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

Altra Escalante 1.5 Review

Lots of spring and freedom, but maybe too much.
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Price:  $130 List | $129.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Light, breathable, comfortable upper
Cons:  Pricey, upper too loose, limited responsiveness
Manufacturer:   Altra
By Ryan Baham ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 26, 2018
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69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#16 of 22
  • Responsiveness - 25% 6
  • Landing comfort - 25% 7
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • Durability - 10% 5
  • Upper comfort - 10% 7
  • Breathability - 10% 6

The Skinny

Altra is back with the 1.5. We loved the first offering, but, true to their word, the update is even better. The update brings in a few new features like a new knit with 360-degree reflectivity, better breathability, a new tongue design, different color patterns, and an improved heel cup. Altra does a great job of creating running shoes that feel like running barefoot on a well-manicured football or soccer pitch. They have enough freedom to feel natural and enough cushion in the sole to kick in some spring to your stride. These were some of the best shoes for short runs in our group, but there are a few considerations before jumping into a pair. Read on to see if they're up your alley.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

We took the updated Altra Escalante 1.5s out on miles and miles or training runs, spent hours researching its materials, claims, and complaints, and poked and prodded them to figure out where they excel and where they lag, assigning them scores across a handful of qualitative measures. To help our analysis, we put them up against some of the best running shoes on the market and gave our recommendations. Read on to see how they do across our measures and against other top offerings.

Performance Comparison



Responsiveness


Not all shoes need to be incredibly responsive and these racing flats are for those that don't need it and won't miss it. They do just fine without the crazy snapback of models like the top scoring HOKA ONE ONE Elevon, but it wouldn't hurt to get a bit more back with each step. The Escalante 1.5s made a tradeoff here: responsiveness for comfort. The Altra Ego™ dual-nature midsole feels much closer to a gel bike saddle cover than a running shoe, but it's pretty comfortable and forgiving. On top of that, the 6mm Contour Footbed insole help cushion, but also saps responsiveness from the midsole.

The Altra Escalante 1.5s have a modest degree of kickback  but are still forgiving and fast as heck on a straight flat.
The Altra Escalante 1.5s have a modest degree of kickback, but are still forgiving and fast as heck on a straight flat.

If you're hard up for responsiveness, we suggest taking a look at a few other offerings. The Editor's Choice winning On Cloud X isn't quite a barefoot or zero drop model, but it only has 6 mm of heel-to-toe drop and gets a lot of kickback from its midsole. The Best Bang for the Buck winning Under Armour Charged Bandit 3 also gets a lot of response out of its reflexive Charged CushionⓇ midsole.

Landing Comfort


The Escalantes are a bit of a mixed bag in this category. Their 25 mm of gel-like Altra EGO™ midsole certainly does a great job of cushioning the landing and it feels really good, but forefoot landers might feel like the shoe is slipping out from under them, as covered in the previous section on responsiveness. That's partially to do with the design of the upper, which lacks a reinforced toebox cover to keep the toes from sliding off the front of the shoe.

Zoom in a bit more on the front of the toebox where the toe cover would otherwise be. Those are toe knuckles sliding up over the edge - forefoot runners beware!
Zoom in a bit more on the front of the toebox where the toe cover would otherwise be. Those are toe knuckles sliding up over the edge - forefoot runners beware!
All things considered, they had pretty darn good landing comfort, but there were a few other choices with better performance here. They're not zero drop, but the PureFlow 7 won our Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat and only have 4 mm of heel-to-toe drop and kick tail in this measure. They're also better priced. On the other end of the drop spectrum are the Nike Pegasus 35, with 10 mm of drop and a more traditional design. Our Editor's Choice On Cloud X winner also does great here and only had 6 mm of drop.

Zero drop doesn't mean no crashpad. The Altra EGOâ„¢ crashpad is 25 mm of plush comfort.
Zero drop doesn't mean no crashpad. The Altra EGOâ„¢ crashpad is 25 mm of plush comfort.

