Hands-on Gear Review

Altra Escalante - Women's Review

The Escalante is a minimalist, lightweight shoe with less-than-stellar comfort.
By: Lauren DeLaunay ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 30, 2018
Price:  $130 List  |  $96.73 at REI - 26% Off
Pros:  Lightweight, breathable
Cons:  Not as comfortable, not responsive
Manufacturer:   Altra Running

Our Verdict

When Altra came on the ultrarunning scene in 2009, their shoes stood out for their minimal design and wide toe box. Initially popular amongst barefoot-minded trail runners, this Salt Lake City-based company has since made their mark in road running shoes as well. Unfortunately, as far as the Escalante is concerned, our reviewers just weren't in love. Devoted to Altra's trail running lineup, we were put off by the minimal, less comfortable upper and lack of responsiveness in this shoe, which ultimately earned it a decent score but one that failed to be award-worthy.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The Altra Escalante failed to win an award because, despite having average scores across the board, we were disappointed by its lack of excellence in any one category.

Performance Comparison


Striding out in the Escalante
Striding out in the Escalante

Landing Comfort


Landing comfort accounts for one-quarter of each model's overall score for our review, so we looked to a variety of characteristics. Cushioning, shock absorption, downhill comfort, and midsole drop were all evaluated in this metric, and we ultimately awarded the Escalante a lower 6/10 for its mediocre performance.

Not everyone is looking 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 a little more padding that created a more universally friendly ride than the Escalante.

The Escalante has a uniquely wide toe box and minimalistic upper.
The Escalante has a uniquely wide toe box and minimalistic upper.

Additionally, with a nonexistent heel-toe drop, 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 put you onto the balls of your feet, and there is varying research on whether this is helpful or harmful. The creators of Altra believe in a more minimalist design, letting the heel rest at the same height off the ground as the toe, regardless of the amount of underfoot cushioning. If you do want to try out this construction, we recommend taking some time to let your knees and hips transition to this new offset. If your current running shoes have a more significant offset, you may want a pair with a smaller one before going all the way to the zero-drop found in the Escalante.

Overall, the landing support was on the comfortable side of minimal in the Escalante, but we docked points when comparing it to some seriously cushioned models and for its unique heel offset which (though we like it for ourselves) may not be a good fit for some buyers.

Responsiveness


Because responsiveness is often offset by cushioning, it is up to you to decide which of these two metrics is more important to you. 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 okay job at both but does not pull away from the crowd in either.

The Escalante's minimalistic step was a great fit with Bishop's wide open dirt roads.
The Escalante's minimalistic step was a great fit with Bishop's wide open dirt roads.

Compared to a jumpy 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, just did it a little better.

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Upper Comfort


We know that weight is usually a compromise for another critical 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 full 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.

The Escalante's tongue and heel are minimally padded.
The Escalante's tongue and heel are minimally padded.

On the other hand, the Escalante lost significant 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 soft 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 looking for a very padded shoe, however, and we found the Escalante's minimal tongue to be refreshing and unique.

Stability


It's hard to get bonus 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.

The wide toe box of the Escalante is comfortable yet lacking in reinforced support.
The wide toe box of the Escalante is comfortable yet lacking in reinforced support.

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 maybe just your pair.

The New Balance Zante was right behind 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 lightweight design of the Escalante was great for quick runs in the Sierra.
The lightweight design of the Escalante was great for quick runs in the Sierra.

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 meager 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 is light and comfortable yet minimal and lacking in support.
The Escalante is light and comfortable yet minimal and lacking in support.

Lauren DeLaunay

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