The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Altra Escalante 1.5 - Women's Review

The Escalante is a minimalist, lightweight shoe with less-than-stellar comfort.
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Price:  $130 List | $129.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, breathable
Cons:  Not as comfortable, not responsive
Manufacturer:   Altra Running
By Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 1, 2018
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58
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#12 of 12
  • Landing Comfort - 25% 6
  • Responsiveness - 20% 5
  • Upper Comfort - 25% 5
  • Stability - 20% 5
  • Weight - 10% 10

The Skinny

Altra may be less than ten years old, but their shoes have really shaken up the market. Their minimalist designs and wide toe boxes make for a signature look that is intriguing and friendly. These two features had some of our review staff raving about the barefoot-esque design of the new Escalante 1.5, while others thought the construction fell a little too flat. While we think this is a very comfortable minimalist shoe, our testing team eventually agreed that the average road runner would prefer a bit more cushioning and responsiveness.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

After weeks of testing the Escalante 1.5, we appreciated many of its minimalist qualities, including its superbly light weight, but did not award it a top spot in this lineup.

Performance Comparison


Seeing how the Escalante (shown in blue below) stacked up against the competition, it's pretty clear to see why this product went home award-less.


Enjoying a warm fall morning in Yosemite with the Escalante 1.5.
Enjoying a warm fall morning in Yosemite with the Escalante 1.5.

Landing Comfort


Landing comfort accounts for a hulking 25% of each shoe's overall score, and we looked at a wide variety of characteristics. Cushioning, shock absorption, downhill comfort, and midsole drop were all evaluated in this metric, and we ultimately awarded the Escalante an average 6/10 for its decent performance.

We realize that not every runner is searching for maximum cushioning in their running shoes, so this score may not accurately reflect the design you are looking for. A higher number equates to a more comfortable landing, so an intensely cushioned shoe like the Hoka Bondi is going to receive a higher score than a more moderately cushioned model like the Escalante. That being said, there are moderate competitors in this review that still outperform this model. We found the Brooks models, like the Editors' Choice Award-winning Adrenaline GTS, to have padding that created a more universally friendly ride than the Escalante while still not inflating to the point of the Bondi.

Despite being designed for pavement  we'll take the Escalante anywhere!
Despite being designed for pavement, we'll take the Escalante anywhere!

Additionally, with a nonexistent heel-toe drop (the difference in height between the heel and toe), the Escalante is a bit of a specialty product. The majority of shoes in this review have heels that rise anywhere from 4mm to 10mm above the toe. Traditionally constructed shoes are designed to reinforce landing on the ball of the foot, and there is varying research for whether this is helpful or harmful. The creators of Altra believe in a more minimalist design regardless of the amount of underfoot cushioning.

Overall, the landing support was on the comfortable side of minimal in the Escalante, but we docked points when comparing it to the more cushioned models and for its unique heel offset which may not be the best fit for some buyers.

Responsiveness


Because responsiveness is often in direct comparison to the amount of cushioning, it's going to be up to you to decide which of these two metrics is more important. Our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS is one of the most well-balanced shoes we tried, but there are shoes in this review that excel in one category or the other. The Escalante does an acceptable job at both but does not pull away from the crowd in either.

A close-up of the Escalante 1.5's minimal padding.
A close-up of the Escalante 1.5's minimal padding.

Compared to an extra bouncy shoe like the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus or Adidas UltraBoost X, the Escalante falls a bit flat. Standing alone, we felt it performed decently, but when evaluated side-by-side to its competitors, it just wasn't our favorite. Its decent performance in this category makes it a poor choice for speed workouts or sprints, but if the uniquely Altra features like toe box and heel appeal to you, we don't think you'll be disappointed with this shoe.

Altra claims to have designed the Escalante to be the middle ground between comfort and responsiveness. We agree with this, but also found that other shoes, like the Brooks Ghost or New Balance Fresh Foam Zante, found that balance better.

Upper Comfort


Our testers know that weight is typically a compromise for another important metric, and this is readily apparent with the Escalante. While tied for the lightest shoe in our review, this comes at a price for padding and long-distance comfort. The heel of the Escalante is equipped with ample padding, similar to any of the comfiest heels we tried on. We also loved the wide toe, a signature design feature of any Altra shoe. While this may not appeal to everyone, Altra claims that the wide toe box lets the toes spread out and enjoy a more natural running stride, which we tend to agree with. Even our lead tester's narrow feet appreciated some extra wiggle room.

Lacing up the Escalante's thin tongue.
Lacing up the Escalante's thin tongue.

On the other hand, the Escalante lost comfort points for the lack of padding in the tongue and sides. We didn't find this shoe uncomfortable, per se, but the ultra-thin tongue left something to be desired. The material on the inside of the shoe is softer than the New Balance Fresh Foam Zante though both are minimally padded. Compared to the wonderfully plush tongues of all three Brooks models we tested, you'll have to decide for yourself if a few ounces is worth a more minimal design. Not everyone is into a very padded shoe, however, and many runners found the Escalante's minimal tongue to be a refreshing change of pace.

Stability


It's hard to achieve bonus points with features like stability when trying to shave ounces, and the Escalante demonstrates this once again. With a little bit of reinforcement on the sides, this product left a lot of room for improvement when compared to ultra-secure models like the Brooks Adrenaline and Hoka Clifton.

Minimal lateral stability on the Escalante 1.5.
Minimal lateral stability on the Escalante 1.5.

The material lining the midfoot of the Escalante is thicker, but it is still very flexible when compared to other models with an outer printed overlay. We still find this product comfortable, compared with the Asics Gel-Cumulus whose midfoot reinforcement is stiff but awkward. Ultimately, this neutral-built shoe does little to secure the foot for optimal stride.

Weight


At only 7.1 ounces per shoe, the Escalante is tied for first place in this metric. The rest of the poorly-scored metrics begin to make sense here. While we don't necessarily think that weight should be taken as seriously as comfort, each buyer is different, and if shaving ounces is your thing, the Escalante may be just your pair. The New Balance Zante tied the Escalante in this metric, but with very different designs, it's difficult to promote one over the other. While the Zante is a bit more traditionally structured, the Escalante has a unique minimal design that may appeal to the avid trail runner or barefoot enthusiast.

Best Applications


Every runner is different, and Altra's lineup is best for the minimally-minded and weight-conscious. Tied for lightest shoes in this review, the Escalante's lighter cushioning and thin upper make for a solid yet featherlight ride. For shoppers looking for a wide toe box and zero heel offset, Altra's unique design may be just the ticket.

The Escalante 1.5 features Altra's signature wide toe box.
The Escalante 1.5 features Altra's signature wide toe box.

Value


At $130, the Escalante falls just about in the middle of this review's price range. There are many more comfortable shoes available for slightly less, however, so it's difficult to recommend this shoe unless Altra's unique characteristics are exactly what you're looking for. If so, the price is spot on.

Conclusion


While we failed to see the Escalante as a great all-around shoe we could recommend to nearly any runner, it did have its positives. The toe, heel offset, and extremely low weight make it a good choice for minimally-minded runners. We would not likely recommend this shoe to the average runner looking for a traditional design, however, which led us to hand out our awards to other competitors.

The Escalante exploring our favorite place: Yosemite National Park.
The Escalante exploring our favorite place: Yosemite National Park.


Lauren DeLaunay