Altra Superior 4.0 Review
Cons: Minimal foot protection, foam breaks down quickly, very long laces
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Altra Superior 4 is a very lightweight shoe with minimal underfoot padding. While we loved it for rocking the smooth and buffed trails, we found it to be a bit of a hindrance on really rough or rocky terrain where we wanted protection for our feet, so as to not leave them the worse for wear, or needing to slow down drastically. That is the main reason why we chose not to recommend them as our Top Pick for Zero Drop. While the Superiors are unquestionably more popular, we think more zero drop lovers will thrive wearing the far burlier, protective, and ultimately drastically more durable Inov-8 TerraUltra G 260 instead.
There is no question that this shoe is vastly improved over previous versions that were poorly made and sometimes downright uncomfortable due to flaws in the upper. It has an entirely new upper design that includes a wrap around, burrito-style tongue, and is a bit more breathable due to the inclusion of lightweight mesh. The shoe rides a couple of millimeters lower to the ground, and the outsole is now made with MaxTrac rubber, which is surprisingly sticky on rocky surfaces. The shoe is even a couple ounces lighter than it was before, ensconcing it firmly in the super lightweight division of trail running shoes. However, we think that despite the use of Altra's proprietary Quantic foam, it still suffers from the same problem as old versions, that is, very quick compression of the foam that can change the shape, and the underfoot feel of the shoe in surprisingly few miles.
This is one of the least protective shoes that you can buy, and far and away one of the most sensitive. There is a minimal amount of Quantic foam underfoot, and no rock plate or any other protection, so you are going to intimately feel what you are stepping on. In lots of cases, this is an enjoyable experience. That said, for long distances and on rough, rocky trails, or off trail, we experienced more abuse than our feet are willing to take.
The shoe still comes with two StoneGuard inserts that can be optionally added in underneath the insole. However, we found that these are now thinner, more flexible, and really do almost nothing to change the amount of underfoot protection. They do change the space inside of the shoe a bit and can help tailor the perfect fit. Regardless, these shoes lack protection underfoot, and for that reason will likely only appeal to a small percentage of runners.
The Superior 4 has the same basic pattern on the outsole as previous versions, although it has been changed a bit. The MaxTrac rubber is impressively sticky on both wet and dry rock and grips the trail effectively. The TrailClaw lug pattern, which has rows of long, narrow lugs positioned across the foot and under the push-off points, is one of the least aggressive patterns found on trail shoes these days.
For standard trail running, we think it works just fine, but it struggles compared to the insanely grippy and aggressive competition when it comes to off trail, or on mud and snow.
With a mere 21mm underfoot platform and zero heel-drop, this is one of the most stable shoes that you can buy. It is shaped like a foot, with a much wider forefoot area than most trail shoes, ensuring that your foot has the room that it needs to splay out and expand as it lands on the ground. Perhaps more than any other shoe we tested, running in these feels as if you are landing on the actual ground, rather than on a shoe on the ground. That said, we do have the minor complaint that they are a bit sloppy, and the upper doesn't lock the foot down as securely as many other shoes.
This shoe is very comfortable, far more so for our head tester than previous versions. Gone is the lame tongue design that left large tabs of fabric on the inside of the shoe to rub against the foot, as well as the weird upper material that had a propensity to wrinkle and change shape over time. They have been replaced with a seamless tongue that is attached to the upper on one side, so it wraps the foot. On the other side, it is also attached, gusseted style, with a light, stretchy elastic fabric, a design that helps to limit slippage of the tongue and also helps keep debris at bay. The incorporation of mesh over the toe box increases the breathability, and there are even drainage holes found in the hard rubber toe bumper. Overall, a very comfortable shoe, and one that we love to wear for either running or even simple hiking and walking about.
Our pair of men's size 11 US shoes weighed in at 18.8 ounces, two full ounces lighter than the previous versions, and the second lightest in this review. If you are to add in the two StoneGuard inserts, then the weight jumps one ounce per shoe, although we prefer to run without these inserts in as they change the volume inside the upper. Almost everyone we have met with these shoes has told us they also don't use the inserts. So, if weight is a critical factor in your decision making, the Superior 4 should be a top contender.
This is far and away the most sensitive shoe in this review. You will intimately feel every detail of the trail while wearing these shoes, either a completely enjoyable revelation, or a big disappointment. On smooth trails this level of sensitivity makes for a joyful run, but on rocky talus it certainly forces one to slow down. This shoe also makes a great option for learning to run with a midfoot or forefoot landing stride, which can have a lot of physiological benefits in the long term.
These shoes are one of the more affordable trail running shoes available these days. For most runners, however, they will not be an everyday trainer, and will likely be one shoe in the quiver. While they perform pretty well, the value they offer will depend on whether you like keeping a quiver of shoes (more value), or whether you typically only have one trail runner in the rotation at a time (less value).
The Altra Superior 4 are a vastly improved version of the long-running Superior line, constituting the minimalist end of Altra's trail running shoe line-up. They now have stickier rubber, an improved upper and especially tongue design, and lighter weight. These shoes are a great option for those who love a very sensitive and minimalist shoe, but may not provide the protection that most runners need for effective trail running. If this sounds like you, we encourage you to check out our Top Pick for Zero Drop, the Inov-8 TerraUltra G 260.
— Andy Wellman