Altra Solstice: First Look

I do the overwhelming majority of my running in Altra shoes. There are a handful of reasons for this that I’ll get into later. For the time being it should suffice for me to note a couple of the biggest reasons: the wide forefoot shape and the 0mm drop. In fact the only running I do these days that isn’t in a pair of Altras is instead in a pair of shoes by Topo Athletic that sport a similar wide forefoot shape (though they have a 3mm drop).

A few months ago some articles started circling the web about some new product offerings from Altra in late 2017 and early 2018. Among them some new casual shoes, an actual bonafide racing flat, and a new low cost (for Altra) road shoe called the Solstice that would be exclusive to jackrabbit.com for the first few weeks of its availability.

As it turns out, my favorite pair of road shoes, a bright yellow pair of the Altra One V3, are quickly getting to the point of being completely worn out (they’ve somehow managed to hang on for over 400 miles but will probably be dead by 500). I have a backup pair of Ones, as well as a pair of Escalantes (and a backup pair of those as well), but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to give something new a try. That and I’m kind of like a kid in a candy store when it comes to shoe shopping.

A few days ago I went to jackrabbit.com and ordered a pair and today my shiny new pair of Solstices showed up.

First Impressions

NOTE: I’ll primarily be using the  One V3 and the Escalante as points of comparison given that they’re the closest to the Solstice in Altra’s current lineup. The Instinct is also pretty close, but I don’t have a pair of those to use as a point of comparison.

I really like the look of the Solstice. It’s considerably less aggressive in appearance than the One V3 and it looks more like a running shoe than the Escalante (which kind of resemble a pair of Airwalks made in the 90s). Not that the Escalante is a bad looking shoe or anything, but it doesn’t exactly look like a running shoe unless you get the Boston or Limited Edition colorway (and even then, just barely). Anyway, it looks like Altra has started paying a little more attention to what’s trendy in running shoes with the Solstice, at least in the looks department.

At first glance, the construction seems to be on par with other Altras I have laying around. Basically I don’t see any immediate cause for concern. On the inside, there’s a pretty obvious seam where the front half of the upper is “welded” to the back half. This contrasts with my other Altra road shoes, but doesn’t seem considerably different than what’s found in the Superior 3.0. After I put the shoes on, I couldn’t feel an obvious seam there, so perhaps it’ll be a non-issue. Besides, these are supposed to be the inexpensive, everyman’s Altra so I suppose compromises like this were inevitable.

One thing I noticed right off the bat that I rather do not like is that most of the grip on the bottom of the shoe is made from the same blown rubber material that the midsole is made from. This is also something I really didn’t like on the One V3 (it wears out quickly), but there are two pretty big considerations here: 1) The One V3 has a bit more hard rubber than the Solstice; and 2) the material on the Solstice is considerably more dense than on the One V3. I’ll have to wait until I’m a hundred or so miles into these before I can shed some light as to whether or not this is an actual issue.

Only two other thoughts really go in with the first impressions. The first is that it’s nice that Altra has paired the Solstice up with shoeslaces that are a reasonable length. The second is that I think I’m going to get a fair number of rocks stuck in the slit on the bottom. Regarding the shoelaces, at least for me and my size 11 foot, most shoelaces included with Altras are at the extreme lower limit for acceptable length so it’s nice to see a change here.

Trying Them On

The fit is closer to the One V3 than the Escalante, but the forefoot seems to be a little wider than either. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m not sure if it’s a good thing either. I guess I’ll know in a hundred or so miles.

This is definitely a firmer shoe than the One V3 (which is considerably firmer than the Escalante). Very quickly after I started running I developed a preference for running in firmer shoes, something I’ve had to let go of a bit after switching to Altra, so I’m quite excited to see how the Solstice feels when running.

The shoe is admirably breathable. To test this I stepped outside where the temperature is well below freezing. My feet were immediately cold and I didn’t waste any time getting back inside. They do seem to be more breathable than the One V3 and the Escalante as well as any of my trail shoes. I think the only shoes I have that are more breathable are some Adidas and Mizuno racing flats.

As to negatives, one big thing I noticed is that there’s a stitch seam toward the base of the tongue on the inside that puts some pressure on the top of the foot. Note that this isn’t the same seam I mentioned above. I spent close to a month recovering from extensor tendinitis toward the middle of last year so this is an immediate cause for concern. In fact I relaced my Ones and my Superiors to put less lace pressure on the top of my foot as a result of this. Given that in the Solstice it’s a stitch seam that’s causing the pressure, I doubt changing lacing will have much of an impact if it does start upsetting the extensor tendons. The seam itself is in the same general area as the seam that connects the front and back of the upper so that part of the upper doesn’t seem to stretch at all. I’ll find out well before I reach 100 miles in these if this is going to cause an issue. The Escalante, on the other hand, is basically the perfect shoe in this regard so it’s interesting to see the amount of contrast in Altra’s lineup.

The shoes are generally comfier than the One V3 and a bit less comfy than the Escalante, at least out of the box. We’ll see how they fare when I have some miles on them. I should note that I have no problem doing longer runs in the One V3, in fact I ran my first official road marathon in them, so I don’t suspect I’ll have any problems doing longer runs in the Solstice unless they jack up my extensor tendons.

Other Thoughts

One thing I should definitely mention is that the Solstice is lighter than either the One V3 or the Escalante. My food scale lists both the One V3 and Escalante at about 9 ounces and the Solstice at about 8 ounces, all size 11. I’m not sure how accurate that scale is, but it has proven accurate relative to itself in the past so I trust it to tell me when item A weighs more than item B.

Also, I get that this is a “less expensive Altra” rather than a “budget Altra” but it’s still hard to stomach $90 for a pair of “less expensive” running shoes. This is especially true considering the One V3 lists for $100 and is often cheaper on Amazon, though typically for less desirable colors. That said, the One V3 is at the low end of the spectrum regarding Altra pricing. The Escalantes list for $130 and their higher priced trail shoes come in at $150 and $160. Their most expensive shoe is a “smart shoe” coming in at $220. When put in perspective, $90 really is pretty good considering the cost of entry with practically every other model. But still, it’s $90 for a “less expensive” running shoe, which is a bit hard to stomach.

What’s Next

Well, I actually need to go running in the Solstice before I can comment further. Unfortunately doing so isn’t the easiest thing at the moment. We had a snowstorm last night and I’m resting up for a trail race this Saturday anyway, so we’ll be looking at Sunday or Monday at the earliest. Also that might have to be on the treadmill if the roads and sidewalks are still bad (I’m crossing my fingers they won’t be).

Until then, be well.

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