Altra Solstice Review
Cons: Toebox can be uncomfortable for some toe shapes at tempo and faster, limited support
Our Analysis and Test Results
Smooth and subtle, the Altra Solstice has an understated fierceness to it. It's actually a speedy shoe; it doesn't distract or mislead with flash and gimmick. Yes, there are some buzz wordy, engineery, tech-sounding phrases peppered throughout the product description, but there's solid delivery to back it up, so we can't really knock them for that. They're pretty straight forward lightweight racing flats with some extra cushioning in the midsole and a wide toe box to allow more natural toe-splay. If you need more than that, don't worry, we spent a lot of time breaking these down across a handful of measures and compared them to other top shoes on the market right now.
The Altra stood out ahead of most of the other shoes in our lineup, clearly showing how they earned the Best Bang for the Buck Award.
There are a few facets to these that give them their edge. The first is the High Abrasion EVA midsole. It's slightly squishy, so it's really forgiving for heavy steppers and hard efforts. That's helped along by a wider toe box, so your toes can splay out a lot more comfortably than with narrower models. That's why we insist it has such a natural feel to it. It feels kind of like running on a well-manicured football field in your socks.
The Altra also has a good deal of bounceback. Not quite like the stiffer models, like the Hoka One One Bondi 6, but enough that your stride doesn't get eaten up in the cushion, like the plush Brooks Adrenaline or even the Reebok Forever Floatride Energy. Part of that magic could also be from the uniform ZeroDrop stack height from heel to toe, or at the least, from no skimping on the forefoot cushion.
When it comes to responsiveness, there are a few other models that do a bit better by using generally thicker designs with more support. We already mentioned the Bondi 6, which have tougher mesh and supports in the upper and a much thicker, firmer EVA midsole that kicks back. If it's 1:1 kickback you're after, you'll want to add the Bondi 6 to your list.of shoes to try.
The Brooks Adrenaline GTS 19 was also mentioned. Their midsole is super plush, meaning they do tend to eat steps a bit more than the super firm Bondis and the Altras, but they have more stability features that snap the sole and upper back into place. The tradeoff there, of course, is that if you want more freedom in how your feet land and move about, you'll want the midsole with a bit of plush and a bit of kickback - the Altras.
When it comes to landing comfort, these puppies have a few things going for them. The firm, but flexible High Abrasion EVA midsole has just enough plush to pad foot impact and enough malleability to feel natural. The upper is also well designed, so it hugs the midfoot so you don't feel like you'll lose the shoe if you kick it into high gear, but the toe box is nice and wide, so your toes feel nice and free throughout the gait. The mesh and sock liner are also great because the mesh is tough to lock the foot secured while the liner adds just enough cushion, so the mesh doesn't kill your feet. That has sometimes been a problem in other Altra uppers, but they did a great job getting that combination just right in these.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the ZeroDrop™ design, which is one of our favorite Altra features. It adds a lot to the natural feeling of the shoe, and it's a major selling point for the minimalist-type folks looking for just a little more cushion in the landing. You'll notice that they score well, but they're not at the top alongside top comfort models. That's primarily because of limitations in the FootShape design. Generally, it's a great running shoe for all feet; however, those poor runners with a longer second toe may find that their foot is not the shape Altra has in mind. As we've mentioned elsewhere, faster running that forces you onto your toes or forefoot tends to jam the longer second toe into the front edge of the shoe, and it's pretty uncomfortable.
Should you find that your foot is not configured for the Altra shape, there are a few good alternatives. The On Clouds have a more sculpted feel, and the sole is a very different design, but the performance is comparable - maybe a bit more sinking on the landing. If the overall design of the Solstice is appealing, and you'd like a sleek, speedy shoe without the toebox concern, take a look at the Brooks PureFlow 7. It feels a little bulkier because it has more padding, both in the collar and the midsole, but it is still super fast and won't disappoint.
A pair of men's 11 weigh just 17 ounces, making them some of the very lightest running shoes on the market. They get down to this by using a reasonably thin slab of EVA in the sole and simple mesh in the upper while cutting down on the bells and whistles or support structures. This combination of low weight, compactness, and malleability clearly goes into their more natural feeling. Most trade-offs here come in the form of preference rather than quality, with the obvious exception being durability. The lighter, thinner materials tend to have shorter lifespans, though these are fairly well-made and should make it through a few seasons.
For the most part, you're not going to find many traditional running shoes that beat out the Solstice in lightness. The On Cloud is close, at 17.3 ounces per pair of men's 11, but it has a more structured feel to it. The cult classic New Balance Minimus 10v1s come in at 17.2, but they are of the minimalist tradition and lack a good deal of the cushion and padding of the Solstice (though they sure are fast and the minimalist runners love them).
To get much lighter, shoes have to have pretty different designs, which is what you see in the Brooks Hyperion, the Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat. They come in at 14.5 ounces in men's 11, which is super close to what you get with track spikes. So if weight is your primary driver, you ought to go ahead and jump over to that review. They are exceptional for short races and for runners with narrow feet, but if you do more plodding and distance training, we think you might be better off staying here and reading on.
