Altra Running Shoes Review: A Zero Drop Pair Designed To Fit Perfectly

altra running shoes review: Altra AFM1837F Men's Torin 3.5 Road Running Shoe

You can’t get very far into an Altra running shoes review without coming across two of the most mysterious words in the multi-billion-dollar business of sporting goods.

Zero drop.

Sounds a little like something a football coach might yell at his star wide-receiver, right? Actually, zero drop refers to a specification that's widely discussed in the running shoe industry -- by manufacturers, exercise physiologists, and runners alike. It describes a "flat" shoe where there is no difference in height from the heel to the toe.

It's otherwise known as flat-footed or pretty darn close to it.

The philosophy behind zero drop shoes aim to correct a perceived mismatch between standard shoe design (which historically have the heel higher with cushioning than the toe) and the shape of our feet (which, as you're probably quite aware, do not).

In recent years, some in the industry have theorized that the modern design of shoes, where the heel sits higher than the toe, contributes to a significant number of common running injuries. By eliminating that difference, zero-drop shoes are intended to enable what some experts see as a more natural running form that puts less stress on the joints.

According to Forbes, the founders of Altra helped popularize "zero-drop" shoes, almost into a category of their own. The company's founders are even associated with the creation of the term "zero-drop." The company offers a wide variety of zero drop shoes for men and women running both on trails and the road.

You'll find the concept of "zero-drop" discussed at length in nearly every Altra running shoes review you read. Ours is no different.

So What’s Deal with the Drop? 

ALTRA AFM1837F Men's Torin 3.5 Running Shoe, Black/Neon - 7 D(M) US
  • Completely revamped upper with integrated tongue
  • More breathable mesh
  • Synthetic Nubuck Heel
ALTRA AFW1733G Women's Escalante Running Shoe, Gray/Blue - 5.5 M US
  • FootShape Toe box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop Platform
  • Stack Height: 25 mm
  • Midsole: Altra EGO with Innerflex

First, though, let's consider what we know about the "drop spec" in shoes as it is a source of ongoing debate within the running community.

Hardcore runners like to evaluate shoes at least in part based on the difference between the height of the heel and the height of the shoe’s forefront. This is commonly referred to as the “heel-to-toe” offset. Virtually every shoe sold includes an offset measurement as one of its advertised specifications.

The significance of the offset measurements comes in relation to your running form. Runners in shoes with a higher offset tend to be people who strike the ground first with their heel. Lower-and-medium shoes encourage mid-foot strikes, according to REI Cooperative.

Shoes with a lower offset tend to have less cushioning, which is designed to direct your foot toward a more natural gait. Higher offset shoes have more cushioning in the heels, REI says.

The most significant advantage of a zero-drop or lower drop shoe is a reduced risk of injury, say proponents. But recent research raises questions. A study described by Runner’s World found no difference in injury rates in groups of runners wearing zero drop shoes or others with a taller offset.

Whether you buy the research or not, fans point out that zero-drop or low-drop shoes have plenty of advantages. They tend to be lighter, feel more natural on foot, and provide greater stability.

One issue that both proponents and critics agree on: if you’re used to running in a more traditional shoe with a higher offset, you should switch to a zero-drop shoe very carefully. A transition to zero drop may take months, according to The Wired Runner.

The best rule of thumb:: Go slow and listen to your feet. And read this Altra running shoes review to learn even more.

Altra Running Shoes Review 

Altra's founders have helped drive zero-drop shoes into the consciousness of the running public. Marathoner Golden Harper and partners believe, then and now, that the flatter the shoe bed, the fewer the injuries. Given the growth of the company, since sold to the parent company of the North Face, he may have a point.

In addition to zero drop, Altra shoes also provide a toe box area that's wider. That allows the foot more space in the shoe and for the toes to sit normally and do the jobs they are intended to do in terms of keeping the foot stable.

