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8.5 oz. (240 g) for a US M9,
7.1 oz. (201 g) for a US W7.5
Men: 32 mm in heel, 28 mm in forefoot (4 mm drop)
Women: 28 mm in heel, 24 mm in forefoot (4 mm drop)
A low-drop introduction to the Altra experience
4 mm drop (!!!), Standard Footshape, rockered EVA midsole
SAM: They went and did it.
Altra, the quintessential zero-drop and wide toe box running company, has forgone another of its key tenets and — gasp — released a shoe with a 4 mm drop: the AltraFWD Experience (yes, technically, the brand is AltraFWD). They said it would never happen, but we all knew that it certainly would. Since its acquisition by VF Corporation (the same people who own The North Face and Smartwool) in 2018, just about everyone keyed into the world of running shoes figured this shoe, or one like it, would sneak out of Altra’s Denver headquarters and onto shelves.
Trail running might be a temperamental beast that opens runners to zero-drop shoes, but the number of people who are willing to run roads in a zero-drop shoe is not as large as on trails. Even the pitch for the AltraFWD Experience acknowledges that there’s a whole segment of runners they’ve been unable to reach, a problem they hope to rectify with this shoe.
Up to this point, Altra has already slimmed its toe boxes (for some shoes). Over the past few years, the brand has also moved on from the phrase “zero drop;” that same design is now called “balanced cushioning.” Apparently, the outrage from the Altra diehards over these shifts wasn’t loud enough to knock the dollar signs out of a few outdoor industry executives’ eyes because the AltraFWD Experience is here, drop and all. At a surprising 8.5 oz. (240 g) for a US M9, this shoe features a rocker shape to accompany that 4 mm drop, an EVA midsole, and an engineered mesh upper.
So welcome, all you road shoe normies, to the way that Altra wants you to see the world — or at least a version of it.
AUSTIN: After receiving the AltraFWD Experience and exchanging a few messages with Robbe and Sam about our initial impressions, I knew we were headed for a split decision. An Altra shoe that’s not zero drop? That should spark some debate among the diehard fans, to say the least. Still, I urge the faithful masses not to skip the shoe based on the presence of a drop (4 mm) and the absence of EGO Max (gasp). The FWD Experience may surprise you.
ROBBE: Sam did a pretty good job at doing my job in giving the back story and specs, so I’m not going to rehash any of that. What I will say is that I wasn’t shocked when Altra announced a shoe with drop; in fact, I’m shocked it hasn’t happened sooner. I know Altra ditched the phrase “zero drop” and began referring to it as “balanced cushioning,” but the truth is, everyone knew it was still a zero-drop shoe once their Achilles felt it.
It also didn’t help that Topo Athletic was encroaching on Altra’s space on the long end of the shoe retail… tail, by hammering that middle-ground market with a slew of natural foot shape shoes with a low, ~5 mm drop. While this is pure speculation, I suspect that Topo was making a dent in Altra’s sales, and Altra felt they needed to bring the playing field back to even.
Now, I’m not going to get into the whole thing about the rocker geometry in Altra shoes and whether or not recent models have been true zero drop (they weren’t). But this is the first time Altra is acknowledging it. So here we are. The era of Altra “some drop” shoes.
SAM: Once upon a time, I was an Altra diehard. Even in the midst of my most devoted days racking up miles on my third pair of Lone Peak, I think I would have answered the news of an Altra with a drop with, at best, a shrug, and at worst, a shrug paired with a grimace. Most runners simply don’t care, and the lion’s share of Altra’s product line will still feature a balanced heel-to-toe stack. Only a select few will care that the AltraFWD Experience has a little more foam under the heel than the toe. The real story here, and one that might get lost in all the “Altra gives up its identity” headlines, is that the AltraFWD Experience is a comfortable, serviceable daily trainer with a great look and an impressively low weight.
It came in at 8.7 oz (247 g) for my US M10, which you just love to see. On step in, it’s very comfortable, with a well-padded tongue and a roomy upper that never feels loose. Altra even added a flared heel cuff that helps avoid irritation.
Underfoot, the EVA midsole is stable, plush, and consistent. As someone who veered away from Altra because of Achilles issues, I’m pleased to see a little drop to go with that roomy toebox. However, 4 mm is low enough, and the EVA soft enough that if I had been handed these without a spec sheet, it would probably have taken several runs for me to notice it.
