Altra is a brand well-known among many Ultrarunners –and their shoes are used by many elite runners –Jeff Browning, anyone?
They’ve become a go-to running shoe in my rotation simply because of the ultimate comfort over long distances.
Why’s that important?
Because the smallest little blister can morph into a huge problem that stops your 100-mile race, and that’s really not something you can run through. Trust me.
So let’s unpack why Altras are coveted by road and trail Ultrarunners with a detailed analysis that looks at:
- Why Altras work so well for long-distance efforts
- My top 3 Altra models for ultramarathon distances
- Case studies and testimonials from real-life runners who have literally gone the [ultra] distance
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!
It’s common knowledge that the Altra brand differs from other high-profile running shoe brands, mainly for two key reasons: their FootShape™ Fit & Toe Box and their cushioning, midsole, and grip design combo. These two features make Altra a force to be reckoned with in the ultra-running scene.
FootShape™ Fit design makes Altras a go-to shoe option for ultra runners looking for comfort over long distances. When you’re spending 10’s of hours in a pair of shoes, it’s essential that there are no hot spots or tight points.
With conventional shoes, such as Nike, Hoka etc., you’ll find the shape narrows towards a point, squishing your toes together and causing rubbing. Rubbing turns into blisters, and blisters can end your race (not to mention the long-term effects)! But seriously, blisters are no joke when you’re running for 10+ hours. Why chance it?
Altra’s wider toe box allows for the toes to play naturally. Toe splay is key to barefoot running, and as I mentioned above –it also ensures there’s no rubbing during your ultra. When your toes have room to splay and aren’t squashed together in a narrow toe box, you drastically reduce the possibility of hot spots and blisters during your ultra race.
It’s not all about the toe box either; Altra’s traditional design is effective. The traditional design I’m talking about is most obviously found in the Lone Peak, which has a “relaxed feel,” –meaning no area is constrictive or tight, reducing the possibility of rubbing. Do you notice a theme here?
Altra offers a great range of cushioning and midsole designs to suit any distance and any runner. From highly cushioned Olympus to nimble and flexible Superiors, there are options out there for almost any ultra runner who wants to go the distance in comfort and style with zero blisters and all 10 toenails still intact. Is that so hard to ask for?
Now, let’s dive into the top shoe models for your next ultra.
Altra Lone Peak 8: A best-selling trail shoe known for its versatility
Altra Lone Peak is an obvious choice for those long runs where comfort is key. It offers enough protection underfoot while still being comfortable for ultras and even multi-day races.
What makes this shoe so comfortable for long distances is the “relaxed” fit. (You can read more about this in the full review) They even have a wide option if you’re a runner requiring a little extra room –especially in the midfoot.
The new, grippy MaxTrac outsole and deep, aggressive, multi-directional chevron design make this shoe a great option for various terrains. As the OG Altra shoe, it shouldn’t be a surprise that this model works well whether you’re on buffed-out trails or rougher terrains.
On dryer and snowy conditions, the traction was immense. I had 100% confidence in every foot placement, and I found myself skipping across dry rocks and not worrying about slipping one bit. And because of that tacky outsole and lug design, it’s a great shoe for muddy conditions or even wet and technical trails –making this a great go-to shoe for ultrarunners.
Ultra runners find the extra cushion softer on the feet for those longer distances. That’s likely because the 25mm stack height will soften the blow of any pointy rocks you happen to stand on –and when you’re running 30, 50, or 100-mile race, that’s a good thing. Even though it’s cushioned, the Lone Peaks are still pretty flexible and unstructured shoes (which is a point in my books).
The 25mm stack height is a double-edged sword in ultras. Higher stack height increases the tendency to roll ankles. Because your foot is higher off the ground, there’s a higher point to roll from. When you step on uneven rocky surfaces, you’re more likely to roll an ankle in the Lone Peak. So runner, beware.
The Lone Peaks boast more foam and a stiffer base, so your foot rolls through your stride just that little bit more, taking some of the stress off your feet and lower legs. But don’t be fooled; that stress has to go somewhere, often to the knees and hips. It all depends on your body and foot strength.
For faster-paced runs, I’ve found the heel to be too sloppy. Because of this, I probably wouldn’t take them on super technical, fast trail races like you see in the European Alps or Pyrenees. And for this reason, if you’re looking to add speed to your ultra trail race, I wouldn’t recommend reaching for these first.
Amazon.com – (free returns)
Altra Timp 5: Great long-distance option with great Vibram grip
The recent upgrades to the Timp 5 have solidly made this shoe a perfect “long-distance” option. I would even consider suggesting this over the Olympus for +100-mile races. They fixed the horrible thin tongue, improved the outsole, and made it even lighter to make it a true trail killer.
The addition of a Vibram outsole provides excellent grip in wet and dry conditions! And the lugs allow you to plow through moderately muddy conditions. I wouldn’t suggest these for the fells of the UK, but they’ll be perfect for those post-winter conditions in the Rockies.
