Gear Review: Altra Superior 4.0
The most important piece of gear for long-distance hikers is also one of the most personal: our shoes. The more traditional leather hiking boot is declining in popularity and the lighter and more dynamic trail runner is now a shoe of choice.
I bought my first pair of Altras—the Superior 3.0—in the late spring of 2018. I loved them immediately for the wider toe box, the breathability, the grip, and ease of movement. In the fall I picked up the Superior 3.5 and then got a pair of the Superior 4.0 for this summer’s hiking. The latest release features a significant upgrade to the design, including more reinforcements to the uppers and soles of the shoe. I’ve put them through some significant trail testing, backpacking over 250 miles in them through snow, mud, forest duff, scree, lava rock, beach sand, rocks, and pebbles.
Women’s Altra Superior 4.0 At-a-Glance
Model: Altra Superior 4.0
Style: Low-rise running shoe
Upper: Seamless engineered knit
Cushioning: Light to moderate through the midsole; removable rock plate
Stack Height: 21 mm
Intended Purpose: Trail running, hiking
Altra is one of the most preferred shoe brands for thru-hikers. They offer four different styles in their trail category: Olympus, Superior, Timp, and Lone Peak. The Lone Peak was the most popular trail runner on the AT in a 2018 Trek survey of thru-hikers. It is the most aggressive of the trail shoes, is offered in low and mid heights, and also has waterproof models. The Olympus 3.5 and the Timp 1.5 have higher stack heights with more midsole cushioning but they both have less aggressive and durable outsoles. The Superior 4.0 lies somewhere in between these other styles with a more minimalist midsole but with many of the best-loved features of the Lone Peak 4.0.
Altra Superior Features
Balanced cushioning: Altra’s terminology for zero drop, meaning your heel and forefoot are at an equal distance from the ground. The design is used to encourage proper, low impact form.
Wide toe box: All of Altra’s shoes are designed with a wide toe box, allowing the toes to spread. This is especially important when wearing shoes for higher impact activities such as hiking or trail running.
Gaiter trap: The Superior has a hook-and-loop closure on the lower heel and a D-ring at the base of the laces. Altra sells their own version of a trail gaiter and the gaiter trap design will suit other lightweight gaiters at well.
Sticky durable sole: The Superior 4.0 features an upgraded version of Altra’s MaxTrac rubber for the outsole, making it grippier and more durable. This outsole technology is also used on Altra’s popular Lone Peak trail shoe.
Comfort and Fit
The first thing I noticed right out of the box was the semi-attached tongue. The tongue is part of the seamless wraparound style of the upper, with only the outer edge of the tongue hanging loose. This prevents the tongue from slipping and bunching up. Thanks to this feature the laces stay put and the shoe keeps its shape through a full day of hiking.
I also really appreciate the Fit4Her design element of Altra’s women’s shoes. Having the wide toe box is great, but pairing it with a specifically narrower heel and midfoot is even better. The women’s models also have a higher instep and unique metatarsal spacing to accommodate our hip geometry and slightly different gait, which helps us achieve a more optimal movement pattern.
As with most of Altra’s shoes, the Superior 4.0 is comfortable right out of the box. Mine had barely been worn before I headed off to hike a 200-mile section of the PCT and were comfortable from the get-go. This is a particularly great trait of Altra shoes for thru-hikers who need to buy a new pair every 500 miles or so.
The outsole durability of this version is another positive improvement over previous models. The toe has nearly an inch of reinforced fabric above the midsole and has significantly less wear along the seams. The sole is still grippy and is in surprisingly good condition considering the variety of terrain I’ve crossed. Even the shoelaces have been improved for more durability and structure!
However, the midsole cushioning is still not as durable as in other brands. This is especially detrimental when throwing an extra 15-20 pounds onto your back and ultimately on your feet. As the midsole compresses you will likely start feeling more of the trail under your feet.
Altra Superior 4.0 Pros
No blisters or sore spots: Every year before I go backpacking I wonder what shape my feet will be in by the end of the trek. I even found that some areas on the tops of my toes were sore after a couple of days wearing the Superior 3.5. The breathability and ease of the new knit upper used in the Superior 4.0 kept my feet in prime shape, no matter the trail conditions.
Variety: The Superior 4.0 are available in five different color combos for both men and women, including a more modest black. They’re also offered in a huge variety of sizes, from size 5.5 to 12 in women’s and size 7 to 15 in men’s.
Altra Superior 4.0 Cons
Toe tear: While overall durability is improved, there is still some weakness in the outsole toe wrap where it meets the fabric of the shoe. One of my toes started tearing within about 50 miles of wearing.
Insoles: Altra has yet to provide their own zero-drop insole replacement, which means you’re adding a small amount of heel lift with the addition of any insole (yes, even Superfeet).
Stack height: The Superior model has the lowest stack height of Altra’s trail shoes. This is great for hikers like me who’ve embraced and trained in more minimalist style shoes, but it can be uncomfortable for those who want a bit more padding between their feet and the rocks of the trail.
Altra was acquired last April by the VF Corporation, which owns other well-known brands like The North Face, Icebreaker, Vans, and Timberland. It’s always a bit nerve-racking when a home-grown company like Altra is taken over by the big guys, but in this case it seems that the financial power of the larger corporation is leading to some positive technical improvements.
All of the Superior 4.0 improvements are on point with the needs of the long-distance hiking community. It’s a slightly more minimalist option to the Lone Peak and yet more rugged than the Timp. The price is comparable to or cheaper than other similar trail runners on the market. The Superior 4.0 is a fantastic shoe for day hikes, thru-hikes and even for the concrete jungle.
This item was donated for purpose of review.
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