Have you ever wished for a shoe that could handle both the road and trail, without sacrificing performance on either surface? Maybe you're not driven by personal records, but by utility; well, the idea of a two-for-one shoe would hold just as much appeal for you, too. In our multi-hyphenate world, where everyone has at least three hobbies and no one can be put in a single box, a shoe that can pull double duty, and look good, is bound to get some attention.
As if right on cue, Altra released a new hybrid — the Outroad — that seemingly checks all of the above boxes.
But, if you're wary of a shoe that can "do it all," you'd be right to be. Multi-tasking in humans inevitably leads to less efficiency and more errors; could the same be said of a running shoe?
To find out, my colleague and I decided to wear-test the shoes for a month each, concentrating on toe box room and overall comfort (both of which are Altra staples), as well as aesthetics, performance on both road and trail and overall fit. Here's what we thought of Altra's funky new runner.
The Altra Outroad: The Pros and Cons
Altra's Outroad is flexible: This hybrid is made for both road and trail
Will Porter: When Altra told me that there was a road-to-trail shoe in the works, I was ecstatic. As a runner who lives deep into Brooklyn but loves to explore hidden trails within the nearby parks, a shoe that could tackle any surface was something I’d always been eager to get my hands on.
To this point, the only shoes I liked for multiple surfaces were my Norda 001s (which I wrote about earlier this year), but those are bonafide trail runners that I don’t necessarily want to grind down by pounding the pavement. Essentially, the Altra Outroad was a shoe I absolutely had to try. After just one test run, it was clear that Altra did exactly what it set out to do. These shoes really are fantastic for the road and the trail.
Hayley Helms: Altra’s Outroad is a hybridized trail-to-road runner, and while I like the aesthetic of the shoe, I was disappointed in the fit and feel. I’ve been a fan of Altra since I first slipped my feet into their roomy toe boxes almost a decade ago — but this new shoe is a departure from the ethos that built the brand, and I can’t honestly consider myself a fan of it, from a comfort and performance perspective.
When I wear Altra, I expect my little piggly-wigglies to be luxuriating in the wide-open ranges that are/were Altra’s proprietary toe boxes, but the brand has introduced two new foot shapes to its line of footwear to accompany the original; now, runners and walkers can shop Altra based first and foremost on foot shape, then use-case. This would be great in theory, but not all styles are available in all foot shapes: the Outroad, for example, is only available in the SlimShape silhouette.
This was a disappointment for me to find out, because aesthetically, I was drawn to the shoe. (I received the black-and-hot-pink colorway for testing.) It looks great, but after I opened the box and popped them on, within 10 minutes dismayed to find that my toes had already started to feel pinched — after an hour-long run, I was seriously uncomfortable — even more so than if I had been wearing a traditionally-shaped shoe from, let’s say, Hoka or Salomon.
The Outroad's fit is divisive
HH: This is conjecture, but in my opinion, in the pursuit of appealing to the mainstream Altra took a step too far in the slim direction. Sure, Altra’s wide toe box looked a little funky when compared to more traditional styles, but that was the point. Now, the brand offers more slim options, but they directly contradict founder Golden Harper when he explained in a past Gear Patrol interview why Altra's toe box is so wide: "Feet are more or less shaped like squares and shoes are more or less shaped like torpedoes."
The Outroad, in my experience, is more torpedo than square. That may work for some runners, but it didn't work for me. It’s not all bad news though: if you have a naturally slim foot, you’ll be able to enjoy the Outroad’s balance of cushioning and support, and will be able to grip it and rip it, thanks to its MaxTrac outsole.
And, if you’re a frequent flyer like me, you’ll appreciated the space-saving reality of the road-to-trail construction: I brought the shoes on three separate trips, and although the fit wasn’t ideal, the space-saving in my duffel was. One pair of shoes functioning as a trail runner, road shoe and walking sneaker was a welcome space saver.
WP: Altra is known for its zero-drop shoes, but there’s a misconception that they’re a minimal shoe. This absolutely isn’t the case. The Outroad has a cushy 27mm stack height, which isn’t actually all that different from the Mafate Speed 4 from the known maximalists at Hoka, which have a 33mm stack height.
On the road and on the trail, this cushioning makes a huge difference, especially for someone like me who isn’t used to wearing a shoe with zero drop. The cushioning kept me comfortable on the road but didn’t take away from the foot-feel on the trail, which is immensely important when hitting uneven surfaces.
I also enjoy the way the upper cradles my foot. It’s breathable and reminds me of the feeling of a road shoe thanks to its relative minimalism. The lacing system is comfortable and easily allows for a heel lock — something I can’t run without. Add this to the comfort under foot and you’ve got a shoe suited for any surface. That, however, isn’t the full story for me.
This is a personal thing, but I think it will apply to many runners: a zero drop shoe just isn’t for me. The aforementioned Nordas have a 5mm drop and my training shoes for the road, the Nike Zoomx Invincible Run Flyknit 2s have a 9mm drop. Altra says the zero drop is a healthier way to run, and I think I believe them, but I just like the comfort of some drop. The discomfort here was more mental than physical, but I think that matters just as much. I couldn’t stop thinking about my gait and, with each stride, I was acutely aware of the flat foot, even when I had my Superfeet insoles in there.
Finally, Altra is also known for its shoes having a very natural foot shape, where the toebox is wider than a traditional shoe, allowing the toes to splay properly, resulting in more power. The Outroad, though, uses Altra’s slimmest footshape fit ever, and if I want the true benefits of an Altra shoe, I’d rather have one of the brand’s wider shoes, like the Mont Blanc trail runner.
The Altra Outroad: Final Thoughts
WP: If you love Altras and love a zero drop shoe, by all means, get the Outroad. It’s comfortable, has a stellar upper and a grippy sole that is adept on the road as it is the trail. But, if you’re looking for something a tad easier on your feet and lower legs, you may want to continue your search.
HH: If you love Altras for their roomy toebox, don't buy these — instead, try the Lone Peak 6 or the Olympus 5 Hike Low GTX. If you have a narrower foot and typically find Altras to be too roomy for you, give these a try. This shoe isn't a cut-and-dry "good or bad" situation — its value is entirely dictated by fit and foot. For me, it was a miss — but for you, it could be gold.