7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (2024)

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (1)

A relatively young upstart in the world of

running shoes, Altra was founded in 2009 with the goal of making shoes built for the way people naturally run. Its footwear showcases three core technologies that continue to distinguish Altra from other brands: foot-shaped soles, zero-drop and gender-specific fits across the brand’s line-up.

Bought by VF Corporation (the same company that owns The North Face and Icebreaker) in 2018, the running shoe specialist is one of the most exciting manufacturers around. It has a full range for all, whether you’re after a carbon-soled PB weapon or something for stability on wet and muddy trails.

The best Altra running shoes

Below you can find our favourite picks from the current Altra range. For full reviews of each shoe, keep scrolling.

What’s special about Altra shoes?

Balanced Cushioning

Although Altra has recently introduced a model with a small amount of drop (the AltraFWD Experience), the majority of its range is zero-drop – meaning there’s no difference between the height of the heel and the forefoot. Altra calls this ‘Balanced Cushioning’ and claims that it ‘aids in optimal alignment, cultivates better form and encourages a low-impact landing’.

It’s a feature commonly found in barefoot shoes. While studies have shown it can be beneficial, it’s generally recommended that you take your time adjusting to zero-drop shoes, with your foot’s bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments needing to strengthen and acclimatise to the form it promotes.

FootShape

You only have to glance at a pair of Altra running shoes to notice they have a wider toe box than most. The brand calls this ‘FootShape’ – the idea is to allow your toes to spread out naturally while the big toe can remain straight, providing a more powerful toe-off.

Fit4Her

Altra claims to have created a truly gender-specific fit with its Fit4Her technology. All of its range is available in a women’s model that has been tweaked to compliment the physical characteristics of the female foot. This includes a narrower heel and midfoot, higher instep and longer arch.

How we test

All of the Altra running shoes included in our round-up below were put through their paces by the RW team. Our main tester, Charlie, averages 50-65km per week. He tested the shoes in the environment for which they’ve been built – for example, interval drills on a smooth, flat surface for carbon-plated shoes, recovery and tempo runs for everyday designs, and complete slop-fests for the trail shoes.

Best Altra running shoes

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (9)

1

Best gateway trainer to low drop shoes

AltraFWD Experience

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (10)

1

Best gateway trainer to low drop shoes

AltraFWD Experience

Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (11)Rocker profile guides you forward
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (12)Firm yet supportive
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (13)Can handle light trails
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (14)Isn't zero drop
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (15)Heel collar isn't the most comfortable

If you’re not ready to completely remove heel-to-toe drop from your running shoe rack, then the AltraFWD Experience is a good middle ground that helps your feet get used to a flatter foot positioning.

It packs a 4mm drop and features a rocker shape, which combine to encourage forward propulsion and keep the shoe feeling fast and responsive – whether you’re plodding along or completing a high-intensity interval session.

While it’s not an out-and-out race shoe that will give you the edge if you’re chasing a PB, the AltraFWD Experience does stay comfortable and supportive deep into longer training runs thanks to its midsole’s compression-moulded EVA foam, which provides a good balance of cushioning and firmness.

The engineered mesh uppers kept things cool and sweat-free, and our feet didn’t suffer in the cold during sub-zero winter testing. The toe box was roomy without feeling cavernous. The only downside we found was the bulky heel collar, which felt slightly restrictive at times and occasionally rubbed.

Overall, the AltraFWD Experience fits well and performed like an everyday running shoe should. While mainly designed for the road, it could handle light woodland trails, too. But in a competitive market, there are plenty of alternatives (such as the Hoka Clifton 9) that could rocker your world instead.

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Key Specs

Weight240g (M), 201g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack height26mm (heel)/30mm (forefoot)
TypeNeutral with rocker

2

Best for max-cushioning

Altra Via Olympus 2

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (16)

2

Best for max-cushioning

Altra Via Olympus 2

Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (17)Superior comfort
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (18)Great for easy and recovery runs
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (19)Good underfoot grip in the wet
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (20)A bit clumpy
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (21)Felt sluggish during sprints

Worried about making the switch to a zero-drop shoe? The new Via Olympus’ cloud-like cushioning is so plump you’ll feel like you’re running on barefoot air.

