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Trail • June 21, 2021

Altra Superior 5 Performance Review

altra superior 5 - women

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 8.5 oz. (241 g) for US M9.0 / 7.3 oz. (207 g) for US W8.0
  • Lightweight, zero-drop trail shoe for fast runs on technical terrain
  • Better midfoot wrap and security than last year’s version
  • Out now for $120
  • Midfoot wraps like a burrito but how about just give us a real burrito too

TAYLOR: Altra continues to push on as an innovator in the zero-drop foot-shaped shoe world. Within that niche, they are also very careful to change too much about a given shoe. Case in point is the Superior.

It is the slimmest trail design that has largely stayed the same. The 5 (which actually has more than 5 iterations since Altra does half numbers on minor change models) has some noticeable changes too. Most of the focus was put on updating the upper and outsole. Not much more to say. Let’s get into it!

ALEX: I have owned every version of the Altra Superior, and the improved fit and traction of this one takes it right to the top for me. It maintains the signature Superior attributes, including the FootShape comfort and 21 mm Balanced Cushioning platform.

STEF: I have run in a lot of different trail shoes and for some weird reason, I’ve never run in the Altra Superior. I have heard only great things about the shoe from sub-ultra distance trail fanatics, thanks to its trimmed-down package, light weight (this year’s version comes in at 7.5 oz for women, basically identical to last year’s), and grippy lugs that lend themselves to fast times on the trails.

altra superior 5 - mountain

The Good

TAYLOR: The minimalist movement lives on through the Superior 5. If that was/is your jam, this shoe will be your defense against the tidal wave of HOKA-esque midsoles on the market.

At a fairly slim 21 mm stack height (zero drop, of course), this is a pretty minimally cushioned shoe. The Quantic midsole is the same as the previous version. It’s soft and flexible allowing for quite a bit of ground feel. This shoe is for those who like that more natural feel and connection with the ground. For the most part, I liked the sensation of being able to feel and flex with the ground underneath, but I did prefer having a little more rigidity and structure to the ride via the removable rock plate. I felt that the ride of the shoe was not compromised at all because of the shield and actually gave me more comfort over some of the technical trails.

I appreciate how the Superior rides a similar line as the Saucony Mad River TR in that you can somewhat customize your experience in them. There are a couple of customization options for you in the Superior (e.g. removable plastic mesh rock shield and the classic gaiter attachment).

MaxTrac is also a “classic” component of Altra shoes. This updated outsole is promisingly grippy on a variety of surfaces. The rubber compound itself is tacky. Also, a newly patterned outsole gives multidirectional grip.

The redesigned soft mesh upper is very breathable. There are a few overlays that help give the upper a little more structure, providing a nice wrap as the laces are also attached to these overlays. A solid toe bumper saves you from completely wrecking your toes.

As for fit, it’s what you would expect from Altra. A wider foot-shaped forefoot is very accommodating for just about any foot shape and size. A nicely wrapped midfoot and heel via a “burrito style” gusseted tongue provides the security needed for just about any level of trail. As for fit comparisons, it has its own feel, but hits a pretty happy middle ground between the Timp and the Lone Peak. It takes the more wide-open toe box from the Lone Peak and the secure midfoot and heel from the Timp.

The tongue itself has a little more padding than the average tongue. It is a one-piece tongue that’s seamlessly part of the upper. The upper continues from the medial arch side of the foot, up and over the top of the foot and is connected to the upper on the lateral side of the foot. So, it literally wraps the foot like a burrito. This is very nicely done on a comfort and performance level.

When all is said and done, the Superior 5 is a darn light shoe that’s ready to rip. With the rock shield, my size 10.5 came out to 10.1 ounces. Without it, the Superior weighed 9.1 ounces. For an adequate trail shoe, this is impressive. And even better, it’s fun!

ALEX: The upper design of the Superior 5 is simple and clean, and the new colorways are better than ever. The material covering the toe box is slightly more rigid than the previous version, though it maintains its breathability and drains quickly. The quarter panel overlay upper surrounding the heel and midfoot feels more durable; the added structure provides a more secure, protective fit without feeling bulky or heavy.

The soft flexible tongue is fully stitched on the medial side of the foot to keep debris out and tongue from sliding down. I am a big fan of this feature and wish more shoe brands would do this. The tongue also feels slightly more cushioned than the previous version.

As always, my toes are very happy in the roomy, wide midfoot and toe box.

The super grippy MaxTrac outsole provides great traction and grip on technical trail. This version has a better tread pattern with canted lugs that have been strategically placed and oriented to increase grip.

Another small update is the removal of the gaiter attachment loop at the front of the shoe. In the past, this caused the shoe to pull up in a weird way so I was glad to see them do away with it.

