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Altra Superior 4

This is the Altra Superior 4.0. We loved the Superior 1.5, but were disappointed with the 3.0. In our opinion, it had too much cushioning, particularly for a trail shoe and this reduced its stability. The upper was comfortable rather than sleek and the weight (for a standard size 8) 279g.

The Superior 4.0 is way better. The weight of each shoe has reduced to 224g – that’s significant. This seems to be due to a slightly thinner midsole (Altra’s Quantic foam) and a sleeker, stretchier (Altra call it knitted) upper. We particularly like the wrap-around (burrito) tongue. The shoe retains its 4 gaiter points. Of no use to us, but they have become part of the shoe’s character.

The outsole has not changed, it works. It’s smooth on tarmac and the 4mm lugs provide reasonable grip for light trail. The protrusion at the rear of the heel is retained. It’s meant to act as a rudder to aid control on steep descents, but, as previously, we can’t say we’re aware of its assistance. There’s also a removable rock plate under the sockliner (which you only really need for sharp rocky terrain and otherwise simply adds weight).

Wear and Tear:

I’ve run 100+ miles of trail and tarmac in this shoe and there are no signs of wear-and-tear.


A return to form, this is the legitimate offspring of the first Superior.  It’s light, comfortable, natural-foot friendly and suitable for non-technical trails and road running too. 88/100


Weight – 224g – (UK size 8)
Midsole – Depth 21mm. Zero-drop
Outsole – Rows of rectangular 4mm lugs across foot
Insole – Standard and removable. Removable rock plate
Flexibility – High
Fitting – Wide toebox. Natural foot-shaped last. Comes up small – order half to one size up (standard Altra sizes) 

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Altra Solstice

The Altra Solstice is the best minimal road shoe available at the moment. It weighs only 196g, yet has enough structure to hold the foot in place well. It’s also very resilient – I’ve trained for and completed two marathons in one pair and only the outsole is worn – great value.

The upper is pretty traditional, but knitted and breathable at the front. The midsole isn’t thin for a minimal shoe but as well as being flat, flexes in the right place.

There is very little outsole but the grip is great (no problem in the rain).

Wear and Tear:

I’ve run 250+ miles of tarmac in this shoe and while the bottom is worn, the upper is in great shape.

two marathons and many tempo runs later…


The best minimal road shoe out there. It’s flat, flexible and responsive as well as being natural-foot friendly. It’s also relatively cheap. 93/100


Weight – 196g – (UK size 8)
Midsole – Depth 23mm. Zero-drop
Outsole – No outsole except
Insole – Standard and removable.
Flexibility – High
Fitting – Wide toebox. Natural foot-shaped last. Comes up small – order half to one size up (standard Altra sizes)

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Vivobarefoot Primus Lite

The Vivobarefoot Primus Lite is too good-looking! Its pure white looks are amazing, tempting you to save it for Sunday best. But, it is great to run in too. The road sibling of the trail shoe brothers (SG, FG and Swimrun), the Primus Lite is a great addition, but maybe just for the summer!

The upper holds the foot well, is minimal and breathable, with the added bonus of recycled PET mesh. There’s no midsole of course, just a puncture resistant sole. I’ve found this works great on the track and on grass. I’ve tended to keep this shoe for speedwork, rather than on the road (mainly to keep it clean). It’s a shame it’s not lighter – if you’re going this minimal under the foot, I’d like a shoe weighing 100g, not over 200g.

Wear and Tear:

I’ve run 80+ miles of track and grass in this shoe, not enough to cause any damage.


A great super-minimalist shoe for summer running. It’s foot-shaped, flexible and a thing of beauty. 78/100


Weight – 221g – (UK size 8)
Midsole – Zero. Zero-drop
Outsole – Rubber
Insole – Standard and removable.
Flexibility – Super High
Fitting – Wide toebox. Natural foot-shaped last.

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Vivobarefoot Primus Swimrun

The Primus Swimrun is the perfect marriage of the Primus Trail FG (firm ground) and SG (soft ground). I liked both of these shoes, but my concerns with each are answered in this beautiful combination. Read on!


The same as the Primus SG (soft ground), with the exception that plastic rather than ecorubber covers the arch and instep. Plastic is also used to strengthen the mesh around the toes and midfoot with, a stretchy neoprene ankle collar, integrated tongue and toggle lacing. The mesh is made from up to 17 recycled plastic bottles.

As with the SG, the use of plastic to strengthen the mesh around the toebox works well and is durable. They are also comfortable enough to wear without socks. The rubber around the midfoot creates a secure fit and my foot does not slip around even when wet and across slopes. The stretchy sock-like ankle collar is comfortable and secure and holds the shoe on. The stretchy upper works better for me with the lighter FG (firm ground) sole. I think the heavier SG sole stretched the upper too much across the top of my foot which forced me to remove the thin, integrated laces, whereas this swimrun combination feels just right. I haven’t swam in these, but I have run in them wet and they work well and dry quickly.


