Altra Solstice XT Review
Cons: Shape might not fit all feet, upper cage can rub, heel can feel loose
Our Analysis and Test Results
The standard road version of the Solstice has won awards in the past with its low weight, great flexibility, and natural feel. This newer XT version retains most of that and is certainly award-worthy, but it didn't quite make it to the podium this time around. Still, it was a favorite out on the road, especially for shorter runs.
In general, the XT is not an especially responsive model. It's certainly not like a big Brooks shoe with expansion joints and buttressing and all of the other things that go into snapping your foot back into position. The XT has a few features that provide just a little more support and responsiveness than the standard Solstice.
The High Abrasion EVA midsole doesn't have the plushness of the standard model. You lose a little less energy with each foot strike. The tradeoff is that you have less cushion, but it's not a drastic difference.
Running across the upper you have a liquid rubber cage for fortification. It helps the entire shoe better adhere to the foot and limit the stretch and flex that comes with each step, reducing energy loss and keeping you feeling quick and clean with your footwork. A malleable inner support structure runs from throughout the upper from the midfoot to the heel. This provides just a little more cohesiveness and keeps the shoe from flexing too much and sapping away energy without feeling restrictive. It's the right mix on the road and in the gym.
This category has a lot of subjectivity to it. By its nature, the XT is not going to have the same landing comfort as a big maximalist model or feel natural to everyone. We judge it to have a natural landing, which means there's less underfoot cushioning and fewer support structures inside to push and pull your feet around. Altra's FootShape toebox has annoyed us at times in other modules, but in the XT it seems to do a good job of accommodating a wider range of toe configuration.
Take that along with the fact that the toebox is a big, open platform, and you get a good shoe for midfoot or forefoot landing and toe-off. We did find some reports that the FootShape toebox wasn't comfortable. That's just something you'll have to try out for a few miles, so be sure to get a good return policy.
There is padding along the collar and upper, but it's lean. Again, we find this to improve the feel of the shoe, but it starts to become less of an ideal utilitarianism and more of a liability once you start putting in serious miles — anything over an hour.
The same can be said of the midsole. It's a firm EVA with less forgiveness as the miles roll by. Up to about 5 miles, it's really fast and light. But it might slowly start to wear on you and bring out a little pussyfooting as the hurty trot starts to set in. So be sure you're expecting to keep the workouts short and hard in these.
Light materials and lean build keep the Solstice XT up near the front of the pack here. 18.6 ounces in a pair of men's 11. That's among the lightest in our lineup. It's just barely heavier than the regular Solstice, primarily owing to the reinforced upper. You'll still be flying around in incredibly light running shoes.
As a near-minimalist shoe, you can expect the XT to have some weaknesses. For one, the entire forefoot is light mesh. It won't have the protection of the big, heavy models with additional layers of material printed over them. The front of the toes — the spot on shoes that you always stub or use to open doors and kick stuff — is also just regular mesh with no protective reinforcement.
The midfoot back through the heel have a little extra protection. The midfoot is covered by the exoskeleton or cage. That confers more protection against both abrasion and the sort of degradation that would come from constantly being stretched and flexed. Additionally, the midfoot and heel have an inner layer that's just slightly more rigid than the normal mesh, also providing protection against abrasion and wear.
The outsole has good rubber coverage to protect the high wear areas. The center portion of the sole is exposed, which could be a little unpleasant if you catch a hard stick or sharp stone. In general, we didn't find any undue wear on the outsole. You can expect it to hold up fine for a few seasons.
As we discussed earlier, Altra's FootShape design can be hit-or-miss. Some feet are shaped just right for Altra's toebox. Generally, however, those of us with longer second and/or third toes will not fit as easily into them. That said, the XT seems to be more accommodating. Just get a good return policy and take it out for a spin.
The toebox isn't just uniquely shaped to accommodate most feet, it's also generally broader. The landing platform is quite wide, so your toes can splay out, and there's no knuckle/metatarsal-grinding with the toes. That's improved, in our view, by the lean padding, thin mesh, and light sockliner. It allows your foot to be free as you run. But there's a tradeoff. To keep the shoe responsive and supportive, they added the cage over the midfoot, which is slightly tight. To keep your foot locked-in, you need to tighten the laces — they pull on the cage, producing the potential to rub against the top of your foot and behind the ball of your big toe.
You can get into this struggle over the tightness of the heel too. A lot of the bigger shoe models will use pillowy cushioning in the collar not just for padding, but also to grab the heel and reduce the slipping that happens. The XT has only a small bit of padding. It improves the natural feel of the upper but does nothing to secure the heel.
The only recourse you have to improve heel fit is by tightening the laces, which will produce this cage discomfort. The problem doesn't happen to all runners, though, and if you're not the sort who likes to be locked-down, you're unlikely to run into this issue.
Like most Altra offerings, the XT is mostly mesh with a lean layer of padding throughout the upper. That keeps it super porous and breathable, so it's going to be one of the lighter shoes out there. The entire toebox is just mesh, allowing all sorts of air (and water) into the shoe to cool your feet off and pull out moisture (again, unless it's wet out).
The portion of the upper that covers the midfoot has a cage covering it for support that does limit the breathability just a bit, but it's so breezy over the toes that you actually feel the wind along the outside of each foot when you run.
The price for the Solstice XT is at the upper range of acceptable. It's a good running shoe that performs quite well in the gym and outside doing HIIT and speedwork, but the price could come down 15 or 20 bucks and be a little more in line with the competition and its performance.
The Altra Solstice XT is a highly versatile shoe. It's a must-have for runners who do a lot of mixing it up across sports. Jog down to the local ball field to do sprints, lunges, and core work? This is the shoe you want. Spend a lot of time at the gym? This isn't a bad shoe for that. It's the right mix of freedom and support, so you feel light on your feet, but don't jump out of your shoes when you're training the quick-twitch fibers.
— Ryan Baham