Altra Escalate 3 vs Rivera 3 – Plush vs. Flexible

If you’re in the market for a zero-drop, wide toe box neutral road running shoe, you’ve likely considered both the Altra Rivera and the Altra Escalante. 

Both of these shoes fit the bill perfectly, but choosing between the two depends on the fine details you’re looking for. 

In short, the Rivera :

  • Has a higher stack height
  • Is stiffer
  • Less ground feel
  • Slight rocker

Whereas the Escalante :

  • One of the lowest stack height Altra road shoes
  • Has more flex for natural movement
  • Has more ground feel
  • Forces your feet to do the work

Does that help? Maybe that’s all you wanted to know. But if you want to dive deep into the difference, keep reading, and I’ll help you learn which shoe is best for you!

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Altra Escalante 3 Hero

Altra Escalante 3

  • Weight: 9.3 oz/ 263 g
  • Stack Height: 24 mm
  • Soft midsole
  • True to size
  • Wide Toebox, fitted upper
  • Perfect heel lock

Amazon.com

(free returns)

Altra Rivera 3 Hero

Altra Rivera 3

  • Weight: 9.8 oz/ 278 g
  • Stack Height: 28mm
  • Plush upper
  • True to size
  • Fitted midfoot, wide toe box
  • Stiff rocker ride

Amazon.com

(free returns)

Altra Escalante 3

The Altra Escalante is a classic in the Altra road lineup. 

It’s the original low-to-the-ground, flexible, roomy-toe box running shoe. 

However, over the years, the new iterations have stiffened it up and added a bit more bulk, but it’s still one of the better options on the market if you’re looking for a zero-drop shoe. 

Which Altra Shoe is for you?

Take a quick 4-question quiz to identify the perfect Altra running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!


In version 3.0, we now see an upper with more structure, a stiffer mesh material, and a narrower fit. For some, that’ll come as a huge disappointment. But there are benefits to be had. In older models, any type of lateral movement sent you rolling over the side of the shoe. Not a feeling you want when turning a corner of a goal race or in the gym. 

Altra Escalante 3 heel

There’s still a heavy amount of cushion and no plastic heel counter to provide added support. Some people have had issues with the heel on Altras in the past. They’re pretty wide and open like a skate shoes, but this is a little narrower. And the lack of a heel counter allows for a better wrap-around and lockdown, in my experience. 

For sure, they’re still an Altra. And, arguably, still a forgiving Escalante. Version 3 doesn’t feel like the original Escalante’s, but it’s one of the only “barefoot” shoes with cushion on the market. 

Altra Escalante 3 tongue

The Escalante is a durable shoe, and I expect at least 500 miles out of it. The upper is reinforced, the midsole is firm, and the outsole rubber shows no sign of wear. This is where Altra has upped its game in recent years, and all the models have benefited from this. 

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Escalante 3

(free returns)

Altra Rivera 3

The biggest difference with the Rivera 3 is the fit. 

Using the new Altra “slim” fit, the midfoot may feel a little tight for some.

And comparing with the Rivera 2, the shoe is now higher and stiffer, allowing it to slot nicely in the range between the Escalante and the Torin. 

The midfoot does taper in, and that may not be for everyone. I believe this is what Altra refers to when they say “slim” fit. From the toe box, the shoe tapers inwards towards the midfoot resulting in a “fitted” feel. I have a relatively average to wide mid-foot, and it can still work for me, and that’s because the upper is forgiving and doesn’t cause too much constriction. Interestingly, the midfoot area felt similar to the Lone Peak…. the widest “original” fit from Altra 🤔.

Altra Rivera 3 toe box

The inner materials are plush from the heel to the toe. Around the heel, there’s a slight heel collar helping your foot lock into place, and this is covered in a smooth, soft material that carries throughout the whole heel. From the ankle forward, the upper is very lightly weighted, smooth on the inside, and textured on the outside; even though it’s a little tight on my foot, the upper molds perfectly to the contours. 

The elephant in the room; is the shoe zero drop? I haven’t got any measuring instruments, so it’s hard to say for sure, but when I run my hand down the inside of the shoe, it feels like a slope! This isn’t the first time the Rivera model has a little drop though. RunRepeat reported that the Rivera 2 had around 3mm of drop. 3-4mm isn’t huge and will make little difference to the running feel, but considering the brand’s zero drop philosophy, something is a bit fishy. 

Altra Rivera 3 Heel

An Altra that feels like a Hoka. The combination of the midsole firmness and the toe spring creates a rolling rocker feeling many know from Hoka. It mean transitioning from a conventional shoe to the Rivera will be less taxing on your lower legs, and you’ll be less likely to injure yourself. But it’s going away from the original Altra design philosophies, which makes me worry about the future. 