The Solstice uses a pretty simple design without a lot of extra features that could break down over time. Its threading and mesh are fairly standard, slightly fortified by the 3D print and thickish sock liner. The eyelets and anchors for the lacing did show some fraying and degradation after a few weeks of hard wear. The biggest point of concern is the exposed EVA outsole. The only area with rubber reinforcement is the outer edge of the heel. Part of that reasoning could be related to the FootShape™ design, which also assumes a heel-strike and roll-through, but it leaves the other high-wear areas vulnerable to…high wear, and in fact, we've worth through a good deal of tread in the toe area and the midfoot looks to be losing the battle, exposing the base layer of the EVA.
Despite the wear in the outsole, the Solstice is still a great performer and it should last a few seasons for most runners, depending on your mileage (if you're a regular marathoner, you should look for something else unless you're resigned to buying a few pairs of shoes a year). If it's durability you're after, understand that you're generally going to have to sacrifice something in the way of weight, price, comfort, or some other desirable quality. For a comparable shoe that will get you the best of both (all) worlds, take a look at the Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 34. It is fast, comfortable, breathable, and has a more durable outsole.
When it comes to toe splay, Altras accommodate perfectly. The ZeroDrop sole and roomy toebox let you land naturally, with your toes freely expanding and your weight shifts, centers, and pushes off. The firm collar padding is great, too. It's enough to prevent blisters and make the ride enjoyable, but without overheating or crowding the way plush padding does in some of the comfort models. There's also a sensible sock liner covering the toe box to minimize hurty friction, and it does the job without needlessly going into the premium realm.
The major drawback in the upper we found is in the FootShape design. This is specific to a subset of runners with longer second toes (Greek feet or Morton's toe). For feet with this configuration, it becomes really uncomfortable as the pace picks up. That's because as your landing shifts forward to midfoot or forefoot, the weaker, skinner second toe is forced forward until it feels like it's going to burst through the front of the shoe. But we'll repeat: at lower paces, it's fine. And it would be fine for folks who tend not to spend a lot of time on their midfoot or forefoot.
It's also worth mentioning that wider feet might find the seams along the front of the lacing across the midfoot a bit annoying, but some runners appreciated the overall snugness of the midfoot. It's a decent way to keep the upper responsive and affixed while allowing the toe box to be so open.
If you're looking for more comfortable shoes, you'll have a bit more luck with the Brooks PureFlow 7. Brooks just creates superbly comfortable shoes. Like pillow with rubber soles. You'll get a heavier shoe with a 4mm drop, but it should still meet most of your expectations.
One of their best qualities is that they're super cool and breathable, so they're great for hot summer runs. The light mesh running across most of the upper helps to make the shoe feel natural, light, and does a good job of pulling heat and moisture away from the toes and top of the foot. The only detractors here come in the form of tradeoffs. The padding in the heel collar holds a bit more heat, but it improves comfort. The sock liner in the toe box holds a bit of heat, but it cuts down on the friction. The 3D print along the midfoot holds heat and moisture, but it looks sweet and improves durability. Generally, the breathability could be improved, but it's better than average and shouldn't be a deal-breaker for most runners.
If breathability is make-or-break for you, some models do a better job and removing heat and moisture, but you'll most likely be sacrificing padding and comfort to get it. The exception is the Brooks PureFlow, which has more collar padding and less of a sock liner across the midfoot and toe box. It's generally less supportive across the front of the shoe, but has a bit more plushness in its sole. This year's Top Pick for Lightweight Racing Flat Brooks Hyperion has a similar story, but it has significantly less padding in the collar and a much thinner, less plush sole. It has very little in the way of a sock liner, but its thin upper is tougher and therefore less permeable. On balance, it has a lot of airflow and breathes better, but it's not perfect.
These are great for runners needing just a bit of cushion and a bit of lightweight speediness. They do really well on short and medium runs, but as we mentioned elsewhere, they can be a bit uncomfortable at faster paces for those with longer second toes. That issue also presents itself on downhills, so keep that in mind if you do a lot of hill running (uphill is fine). And they're fine for the occasional hop off the pavement, so long as you're primarily on hard-pack and don't venture too far into the technical stuff.
For their comfort and versatility, you're going to be hard-pressed to find another shoe at this value. They're not cheap, but they're reasonably priced for all they offer.
What we really like about these is their versatility. They have a lot of qualities that make them great performers for most types of running and most types of runners. They're as light as lightweight racing flats, as comfortable as the heavy support shoes, as natural-feeling as a barefoot shoe, and they have a wide, cushy platform to keep them stable. They're the bricoleurs of running shoes. These were the first pair of shoes we reached for when going out for a leisurely jaunt. They had some jets, too, but keep in mind that the upper is fairly open and relaxed, so if you're pacing above tempo and starting to land closer to your toes, you might find your toes sliding out over the front edge of the upper, especially if you have the longer second toe. For most runners, these will be more than enough to get out and tear up the road, and they'll be a mainstay in the closet for you as they are for us.
— Ryan Baham
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