Trail Tested: Altra Superior 3.5
Trail Tested gear has been run in for at least 50 miles. Our reviewer ran in the Altra Superior 3.5 for 150—this shoe stood up to all conditions and felt responsive through and through.
Altra Superior 3.5
Weight 9.6 oz
Drop: 0 mm
Stack height: 21 mm
Designed and marketed as a lightweight trail shoe, the Altra Superior 3.5 is minimal in that it offers a zero drop, but shouldn’t be mistaken for a race-specific model. The 3.5, as with past models, offers a modest (21 mm) stack height and comes in at 9.6 ounces. This model provides ample protection—particularly so when paired with the removable rock plate—and can stand up to the abuse of high daily mileage. The Superior is responsive, though not overly stiff.
As with all Altra models, the Superior is built on a last that flairs in the forefoot to provide a high-volume toebox. The extra room allows the forefoot to extend at the footstrike and absorb forces, effectively harnessing the foot’s natural ability to reduce impact.
Many brands intend to facilitate the same process by offering a high-volume toebox, yet the result is a sloppy feel. The Superior tapers quickly, moving back from the toebox to the mid-foot toward the heel, wrapping the mid-foot snuggly and holding the heel securely. Even for this reviewer, who has a narrower foot, I felt secure. The transition through the gait cycle was efficient and responsive.
The Superior’s upper is relatively thin mesh-reinforced with low-volume, non-invasive overlays that run the length and add durability without adding weight or creating potential hot spots. The traditional lacing system cinches down effectively and the deep heel cup provides a secure hold.
I always felt that I could push confidently off the platform when the pace picked up.
The midsole is substantial without being overbuilt. The construction of the shoe is intended to promote a fore- to mid-foot landing and the volume of material is sufficient throughout the relevant areas underfoot.
For runners accustomed to running with a typical drop (8 mm or so), this shoe is a great minimalist choice for cushion and energy return because its midsole offers a protective, responsive ride. This feature allowed me to open it up on technical descents without concern for thrashing my legs. I always felt that I could push confidently off the platform when the pace picked up.
The Superior’s outsole is moderate in nature and entirely functional in application. Horizontal 2-to-3-mm lugs, spaced at intervals of about three-quarters of an inch, run the length. Though it doesn’t look particularly aggressive, the lug placement works. The Superior can handle spring conditions ranging from refrozen ice to unconsolidated, saturated March snow and oil-slick mud. The outsole held securely and felt tacky on craggy rock outcroppings both ascending and descending.
The takeaway is that the Superior 3.5 is a capable daily training shoe that would also be appropriate for use in longer trail ultras as well. It offers a reliable functionality, refined through past iterations, and runners who prefer a known quantity over gimmicky models will appreciate the Superior’s moderately designed features and capably complete package.
—Casey Weaver began running cross country and track in high school, continuing into college at University of Colorado-Colorado Springs. As an adult, Casey took to longer distances as a way to explore remote areas. He fell in love with the aesthetic and the cathartic self-awareness drawn from the process and typically runs 80-to-100-mile weeks.
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