A firmer foam often means a longer life span. Although the stiffer, firmer midsole is a letdown for the “feel” of a shoe, it is a positive for durability in high cushion shoes. It’ll take a lot longer for a firm foam to break down and expose imbalances in the shoe. 

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Rivera 3

(free returns)

How does the Escalante 3 compare to the Rivera 3?

While these two shoes have a similar approach with a ‘supposedly’ zero-drop and only a few mm difference in stack height, they feel very different to me! 

Differences

Cushion

The midsoles are similar, but the Rivera has a soft plush feeling in the top cushion layer. I know I said the Rivera is firm, and I stand by that statement, but a squishy insole and top layer of the cushion help soften that ride. The Escalante doesn’t quite have that. It’s just 24mm of semi-firm foam. I like that because it gives more ground feel, but that’s my personal preference. 

Altra Rivera 3 midsole

The midsole may be similar, but it’s stiffer because there’s more of it on the Rivera. If you like ground feel, stick to the Escalante. Generally, it feels like the Rivera rolls through rather than using your feet to push off. If you’re coming from Hoka or Nike, you’ll feel more at home in the Rivera, but for foot health, I’d push you toward the Escalante. 

Volume, Width, and sizing

Because the Rivera is a slim fit, it’s tighter than the Escalante on all fronts. Although I advise you not to pay too much attention to the Altra fit system, the slim fit Rivera is much more snug. For me, specifically, the midfoot has less width. And throughout Rivera, there is less depth. 

The Escalante has a wider toe box but still lacks some depth. There is still space for the big toe in the Rivera, which tapers down towards the little toe, and the Escalante has a similar profile with just a little more room. 

Altra Escalante toe

The heel cup sits deeper in the Escalante. The Rivera will fit you well if you have a shallow or narrow heel. But there’s not quite enough depth for me, so a tight lace lock is required. It worked, but it’s not perfect for me. Again, it all depends on your foot. 

Similarities

Durability 

The outsole rubber is the same on the two shoes, but the Rivera has a little less. I like the rubber they’re using on the new Altra’s; it’s durable and grippy on the roads. So I’m glad to say that both shoes use the same rubber. The biggest difference is that the Rivera has exposed foam under the arch and midfoot rather than having a full rubber outsole. This saves a little weight and won’t significantly affect the durability, so I feel both designs are acceptable.

Altra Escalante outsole

Because the midsoles are similar, they will break down at similar rates. You could give the edge to the Rivera because it has a little extra foam than the Escalante. But in the end, it’s minimal, and you’ll see a similar lifespan out of both shoes. 

Upper Materials

Although the uppers are made from different materials, they lock your foot in place well. Neither shoe suffers from any side-to-side motion. The uppers are made from relatively thick, durable mesh, and I don’t expect them to break down prematurely. 

The toe cap on the Rivera is more rigid, but the structure of the toe boxes is similar. The structure on both toe caps allows height directly from the front of the shoe without any ramp-up. That being said, neither shoe has a considerable amount of height. 

Amazon.com

Rivera 3

(free returns)

Amazon.com

Escalante 3

(free returns)

Conclusion

For me, the choice is simple. 

If you want to have maximum ground feel and a wider shoe, choose the Escalante. 

If you have a narrower or shallow foot, choose the Rivera. 

And lastly, if you’re transitioning from a brand like Hoka or Nike, choose the Rivera.

For me, the Escalante will always be in my rotation because it allows for better foot mobility and fit’s wider. But it’s all down to personal preference. 

For the full Escalante 3 and Rivera 3 reviews follow the links below!

Altra Escalante 3 Full Review

Altra Rivera 3 Full Review

Nick
Nick

Nick is a UESCA-certified ultramarathon coach and avid barefoot runner, having over 5 years of experience in barefoot training and has competed in multiple ultra marathons wearing barefoot shoes. Starting his journey in the running industry over 10 years ago in New Zealand, Nick evolved from a running shoe salesperson to a passionate advocate for the transformative power of barefoot running. He believes in its potential to enhance running experiences for all and combines his unique insights from both personal achievements and professional coaching to guide and inspire the running community."

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2 Comments

  1. Hi and thank for great reviews!
    Which model do you believe is best looking for office use, more sleek and discrete,Escalante 3, Rivera 3, or Topo ST4?

    • Thanks!
      I’d suggest the Escalante 3 in black. The one you see in the pictures here.
      Rivera 3 is a little more “sporty” looking, and Topo ST4 has more branding and logos on the shoe.

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