Altra is a running shoe brand that has been growing in leaps and bounds in the nine years it has been in existence. Before that, co-founder Golden Harper was in the habit of deconstructing shoes to remove the bits that interfere with a natural running stride.
Fitting into the range between the One V3 (minimal cushioning) and the Torin, it represents something of a “Goldilocks” shoe for long distance running. I've been running in a pair for a few months now, alongside a variety of other models, and what follows is a review based on my experience.
Design and purpose
Altra indicates that this shoe was built for “Running, Racing and Training”, which basically means everything a runner does that makes him or her a runner. What it is not designed for is altering your gait or biomechanics in any way, so there is no motion control and nothing rigid or restrictive in the shoe (as someone who left behind custom orthotics to run in zero-drop shoes for the last six years, I see this as a huge plus).
Like all Altra shoes, the Escalante is zero-drop, and is made a bit wider than most shoes around the toebox to allow natural foot splay on impact. It also has a level of cushioning which inspires confidence to go for a really long run, but light and responsive enough for a short time trial too. In line with the mid-level cushioning is a relatively low weight of about 262g per shoe (for my size US 11.5). That's not quite as light as the One, but then this shoe makes fewer compromises with protection and durability - more on that below.
If you want to try a zero-drop shoe for the first time, this model is a great place to start, since it strikes a balance between plush cushioning and a nimble, low-profile running experience with no extra baggage. In my experience, the best way to get out of a cycle of injury has been to get to grips with my running gait and iron out the problems. This shoe has been a great choice to support that process.
The Escalante has a quoted stack height of 25mm, most of which is the Altra EGO midsole. This compound feels more “springy” to me than any of the other Altra shoes I've used in the past, and in fact more than any shoe I've used in the past. Whether this makes you faster or not I don't know, but it certainly inserts a lively positive feeling into my running. The other thing I like about it is that it has retained most of that bounce after several hundred km and hasn't flattened as much as shoes I've used in the past. Shoes are all different, and the thing I notice most about this model is how it still feels new under my foot.
Glued to the midsole is a FootPod outsole. This basically means that hard-wearing rubber is reserved for only high-wear areas, although the designers of the Escalante placed a lot more outsole on this shoe than they did on the One V2.5 (which I own and love) or One V3, and that means that you can basically run on any surface without much worry of a sharp stone poking through to your foot.
Also appreciated is that the outsole “pods” have a lot of continuity, flowing in the right direction, so the forefoot can flex naturally as you run. My first 300-odd km in the shoe (most of which has been on gravel and trail) have showed the durability of this shoe well, as there has been very little wear to the base of the shoe.
This is one of Altra's first shoes with a knitted upper, and it makes for a luxurious, slipper-like feel which is extremely comfortable. You feel like you are being genuinely kind to your feet every time you slip these on. The knitted fabric and padded heal cup give a feeling of softness and warmth, but my feet don't get hot in them as they are very breathable.
Part of the feeling of softness comes from the fact that the upper is relatively stretchy, which is a key strength of the shoe – for road running the stretch is very helpful since it means that the shoe shapes around your foot as your foot flexes, preventing any pinching or rubbing.
I have to say I'm impressed with the build quality and adhesives used to construct the shoe, it really is well put together.
Simply put, if you want a zero-drop shoe for a comfortable natural running experience from 5km to the Two Oceans Ultra, the Escalante could very well be the shoe for you. The Escalante is zero-drop, like your foot, it's shaped like your foot, and it takes a beating from the tarmac so your foot doesn't have to.