
— Andy Wellman
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