Long-Term Test: Altra Superior 2.0

The perfect running shoe is an elusive thing. There have been many that were good, some have even crossed over into the category of great. But the perfect shoe I have not found. While there is no real possibility of the Superior 2.0 falling into the perfect category, I have to admit that at this moment it is among my favorite shoes – but it has to be part of a larger quiver.

There are plenty of reasons to like the Superior 2.0:

  1. For a low-profile shoe it has excellent cushioning from a mid-low-density midsole. The result is that the shoe also has excellent sole flexibility which makes keeping your grip on varying terrain much easier. You have outstanding proprioception in the shoes which means that very little will take you by surprise in the shoe-ground interface: if your shoe is going to slip in some steep scree, you know it is going to happen almost before it does.
  2. The shoe feels fast. The combination of zero-drop, light weight, and a very responsive ride mean that the shoe wants to move. It is nimble when picking your way down technical lines, and never feels heavy when you are headed straight up.
  3. For such a light, pseudo-minimal shoe, it offers fair protection. The removable rock plate that slides in between the slip last of the inside of the shoe and the insole does make a noticeable difference when dancing through a garden of pointy rocks (which is something you experience on almost every Colorado trail run at some point).
  4. The upper fits a wide range of feet well. While Altra shoes tend to be known for fitting wider feet well (to the detriment of how they fit lower volume and narrower feet in all other models that I have run in), some how the Superior fits my narrow, low-volume foot reasonably well. Yes, I have to cinch down the laces quite a bit, but – given the B width of my foot – that is true of many shoes. What makes the Superior work well is the seamless upper with welded overlays that seems less resistant to wrapping your foot than many more-built uppers with multiple layers of stitched overlays and rigid/durable materials on many trail shoes.
  5. While it lasts, the sole is very good for a great variety of running. It’s greatest weakness is wet performance – it doesn’t have the grip to hold you on wet, slick rocks/logs/wooden bridges; and it doesn’t shed mud like a Fellcross or some the Inov8 fell running shoes – but everything else that I have thrown at it, from snow to choss to slab seemed to be well within its comfort zone.

As a runner with a short, efficient stride who avoids pavement like a vegan avoiding a Texas BBQ, that is a lot to love.

If I was running ultra distances, then I might think about something else for improved cushioning and protection in the late miles of a run. But so far I’m not going ultra so that’s not a concern. And if it were, the fact that Bryon Powell (publisher of irunfar.com) ran the Hardrock 100 last year in a New Balance racing shoe should possibly make me consider giving the Superior a go at it.

There is no question that this shoe gives me a lot of what I want. There are things about it that are absolutely “great.” But at the same time, it is also clear to me that there are distinct shortcomings that balance those strengths out, and make this a shoe that falls somewhere in the “good” category for me:

  1. Durability is not its strong suit. I have a number of pairs of these shoes that I cycle through with some La Sportiva and New Balance shoes. In direct comparison between shoes from other makers, the Altras do not last as long and are more-prone to having either manufacturer defects or unexpected failures early in their life cycle. I had a pair that the welded toe overlay delaminated across a 3cm length on my first 75-minute-long run. I had another pair where the stitching around the heel notch gave out after less than 50 miles. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be uncommon in my experience of Altra shoes where roughly half of them last as long as I would expect them to and half give up the ghost early.
  2. The rubber sole is neither sticky, nor particularly durable. As mentioned above, the wet performance is less that what I would hope for. In my opinion that is a trade off that you can make when you’re getting great durability out of a sole, but that is not the case here either. The sole is toast well before the rest of the shoe, and the way that the sole wears means that you need to have a few pairs of these in rotation so that you have at least one pair with a fairly fresh sole for runs where you need extra grip. Depending on the surfaces you run and your mechanics, you could expect to experience significant reduction of lug height in 100-150 miles.
  3. The upper is not particularly breathable/drainable/fast-drying. On a hot day in the sun, or when you have to ford a stream this probably isn’t the first shoe you would chose as having the ideal upper. The tight-knit mesh upper keeps out debris, but doesn’t help air circulation. When you submerge the shoe the upper seems to contain the water and hold on to it longer than shoes with more-breathable uppers. As a result, it wouldn’t be the shoe I would go to for a race like Western States where there is a lot of heat in the Canyons, and plenty of river crossing.
  4. While I appreciate that the soft midsole provides cushioning and excellent flexibility, it does so at the expense of any semblance of stability or support. I don’t need much, so for me this isn’t a deal breaker; but I would be happy to trade off some of that flexibility for either a dual-density or slightly firmer midsole. Unless you are running in Moab where the slick rock will beat you up more than a typically mixed trail, the shoe errs in favor of cushion and loses some of its appeal for doing so.

If you are a runner with significant biomechanical issues (over-pronation, supination, etc.), a heal-striker, or someone who spends miles on pavement on their way to the trail, this is likely not a shoe for you unless you are running shorter distances or are well adapted to minimalist shoes. If you are looking for one shoe to be your “go-to” shoe, this probably isn’t it either.

The Superior 2.0 is a specialist (you wouldn’t see a dentist to have your meniscus repaired, but then you wouldn’t see an orthopedist for a cavity either) and picking where you use it can give you a flat-out great experience. While I would like to see Altra make big leaps on the quality/durability issue, I’ll still plunk down what a pair costs me just for the pure satisfaction of what it does so well – biomechanically-efficient runs on mixed terrain, lasting 30 minutes to 3 or 4 hours, when it’s relatively dry.

ALTRA SUPERIOR 2.0
3 peaks
MSRP: $110
Weight: 247g each
Heel-Toe Differential: 
0mm
Tongue Gusset: Yes
Rock Plate: Removable
Key features: 
Zero-stack, tongue gusset, removable rock plate, lightweight
Pros: Simple style, great at short-to-mid distance runs in good weather, responsive ride
Cons: Poor durability, would benefit from firmer midsole, inconsistent quality, poor wet-performance from the sole

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