Altra took the principles of building shoes around the natural design of feet even further in its shoes for women. The company developed what it calls Fit4Her technology, which aims to capture the unique nature of the female foot. Altra says the female foot is narrower in the heel, points to a higher instep, and a offers a longer arch.

One matter to make clear, as Harper tells Forbes: The term "zero-drop" has a very specific meaning when it comes to Altra shoes. Some have come to view zero drop as synonymous with "barefoot running" or "minimalist shoe" -- flat, with little or no cushion.

Altra believes in cushion, Harper tells Forbes. The company just believes it should be designed into the shoe as a flat.

As the company has evolved, it has begun to offer zero-drop shoes for other uses than running. However, that's probably not what you're here for. As this is an Altra running shoes review, let’s look at some of models you might be interested in wearing.

For the men 

ALTRA AFM1837F Men's Torin 3.5 Running Shoe, Black/Neon - 7 D(M) US
  • Completely revamped upper with integrated tongue
  • More breathable mesh
  • Synthetic Nubuck Heel

Are you someone who prefers the long distances? Take a long hard look at the Altra Torin 3.5.

Built with a synthetic mesh upper, the Torin 3.5 weighs about a half a pound -- very light for a well-cushioned shoe. It also offers an integrated tongue so you won't have to worry about the tongue migrating during your run and distracting your focus. If you don't mind a little extra weight, choose the knit version.

The Altra Torin 3.5 sells online for between $85 and $95. It gets 4.6 stars out of 5.0 on Amazon and is available in four different colors. Runner’s World calls it the most approachable shoe in the Altra line.

A 5-star reviewer on Amazon describes the Torin as the best Altra shoe yet. Less pleased was a customer from 2018, who found the shoe narrower than he expected and noted that it started wearing away quickly after a few months.

For the women 

ALTRA AFW1733G Women's Escalante Running Shoe, Gray/Blue - 5.5 M US
  • FootShape Toe box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop Platform
  • Stack Height: 25 mm
  • Midsole: Altra EGO with Innerflex

The Altra Escalante is Altra’s best-selling shoe and might offer just the right option for the female runner. First, how can you resist the cool raspberry color? It also comes in teal, blue, and four other cool colors.

The shoe weighs only about six ounces and comes with a knit upper. It also, of course, includes the patented Fit4Her technology, which aims to capture the unique structure of the woman’s foot.

The Altra Escalante 1.5 sells online for between $60 and $130. It scores an overall review of 4.5 stars out of 5.0 on Amazon.

One pleased runner described the Escalantes as "great shoes" that kept her free of rubbing or blisters. On the flip-side, a two-star reviewer said she felt she developed severe hip pain after wearing the shoes.

How We Reviewed Altra and Zero-Drop Shoes 

Where else do you start evaluating running shoes except for Runner’s World? It’s a specialty magazine, for sure, but offers content to appeal to all types of runners – the hard-core multiple marathoners as well as the couch-to-5K runner.

Putting together our Altra running shoes review also required a deep dive into Altra’s site. We wanted to understand what types of offerings the company puts out for runners. And we wanted to know about its zero-drop philosophy.

We expanded our Altra running shoes review from there. To select alternative shoes, we looked at reviews and articles in different publications and web sites, such as REI.com, runningshoesguru.com, runningwarehouse.com, and others.

Finally, we dove into the websites of shoes that provide zero-drop alternatives to the Altra line. All in all, our search was more than, not less than, zero.

We absolutely had to include this brand as a viable alternative in our Altra running shoes review. Not only does it get good reviews from customers, but the shoes themselves have zero in their name.

Xero zero-drop shoes from the appropriately named Feel the World Inc. of Colorado are built around the concept of natural -- natural feel, natural fit, natural motion. They promise wider toe boxes and flexible soles, including a patented "FeelTrue" material.

Our choice to look at in comparison to Altra was the Xero Prio, a minimalist shoe billed as suitable for running both on trails and the roads. The shoe is very lightweight, at just over a half a pound, and comes available in six different colors or styles.

