Altra Rivera 3 Review – A conventional shoe from Altra?

We’re looking at big changes for this year’s Altra Rivera 3. No longer is the shoe stepping on the toes of the Escalante. With a bump in stack height and a drastically different ride, the Altra Rivera 3 is easily the best transition shoe for those coming from other conventional shoe brands. 

If you like a stiff ride, fitted upper (don’t worry, there’s toe space), and a cushy feeling underfoot, keep reading because the Altra Rivera 3 might fit the bill. 

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

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Rivera 3

(free returns)

In this review, I’ll highlight the fit and feel of the shoe, as well as the durability, to drill down to the big question. Is the Rivera the right shoe for you, and if not, what shoe would be better?

The Rivera is listed as Altra “slim” fit, but I will politely ignore the classification because I don’t feel a single word does the shoe justice.

Fit

The toe box is nice and squared, especially around the big toe. This part of the design is likely my favorite of the whole shoe. If you’re a barefoot runner, you’ll know that your big toe should not be curved inwards; it should project straight out of the foot, sitting on a straight line from the heel. This allows for greater stability and more efficient arch usage. A shoe like the Rivera is excellent as it provides room for the big toe, which is vital to maintaining optimal foot shape.

Altra Rivera 3 toe box

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 🤔.

The heel is shallow and requires a good lace lock to achieve a good lockdown. I would say the heel is semi-rigid, and it’s also not very deep. When I first laced the Rivera’s, I immediately felt my heel slipping out of the shoe. For some, with skinny heels, this could be a good thing because you’ll fit perfectly into the cushioned heel collar. If that’s not you, don’t worry; learn how to do a lace lock, and you’ll be fine. 

What’s with the super duper slippy laces!? The laces are almost silky smooth. Why would you make laces that need to grip in a silky material? When I first slipped the Riveras on, I took a short run down to the mailbox. When I returned, both laces were undone, and the shoes were flopping off my heels. Next time, I made sure to tie a tight double knot; nothing moved, but the lace decision still dumbfounded me. Obviously, you can swap out the laces if you prefer.

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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 around. 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 silky tongue is unique, soft, and comfortable. Back to the silky materials, but this time they work. Much of the tongue is made from a super flexible silky material and is one of Altra’s better designs. There is no gusset on the tongue, but it did not move from its original position during the run.

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Rivera 3

(free returns)

Feel

If you’re coming from a previous version of the Rivera, you’re in for a surprise. This shoe is stiff, and the inner flex technology does almost nothing. 

If you’re new to Altra’s and want an easy transition from conventional shoes, this could work for you. 

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

Is this the first Altra with toe spring? What’s toe spring? It’s the ramping up of the shoe at the end, making your toes sit higher than the foot. That doesn’t sound zero-drop, does it? But with a stiff midsole like this, you inevitably require some toe spring. Imagine trying to run with a plank of wood on your foot. It’d be super unnatural because you’d have no toe-off; that’s what the toe-spring is trying to solve. 

An Altra that feels like a Hoka. Back to that stiff sole again….  And this time, the combination of the midsole firmness and the toe spring creates a rolling rocker feeling that many know from Hoka. It’ll 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. 

It’s a long-range, slow-going shoe. Coming in at 9.8 oz (278g), the Rivera is a little heavy for a road shoe and a whole 1oz heavier than the previous version. The weight did not hinder me on my easy runs, but I was yearning for a lightweight shoe when I picked up the pace. 

Altra Rivera 3 hero upper + outsole

The insole and top layer of the midsole are cushy. If you like that plush feel, you got it here. The shoe has a small spongey feel just before that firm midsole. It’s not an unstable feel, and you don’t sink into the shoe, it adds a real feeling of luxury. 

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Rivera 3

(free returns)

Durability

I guess that the Rivera 3 is on to a winner when it comes to durability. 

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. 

Altra Rivera 3 outsole

The rubber used on the sole works very well on the Escalante 3 so we can assume it will on Rivera 3. From the looks and the feel of the rubber on the Rivera, I believe it’s the same rubber as seen on the Escalante 3. And that rubber is proving to go the distance. The only drawback is that there is exposed EVA underfoot. So depending on your gait, you may find yourself chewing up areas without rubber. In particular, the inside heel area of the outsole. If you land your heel first and you pronate early in your gait, you’ll be hitting a lot of this EVA, which may cause premature breakdown. (pppstttt. Also, if that’s you, I’d highly suggest practicing a little barefoot running to improve your running gait)

The upper is lightweight and could suffer a tear if caught on branches. I wouldn’t advise taking these shoes to the trail, the upper seems pretty fragile, and a little scuff on a rock or tree could end in tears. This is a road shoe, and it’s unlikely you’d be scuffing the upper. So this is only a minor risk, as with most road shoes. 

Altra Escalante tongue

The inner around the heel collar will wear down eventually. You’ll know if you’re an inner shoe destroyer. Some people just tend to move around in shoes much more than others and end up chewing the inside of shoes before anything else breaks down. The Rivera could pose some of those problems. So I’d suggest playing with the lacing to make sure you have a good lockdown (that doesn’t have to mean tight, either) before getting your mileage in. 

Conclusion

As a barefoot runner, I do have a small confession to make. 

I found myself wanting to pick up the Rivera 3 before each run. 

It’s a fun shoe, an easy shoe, a simple shoe. 

And for all its drawbacks in moving away from a functional, flexible shoe to a stiff, easy day shoe, there’s still something cool and exciting about it.

It could be because we finally have the rockered design of a shoe with a big enough toe box. It could be the well-refined upper offering unique comfort. Either way, it’s interesting to try. 

Amazon.com

Rivera 3

(free returns)

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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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