For years, Altra has been known for their innovative approach to running shoes. With their distinctive Zero Drop midsoles and FootShape toe boxes, Altra has carved out a following among runners seeking a more natural run, but still want some cushion to their ride. Altra's latest shoe, the Escalante, aims to raise the bar for the entire brand by offering a ride that is as soft as it is fast. Here's a look at what you can expect out of this exciting new trainer:
One of the biggest stories in athletic shoe uppers for the past few years has been the development and implementation of knit uppers. Seen on models such as the Adidas Ultraboost (Primeknit) and the Nike Free (Flyknit), knit uppers are able to offer customers a seamless, sock-like, and supportive fit. Altra capitalizes on this innovation in the Escalante. It should be noted, however, that Altra's knit is a tighter knit than Adidas' Primeknit and Nike's Flyknit, which gives the shoe a less stretchy, more secure feeling around the foot.
As with all Altra shoes, the Escalante features a FootShape toe box, which is both wider and shaped more like, well, a foot than traditional toe boxes. The idea here is that by allowing the toes and forefoot to splay out more naturally, the shoe will allow runners to activate more of their bodies' natural shock absorbers and stabilizers. For some runners who are transitioning to Altra shoes from more traditional trainers, the toe box may feel "too wide" at first, but that should no longer be an issue once the foot gets used to the new geometry of the Altra. Runners familiar with Altra shoes will find the fit very similar to the popular Torin model.
In recent years, running shoe companies have been on a quest to find midsole materials that are not only soft and comfortable, but also responsive and springy. Notable examples of this sort of cushioning include Adidas' Boost, Saucony's Everun, and New Balance's Fresh Foam. Altra takes a crack at the plush-but-fast midsole with a new compound they are calling Altra EGO. Altra says this proprietary blend of midsole foam is the "holy grail" of running shoe cushioning in that it gives more energy return and has more response than standard EVA foam, but has the comfy soft feel of a high milage trainer. Altra also says that Altra EGO is less susceptible to temperature changes (doesn't get too mushy in the heat or too brittle in the cold) and boasts more durability than traditional EVA.
When wearing an Escalante, your foot will be closer to the ground than most traditional trainers and even some Altra models (such as the Torin), but there is still enough cushion in the shoe that you shouldn't shy away from putting some significant mileage on the shoe.
The outsole of the shoe gives good coverage of the midsole for more traction and durability than models that leave a lot of exposed EVA underneath the shoe. The decoupled heel gives the shoe greater shock absorption and a smoother transition to toe off.
So far, reaction to the Escalante among our staff and customers has been overwhelmingly positive. The combination of the knit upper along with the new Altra EGO cushioning give the shoe an all-around comfortable feeling, yet it remains very runable, equally suited for faster paced workouts and higher mileage runs. The Escalante is a shoe best suited for the roads and well-groomed trails, as the lower stack height and flexible nature of the shoe may lead to some discomfort on rockier terrain. Whether or not the Escalante truly is the "holy grail" of running shoes remains to be seen, but for now, consider this one a "must try" next time you're in the store.