Altra Superior 3.5 Performance Review
Robbe: Honestly, I’d never run in Altras before, and I tended to stay away from them strictly because I thought they looked so… boring (I mean, is that toe box for real??).
Forgive me, Altra, for I have sinned.
Despite being a trail shoe, the first spin I took in the Superior 3.5 was not a trail run, but a city run. It was a fresh two-inch snowfall in Baltimore, and the sidewalks were calling. I must go. The Altras went, and they handled beautifully. My toes, so free. My grip, so firm. The shoes, so light. Over the course of 4 miles, I fell in love.
The TrailClaw outsole with DuraTread rubber is the standard for the Superior; they’re meant to dig, and they took to the snow without issue. I don’t recall slipping once, except on a little bit of ice, but any other shoe would do the same. I maintained my regular running pace with a lot of cuts and turns along the waterfront promenade and felt confident and secure.
My longest run was a 13-mile run on actual trails with some elevation (we’re talking suburban Baltimore here so that you won’t see words like escarpment and vert in this review), but it was enough to give them some work. The run was in 17 degrees cold on half snow-covered trails and iced-over creeks. I paired the shoes up with Injinji trail socks and despite the fact that I’m not a minimalist runner— all Altra shoes are zero-drop for those who are unfamiliar— my feet still felt great at the end of the run.
For a trail shoe, the stack height of the Superior 3.5 is at the low-end, with a 21mm height. Because of this, the shoe flows wonderfully over the trail, with incredible feel. The weight comes in at 10.3 oz, which is as light or lighter than the standard trainer. Honestly, it felt lighter. It almost felt like a small step up from racing flats. I bombed a big downhill full of rocks and snow at a pretty breakneck pace, and they didn’t miss a beat. Other trail shoes I’ve had feel so heavy, but the Superior 3.5 are light and responsive. Part of this is due to the midsole, which features Innerflex technology, a grid pattern that cuts out the weight and improves flexibility.
I did have a slight misstep on what I thought was a solid-ice creek crossing and ended up with wet toes, but everything miraculously dried over just a couple miles. So obviously the shoe isn’t waterproof, but the upper is comprised of quick-dry air mesh.
As far as this model of shoe, not much has changed since the Superior 3.0, aside from claimed durability improvements to the upper (I have no idea what these changes are), and Altra’s proprietary GaiterTrap 4-point system. The GaiterTrap technology is essentially a built-in way to hook in Altra’s foot gaiters, also known as a smart way to sell an add-on product. Well played, Altra. As with the 3.0, the Superior 3.5 shoe also comes with the easily-removable rock plate beneath the insole. I wasn’t a big fan of the rock plate, as it took away from some of the feel. Then again, it is a rock plate, not a marshmallow plate.
Erin: My only other experience with Altra was the Timp (read my review here), and I have to say, the Superior 3.5 is, well…superior. This may be my favorite trail shoe of all time. According to Altra, the women’s Superior 3.5 weighs in at 8.2 ounces, which I almost don’t believe, because it feels SO light. When I took them out of the box, it was the first thing I noticed. The second thing I noticed was that the shoe seemed stiff, which I was a little concerned about. Anyway.
I received a pair in the pink/orange colorway, which I prefer over the other two available options. The step-in feel was great. My first run in these was not a trail run but on stone streets and they performed well.
The Superior 3.5 has a 21 mm stack height and, like all Altra shoes, is zero drop. Previous versions of the Superior have had durability issues with the upper, and I admit that this has made me a little leery of the shoe, as I know quite a few people who have had the upper blow out within a month or so. The 3.5 has a reinforced upper with elastic overlays, and though I’ve only put about 60 miles on them, they were hard miles, and the shoes still look brand new. No issues with durability so far.
The trail miles I’ve put on the Superior thus far have been extremely rocky and technical, and I am enthusiastically happy with how they feel and perform. The DuraTread outsole with TrailClaw is very grippy, even on slick, rocky trail, but without sacrificing flexibility (something I was needlessly concerned about), and the wide FootShape toe box provides ample room to spread your toes out and feel the trail. I didn’t run through any stream crossings, though I did about 14 miles in the rain and the shoes dried out pretty well.
Like the Timp, the Superior 3.5 has a 4-point GaiterTrap system, but I still don’t own gaiters so I can’t attest to its usefulness.
Robbe: The lightness and agility of the Superior 3.5 do come with a couple of downsides. The upper, while super light and breathable, doesn’t offer a ton of cushion or support. It didn’t bother me, but others may want more comfort in a trail shoe. Ironically, because of this, the shoe may not work well for longer “ultras,” but would be a strong shoe for shorter trail races.
In cold weather, the sole gets hard, almost like hard plastic. It’s still flexible, but on hard surfaces, it wasn’t very forgiving. Granted, all my runs were between 17-30 degrees Fahrenheit, which is atypical for most runners. At the end of my long run when I was a bit worn down, on a couple of occasions the lugs on the sole nicked my other calf coming through, and it hurt like hell. Which I guess is the downside of a wide toe box.
As this is a light Altra shoe, there isn’t much cushion and zero-drop, so your feet do have to be somewhat adapted to this. If you’re not used to this style of shoe, it takes a little bit. My calves and Achilles were barking after my 6-mile run (my second test run) in the Superior 3.5. I don’t actually think this is a negative, as Altra is up-front about all of this, and recommends breaking them in over a few weeks.
The last thing- I hate how Altras look. Not just the toe box, but the colorways and overall design are dad-lame. This shoe comes in three colors: bright red (which I got and is okay), navy blue (looks like a Payless signature model), and grey/maroon (looks like something your Uncle Dave wore to Lollapalooza ‘96).
Erin: Really, the only negative thing I can say about this shoe is that it has a stupid heel rudder that extends off the back of the outsole. I guess it’s for better traction/stability but it just kinda gets in the way. I guess I’d be happier if the shoe was a tad wider in the midfoot area but now I’m just nit-picky.
Altra Superior 3.5 Conclusion
Robbe: I gotta say, I think I’m an Altra convert. Will I revamp my whole lineup of shoes to reflect my newfound salvation? Probably not. However, I’ll be sure to keep them in active consideration when searching out new shoes. I will take these shoes on all my shorter trail runs (less than 15 miles). I feel like if you’re adapted to the zero drop, you could easily stretch that out. So if you’re looking for a fast and responsive trail shoe with outstanding grip, then this is it. The last thing- sizing is accurate. I had an 8, which is a half size up for me, so it felt a little big, but still worked great.
Erin: Now I understand why people continued to buy the Superior despite the durability issues of previous versions. The Altra Superior 3.5 is a fantastic shoe. If you’re looking for a trail shoe that can do it all, look no further than the Superior 3.5.
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