The Altra Superior 4 is billed as an exceptionally lightweight and fast trail shoe and for 2019 it has been almost completely revamped. The shoe's upper has a brand new design with a wrap-around style tongue and sock-like feel for added security and support. The midsole features Altra’s proprietary, new Quantic foam, while the outsole is now made with Altra’s sticky MaxTrac rubber. Billed as a light-weight trail runner, this shoes is meant for those who like minimalist shoes, but don’t want to sacrifice a full running shoe feel and cushioning. There is also a built-in Stone Guards which is ideal for minimizing rock bruises.
The Altra Superior 4 Trail Running Shoes after several miles through mud, rock, dirt and debris.
Weight: 224g / 7.9oz
Colours: Men's -Blue/Gray, Black, Gray/Red, Gray/Lime; Women's - Plum, Black/Purble, Gray/Rasperry, Dark Blue
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The Superior 4 is the most minimalist trail running shoes that Altra makes unless you go for the Golden Spike which is a bit more specialized. The Superior 4 is the perfect shoe for those who don’t desire much cushioning and want a nimble, fast trail shoe with minimal weight, it’s meant for speed and quickness. It offers an medium aggressive tread pattern, a knit upper with an almost sock-like fit and is versatile enough to be used for 3 season trail running.
Altra’s approach to running shoes is based on the theory that stacked cushioned heels on classic running shoes lead to common runners’ injuries in-part due to encouraging a heel-strike gait. The “zero-drop” approach that Altra uses creates a natural stride that doesn’t tip the runner forward with a higher heel and lower toe which encourages a more natural mid-foot strike.
A heel strike gait loads the posterior muscles of the leg which axially loads the spine. Mid foot striking gaits are more natural and take advantage of the shock-absorber qualities of the legs large muscles instead of the braking action of the heel strike. This can lead to alleviation of common runner’s ailments and pains. According to Altra, the ZeroDrop platform positions the heel and forefoot an equal distance from the ground aiding in optimal alignment, cultivating better form, and encouraging a low-impact landing.
Altra's Fit4Her technology caters to the specific form of the female foot, which has a narrower heel and mid foot, a higher instep, a longer arch and unique metatarsal spacing. Altra’s Fit4Her takes all of this into account and creates a better fitting shoe for women instead of putting all runners in essentially men’s shoes.
Altra’s FootShape toe box shape allows runner’s toes and metatarsals the space they need to spread out naturally and provide a gait which flows with much less restriction of natural movement. This enhances stability and creates a powerful toe-off form to maximize running performance. Traditional running shoes usual have tapering toe boxes which compress the toes and metatarsals or long foot bones that are critical to normal foot movement. This unnatural compression squeezes the toes out of their natural position which increases the risk of blisters and plantar fasciitis in the short term and over time, more serious foot complications of bunions, hammertoes and plantar fasciitis. These long-term problems can require prolonged recovery and even surgery to correct.
Midsole: Quantic with InnerFlex
Outsole: MaxTrac with TrailClaw
Upper: Wrap-Around Knit
I’ve been a trail runner for 15 years and prefer (full disclosure) the maximalist shoes like the Altra Olympus 3 and Hoka Stinson ATR. I tested these Superior 4’s over several weeks in the Seattle area at Cougar and Tiger mountains for up to 1.5-hour runs as well as in the Spokane area on the multitude of drier, rockier terrain this area offers.
95% of the trails I ran were single track and included standing water, mud, sand, and dry rocky terrain. I am bigger-framed than most runners, so again was concerned these shoes wouldn’t provide me with enough cushion, especially over the longer runs-thus I limited my runs to less than 1.5 hours. Additionally, I stand at my job, sometimes for 3-4 hours at a go and tested these shoes for basic comfort and usability.
If you’re already comfortable running in light-weight shoes like Altra’s Solstice or Kayenta then these shoes are a perfect trail shoe for you. Full disclosure, I’m a big fan of the max-cushioned trail shoe variants. I am built like a brick and when running any distance over 10 miles or 15 kilometers, I also go for the most cushioned shoes I can find. Having run several 10km races in minimalist shoes and ending up with plantar fasciitis, I am wary of shoes without much cushion. Having run several 50 km and 50 mile races in max-cushioned shoes without injury should let you know my biases. If you find running in lighter running shoes suits you, then again, these shoes are likely perfect for you. Even for a clydesdale runner like me, these shoes delivered on their promises of being light-weight, nimble and fast. The Superior 4’s are exceptionally comfortable right out of the box, Altra has mastered fit and feel for me and many of my running compadres. Perfect for most trails in minimal-mud situations, they Superior 4’s have enough traction and trail-feel for 80-90% of what most trail runner’s experience on single track. If mud and water are expected, see my review on the Altra Lone peak 4 Mid RSM with the link going to Altra’s website. The Superior’s upper is a knit, breathable material that is exceptionally comfortable. That combined with the semi-sock tongue, connected to the body on the lateral side, give them a nearly perfect fit with minimal areas for blister formation or hot spots. The uppers do shed water reasonably well, so if you don’t want a full waterproof upper, these will do in most conditions. Due to the thin nature of the soles, Altra offers Stone Guards that come with the shoes to help prevent foot bruises. It does stiffen the shoe a bit.
When running in rocky terrain are flitting over downed trees, these shoes are unparalleled in the nimble category. They breed confidence and stability with one major problem is big drops. They just don’t have enough cushion (for me that is). I found myself a bit concerned about rock bruises when not using the Stone Guards. Maybe this is an indication I need to adjust my gait and speed, but I found the Superior’s big brother in the Lone Peak more confidence instilling for preventing bruising.
I also found the tread to fill with compacted mud or debris more than the Lone Peak. Although not a problem much of the time, when really needing that last bit of traction, the Superiors felt a bit slippery, especially after a muddy section. Some rocks, especially wet, moss-covered rocks, are going to be the bain of all trail running shoes, but I did find when wet and muddy, these shoes lost traction. That being said, with a few bangs with a stick, the mud cleared out quickly. I also recommend adding a pair of Altra Gaiters to these shoes, especially on longer, drier trails when getting that little stick or stone in the shoes requires full stoppage and investigation. All Altra trail shoes come with a great feature of the GaiterTraptm velcro to seemlessly secure your trail gaiters to the heel of your shoe.
If you’re looking for a very light, nimble, versatile and comfortable trail running shoe, then look no further. For those who want a bit more cushion or traction, consider the Lone Peak series and if waterproofing is needed, try the Altra Lone peak 4 Mid RSM. Again full disclosure, I run in max-cushioned shoes, so this review was an attempt at objectivity while giving some understanding of the shoe’s performance in many different conditions.