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Hands-on Gear Review
ALTRA Superior 3.0 Review
Cons: Sizing and fit still a little off, adding rock plate insert affects fit
Bottom line: A lightweight zero-drop shoe for the speedsters and minimalist runners out there.
The Altra Superior 3.0 has been updated to fix a couple of the most glaring problems from the previous version, and otherwise remains basically the same shoe as last year's 2.0. We love this shoe as the only zero drop (or 0mm heel-toe drop) shoe in the review. It truly does feel different to run without added cushioning underneath the heel, and we recommend that runners of all abilities and experiences give this a try sometime. These shoes are the more minimalist and lightweight offering from Altra, with the more traditional Altra Lone Peak 2.0 - Women's being featured in our women's review. For those interested in low-profile, very light, or zero drop, this is the shoe that we recommend.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Superior 3.0 is essentially the same shoe that it was last year with a couple of notable improvements. The first thing that Altra did was reinforce the sidewalls of the upper with more durable ripstop fabric. Durability of this sidewall was a problem that we pointed out in last year's review, were we had seen many instances of complete blowout. In our testing this issue seemed to be fixed nicely. Altra also made the shoe about ½ size bigger this year, as last year's model certainly ran small. While it does fit noticeably better, we still feel like it is slightly short for the size. This didn't bother us at all until we put in the removable Stoneguard inserts.
The best feature of this shoe is predictably its zero drop, which provides unparalleled stability, amazing trail feel, and supports a natural running gait. It is recommended for runners who typically run in a high heel-toe drop shoe to transition slowly to zero drop shoes, either by running in them on a few short runs per week at first or by slowly working downward in terms of drop in successive pairs of shoes. Zero drop shoes, while anatomically more natural, often create more stress on the Achilles tendon and calves of runners who are not adjusted to them, and in some cases can lead to injury if a runner doesn't take the time to adapt properly.
The Superior 3.0 comes with the unique option of a removable rock plate insert that they call the Stoneguard. This is an insertable piece of plastic that one slides in underneath the insole. While it does add protection to the shoe, the insert is merely a thin piece of plastic, not really a dedicated rock plate like other shoes feature. We also felt like with the Stoneguard insert added in, the fit of the shoe changes, and it becomes less roomy, especially in the toe box. We greatly preferred these shoes without the Stoneguard, and others that we talked to who run in them all claimed to normally run without it, like we did. For this reason, we chose to rate the shoe, in all categories, as if the Stoneguard was not present in the shoe.
Without the Stoneguard, we thought this shoe was a bit light on the foot protection compared to the rest of the shoes reviewed, and so gave it 6 out of 10 points. While it is nicely cushioned, it is certainly possible to take a sharp rock to the sole that would be felt roughly by the foot. The upper is thin and does not have any protective overlays, and the toe bumper is flimsier than most. Protection was this shoe's least impressive aspect, but it still scored slightly higher than the La Sportiva Helios 2.0.
Compared to the competition, we felt that the traction on this shoe warranted a score of 7 out of 10, roughly the same as the New Balance Leadville V3 or the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2. The Trailclaw outsole has a good selection of directional lugs, but much fewer than what is quickly becoming the norm. There are a handful of cutouts in the outsole that allows for greater flexibility and sensitivity, and while not the stickiest, we would call it sticky enough for scrambling and rocky terrain.
Stability is the best quality of this shoe, as you would expect from a shoe with zero drop and a very low stack height to go along with it. Not only that, but the shoe is designed with a very wide forefoot so that the toes and metatarsals can splay out to their full width upon landing and push off, allowing for the most natural, and stable, running platform of any shoe that we tested. In fact, no other shoe felt as stable as this one, and so we awarded it the full 10 points.
This was a very comfortable shoe that never-the-less had a couple very minor things that we could complain about, and forced us to give it only 8 points instead of 9 like many others. Besides running slightly short, the fit was a bit too full, and even a little crammed if we wore the Stoneguard rockshield, which we therefore opted not to do. Our other complaint was that the outsole and midsole seem to be rockered at the front of the shoe, which has the effect of forcing our toes upward into the upper when wearing it. It is the only shoe where the tops of our toes are often in contact with the upper. Overall, a comfortable shoe, much like the ASICS GEL-FujiTrabuco 4 Neutral or The North Face Ultra Endurance, but not the most comfortable one we tested.
Without the rock plate insert, these shoes weighed a very low 20.3 ounces for a pair of size 11's. This was not as light as the La Sportiva Helios 2.0, but good enough for second best, roughly the same as the HOKA ONE ONE Challenger ATR 2 and the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2. These shoes are very light, and that is one of the best things about them. Their light weight helps solidify the feel of running the natural way. For reference, with the Stoneguard inserted into the shoe they weigh 22.6 ounces, still very light.
Without a ton of foot protection to dissociate oneself from the feel of the trail, these shoes are among the most sensitive we tested. They give great trail feel and allow for a light and nimble stride, while at the same time still providing enough cushioning so that they are not a liability. Only the Mizuno Wave Hayate 2 and the La Sportiva Helios 2.0 were more sensitive than these shoes.
The Superior 2.0 will excel in short trail running applications. Due to the lack of foot protection we can't recommend it for ultra type outings, although there will certainly be people who will love it for this length anyway. This is a shoe that will help you to run fast, but probably not the best choice for bombing long rocky descents.
The Superior 2.0 still costs $110. A couple of years ago that would have been average in price, but it seems that it was one of the few shoes to not increase its price this year, and is now the lowest price shoe in the review. Since we think these are a unique and fantastic shoe, and the durability concerns seem to have been addressed, we think these shoes present a good value.
The Superior 2.0 by Altra is the only pair of shoes in this year's review that is zero drop. They present a remarkably different feel while running than any of the other shoes we tested. They are more sensitive than they are protective, meaning they will appeal to those with a low-profile or minimalist ethos or background. While not perfect, and not our absolute favorite shoe, we enjoy taking these out for a spin every so often.
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— Andy Wellman
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