Also, it’s only 7.5oz!

STEF: The Superior 5 simply feels fast. I don’t always love a really beefed-up trail shoe, particularly on mountain terrain that includes lots and lots of scree and talus – mostly because I tend to biff it going down ‘em – but the Superior 5 gives you that ground contact feel and proprioception to know what you’re running over.

I am a fan of the “burrito” style wrap-around tongue (the tongue is continuous with the upper to the medial side and is semi-attached via a stretchy gusset to the lateral side), which keeps the tongue from shifting around and provided a much more locked-down midfoot feel than I’m used to with Altra. I didn’t feel the tongue hindered my ability to quickly get in and out of the shoe. I think where the Superior 5 shines the most is with its MaxTrac™ outsole and multi-directional lug pattern. I felt completely stable on wet rocks/wood and felt like the shoe was actually digging into loose downhill terrain – something I always wished I felt more of in some of the Superior’s competition (e.g. the Nike Terra Kiger). The upper is smooth with zero hotspots for me and no places for dirt/pebbles to gather on the shoe.

Shop Altra Superior 5 – Men Shop Altra Superior 5 – Women altra superior 5 - women1

The Bad

TAYLOR: My biggest complaint about the Superior 5 comes from the insole. It’s rare that I pay much attention to it in most shoes. But with the rock shield in I did notice that the insole would slide around every now and then. It just did not stick cleanly in the shoe. Most of the time it would slip forward when on steep downhill terrain or when hitting a switchback real fast. In both cases that’s exactly when you would NOT want to stop for adjustments. It never completely shifted to where I had to take my shoe off, but I did have to work it back into place a little with my toes.

This is more of a personal gripe from someone who is new to this shoe.  Personally, I loved the Quantic midsole in the Timp 2. In the Superior, it is such a boring feeling! It’s just a thin layer of midsole. In a world of super foams (or even Altra’s new EGO midsole), a little bit of bounce wouldn’t hurt, would it?! I do realize that these types of foams could take away a little bit of that beloved ground feel. That is more important to the integrity of this particular shoe anyways.

ALEX: I prefer a more max-cushioned ride on the trails. The Quantic midsole is super soft and combines with the 21 mm stack height to provide a lot of flex over roots and rocks. While I do appreciate the roomy, minimal fit, I have high arches and the low arch profile of the Superior always has me reaching for my insoles.

They did bump the price up from $110 to $120, but the updates are worth it.

STEF: Altra appears to have widened the forefoot in the Superior 5 compared to previous versions and while I do have a wider forefoot (thank you Tailor’s bunions), I was really swimming in these. Perhaps bumping down a half size would be an easy fix for that, and it really is not a deal-breaker for me. I couldn’t see myself running/racing anything longer than 10, 13.1 miles in these and at those distances, my feet don’t swell, so I don’t really require the additional forefoot width.

For die-hard Altra fans, I don’t think the slight increase in toe box width will be noticeable, but for those that have never run in Altras, it may feel slightly clown-shoe-like. I truthfully have no qualms with the shoe, as I really feel it shines at what it does (fast running for sub-ultra trail distances with a protective-enough midsole).

Shop Altra Superior 5 – Men Shop Altra Superior 5 – Women altra superior 5 - red

Altra Superior 5 Conclusion

TAYLOR: I can see it now. All you Altra die-hards got the bug from somewhere. The Superior is most often what I hear to be the cause of it. It’s a winning formula that doesn’t need much adjusting between iterations. It’s a secure fitting, lightweight, zero-drop, and comfortable speedster. It can cover about any terrain and any type of run you would ask of it. If you’re in the market for a more minimal, no-gimmicks trail shoe, check out the Altra Superior 5. You’ll likely be glad you did.

ALEX: I really like the updates on Superior 5. While they are a little too light and flexible for my longer efforts, I will be reaching for these for my shorter runs up to 10 miles and my post-long run hikes.

STEF: For $120 (a $10 increase from last year’s version), I still feel that the Superior is a steal for a trail racer that performs. It’s responsive, the traction is stellar, and most importantly – the midfoot is locked the heck down in this year’s version. The shoe comes with an updated removable StoneGuard™ that helps keep more crud out of the shoe – perfect for shorter distances along trails like the Tahoe Rim Trail, where dirt and pebbles like to creep in.

All in all, I highly recommend the Altra Superior 5s to loyal fans and new trail runners alike that don’t necessarily need or want a max stack height (looking at my hefty supinators or chronic lateral ankle sprainers).

You can pick up the Altra Superior 5 for $120 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.

Shop Altra Superior 5 – Men Shop Altra Superior 5 – Women altra superior 5 - women heel

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