Chances are, if you’re familiar with Altra, you know them for one primary characteristic: a balanced, zero-drop cushioning platform across the entire lineup of trail and road shoes. (Foot-shaped toe boxes might be your second guess, but a number of companies besides Altra are also doing that.) Ever since the company was founded at a small specialty running store in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, Altra has made the zero-drop platform fundamental to its mission of combining natural running mechanics with high-performance capacity.
That all changed this fall, as Altra has broken its zero-drop mold with the launch of the new AltraFWD Experience road shoe, described as a “low-drop” model with a 4mm differential from heel to toe. It’s marketed as an evolutionary step for the company but more practically, helps the brand expand its user base to include runners who have either shied away from a zero-drop platform, or tried it previously and didn’t like it. It is constructed as a lightweight performance shoe, with traditional Altra comfort elements of soft engineered mesh uppers and a foot-shaped toe box that allows a natural toe splay. This model doesn’t replace anything in the lineup from Altra, who will continue to carry their entire line of zero-drop shoes moving forward.
(Before going any further, a note on the model name: the “FWD” is intentionally pushed up against “Altra” without a space and is pronounced as “forward” instead of “F-W-D” or “front wheel drive,” despite the shorthand.)
The big development here is obviously the midsole, but it’s not just the heel-to-toe drop that is new. The AltraFWD Experience uses a new compression-molded EVA that sits between the company’s traditional EGO Max compound on most road models and the max-energy EGO PRO found on Altra’s Vanish racing shoes. The EVA here is slightly heavier than EGO PRO but is still remarkably lightweight as the specs for this shoe are impressively light in relation to the overall stack height. The underfoot feel isn’t quite as energetic as EGO PRO, but offsets that with a nice measure of softness that makes the FWD Experience a great everyday trainer, particularly for long training runs.
In addition to the new foam, the geometry of the midsole has a more pronounced rocker than any previous Altra shoe (it’s difficult to excessively curve a shoe and keep a level platform), which is pronounced through the heel and smooth through the forefoot for easy rolling through the stance phase. Combined with the 4mm drop, these specs make the FWD experience a great long-distance shoe, even for Altra loyalists. The drop is subtle enough that you can still run with a midfoot or forefoot landing, but it provides some margin of error when your legs are fatigued and your form gets sloppy towards the end of a long, hard effort. On shorter distance runs, we found leg turnover noticeably easier with this shoe than most Altra road models we’ve used in the past, which also makes it a good choice for track workouts or tempo runs.
Below the midsole, material construction is consistent with what you’d expect from Altra. The outsole rubber is adequate with grip in dry conditions and covers the forefoot extensively, with exposed EVA in the midfoot. In the heel area, only the center-lateral aspect is rubberized, so runners who wear down the medial heel area more quickly than the lateral will find this lacking. This is a bit disappointing for a shoe that is specifically designed to bring heel-strikers into the Altra fold and, from our standpoint, would be worth a couple extra tenths of an ounce in spec weight to improve the shoe’s lifespan.
A few innovations are included in the uppers, which feature a new engineered mesh that strikes a nice balance of a tight weave to prevent grit intrusion while staying flexible and breathable. The heel collar is elevated in the rear and somewhat rigid throughout, which required a short breaking-in period but wasn’t problematic beyond our initial couple of runs. Moderate padding around the ankle collar and on the tongue made the overall fit of the upper quite secure in our testing.
This shoe has the potential to be somewhat polarizing among longtime Altra loyalists for its departure from tradition, but it also has great potential to accomplish Altra’s objective of expanding its user base and introducing new customers to the brand. New customers can think of it as a comfortable “one shoe does most” multi-purpose shoe that is equally suitable as an everyday trainer or a specialized shoe for fast workout sessions or racing.
The AltraFWD Experience is available for purchase beginning October 3 at www.altrarunning.com.
Features and Specs:
- Weight (oz): 8.5 men’s / 7.1 women’s
- Stack Height (heel/toe, in mm) 32/28 men, 30/26 women
- Heel-toe drop (mm): 4mm
- Last: Standard Footshape
- Upper: Breathable engineered mesh with internal midfoot cage
- Midsole: Compression molded EVA
- Rubber outsole with footpod construction
- Four color options for men and women
- MSRP: $140