Lastly, this shoe is downright gorgeous. I’ve loved the intricate tooling on Altra’s midsole foams recently, and the Experience features elegant opposing swoops through angled hatches on the lateral side and an outsized ALTRA in that same hatch detailing on the medial side. The venting on the upper doubles as decoration on an otherwise mostly plain mesh, and the heel placement of the Altra logo allows that venting decoration to shine by itself.
AUSTIN: I know this is an apples-to-oranges comparison, but the white (off-white?) colorway I received instantly reminded me of the Asics Gel-Nimbus 25 launch color. The FWD Experience doesn’t deliver a ride as soft as the Nimbus, but I was pleasantly surprised at how the compression-molded EVA fared over the course of sixty miles before putting my review together.
Personally, I think the AltraFWD Experience will provide some competition for the beloved Hoka Clifton 9. With comparable weights, rocker geometries, EVA foam, and low drops, Clifton fans who don’t care for the spongy midsole in version nine may enjoy the responsive zing of the AltraFWD Experience.
The upper on the AltraFWD Experience shines. It’s an engineered mesh that’s complemented by a tongue with modest padding. The plush heel collar and ankle pillows on both sides secure the foot well. Flat laces, reflective panels on the lateral side of the forefoot and back of the heel, and a clean look further enhance the step-in comfort and sharp look (before the dirt starts marring the once pristine fabric). Finally, note that the Experience is a Standard Footshape Fit (between Original and Slim) in the Altra lineup.
I truly enjoyed the ride. In fact, the FWD Experience came at an opportune time as my Rivera 3 is headed to the grave (local running store recycling bin). Rockered shoes, plated or not, really make running more fun. I feel like I’m gliding across the pavement and improving my form bit by bit. I feel lighter on my feet too, which may be why outsole wear is minimal thus far.
ROBBE: I’ve always been a fan of Altra uppers and that hasn’t changed with the Experience. It’s a really nice upper — super comfortable and just fits the foot perfectly. The shoe is built on the Standard foot shape in the Altra line, which sits in the middle between the Original and Slim. I had no problems with lockdown (if I laced the whole way up), and there were no pressure spots or hot spots on the run.
It’s a lightweight shoe, so it kind of disappears on the run and can be used to pick up the pace if necessary. In that way, it’s a somewhat versatile shoe.
I also thought the design was really well done, especially the sculpted midsole and low-profile logo on the upper. It’s one of the nicer (maybe the nicest?) looking Altra shoes in recent memory. So kudos to the design team.Shop Altra Running Shoes - Men Shop Altra Running Shoes - Women
SAM: I usually review trail shoes around here, and the AltraFWD Experience is, by almost a full ounce, the lightest Altra I’ve ever run in. It also drags the most. The EVA midsole, despite all its cool tooling, feels borderline ponderous, and I struggled to feel comfortable whenever I tried to pick up the pace, which is the opposite of what I want to feel when I have a shoe on that’s 2-3 ounces lighter than the average trail shoes I review.
I found very little sense of a rocker, and the only reason I can theorize for that is maybe my midfoot strike compresses the foam right where the rocker is supposed to turn your stride over. This lackluster EVA formulation then might not have quite the rebound to push me out and through the curve of the rocker.
All I know for sure is that this shoe feels slow and uninspired underfoot, and that just doesn’t make sense because we know that Altra can cut a tapered angle into the midsole of shoes like the Vanish Carbon and Tempo or even the Outroad. Those are all shoes that managed to be fun to run in despite not having a drop, and the Experience has a drop AND rocker and feels like a slog.
The outsole isn’t Altra’s proprietary Max Trac, and if you’ve read any of our trail reviews featuring that rubber, you know that’s probably alright. The problem is, what Altra used instead may as well be Max Trac — it’s a little squirrely on wet pavement and really awful on wet boardwalks. It also has a good amount of wear after my 30-40 test miles.
Austin mentioned this above, but the Experience comes in Altra’s Standard footshape, and I found it runs just a hair short compared to other Standard Altra shoes I’ve run in. If you’re on the upper limits of your usual size, consider going up a half size.
AUSTIN: No gripes. As with the Rivera 3, I regularly returned to the AltraFWD Experience for easy and long runs. I love the rocker, the fit, and the ride. I’ll be curious to see if Altra swaps the compression-molded EVA for EGO Max next time and how that affects the ride for better or worse.
