Altra Superior 3.0
Fairly new to European market, Altra has done well in North America for a few years now. Their zero drop designs and different levels of cushioning in their different model types, for both road and trail.
Altra sent me their Superior 3.0 trail running shoe to put through its paces, literally, and share what we thought with you. Like the previous version, the 3.0 has a zero drop sole, Altra's Foot Shape forefoot, and of course the Gaiter Trap. Now into the third update to the Superior, some things have changed, yet other features of the series have stayed pretty much the same, at least when I compare it to the previous version.
FootShape design offers a wider toe box with a more anatomical fit, allowing the toes to spread and the feet to function naturally
Altra's Gaiter Trap grips their proprietary running gaiters to keep them in place
The grip provided by the outsole design and treads is exceptional over various types of off-road surfaces
The upper construction is supportive and durable
The shoe's midsole provides adequate cushioning without taking away necessary ground feel
The sizing seems to run about a half size smaller
The Superior line was and still is primarily intended for light to medium trails. There isn't really the type of exterior protection that is required for the more technical routes and environments.
Stick to the cleared paths and probably stay away from extremely rocky terrain. However, the stone guards they include for each shoe seem to help some against sharp rocks that might be encountered along the trails.
One of the first things I wanted to see, is how well they grip various kinds of terrain, These grip the trail nicely. In fact, I would go as far as saying that these are awesome on hills or inclines, as well as downhill. Testing these in an area littered by bunker debris and trenches, leftover from an old European battlefield, there are many obstacles and surface variations to tackle. The Superior 3 did an amazing job of getting through without any issues. The traction that you get from these allows really confident balance, translating into a great off-road run.
The outsole hasn't really changed too much. Perhaps because it just works for the shoe. The tread is fairly soft, when compared to trail models from Salomon and such, but it doesn't seem to matter much. After quite a few miles over slightly rough and various terrain, the outsole held up really well. Other than the expected slight wearing down of tread edges, everything has performed well and maintained its form.
The TrailClaw tread has a design that kind of sweeps around, giving the Superior really good grip on inclines. In all, the the outsole is quite durable as long as you stick to what the shoe if made for, which is medium trails that are not too technical.
The A-Bound midsole is nice too, although something that will take some getting used to if you are used to running in more minimalist shoes previously. Though not as thick as some other models from Altra, there is decent cushioning. On trails it sometimes feels like prospect of having too much cushioning can make you susceptible to injuries like twisted ankles, due to the lack of ground feel.
The superior innerflex seems to provide a good balance of flexibility, cushion and allowed ground contact, resulting in pretty confident control and responsiveness.
Now as for the upper, the ripstop material is quite durably constructed. The ability to resist abrasion and maintain its shape is quite impressive. After running the Superior 3 through different levels of terrain, various weather conditions, through the mud, water, and even snow, they still look great.
In addition to the durable ripstop, there are supportive overlays that are strategically placed, to include the lacing eyelets. The toe and heel are reinforced with an abrasion resistant material to not only help retain shape and provide protection, but also to add more to the durability of the shoe.
The lacing is standard, without any special features, which works just fine. The tongue is nice and padded, however it would have been great if there were a place to tuck the laces, as the laces that are provided seem to be a bit longer. That is just a personal preference though, which doesn't really affect the overall view of the upper's general quality and function.
On the heel you will find Altra's Gaiter Trap, which basically uses velcro to hold Altra's proprietary trail gaiters in place if you choose to buy them separately. If you ran the older version, then you know all about this little feature.
Responsiveness is where the Superior does really well. It seems like the great responsiveness is owed to a combination of factors including the toe design, awesome grip, premium fit if sized right, etc.
They really have great ground feel, which allows you to move fluidly over varying surfaces. The midsole gives pretty good responsiveness, although you don't get any real bounce, it isn't too mushy, it isn't to hard. The feel when running, especially over rough terrain, is just right.
The support of these has a lot to do with the overall fit. We always hear that phrase, "they have a sock like fit", but these really do. The combination of the A-Bound midsole and secure upper provide the Superior with adequate support for the terrain and running environment they are intended for.
As far as overall stability, even though these aren't designated a "stability shoe", these are actually quite stable. This seems to be due to multiple factors such as the durably constructed upper that supports well, the wider toe box that allows the toes to spread out, the interior of the heel that holds the rearfoot in place, or the exceptional traction given by the outsole and treads.
If you run in a hotter environment, this is for you... Though the upper is well made, it seems to not be quite as breathable as I thought it would be. It isn't the case that they aren't breathable at all, because in fact they are. It is just that it would be nice if they breathed just a bit more. However, when running in the winter they were actually really nice. Perhaps not totally ideal for scorching climates, they do breathe well enough for moderately warm environments.
The Bottom Line
This shoe is a solid trail runner for those moderate trails. Not really one that I would go with for super technical trails, but still a really great that you can push pretty far for off-road running where grip, responsive cushioning and decent stability matter. As far as overall comfort goes, these are comfortable trail runners. From the precise fit in the heel to the roomy toe box that has been designed for real human feet, a lot of thought has obviously been put into the design and build.
Although these aren't overly feature rich, but do have enough put into them to make them effective on the trails.
Once I got used to the zero drop platform and wider space for the toes to spread, these actually became my new favorite pair for those runs through the forest or off-road paths.
Comparison to different models
Comparing the two, the most noticeable difference is the feeling you get from that thicker sole. For off-road use ground feel is everything. It is how you keep your self upright and safe from injuries an most cases. The Superior is a clear winner in that category.