The stiffer midsole and mildly rockered toe-off reduces foot fatigue. If you are planning for a long 50km walk and you know that your feet cannot withstand the strain in flexible shoes, using stiffer shoes can be helpful. Although normally, I advise against stiffer shoes because they can limit your foot’s natural movement which is beneficial in the long term. But if your goal race is next week, the stiffness can help you complete the distance and save your feet for another day.
The upper is more “fitted” than a Lone Peak, so consider ½ sizing up for your long-distance efforts. Altra has a bunch of different fit systems, and the Timp falls into their standard range. This means it’s better for those average to narrower foot shapes, but if you’re a little wider, don’t dismiss it! Try a ½ size up, and give it a bit of time to get used to the new feel. Just ensure you have enough room in and around the toe box.
AltraRunning.com – (30-day free returns)
Stack height: 29mm
Weight: 9.8 oz / 277 g
The new long-distance killer with great grip and a lightweight design.
Altra Superior 6: Super fast option for shorter, easy terrain races
Superiors are the king of Altra’s minimal trail shoes. At only 21mm (the lowest of all the Altra models), this shoe’s responsive ride will have you dancing like a ballerina through the rough and rocky terrain of your next ultra.
Because of the low stack, the Superiors allow your feet to do the real work! The shoe is flexible enough to feel your foot engage on toe-off and minimal enough that your calves will get a good workout throughout your run. If you thrive in responsive shoes, consider the Superiors. Likewise, if you’re new to zero drop shoes, you might want to start with another, more cushier model like the Timp 5.
If you like maximum ground feedback and good flexibility in every direction, you’ll enjoy the Superior 6. They also boast a flat and comfortable shell for your foot, with just enough cushioning to get you through those ultra-distance races.
The MaxTrac outsole grip and the Ego midsole make this a great ride for long runs. In dry conditions, these shoes just stuck to the rocks, making them great for mountainous races with technical trails. Although I would say, they’re not made for the sloppy mud conditions you can find on the American West Coast or British fells because the lugs are not quite deep enough.
The zero-drop platform and wide toebox make it a favorite for shorter ultra-trail races. The newest Superior model got a toe box upgrade, so kicking rocks on your way down technical rocky trails won’t be as much of an issue. And we already mentioned that the wide toe box reduces rubbing.
Do I recommend these for 100+ mile efforts? Probably not. 30-50 miles? Sure thing. This shoe works better for shorter ultra distances, buffed-out trails, or runs where maximum ground feedback is what you’re looking for. Or if you’re seeking a speedy racing shoe that still provides enough ground feel to navigate rocky descents easily, this lightweight option should be at the top of your list.
Personally, I’ve run up to 50km races in the Superior. For someone who’s been training barefoot for a while but still wants that added protection from trail rocks, etc., the Superior is a great “in-between” model.
AltraRunning.com – (30-day free returns)
Like I always say on here, no one shoe works for every foot. Everyone has different needs, strengths, goals, and comfort levels when it comes to the shoes they choose for their (ultra) runs. And while my opinion is based on personal running experience and industry knowledge, the shoes that fit and work for my feet and running style won’t be the best option for the next person or the next.
So, to get more well-rounded input, I’ve crowd-sourced some real-life testimonials from ultrarunners who have used or currently use different Altra models in their ultramarathon.
“Superiors are my go-to shoe for all runs up to 55km distances. They’ve gotten me through ultras in the dry Colorado Rockies and the steep, rocky, and super technical French and Swiss Alps. I’ve even used them for races in the wet English Lake District and long-distance thru-hikes in the Peruvian Andes. I’ve never gotten blisters or hot spots, and my feet are completely secure in this, thanks to the double lock lacing and burrito tongue feature. I definitely had to work my way up to this model in terms of calf and foot strength, but these shoes can absolutely go the distance if you’re willing to put in the work. Just watch out when putting them too close to heaters to dry them out –I’ve lost a good number of Superiors to this. :)“– Ashley, Superior
“I have tested my Altra Olympus 4 on deep 20cm mud and water puddles the same depth during the Kullamannen 2023 100miles. Going for ultra, what you want first as an amateur is comfort (and then performance), and the Olympus is that. On that terrain, I regretted not having the gaiters to avoid mud seeping through the lacing. But besides that, I was really happy how the water drains out of the shoe (disclaimer on those races gore Tex shoes is probably a bad idea as the water stays in). Nonetheless the grip remained great. Finished it in 24:19:00”– Anonymous, Olympus
Ultrarunners have specific criteria to look for when it comes to race-day (and training) shoes: zero rubbing, comfort, grip, and durability. Depending on your race mileage, how aggressive you want to be in speed, and what terrain you’re running in, there is a certain Altra shoe that fits the mold you’re looking for.
The other big consideration is your conditioning. While I promote barefoot running and a “foot strength” first approach, many considering their first ultra marathon will have never attempted such a distance. A higher cushioned, stable option could carry you (or should I say, help you) across the finish line and your ultimate goal!
There’s a simple formula for choosing between the three shoes in order of importance.