A rocker shape with decent stack (33mm), the Via Olympus 2 is designed as an everyday trainer that promotes an efficient toe-off without the aches and pains that can be common with a flat stack height. It’s able to do this thanks to a softer EGO Max midsole foam and plush footbed, which we found cocooned our feet without smothering them (and absorbed the odd heel strike).

Our favourite runs in the Via Olympus 2 were the slower recovery sessions and easy workouts you gravitate towards when coming off the back of longer weekend training sessions. During faster runs, it was no slouch, but you’d probably want something a bit more responsive and springy for intervals or PB attempts.

Breathability was on point thanks to its engineered mesh upper, while the rubber outsole showed minimal wear after about 50km of testing.

The only flaw we could find was its weight. Altra’s exaggerated toe box looks particularly wide on the Via Olympus 2, while all that cushioning comes at a price on the scales. For those looking for comfort above all else, though, the Via Olympus 2 stands head and shoulders above the rest of the Altra range.

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Key Specs

Weight323g (M), 272g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack33mm (heel)/33mm (forefoot)
TypeNeutral, rocker

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3

Best everyday trainer

Altra Torin 7

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (22)

3

Best everyday trainer

Altra Torin 7

Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (23)Versatile
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (24)Good breathability
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (25)Fits true to size
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (26)Cushioning smothers road feel
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (27)Could be more responsive

The Torin is the most versatile road runner in Altra’s range that sits somewhere between the cloud-like Via Olympus and firm and unforgiving Provision.

The midsole has been plumped up by 2mm in the latest version, and the result is a touch more cushioning and a zero-drop shoe that doesn’t really feel like one – making it ideal for those looking to make the leap into barefoot-style running without a side order of aches and pains. For those who like to feel the ground underfoot, though, this extra padding might dampen things a bit too much.

Other tweaks to the latest Torin include a redesigned heel collar and plush tongue, which combine with the brand’s signature, generous toe box to provide a secure yet highly comfortable fit.

While at home on longer efforts and faster intervals, the Torin 7 wouldn’t be our pick for all-out speed and its forefoot doesn’t have the pop of a carbon plate shoe. That said, it’s a versatile, daily trainer that offers a bit more spring than the Via Olympus 2 and is more forgiving than the Provision 8 if you’re still finding your zero-drop feet.

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Key Specs

Weight278g (M), 230g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack height30mm (heel)/30mm (forefoot)
TypeNeutral

4

Best mixed-terrain trainer

Altra Outroad 2

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (28)

4

Best mixed-terrain trainer

Altra Outroad 2

Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (29)Great feel on and off-road
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (30)Lugs can deal with loose mud
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (31)Responsive
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (32)No waterproofing
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (33)On the firm side

Unless you live in the heart of a city, there’s a good chance that your training combines a mix of pavement and trail-like terrain. While most road-focused shoes can handle hard-packed gravel and light forest tracks, you’ll want to invest in a hybrid pair if you’re venturing further off the beaten track.

The Outroad 2 is the zero-drop shoe for all occasions. The lugs on its MaxTrac outsole impressively gripped onto loose, off-road climbs, but were of a low enough profile that it didn’t feel like we were skating around on studs on the road – similar to the Hoka Challenger 7.

On top of the outsole, the EGO Midsole foam was responsive and on the firm side, but with enough cushioning to take the sting out when navigating root-strewn descents. This was aided by Altra’s Slim FootShape fit, giving the Outroad 2 a more streamlined feel than some of the brand’s more hefty shoes.

Its engineered mesh upper was comfortable (we had no problems embarking on a 25km run straight out of the box) and durable, but the Outroad 2 could have benefitted from some waterproofing – our feet were left damp and chilly after failing to dodge a muddy puddle that was deeper than it looked.

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Key Specs

Weight303g (M), 246g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack height27mm (heel)/27mm (forefoot)
TypeRoad to trail

5

Best race day shoe

Altra Vanish Carbon

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (34)

5

Best race day shoe

Altra Vanish Carbon

Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (35)Incredible spring
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (36)Long distance comfort
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (37)Cheaper than some carbon-plated shoes
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (38)Too breathable on cold starts
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (39)Slightly boring design

Carbon-plated shoes have been kicking around for a while now, with most manufacturers onto their second or third generation of PB-smashing kicks. The Vanish Carbon marks the first time that Altra has dipped its toe in the market – and it’s an impressive debut.

