The Altra Running brand has a special place in my running shoe rotation.
While I don’t necessarily advocate for high stack height shoes for runners (this is a barefoot shoe site!), I appreciate they have a space in the trail and road scene.
But which Altra shoes would I recommend for the different terrains? Because that’s why we’re really here, right?
Luckily, Altra offers a very expansive trail running shoe lineup that works for various terrains and outdoor environments. No matter what kind of trail you run, there is probably an Altra shoe that can work for you.
So let’s dive straight in with a quick overview of Altra and what they stand for (and why they even get a spotlight on my barefoot focused website), the importance of selecting the right shoe for different terrains and …drumroll… which Altra shoes to choose for the terrain you predominately run in!
Why Altra Is A Breed/Brand of Its Own
Of all the key players in the running shoe market, Altra is definitely a leader when it comes to designing shoes that fit our natural foot shape. Huzzah! More specifically, they have differentiated themselves in the running shoe market because of two things: FootShape™ Fit & Toe Box and their Zero-Drop philosophy.
FootShape™ Fit & Toe Box
Altra’s FootShape™ Fit is designed to give your feet more space to sit naturally –aka not squashed into a literal shoe box. Plus, they make all their shoes with plenty of room in the toe box for that toe splay.
Altra has even taken it a step further by addressing a range of unique fit variations, including the anatomical differences in men’s and women’s feet and differences in width from heel to toe box.
Right now, Altra offers 3 fit options (note: most shoe models don’t offer all 3 options):
- Original – the roomiest option
- Standard – the most common footshape
- Slim – their slimmest fitting model
But personally, I’d take these 3 options with a pinch of salt. I’ve run in both the Lone Peak, an Original fit, and the Rivera, a Slim fit.
In case you need a refresher, zero-drop refers to the lack of height differential between the shoe’s heel and toe area. Meaning your heel and forefoot sit at the same height from the ground
All Altra models (spoiler: until recently!) are built on the zero-drop philosophy, but Altra designs the shoes in ways that make them feel drastically different from each other.
And we’re about to talk about why that’s important when choosing shoes for specific terrains.
Like most things, choosing the right tool for the job is key to success –or rather, peak performance and achieving your running goals.
If you’re looking for comfort and a fun ride, you might choose a different shoe than if you were aiming for a PR. And knowing what terrains you’re running in will help you choose the right shoe/tool for the job.
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!
Some Altra models work better for short fast efforts; some are more suited to technical trails. The trick is learning which shoes work best for the terrain you’re running in –while also considering your running preference, leg (and foot) strength, and overall shoe fit and comfort level.
But what about shoes that work for long runs? Because you can run as long as you want in any shoe or no shoe. It all depends on how well training your feet are.
Different terrains pose unique challenges, so understanding what you’re running into (get it?) will give you a leg up in your next trail run or hike.
- Are you running technical trails? You might need shoes with reinforced toe protection and excellent grip to tackle those roots, rocks, and other obstacles.
- Are you running in wet conditions? You might need shoes with good drainage, water resistance, and aggressive lugs for mud.
- Are you running in deserts? You might need breathable shoes with durable outsoles.
- Are you running rocky trails? You might need shoes with a lockdown, a solid outsole, and an excellent grip to navigate rocky trails with minimal slippage.
The shoes you choose should reflect the trails you run.
Whether you run on rocky trails, slippery rocks, gravel roads, 4×4 tracks, or uneven grounds, the right shoes provide the necessary support, grip, and protection you need to move confidently without risking discomfort and causing injury.
So now that we’ve covered what Altra is all about and why you need to select the right shoes for certain terrains let’s get into the actual running shoes to pick within the Altra lineup!
Altra Lone Peak
Altra Lone Peak is the best all-rounder for trail running. It offers enough protection underfoot while still being comfortable or long distances. 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.
Because the Lone Peak is a “relaxed” fit (you can read more about this in my review), I wouldn’t take it on technical trails. For faster-paced runs, I’ve found the heel to be too sloppy. If you’re looking to add speed to your trail race or training run, I wouldn’t reach for these first.
But that relaxed fit is what makes it so comfortable! That’s why this is a perfect long-distance trail shoe. The Lone Peak is also one of the better options for muddy conditions due to its tacky outsole and deep, multi-directional chevron design. All that makes this shoe a perfect option for the US West Coast, which could be wet and technical.
The Superior model is as close to barefoot as you’ll get with Altra, with just enough cushion to keep you moving fast through rough terrain. At only 21mm (the lowest of all the Altra models), this shoe’s responsive ride will have you dancing through rough and rocky terrain like a ballerina.
Saying that, when it comes to trail running, this shoe works better for short distances, buffed out trails, or runs where maximum ground feedback is what you’re looking for.
That decent ground feel might be a drawback to running in this shoe (for some). If you’re new to barefoot-style running, you might want to start with another, more cushier model because Superiors will make your calves work for each mile, regardless of terrain.
