Staunch 0 drop advocates Altra have added a drop to one of their shoes. How does it work?
Altra – Breaking their rules!
The stalwarts of 0 have broken their own rules and moved over to the dark side of drop. The Altra FWD Experience is the first Altra shoe which features a drop. A teeny 4mm drop but it is there. Will this addition lead to the smoother, more efficient ride which Altra claim and open their range to a whole new tranche of runners? Or will it alienate their base and lose them some love from their loyal followers? The Meta team put the shoes through their paces and found out.
Andy has a perfect scene setter above. I would simply add that Altra’s “Balanced Cushioning” (their way of saying “zero drop’) was already in my opinion departing from the pure zero drop philosophy. During a discussion in August 2022, Altra’s co-founder Brian Backstead was already hinting to me that their shoes had some drop if measured in a certain specific way. Not the way they were measuring of course, but I assumed he referred to the World Athletics 12/75% measurement.
Another sidenote from me is about “reel drop” and how drop evolves even during one’s gait cycle. Softer foams create much different drops than advertised. With that in mind let’s have a closer look at Altra’s latest release.
Weight in Altra’s sample size: 240g (8.5oz)
Stack height: 32mm heel and 28mm forefoot for a 4mm drop
Not everything is new
Despite the addition of a drop, Altra have not thrown out the baby with the bathwater. What remains on the FWD Experience upper is their traditional wide, natural foot shape which gives toes room to move during the run. This is my first experience of an Altra shoe, I have found the upper to be a very pleasant shape for my foot. I know that one of our other reviewers finds the footshape to be a real issue in Altra shoes. However, I did not have that issue. I found the fit true to size.
The upper itself is an engineered mesh which is breathable through the toe-box and wraps the foot well. The lace section of the shoe is fairly standard and does the job well. I found I was able to achieve good lockdown with very little lace tinkering which is always refreshing. Along the upper, the tongue is well padded which also helps with achieving lockdown if you need to crank the laces a little tighter. Whilst the tongue is not gusseted, I have found no issues with it slipping during my runs. Towards the back of the shoe, the heel collar is well padded and fairly stout. It also extends out quite far and doubles as a pull tab. Again, I have not found this to be an irritant on my achilles during runs.
As far as any overlays go, there is a reflective overlay on the rear of the shoe and a small strip on the lateral side of the toe box. Altra have also popped a logo on the rear of the lateral side of the FWD Experience. Overall, the FWD Experience fit and held my foot well.
I share most of Andy’s findings on the upper and fit. It’s always a nice feeling to put on a shoe and be welcomed with so much room for the toes. Of course it makes sense in an Altra shoe but yet I’m glad to report not much has changed here.
Let’s note however that this is Altra’s standard footshape (the middle one, not the original – widest – nor slim – most narrow). I must admit that I was really pleasantly surprised by the comfort of this shoe. Not that Altra shoes have given me many issues in the past from a fit perspective, but this one shines with some sort of extra comfort.
I’ll go even further: I think it could make it to the top5 comfiest shoes of the year along with the likes of Nimbus 25. Like Andy said, the lacing system works particularly well and the foot is well held. Top notch fit and upper experience!
Rising above 0
As I mentioned before, this is my first experience of an Altra shoe. The FWD Experience midsole is a relatively firm ride. The compression moulded EVA foam does a decent job of absorbing impact from the road although I didn’t find that it offered much back. I have put about 80km through the shoes so far and used them for a range of runs. As a very forefoot striker, I found that the FWD Experience offered me a pleasant rolling sensation.
Personally, I found that the FWD Experience came alive more for me when I picked up the pace. Around marathon pace, (3:45/km) I found it to be a very smooth and easy shoe to run in. That being said, I do not think that the firmness of the foam would be my personal choice to tackle a full marathon in. As a daily shoe, I found the FWD Experience to be comfortable and competent. My usual morning run is around 9.4km and whilst it never offered the liveliest of rides, I always found it easy to run in.
My biggest gripe with the FWD Experience and their ride has been the insole. During the first 50km of testing, I kept the shoe as sold and found that the insoles gave me a real hotspot under the balls of my feet where I land. No matter which socks I used or even a runners knot got rid of this. However, I changed the insoles and the hotspots went away instantly. A strange but frustrating experience although thankfully easily solved.
I’ll go straight to the point: what a nice ride. And most surprisingly: what a nice ride that I didn’t see coming. I really think that Altra is onto something with this shoe. Is it the new 4mm drop? It plays a role and helps with the nice ride, but it’s more than that. The choice of the CMEVA here helps to offer a true 4mm drop experience. What I mean by that is that the drop remains consistent through the gait cycle and doesn’t change depending on the footstrike and weight of the runner. Do I wish to see EGO or EGO Max midsole instead in the future? Absolutely. A harder version of EGO Max would be the dream but I think going already with EGO midsole could be a perfect compromise for this shoe.
The ride get more and more interesting when picking up the pace but unlike Andy I found a sweetspot around 4’20/km (my endurance/Z2 pace roughly). Below 4’00/km the shoe wasn’t giving me enough back and I could feel that I was working harder than needed. The shoe rolls forward well and that starts around the foot arch (a little protruding for me by the way, which I don’t mind but some people may). Surprisingly the drop doesn’t affect the natural way of running Altra has always promoted and the Altra FWD Experience is a shoe in which my cadence appears to be higher and my gait cycle more “intuitive”. The shoe also runs very quiet and that definitely helps to be more connected to the run, and – for me at least – run in a more gentle and relaxed way.
Rubber on the road
The outsole is a rubber affair which has good coverage over the forefoot of the shoe and a smaller pair of pods on the lateral side of the heel. There are also a range of flex grooves cut into the outsole of the shoe which help with the smooth roll of the FWD Experience. I have run the shoe through a whole range of weather conditions from bone dry to torrential rain and the grip has not let me down yet.
I have found that the grooves in the sole do pick up small, gravelly passengers from time to time. That being said, I haven’t found this to be wildly detrimental to the ride of the shoe, just a little clunky on the pavement.
I cannot comment yet on the outsole performance as my runs were on dry surfaces only thus far. Like I said above, the shoe is quiet and that certainly is helped by the outsole coverage and rubber choice.
Will we be going FWD with the Experience?
Whilst I may not be a full time Altra convert from the FWD Experience, I will continue to use it in my rotation. It has been an enjoyable shoe for daily runs and those when I have wanted to push the pace a little more. I won’t be using it on days when I have tired legs or after a workout as I could do with a little more softness in the midsole for those days. The ride is smooth and I find that the FWD Experience rolls well through my (Admittedly short) gait cycle and keeps me moving.
The price of €150/$140 is probably on the high side for a shoe which could do with a little more versatility but it is not beyond the realms of reasonable when other companies are releasing daily shoes at the €170+ mark. With the lack of wear after the 80km I have in the shoe so far, I can see no signs of wear and the firmness of the midsole makes me think that the FWD Experience will have a good durability. I am very interested in seeing what the FWD Experience 2 will be like. Slightly softer please, Altra!
Like Andy, I will continue using this shoe. I feel like I’ll do so even more than Andy as I don’t mind the firmness as much. My request would be: EGO midsole please, Altra! Which should address Andy’s request but should also bring a bit more life to the ride at faster paces.
I would definitely love to have this upper and fit on more shoes (not only Altra!) and I think that the FWD Experience is the perfect shoe to recommend to people looking for that natural experience without necessarily going zero drop directly.