Altra Olympus 4 Trail Runner Review
Altra’s cushiest trail shoe has intimidated me for years. Not only does the name Olympus elicit visions of dispassionate Greek gods tossing around lightning bolts, but these kicks have always seemed like more shoe than I can handle. That fat stack of midsole foam and aggressive styling look mean enough to keep me trembling in my Lone Peaks.
That said, I’ve never met a shoe that gave me too much cushion, so naturally, I’ve been intrigued by the Olympus after enjoying so much personal success with Altra’s other trail runners. And it’s not just me. Once a rare sight in a sea of Lone Peaks, the Olympus has quietly collected an increasing share of the thru-hiker footwear pie. In reality, my curiosity has never been great enough to vault past the lofty price tag of the Olympus, and my interest has remained purely academic. Until now. Dun dun dun.
With thousands of happy miles hiked in cheaper shoes, the question I set out to answer during my review period was, “what does one get for the added expense?” Was it boosted comfort alone, or did the ‘name-brand’ Vibram rubber actually grip better too? In my view, in order to justify the higher price, the Olympus needed to eclipse the Lone Peak in two ways: it must travel further before needing to be replaced, and it must provide better traction. Midway through my AT thru-hike, it was finally time to find out.
The Olympus 4 has been superseded by the Olympus 5, which is pretty much the same shoe. The Olympus 4 can still be found for sale, but links will be to the new model.
Altra Olympus At-a-Glance
Shoe Type: Maximally cushioned trail runner
Stack Height: 33mm
Weight: Men 11.6oz / Women 9.6oz
Despite what thousands of slow-moving, pack-lugging hikers will tell you, trail runners are not designed for backpacking. This includes the Olympus 4. These shoes are intended for faster off-road locomotion (aka running). Specifically, they were created for those who prefer maximum protection from the points and jabs of the trail, or who just want the cushiest ride possible.
Fortunately for us hikers, many of the attributes valued by trail runners are also beneficial for us as we plod along under our heavy burdens. Breathable, lightweight, quick-drying, comfortable, grippy, and cushioned. All of these are important, and with the Olympus, Altra maximizes the emphasis on the last two adjectives on that list.
Circumstances of Review
My pair of Olympus 4s smoothed out my ride for nearly 700 miles of my AT thru-hike between Harpers Ferry, WV and Killington, VT. Incredibly, I would have been happy to push them further had I not already arranged for my replacement Lone Peaks to be delivered to me just before completing our 7th state together.
During that stretch, the trail threw some pretty gnarly terrain my way, including the fabled, long-dreaded, and still-underestimated rocks of Pennsylvania, not to mention the hideously overlooked rocks of Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Vermont. And in between the rocks were plenty of slick roots, mud holes, and ankle-deep leaves. Don’t worry, there was also plenty of smooth cruising too. While the varietous terrain was often frustrating, it provided a comprehensive, and suspiciously subjective, understanding of what these shoes can do.
Altra Olympus 4 Features
Max cushion: The Olympuses are Altra’s cushiest trail shoe. A pair of these stilts boasts 33mm of foamy stack height, versus Altra’s 25mm Lone Peak’s and 29mm Timps.
Vibram Megagrip outsole: Vibram is well-known for their grippy and durable rubber, and Altra brings in the experts to collaborate on the Olympus. Their Megagrip is a classic, tried and true formula. Great traction is what I was most excited about when trying the Olympus.
Footshape: Making shoes that actually fit the anatomical shape of a human foot is what Altra is all about. This is most obviously noticed with the wide toe box, which allows the toes to spread and behave naturally.
Zero drop: Along with the aforementioned Footshape, zero heel-toe drop is a signature of the Altra brand. What that means is that the thickness of cushioning foam is uniform under the entire foot, creating a level surface on which to stand, hike, and run. Proponents of this style claim that this geometry promotes a more natural footstrike versus shoes that incorporate a positive “drop,” usually between 5-15mm, which raises the heel above the toes.
Gaiter trap: I don’t hike in gaiters, but if I did then this would tickle me pink. A built-in velcro patch on the heel secures the back of running gaiters, including Altra’s own version as well as the ever popular Dirty Girl Gaiters. With other shoe brands, one must add their own velcro, which is always at risk of coming unstuck.
How’d They Do
My pair of Olympus 4s joined me at the peak of my AT strength and didn’t miss a beat when I asked them to carry me 116 miles during our first four days together through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. Coming from a pair of Timp 3’s, my legs and feet were already used to the Altra ride. However, I definitely noticed the extra spring in my step and holding power on surfaces of all types. Naturally, I ended up with a few new blisters, but those callused over, leaving me with just my rapidly diminishing skepticism that the extra cash was worth it.
By the time I replaced those shoes with a vintage pair of Lone Peak 3.5s left over from the CDT, I was fully onboard with the benefits of the Olympus. The only thing that I never got used to was looking down at the extra wide footprint (necessary for keeping these things from tipping over). I’m still not sure that the price is right (and that will be a different answer for everyone), but the Olympus satisfied my requirements needed to justify the premium price. After 700 miles, they still had life left and felt comfortable at the end of a long day. Furthermore, the Vibram MegaGrip absolutely provided better traction than Altra’s house brand MaxTrac. The Olympus is the real deal.