I personally love these shoes for the minimal feel, with just enough protection to avoid any bruised heels from sharp rocks. I often reach for these shoes while in the Colorado Rockies, where the trails are well maintained, and –according to the wife– they also worked for trails in the French Alps.
Altra Timp 5
The recent upgrades to the Timp 5 have solidly made this shoe a perfect “long-distance” option. With a higher stack height than the Superior and Lone Peak, it works great when protection is key.
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. Normally, I’m against stiffer shoes, but if you plan a big 50km day and know your feet will not take the strain in flexible shoes, using a stiffer shoe can allow you to complete the distance, saving your feet for another day.
Speaking of house-to-trail, sometimes you need a good shoe for this. Because you really don’t want to waste that perfect lugged outsole on the road!
Altra Outroad 2
The Altra Outroad 2 is made specifically for that house-to-trail scenario. The outsole has a larger surface area without the pronounced lugs, meaning it won’t wear as quickly if you run on the road. But at the same time, the rubber still has texture and cuts out, so any loose dirt or mud doesn’t affect the ride.
There are overlays all the way around the soft to avoid any scuffs from rocks, and the only exposed sections are unlikely to get snagged. But that’s not to say this is an aggressive shoe. I wouldn’t choose it for technical rocky trails. It’s more like a well-protected road shoe for a runner that might hit the trails 1-2 times a week.
If you’re looking for a shoe that can deal with the commute to the trails and perform well on gravel and dry tracks, the Outroads could work well for you!
Altra Escalante 3
Yes, this is a road shoe, but it can do the job when the trails are dry, smooth, and buffed out. The full rubber outsole gives enough protection to the shoe, and the 24mm stack height ensures protection underfoot from smaller rocks or gravel. I had a friend that used the same pair of Escalantes for an entire summer season of trail running!
Not to mention, Escalante 3 packs an upper with a stiffer mesh material and a narrower fit in general, meaning your foot is locked more securely in place, reducing the possibility of lateral movement that would send you rolling over the side of the shoe (if you did happen to run over a few bigger rocks). Again, perfect for that buffed out trail.
Just make sure the terrain isn’t too extreme, and avoid brush and rocks that could scrape against the upper.
Olympus could be an excellent option for super long-distance runs and thru-hikes. When you’re on your feet for long periods of time (we’re talking 25, 30, 50+ mile days), you’ll likely get fatigue in the feet and lower legs.
Using a shoe like the Olympus will alleviate foot fatigue (but it doesn’t solve leg fatigue!). The Olympus is very protective and has a solid rubber outsole (Vibram for the win!), so it’ll do well in many terrains and trail conditions.
Deeper and more varied lug patterns make this shoe more than a one-trick pony. It’s flat enough to chew up some flat, hard miles and also provides enough lugs to give you grip in wet, muddy conditions.
So, if you’re looking to put in the miles in varied terrain and need a shoe that takes the load off your foot and lower legs, the Olymups might come in handy.
Altra Lone Peak
The Lone Peaks have been super popular shoes for hikers and thru-hikers for years for a few reasons. Mainly, your feet will expand when walking or running for long distances –especially when the weather is warmer. Lone Peaks provide the room hikers need for this inevitability.
I already mentioned it has enough protection underfoot while still being a comfortable, relaxed, and wider fit for long distances, making it a favorite among thru-hikers. It’s also a good option for a wide range of terrains, including dry and rocky, wet and muddy, and smooth and buffed out trails. It’s a great all-rounder when it comes to hiking.
Due to the more accommodating width, Lone Peaks are a great option if you’re looking for blister protection and comfort –which are paramount when hiking very long distances.
I, personally, will always choose minimal shoes with flexibility and lots of ground feel for all trail running, fast-packing, and hiking occasions. While some people might appreciate higher stack heights, I’d argue that higher stack heights are less stable because you’re more likely to roll an ankle. I opt to be close to the ground to improve my reactions to varied terrain. Because of that, I’d choose the Superior.
If the terrain is expected to be super rocky, I’d choose the Lone Peak because there’s a little more stack height and stiffness to avoid foot injuries.
My wife has run dry, rocky mountain ultras in both Timps and Superiors. Remember, preference and need varies from person to person.
If you follow long-distance thru-hikers online, you’ll notice that most of them sport the Altra Lone Peaks. Even long-distance trail runners often run in Lone Peaks, although I have seen plenty of Timps, Olympus, and Superiors in the wild, too. Again, it all comes down to terrain and what you need from the shoe.
Altra has many options for all different terrains and scenarios. As a brand that was born in the American Rockies, you can expect a lineup that performs well for most North American terrains. I know from experience they can work in the European Alps, too. However, as an Englishman, they have yet to convince me any of their models can handle the fells of the UK. But that’s a whole other future post. 🙂
If you want to learn more about each shoe mentioned, click the links below to see full reviews.