The rubber sole (the same firm ground sole reviewed previously) is more of a cradle than a platform because it extends around the sides of the foot on all sides. I’ve been wearing these on the concrete hard, cracked and wrinkled fields and downs of SE England this summer and I think the level of protection against undulations in the hard ground due to the wrapped nature of the sole, together with the tri-directional lugs and additional cylindrical studs under the heel, is excellent. Now tested through a wet winter and dry summer, this sole is a worthy and durable evolution of VB’s trail outsole.

The shoe provides good traction but also a high level of proprioception (the sole is thin enough to provide good feedback). The shallow, tightly spaced studs work well on road and other hard surfaces as well as softer ground (but not deep mud). I’ve raced in these in the South Downs Relay and North Downs Run as well as in the Brecon Beacons all of which required them to perform on tarmac, fields and gravel and I can’t fault them.

Wear and Tear:

After six months and 150+ miles on road, grass and hard and soft trail through spring and summer, there is very little sign of wear.




The best VB trail shoe yet. The perfect combination of protective multi-terrain outsole and close-fitting easy-on upper. 95/100.


Weight – 260g
Midsole – None, so zero drop and no toe spring.
Outsole – Tough rubber with multi-directional lugs. Sole wraps round to form side bumper.
Insole – Standard and removable.
Fitting – Foot shaped with wide toebox. Runs true to size. Works with Correct Toes.


Vivobarefoot provided these shoes.


For other expert reviews on this and other shoes see


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Altra Superior 3.5

This is most recent incarnation of the Superior. In our review of the Superior 1.5, Sam argued that the 3.0 was no match for the earlier model. Is the 3.5 any better?

In short, while it is foot-shaped, flexible and lighter than the 1.5, in our opinion, there is too much cushioning underfoot, particularly for a trail shoe and this reduces its stability. On the other hand, it is comfortable and some will appreciate the 21mm of soft midsole, particularly on harder, smoother trails.

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Altra Vanish-R

This is the Altra shoe I’d been waiting for. Zero-drop, foot-shaped but also thin-soled (14mm) and with an incredibly minimal upper. There was a real buzz on the web about this shoe for these reasons, but there were many out-of-the-box disappointed posts and reviews (not foot-shaped enough, cheap materials, too small). I’ve now put 90 miles on them including a 20-mile long run, two 10-mile marathon pace efforts and plenty of easy running and I’m smitten. Here’s why:

Fits Correct ToesInov8Mixed TerrainTrail

Inov8 Trailtalon 235 women’s

The Trailtalon 235 is Inov8’s current most minimal shoe, with a 4mm drop, similar to the much-loved – but no longer available – Trailroc 236 and 245. Happily, it’s a worthy replacement, comparable in fit and feel, and with a sole that’s as surefooted on trails as its predecessor but fine for stretches of road too (as I discovered when I got horribly lost in my first outing in these).


The upper combines a breathable mesh-like material with welded plastic around the front and midfoot, which adds structure (and protection around the toes) without heaviness. The heel cup is firm, thanks to an external heel cage – a feature I really like in a minimal shoe, which can otherwise feel flabby – while the ankle collar is lightly padded and the tongue gusseted to help keep out debris.

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Altra Superior 1.5

The most recent incarnation of the Superior – the 3 – is a very different beast from this one, the 1.5, and in my mind, no match. What’s so good about this earlier model? I explain below..

When Altra first launched their Superior trail shoe, nearly all their shoe models boasted a wide toebox, a zero-drop sole and were both lightly cushioned and flexible. Since then, their range has moved towards bulkier, stiffer midsoles, which in my opinion is a shame (though it’s great to see they’ve maintained a 100% zero-drop stable and kept the roomy toebox).

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Inov8 Trailtalon 235

The Trailtalon 235 is Inov8’s current most minimal shoe. It is a suitable replacement for those who loved the Trailroc 235 or 245 and the Terraclaw 220. It differs from those shoes because the sole is trail (rather than all-terrain) specific, but, if you accept that it’s a great all-rounder for off and on-road.


Mesh with welded plastic around the toes and across the midfoot, which has proved to be particularly resilient. The ankle collar is lightly padded and the tongue is gusseted.

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Inov8 Terraclaw 220

The Terraclaw replaced the much-loved Trailroc. It has now been discontinued too (Inov8 has brought out a new Trailroc, which looks very different and isn’t as light) so I urge you to buy this shoe while you can. I’m now on my second pair (with a third on order) so I can offer a long-term perspective.


Mesh is fused with plastic overlays around the toebox and across the midfoot, which has proved to be particularly resilient. The shoe looks distinctive due to the ‘X-lock’, a cross of plastic over the toebox, and its off-set lacing (diagonally aligned towards the instep). The ankle collar and tongue are lightly padded.