Altra Via Olympus Review: Looks Can Be Deceiving
Weighs 11 oz. (312 g) for a US M9/ 8.9 oz. (255 g) for a US W7
Rocker shape geometry to encourage an efficient toe-off
Stack height of 33 mm (zero drop) isn’t as high as it looks
Ego Max midsole isn’t as cushioned as it looks
Available now for $170
This review is sponsored by Bombas socks, which we’ve been using to keep us warm and comfortable this winter (like the men’s running Ankle Sock pictured here). You buy one, they give one to someone in need. Use code BITR20 to save 20% off your first order!
ROBBE: We’re rolling this review in a little late because I got this one before the New York City Marathon, then basically gave up running for a couple weeks afterwards to focus on drinking beers (gotta replenish those carbs). But we’re back, baby!
For better or for worse, this was my first shoe back, and I was somewhat excited to run in it. I’ve loved the Torin in the past, and I thought the Vanish Tempo was an excellent shoe at a way-too-high price point ($190), so what better than Altra’s first max cushion shoe?
Well, turns out it’s not really max cushion, but more on that later. But everyone’s gotta bend the Hoka knee at some point, so it looks max cushion, which is half the sales battle. The sidewalls come up pretty high on this shoe (look, the Hoka Bondi does the same), but in reality, it’s only a 33 mm stack height of Altra’s Ego Max foam. Of course, this is a zero-drop shoe, so the stack height runs the same from front to back.
The upper is supremely comfortable, with enough padding everywhere to keep the foot wrapped in a full bed of luxury. It’s been a thorn in the side of old timers that Altra has been offering slim silhouettes to cater to a broader base of consumers, but you can hold off on your “kids these days” comments on this one. Hardcore Altra fans can rejoice because the upper is structured in the Original fit, meaning there’s plenty of room for natural toe splay in the shoe. All of this comes together in a fairly hefty package, with a weight of 11 ounces for a standard men’s size 9.
So did the Olympus beckon the gods to the mountaintop of its Ego Max foam? Or was it a sea level experience? Let’s find out.
ROBBE: I already touched on the good of this shoe, which is mostly contained within the upper. I’ve always been a fan of Altra’s uppers, going way back to my first experience in the Superior 3.5. That wasn’t even a great upper, but it still fit quite nicely. For the most part, Altra has stayed true to the script in that regard, upping the game in the Torin and others along the way. But let’s talk about the Via Olympus.
The upper is built with some breathable mesh in the toe area and extends back with some reinforcements throughout the midfoot and back of the shoe for structure. Inside, it’s quite plush, especially around the heel collar. Same with the tongue. It all comes together for a luxurious experience on the run and the lockdown is on point. No movement, no heel slippage, and just the right amount of room for natural toe splay.
The ride itself is okay, but maybe not what you’re expecting when looking at the shoe. The midsole looks large and in charge, and it’s kind of neither. If you like a ride that’s on the firm and dense side, then you’ll enjoy the shoe. Now, I do enjoy such a ride, but it has to be in the right package. I’m not a fan of soft, sinking shoes (like the New Balance More v4), but I do like a good bounce, something that shoes like the New Balance SC Trainer or Hoka Clifton 8 do well. This does not have that feel, I’ll tell you right now.
Nevertheless, the roll through the stride is nice with the rocker shape geometry of the shoe. It does follow through pretty seamlessly. And though I knock the weight of this shoe, it runs a lot lighter than you’d think from looking at the specs. Likely because a lot of that weight is in the upper. A generous layer of rubber rounds out the shoe, with some exposed foam in the midfoot. I had no problems regarding grip, and it should last a long time.
All in all, this reminds me a lot of the Saucony Endorphin Shift. It looks max stack, but it’s really a more firm and responsive shoe. I prefer the Endorphin Shift because I think the Speedroll geometry (and an actual drop) works better through the stride, but the feel is pretty similar.Shop Altra Via Olympus – Men Shop Altra Via Olympus – Women
ROBBE: There’s this thing going on right now where everyone wants to have a Hoka-looking shoe. I understand why– the chonk look is in, so let’s get it while the gettin’ is good. But looks can be deceiving, and I’m not a fan of this trend of making huge-ass shoes that look like they’re max cushion, with a ride that’s completely opposite. We’ve seen it in shoes like the Topo Athletic Specter (mediocre shoe), Endorphin Shift (good shoe), Asics Superblast (great shoe), and we’re seeing it here with the Via Olympus. It’s misleading for the sake of selling shoes to a certain customer. To me, it falls in the same boat as On using the “Run On Clouds” marketing line for shoes the Cloudswift, which, yeah, if clouds were made of plywood, then I guess it would be true. (Luckily, On is turning the corner and shoes like the Cloudmonster actually do live up to their names.)
The Via Olympus is certainly not board-like, and it does offer a decent ride, it’s just not what you think you’re getting from a) their marketing of the shoe, and b) the actual reality of the shoe. It’s not a max cushion shoe. It just isn’t. Maybe my perception was skewed because of that assumption, maybe it wasn’t. But the shoe does feel a bit blocky on the run. The Ego Max midsole is there, but it just feels like a slab of foam underneath, while the rocker shape of the shoe does most of the heavy lifting.
It’s also $170, which continues a trend of Altra positioning its shoes at the highest price point possible. It’s more than the Bondi 8, New Balance More v4, Topo Athletic Specter, Saucony Endorphin Shift… it’s more than everything in its category. I mean, it’s $10 less than the New Balance SC Trainer which is light years ahead of this shoe in every way.Shop Altra Via Olympus – Men Shop Altra Via Olympus – Women
ROBBE: I think Altra excelled where they always have in the Via Olympus. The upper is comfortable, secure, and the natural foot shape feels quite natural. Unfortunately, that plush comfort is betrayed by the feel of the midsole. While it’s not a bad experience overall, it’s not the soft, bouncy, and comfortable ride you would expect from the product description and appearance of the shoe. Altra needs to tune the durometer of the foam and come back with something that actually fits into the max cushion category.
As I said, overall, I think this is a good shoe, and in the category of shoes that true Altra fans will enjoy. I just don’t like the misdirection with the “max cushion” messaging. And if they actually think this is a max cushion shoe, then that’s a whole different issue altogether.
But hey, if you like a firmer and more responsive ride (and don’t mind the weight), you will get a very comfortable upper in a zero drop package.
As always, if you’re new to zero drop, be sure to ease yourself into running in that style of shoe. Unless you’re a sadomasochist and love having sore calves for a few weeks.
You can pick up the Altra Via Olympus for $170 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Altra Via Olympus – Men Shop Altra Via Olympus – Women
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Robbe is the senior editor of Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. At home in the city, but country at heart. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.
All-time favorite shoes: Nike Epic React, Saucony Endorphin Speed 2 Runshield, Asics Metaspeed Edge+More from Robbe
Is there a real max cushion, zero drop shoe?
I was dearly hoping the Olympus would be as cushioned as it looked, but it was far too stiff and hard. I left a review saying as much on the Altra site and got a prompt response saying the shoes need 3-6 weeks to break in. Huh? I’ve run thousands of miles in every type of running shoe and have never had a weekslong break in period. Also, it’s odd to suggest that a shoe will become markedtly more cushioned after a break in period. Between this response and the one I received after the Torin’s tongue completely cut the front of my ankles (still have the scars!) I’m not likely to purchase Altra’s again.