The Altra Superior 3.5 is an outstanding zero drop shoe suitable for a variety of distances and firm terrain. But the outsole had problems on loose surfaces. This shoe is extremely well cushioned for its weight class. There were very few changes made from the Superior 3 to the 3.5. The only change to note was the addition of metal hook at the end of the tongue to attach a gaiter.
The Superior 3.5 is Altra’s mid- to lightweight running shoe. The Superior is built on Altra’s signature zero-drop, foot shaped platform, but what makes this shoe a little different from other Altra models is the reduced weight and overall cushioning. At right around 10oz, the Superior 3.5 fills a nice sweet spot between lighter trail shoes and heavier, more cushioned models. As with most Altra shoes, agility and precision foot placement can struggle because of the wide toe box. The lighter weight also helps facilitate quick-stepping through technical terrain. The upper is very comfortable with enough padding to help hold your foot and provide decent protection. The upper is pretty durable with its ripstop nylon construction.
The Superior only has a few minor drawbacks. The first is the boxy fit, which could be problematic for runners with narrow or low volume feet. The second issue is that the outsole lugs don’t grip very well on loose surfaces like gravel, scree, and snow (traction was otherwise not a problem). Lastly, although the lightweight of the shoe makes turnover fairly easy, the zero drop also makes it less efficient. Runners who are used to a more aggressive, higher drop, platform might therefore find the Superior to be a little lacking at high speed.
The Superior will appeal to runners with wide feet who want a shoe suitable for daily training on a variety of terrain. It also will appeal to Altra brand-loyalists who want something a little lighter for up-tempo training or racing. Performance-oriented runners should have no problems using the Superior for long distance training runs and ultramarathons as long as they are accustomed to a zero drop platform.
As is common for most Altra shoes, the Superior 3.5 is very comfortable. This is mainly thanks to its large accommodating toe box and flexible upper. Under foot there is ample cushion along with decent flexibility. Adding in the removable rock plate adds a little firmness without sacrificing flexibility. Because of the ample space in the shoe, the Superior 3.5 is still comfortable for long hours out on the trail. For being a lightish shoe (10.3 oz for men, 8.2 oz for women) the cushion is pretty good.
Like most zero drop shoes, the Superior struggles with turnover. This is simply a consequence of a heel that is low to the ground. The midsole is cushioned but is dull and unresponsive. The zero drop does help promote a forefoot foot strike and that is a more efficient way to run but in this shoe that does not equate to speed. A slight rocker profile and the lighter weight help, but it will never feel as quick as a more aggressively designed platform. This shoe is definitely designed as a long and slow type of shoe.
Security of Fit
Even with its wide toe box, there is still a pretty decently snug fit through the midfoot and heel. The lacing system is able to comfortably lock down your foot. The heel and midfoot are well padded and that helps secure feeling. The heel is a low cut and so there is little ankle support. This also can allow debris in, which is why Altra makes a gaiter designed specifically for their shoes. Some testers did note that there was some lateral movement during descents and switchbacks but since the shoe is designed to allow some movement so it does not affect the overall secure feeling of the shoe. Sizing runs pretty true to size but does take some getting used to the wide nature of this shoe.
Almost all of the testers admitted to tripping or stumbling while running in the Superior 3.5 on moderately technical trails. This is attributed to the fact that the toe box is so wide and cannot negotiate tight spaces between rocks. On buffed single track with gradual turns the Superior handels just fine. Its when it is pushed to run faster on technical trails that it really struggles to keep up. The grip is not the issue with the Superior 3.5 even though it is better up and down than side to side.
Responsiveness in the Superior was adequate. This is not a race shoe by any means and is not a fast shoe as discussed earlier. With most zero drop shoes it is easy for the Superior to feel flat and unresponsive unless you are running up on your toes or midfoot. When on your toes the shoe is fairly responsive. If you are not up on your toes then there is a noticeable slapping sound due to a lack of transition from heel to forefoot. For people used to a zero drop shoe they will appreciate the responsiveness of the Superior.
The Superior 3.5 has pretty average protection for a shoe of its weight. It is has nice toe bumper that extends around the side of the shoe that does a good job (better than most lightweight shoes) of protecting against sharp rocks hitting the side of your your foot. The full rubber outsole does a decent job of protecting against minor rocks and combined with the removable rock plate can protect against most anything from getting through the bottom of the shoe. Also with the new and improved gaiter attachments (gaiter sold separately) you can also keep out debris really well, otherwise debris may be an issue with the low cut ankle.
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HOW WE TESTED
Out testing spans the course of several months. Our testers spend a few weeks running at least 50 miles (typically much more) in each shoe. They live all over the country so each shoe can be put through our testing protocol in a variety of terrains and conditions. Each tester is encouraged—to the best of their ability—to test the shoes in as many different terrain environments as possible: in the mountains, on dirt roads, buffed single track, technical terrain, etc. In addition to varying terrain, our testers have to test each shoe at different efforts including a long run, easy running and fast running. As mentioned above we test for six different criteria: comfort, speed, security of fit, agility, responsiveness and protection.