We tested the Vanish Carbon during some longer interval sessions and the difference between them and a non-carbon-plated pair was night and day. The shoe’s spring and rocker shape propelled us during the high-intensity blocks, shaving seconds off of lap splits and increasing the distance travelled for the same perceived effort.

The 33mm stack and EGO Pro midsole foam meant that they stayed comfortable deep into an hour-plus of intervals, and we have confidence that they’ll keep your feet feeling fresh during half and full marathon efforts.

The upper’s engineered mesh was on the thin side, though, meaning our feet did feel the cold before they were deep into the hard miles – but this is a small sacrifice when focusing solely on speed.

The main criticism we have is about the Vanish Carbon’s overall aesthetic. Although you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, when spending £220 on a pair of shoes you want something that looks the part, and the Vanish Carbon would struggle to beat the Nike Alphafly 3 in a beauty contest.

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Key Specs

Weight206g (M), 176g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack height33mm (heel)/33mm (forefoot)
TypeCarbon plate

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6

Best for tempo/speed sessions

Altra Provision 8

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (40)

6

Best for tempo/speed sessions

Altra Provision 8

Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (41)Responsive ride
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (42)Promotes toe off
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (43)Stable on twisty courses
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (44)Very firm
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (45)Snug fit

The Provision 8 is the most traditional zero-drop shoe in Altra’s range. A relatively low 28mm stack height combined with firm cushioning means that, if you get your technique wrong and start to heel strike, you’d soon know about it in your calves and ankles.

For everyday easy runs, we found it slightly too unforgiving. But ramp up the intensity with some tempo and speed work and the shoe transforms itself from a painful plodder into a threshold thoroughbred. It doesn’t have the bounce of a carbon shoe, but the responsive forefoot provides just enough spring to aid forward propulsion.

Those looking for extra stability will get on well with the Provision 8’s use of GuideRail technology, but it doesn’t feel overly intrusive for someone who generally wears neutral shoes, either. It had the snuggest fit of all of the Altra shoes – even with the brand’s signature roomy toe box – so you might want to try before you buy or go half a size up.

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Key Specs

Weight289g (M), 234g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack height28mm (heel)/28mm (forefoot)
TypeStability

7

Best for trail running

Altra Olympus 5

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (46)

7

Best for trail running

Altra Olympus 5

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Pros
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (47)Great grip on a variety of trails
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (48)Comfortable cushioning
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (49)Secure fit
Cons
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (50)No waterproofing
  • 7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (51)Weighty

Not to be confused with the Via Olympus range, the Olympus is the big, off-road brother of the hybrid Outroad. Its features speak for themselves: a chunky Vibram Megagrip outsole, a thick wedge of cushioning and a durable, engineered mesh upper. But how does it fair in the cut-and-thrust nature of waterlogged winter trails?

Out of the box, the Olympus 5 was a comfortable companion on all types of terrain – from the rock-hard roads to get from home to the nearest trails, to six-inch deep muddy ruts.

Its outsole handled the change in pace well – its lugs maintained grip in loose, slippery slop but didn’t feel like they held you back on faster descents where it’s best to go with the flow and not fight gravity.

Its compression-molded EVA midsole provided stability and cushioning off-road and made it one of the more forgiving zero-drop shoes in Altra’s range.

After a first run of 27km, we had no issues, other than very wet feet. And this is the main flaw we could find with the Olympus 5 – it doesn’t have any waterproofing. The shoe does have a hook-and-loop tab to attach strapless gaiters, but we’d have preferred a durable water-repellent coating on the upper to keep all but the biggest water crossings at bay. The one silver lining was the shoe’s breathability, which gave the moisture a chance to dry out slightly between puddles.

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Key Specs

Weight350g (M), 295g (W)
Drop0mm
Stack height33mm (heel)/33mm (forefoot)
TypeTrail

From:

Runner's World US

7 best Altra running shoes for a natural, minimalist ride (2024)

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