Which Altra Shoes are Actually Barefoot?

Are Altra Shoes Barefoot?

Well, if you’re here, you probably want to know the answer to the question. So let’s answer it.

In short, no.

But there’s more to the answer than just no, and to better explain why I thought I’d expand on it in this blog post! Because some Altra models are closer to barefoot, I’ll introduce them later in the post. But first, let’s understand what a barefoot shoe is.

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What makes a barefoot shoe?

Nothing! A barefoot shoe is kind of an oxymoron. 

Having a shoe or sandal that covers any part of the foot inhibits natural movement in some way and changes the way we run or walk. Therefore there is no such thing as a “barefoot shoe.” 

But we can’t always run around unshod, sometimes it’s not socially acceptable, and often it’s a little dangerous because of various hazards lying on the ground –i.e. Sharp rocks, broken glass, nails, venomous spiders…you get the idea. 

Enter the “minimal shoe.”

A minimal shoe protects the foot from these hazards but attempts to remove any physical limitations that inhibit barefoot movement. 

So for a shoe to be minimal, it has to

  • Have a thin outsole.
  • Have little to no midsole (foam)
  • Have a flexible upper material
  • Contain no structure, which may change a running gait.

When we put Altra through those tests, it fails on 2, if not 3, of those points. 

Which minimal running shoe is for you?

Take a quick 5-question quiz to identify the perfect minimal running shoe for your feet! You'll get both road and trail options based on your answers!

The Altra Road Running Shoe that’s Closest to Barefoot

The one Altra road shoe that comes close to having a true barefoot feel is the Altra Escalante. 

The Escalante has the lowest stack height (how much foam is underfoot) of all the road running line up, coming in at 24mm.

It’s also relatively flexible, has minimal upper structure, and sticks with the wide toe box that Altras is known for. 

With that being said, having 24mm of foam + rubber under your foot changes the way you run drastically. 

Because you subsequently lack the feedback from your foot hitting the ground, you’ll likely hit the ground harder and not activate stabilizing muscles optimally. 

Meaning you’re lacking some key barefoot qualities. 

For more info on the fit, feel, and durability of the Altra Escalante 3.0, head over to my full review.

Altra Escalante 3

When my feet are tired or I’m on my third back-to-back long training run, I reach for the Escalante. It may be soft, and not quite so flexible as a barefoot shoe, but it is like running in slippers.

Altra Escalante 3 upper

The Altra Trail Running Shoe that’s Closest to Barefoot

The Altra Superior. 

With similar specs to the Escalante, the Superior again is not a true barefoot shoe, but it shares some qualities that help promote a barefoot gait. 

The shoe is very flexible in most directions, meaning you must engage muscles naturally to stabilize your running gait. This effect is inhibited slightly due to a thicker midsole causing a lack of sensory feedback.

The heel cup is also reasonably flexible, meaning there’s no structure stabilizing your running gait for you.  

One advantage the Superior does have over barefoot style shoes is a little more protection. 

In a trail shoe, having a little more underfoot is an advantage for rough trails. You’re less likely to get spiked from a sharp rock or a tough tree root in the Superior. And to help that point a little further, the Superior comes with a plastic rock plate to lessen the blow.

For more info on the fit, feel, and durability of the Altra Superior 5.0, head over to my full review.

Altra Superior 5

My backup trail runner for when the trails get rough, and the rocks get sharp. These are the most minimal Altra trail runners you’ll find with a 21mm stack height. If you’re looking to dial back the cushion.

Altra Superior Upper

I still want Barefoot (Minimal) Shoes, but Altras sound too cushioned! What should I buy?

If you’re disappointed that Altra shoes aren’t truly minimal and want to buy a pair that’s the closest feeling to barefoot, check out my other posts on the site

For minimal road shoes, I’d suggest looking at the Xero Shoes HFS. Or, if you have narrower feet, try the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite.

And on the trail shoe side, the Xero Shoes Mesa Trails are the most minimal I’ve ever tried. That said, maximum ground feel isn’t always ideal on trails; sometimes, extra protection from shoes like the Xero Shoes Terraflex II can help with those rocky trails. 

In general, for a shoe to be barefoot, look for 

  • Thin soles
  • Flexibility in all directions
  • Minimal materials

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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