Weight


This is one area where the Escalante 1.5s really blow the competition out of the water. A pair of men's 11 come in at 18.2 ounces, which is 10-20% lighter than most of the others. If you're in it for super light shoes, these should be on your list of shoes to consider. The Best Bang for the Buck winning Under Armour Charged Bandit 3 and Editor's Choice On Cloud X both came in just a bit lighter, so be sure to give them a look too.

At 18.2 ounces in men's 11  you can barely tell you're wearing shoes.
At 18.2 ounces in men's 11, you can barely tell you're wearing shoes.

Durability


The blown rubber FootPod™ outsole and exposed Altra EGO™ padding may wear down within a season or two for hardcore runners, but more leisurely runners will see more seasons. Your goal as a runner is to wear shoes down faster; the company's goal should be to put out products that will last longer, though the business case might not support that.

There are also concerns that the thin mesh upper could tear or come loose at the toebox, because it lacks the reinforcement of other shoes. It shares this design weakness with most of the other lightweight speedsters, so it's fairly inherent to this style of shoe. If you want a speedster that does better in durability, check out the Under Armour Charged Bandit 3.

Upper Comfort


Comfort was an area where the 1.5s did well. Their stretchy knit upper did a good job of enveloping the foot for a natural feel, while the collar had enough padding to cushion the heel without chafing or being too cumbersome. They also did a good job on the heel cup. It supports and keeps the shoe in place through the stride, but doesn't dig or inhibit. As comfortable as they are, it's not all rosy.

Thin tongues can improve the natural feel in the upper  but some designs tend to bunch up and chafe  as in these. The perfect adjustment and fit was pretty elusive because of the folding tongue.
Thin tongues can improve the natural feel in the upper, but some designs tend to bunch up and chafe, as in these. The perfect adjustment and fit was pretty elusive because of the folding tongue.

The first noteworthy limitation here has already been discussed. It's that the foot slips a bit much and the toebox doesn't have the reinforcement to stop the toes from slipper over the front edge of the midsole. The second issue here is the tongue. Thin tongues can reduce the claustrophobia-inducing conditions of super padded, plush uppers, but they risk being too flimsy to comfortably spread across the foot for a good fit. That's the problem here. The tong folds at the edges and bunches up, making them a bit uncomfortable if you don't notice the fold or can't work it out.

We enjoyed running in the Escalantes and had no serious problems with comfort, even given the above issues, but if you need unquestionable comfort, there are other options out there. Plush models like the Brooks Glycerin 16 are typically much more comfortable, but they also tend to come with more control structures and might not feel as free. For a comparable design with more comfort, we suggest looking at the Brooks PureFlow 7.

Breathability


These shoes have odd performance under this measure. On the one hand, their light, thin knit upper should improve breathability and ventilation, but it's middling at best. They ended up being a bit warm on hot days - more so than models with micromesh materials like the On Cloud X and PureFlow 7, yet they retained moisture, adding to that problem of slipping we've mentioned throughout the review. And despite that, they were also chilly on cool mornings. If you tend to run in the road or through mud or puddles, we suggest looking at something like the two we just mentioned.

The Escalantes (right) are great for fair weather  but might be less comfortable in hot  cold  and wet weather.
The Escalantes (right) are great for fair weather, but might be less comfortable in hot, cold, and wet weather.

Best Applications


They're definitely not for serious trail running or routes with quick twists and turns. They're best suited to pavement pounding on long, flat straights.

Value


$130 might be a bit of a bold ask for Altra. These shoes were fun and had their high points, but for that cash, you might find more versatile shoes with better control.

Conclusion


These were among our favorite kicks based solely on their squishy feel. They're very comfortable right out of the box, but the FootShape™ toe box is pretty specific to certain foot shapes, so that comfort might not be as apparent for other runners. As for stability, there's limited support built into the shoe and the aforementioned squishiness is an inherently unstable characteristic, which isn't helped by loose upper and unfortified toe box that allows the outside toes to slip and slide across the squishy midsole. But in summation, they're light, comfortable, decent running shoes and will work well for runners that don't mind a little sliding around in the shoe.

The Escalante 1.5's slippery upper and squishy landing limit their versatility  but they can still be quick on a flat straightaway.
The Escalante 1.5's slippery upper and squishy landing limit their versatility, but they can still be quick on a flat straightaway.


Ryan Baham