In the Zero Prio, your foot will hover close to the ground, the way many believe it's supposed to.

Available for men and women, the Prio sells online for between $50 and $95. Reviewers at Amazon give the Prio a rating of 3.9 stars out of 5.0. One reviewer indicated that wearing the show helped him re-organize his running mechanics and encouraged a stronger core.

A less enthusiastic customer was unhappy with the shoe’s durability, writing that they started to fall apart after just 40 miles. You might say she felt she got zero for Xero.

Fits like a glove 

Merrell Women's Glove 4 Trail Runner
  • Mesh Upper, Breathable mesh lining
  • Zero Drop/4MM Cushion; 3mm lugs
  • Trail Protect pad offers underfoot protection

The next alternative in our Altra running shoes review wants you to believe its shoes fit a little like a second skin. The Merrell Vapor Glove, available for women and men, is geared for use on trails.

They may well feel like a second skin – and you may not feel them at all. The men’s shoe weighs a whopping six ounces. Since trails present a different set of challenges, the shoe comes with a protection pad in case you step on unexpected obstacles.

Merrell's Women's Vapor Glove, now in its fourth edition, is available in many attractive and fashionable colors, such as "very grape" and "Persian red."

The Vapor Glove can be found online anywhere from $40 (if you’re lucky) to as high as $90. The shoe gets better reviews than Xero – scoring a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.0 from Amazon customers.

One reviewer of the women’s shoe found it to be incredibly lightweight and flexible, but with an underlying structure that some zero-drop shoes can’t offer. An unhappy reviewer criticized the shoe’s fit; while another reviewer was driven to distraction by the shoe’s squeaking.

All we can say is that we’ll take a squeaky shoe if it’s comfortable.

Brooks Pure Cadence 

Brooks Women's PureCadence 7 Black/Purple/Multi 9.5 B US
  • Surface: Road. Differential: 4 mm. Stretch mesh and synthetic upper materials. 3D Fit Print upper utilizes strategic...
  • The Brooks PureCadence 7 running shoe lets you connect to your run with incredible responsiveness and flexibility,...
  • Predecessor: PureCadence 6.

No wordplay in the next alternative in our Altra running shoes review. It's just an alternative to the zero drop. You don't have to go all the way to zero drop to get the benefits that enthusiasts champion.

The Brooks Pure Cadence is an attractive-looking shoe with a 4mm drop – perhaps giving you just enough ramp while keeping your foot in a natural position. Pure Cadence is mainly for women. However, you might also find men's sizes if you look hard enough.

Weighing less than half a pound, the Pure Cadence will appeal to runners with a medium to flat arch. The shoe has a rounded heel and a woven upper to allow for flexibility in your stride. The rounded heel assists in keeping your body and stride aligned, which eases pressure on your joints.

The Brooks Pure Cadence sells online for anywhere between $50 and $110. The line gets a rating of 4.3 stars out of 5.0 from customers on Amazon.

One customer who has run in the shoe praised it for accommodating her unusually narrow feet. Another positive review said the shoe helped clear up repeated problems with shin splints.

A less favorable wearer felt that the shoe was too tight for her liking. Others related problems with fits, finding the show too big for their needs even in their own personal sizes.

Keep the Pure Cadence and other minimal drop shoes on your list when trying to find a shoe that works.

Don't Drop the Ball 

It's time for our verdict before closing our Altra running shoes review. Having experienced our own foot troubles from running, we admit to being skeptical about zero drop.

Running styles matter. And in the later miles of a long race, we feel that extra cushion and stability can help us through the tough end miles of a long race. Zero drop shoes might not be for everyone.

But we can't turn away from zero drop entirely. For our money, we would stick with the original in the field, the company that continues to innovate: Altra.

Do you have a pair of Altra shoes, or perhaps another zero drop shoe you're in love with? Tell us about it in the comments!

Featured Image Source: Amazon

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