By Kieran Alger
The Altra FWD Experience is Altra’s first shoe to move away from zero drop. That’s a big deal – and a bit of a risk – for a company that staked its reputation on the benefits of zero drop – or what it calls balanced cushioning – from the very outset.
Altra says the new 4mm drop joins the line-up to help introduce the brand – and lower-drop shoes – to more runners. But beyond the headlines around the drop change, the FWD Experience is designed to be a snappy, versatile daily trainer with plenty of top-end pace potential. So how does the stack change stack up? Find out in my Altra FWD Experience review.
Altra FWD Experience: Stack Height, Drop, Weight and Price
Altra’s shift away from balanced cushioning – aka zero drop – is the big news. The Altra FWD Experience stack height now comes in at 32mm in the heel and 28mm in for the forefoot in the men’s and 30mm / 26mm in the women’s, for a 4mm drop in both.
Weight-wise, the FWD Experience tips the scales at 8.9oz or 252g in our UK Men’s 8.5 test size. That’s a good chunk lighter than something like the Altra Via Olympus, and lighter than the training partner Alta Torin 7.
The Altra FWD Experience price was set at $140 at launch. When you can now pay anywhere up to $200 for a daily trainer, that’s quite competitive.
Stats : Altra FWD Experience
8.9 oz / 252 g
True to size
Altra FWD Experience: Design
The Altra FWD Experience midsole uses a compression-molded EVA foam that’s somewhere between semi-firm and semi-soft. Surprisingly, you don’t get Altra’s livelier Ego Max or Ego Pro foams here. There’s also a considerable rocker to help with toe offs.
Up top there’s an engineered mesh upper that’s pretty thick and dense with no overlays. Altra’s trademark toe box shaping remains though that’s been narrowed and now looks much more like a traditional shoe.
There’s a medium padded tongue and heel collars packing some extra pads to hold the base of the heel and provide some fit-security.
Flip them over and the outsole has a decent covering of outsole rubber and Altra’s familiar flex groove system that’s there to help the shoe flex with your feet for a more natural, flexible ride.
Altra FWD Experience: Fit
I ran in a UK size 8.5 and I found these fit well true to size. Altra’s standard foot-shaped toe box offers a more snug version of the anatomic fit and the foot-shaping has been tapered more than most Altra shoes. There’s still ample space lengthwise and across the top and compared to most shoes these still feel roomy.
Altra FWD Experience: Performance
If Altra set out to make a shoe with broader appeal, they’ve largely succeeded. Close your eyes and you could be running in a HOKA Clifton. That’s not a criticism of Altra, it’s more a compliment to HOKA. The HOKA-isation of running shoes has been happening across all the major brands in the past 5 years. With good reason. The combination of a higher stack of midsole foam, bucket seat fit, rockered shaping and lightweight breathable uppers works. And that’s true here.
The Altra FWD Experience is a surprisingly light, very capable, versatile daily trainer that’s really easy to run in at a range of paces.
Altra’s roomier toe box is very much still a feature even if it’s not as roomy as some wider-fit shoes in its line-up. That airiness, combined with the happy step-in comfort and cradling footbed, make this a shoe you’re happy to lace up.
On the run, the rockered, firmer ride has a direct, somewhat old-school performance sprightliness to it. Though it’s definitely not as lively as the super daily trainers that pack supercritical foams like the Saucony Endorphin Speed 3. It would have been great to see Altra use its livelier Ego Max or Pro foams, just to offer a touch more bounce.
The EVA midsole and footbed communication provides just enough road protection but it’s not as soft and cushioned as shoes like the ASICS Gel Nimbus 25. That will definitely limit the FWD Experience’s upper distance and time on feet for some runners.
But if you’re a fan of firmer, more direct shoes, there’s a balance, stability and reliability underfoot, that makes it great for cruising in disappearing comfort.
While I pegged the Altra Torin 7 as a better option for easy miles, I found the FWD Experience came to life much more when I picked up the pace. If you like firmer shoes, it can happily handle your recovery plods, too. But it’s at its best when you’re pushing the tempo with faster foot turnover.
Altra FWD Experience: My Verdict
Altra has made a good shoe here. Good but not great. If you’ve looked at Altra in the past but been put off because of the zero-drop design, the Altra FWD Experience is a great shoe to try first. Likewise, if you’ve been longing for a HOKA Clifton with a wider toe box, this could be your shoe.
We’d loved to have seen Altra go all out, guns blazing with its first drop shop. You can’t help but wonder why they didn’t swap the compression molded EVA for a lighter, more energetic supercritical midsole foam, particularly when it uses those foams in shoes with similar geometry.
Fans of bouncy, energetic daily trainers will likely find it a bit old fashioned and a shade dull. Those who want sinky, squishy softness in there easy-day shoes, won’t get enough cushioning here either.
However, if you like a light, responsive, firmer and more direct ride, the Altra FWD Experience offers that in spades. For fans of that more traditional ride, this shoe offers good pace versatility tilted towards faster, shorter runs.
It’s also Altra’s best looking shoe to date. Maybe because it looks less Altra.