ROBBE: The name is not only weird, it’s bad and weird. In all the promotional materials and spec sheets that were sent to us, the ‘FWD’ is attached to the Altra name, making it the AltraFWD Experience. Huh? Makes no sense whatsoever unless it’s the only way that could trademark the FWD name, in which case — find another name.
This shoe is supposed to be a big deal. Like, the biggest deal ever for Altra. It changes the entire premise of its original business model. So I was expecting a real stunner of a shoe, something that would draw a line in the sand and say: “This is the Altra of the future.” In all honesty, it felt like a shoe from the past. (In fact, an insider acquaintance noted that he worked on this shoe 8 years ago while at Altra
The compression-molded midsole felt dense and unlively. It wasn’t super firm or bad; it just felt like a very average EVA. Like, I’ve run in a thousand shoes that feel like it, sometime in 2019. It didn’t hurt my feet on the run, but it felt like there was very little energy return. I’ve felt much better midsoles in past lives of Altra shoes, namely the Quantic midsole in the Torin 4 and 4.5 Plush.
Apparently there’s a rocker in this midsole, but, like Sam, I didn’t feel it either. It didn’t feel like this shoe rolled through the stride. Instead, it just landed kind of flat. Granted, that could be my running style or gait, so it may be different for you (it was for Austin).
The heel collar is really low on both sides, so I felt like I had to lace up the whole way to ensure a good lockdownShop Altra Running Shoes - Men Shop Altra Running Shoes - Women
SAM: The AltraFWD Experience isn’t a bad shoe by any measure, but it’s not an exciting one. I just don’t understand why Altra would toss its last founding principle to the side in an attempt to woo new customers with this shoe built the way it is.
Altra’s EGO foam, especially the more tuned EGO Max, is a responsive and fun favorite here at Believe in the Run. Why wouldn’t the team put its best foot forward and use that instead? Why wouldn’t it work off midsole geometries that have worked in other shoes in the line? The Outroad, as a point of comparison, has EGO foam, a Max Trac outsole, a better midsole geometry, and considerably more upper reinforcement for occasional trail use. It hits exactly the same price point as this shoe.
As it stands, the AltraFWD Experience has near-identical stats as the Hoka Clifton 9. If you want the daily reliability and comfort of the Clifton but in a shoe with a wider toebox and a little more flash, the Experience is a good choice for easy miles.
AUSTIN: Including the Experience, I’ve reviewed four Altra models this year. I love to see how the company evolves and innovates in a crowded marketplace. The Rivera 3? Loved it. The Torin 7 and Paradigm 7? Meh. For daily miles and faster efforts, I believe the AltraFWD Experience and Rivera 3, respectively, deliver a solid package.
For a company that’s been guided by zero drop since day one, adding a drop is a bold move. Some care. I don’t. If it means more people are walking and running for their health, that’s a win. If you scroll down to my conclusion of the Torin 7, I said it was the shoe for the Altra curious. But I stand corrected: that title belongs to a new model. FWD FTW.
ROBBE: I really want to see what other reviewers think of this shoe, because I think it was a relative dud, especially for how important this model is to the Altra legacy. It seems pretty clear that they’re going for that Hoka Clifton segment (the specs on this shoe are almost identical), but it’s not there. Again, it’s not a bad shoe, you’re not going to destroy your feet or hate your life, but there are so many better shoes than this at a similar price point (like the Topo Athletic Atmos, coming in October, or again, the Hoka Clifton 9).
I’m not an Altra hater, either. I love the brand story, I love co-founder Brian Beckstead, I love that they found a niche, ran with it, and made it what it is today. I’ve loved plenty of Altra models in the past, from the Superior (my first trail shoe) to the Torin to the Vanish Tempo (way overpriced but way underrated). I’m just not feeling it with this one.
You can pick up the AltraFWD Experience for $139 starting on October 3, 2023, at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.Shop Altra Running Shoes - Men Shop Altra Running Shoes - Women
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.More from Robbe
Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.
All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone PeakMore from Sam
Austin, who lives north of Atlanta, is a stay-at-home father and running store part-timer (year eleven). Based on his inability to provide a 10K or 5K personal record, he should probably race those distances more. It’s rare to not see a party size bag of peanut M&Ms in his pantry and a pair of Shokz on his ears during a run.
All-time favorite shoes: OG Altra Escalante, Saucony Kinvara 3, Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%More from Austin