Like the Lone Peak, the Olympus is designed with Altra’s “Original” fit, which happens to be their roomiest. Of course, everybody’s feet are different, so calling this a good thing would be absolutely ridiculous. However, generally, I think that more space is conducive to foot wellbeing over long distances as they swell and spread throughout the day, weeks, and months. If you like the fit of Lone Peak’s, then the Olympus will probably work for you too.
As expected, the Olympus 4s were pretty darn comfortable. That familiar, roomy Lone Peak fit let my feet be the shape that they were supposed to be, and the super thick foam provided a cushy ride even when the ground was anything but. In miles of rock hopping along the arrow-straight ridges of Pennsylvania, I never bottomed out or poked a sole. Only occasionally did my feet feel stumpy at the end of the day, and they felt fresh on most mornings. Aside from my blisters, my feet were as happy as they’d ever been during a thru-hike, especially if we’re talking about how they felt in shoes over 500 miles old.
My pair of Olympus’s made it nearly 700 miles without major issue, and they could have gone further. That qualifies as durable in my book. The upper mesh started to crack open at the toe creases during the final week, and some weird stick drama punctured an ever-widening hole near the laces, but these were minor blemishes that did not affect the shoes’ function.
The important stuff, midsole cushion and outsole traction, performed even better. The grip never dipped, and while the foam trampoline did compress noticeably over the miles, it was still springy and protective to the final jabby rock. I’ve had Lone Peak’s feel more used up at 500 miles than they Olympus at 700.
Bear in mind that shoe wear and longevity depends on several factors. Terrain certainly plays an important roll. Dust and grit abrades the material of the shoe uppers, which causes holes to form. The SoCal section of the PCT is hell for shoes for this reason. User weight is also an important consideration. I’m a lightweight at 144lbs when I’m fully fed, hydrated, and haven’t pooped for a few days. While I might get 700 miles out of a pair of shoes, a hiker weighing more than me may see significantly less before the tread wears flat and the cushioning packs out.
Altra Olympus 4 Pros
Grip: I have no doubt about it, the Vibram Megagrip is grippier than Altra’s house brand MaxTrac, which is found on their other trail shoes. Though not a silver bullet for slick roots and slimy rocks, my completely unscientific and purely subjective opinion is that this rubber sticks better on any surface. I found it confidence inspiring, and sometimes confidence is all one needs. Going back to my old Lone Peak’s was a noticeable and treacherous downgrade.
Cushion: It might not be for everyone, but the bounce in this ride is undeniable. I experienced fewer pointy zingers and less daily foot fatigue in these shoes when compared to other, less-cushioned shoes that I have used (and loved) while thru-hiking.
Longevity: The upper mesh of these shoes did an admirable, albeit imperfect, job of resisting holes and abrasive wear over 700 rugged miles. However, as I’d hoped, the cushioning and outsole durability are standouts in Altra’s lineup of trail shoes. Despite an obvious reduction in bounce, the thick midsole was still going strong when most others are little better than cardboard.
Fit: Unsurprisingly, the Olympus’s are great for hikers who prefer a toe box that’s on the roomy side. That’s what the trademarked Altra Footshape is all about. Personally, I also prefer the high-volume fit for hiking even though I have low-volume feet. Let those tootsies spread, smoosh, and swell.
Protection: Holy toledo, did I stub my toes about a million times during those 700 miles. While trail runners will never be as protective as a pair of burly boots, the Olympus 4’s did a great job of shielding my feet against bangs and bruises. The reinforced toe especially save me from a whole world of hurt, and maybe even a broken toe.
Altra Olympus 4 Cons
Price: Assuming that these shoes are actually a decent fit for your foot, then the inflated price tag is probably their biggest downside. Arguably this is mitigated by their propensity to cover more miles before falling apart, but $180 is still a bowel-cramping number.
Tread gap: In a bid to cut weight, probably maybe, the Vibram outsole is omitted from a significant portion of the mid-foot. This leaves just the foam of the midsole and a perimeter of rubber to grab the ground from arch to heel. I didn’t find this to be an issue unless I stepped on something wet without contacting the actual Vibram on the forefoot, but it took some recalibration after the first surprising, soapy slip. These shoes have great grip, but only where there is rubber.
Tippy: All that tall cushion takes some getting used to on uneven footing. The staggering width of the Olympus actually provides great stability once the sole is planted, but my ankles often ended up in unexpected places while rock hopping during my first few days in these shoes.
Yep, Altra’s Olympus 4 is cushier, longer lasting, and grippier than the brand’s other trail shoes. And not just marginally. Put through the wringer over 700 miles of varied AT tread, it became clear to me that the thru-hiking community was not wrong. These shoes are ready for an extended, pack-on adventure. I came into this review skeptical of an overrated, overpriced fad, but finished totally onboard with what this shoe offers over my trusty Lone Peak’s. That said, I’m far from certain that the benefits justify the price, for me. Budget restrictions will be different for each individual, and I’m satisfied to know that if I do dish out for that premium price then I will at least be rewarded with premium performance.
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Disclaimer: The Altra Olympus 4s were donated for purpose of review.
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