Altra and Asics are some popular and trendy brands on the running shoe market right now. Although both companies have a reputation of providing reliable footwear, it is no secret that the brands differ in design and features.
Asics is a mainstream brand that provides a fairly wide range of shoe options, while Altra is most well known to work in the niche of zero heel-to-toe drop running shoes with ultra-wide toe boxes.
A difference in heel-to-toe drop and toe box width can almost completely change the construction of a shoe, so what seem like minor variations actually make a large impact
Altra vs Asics Running Shoes - The Biggest Differences:
When comparing pretty much any brand against each other, there are some obvious differences in midsole foam quality, upper mesh, and shoe width (especially the shoe width in this case).
With this in mind, it is super easy to identify the two primary differences in the general construction between these Altra and Asics.
Heel-to-Toe Drop (slope)
Altra has made its name by providing shoes with zero heel-to-toe drop (or slope) for all of its shoes.
Put simply this just means there is no change in distance to the ground from the heel area all the way to the forefoot.
There are some advantages to a zero drop shoe, as it allows your body to get closer to a more “natural” gait cycle without sacrificing cushion or stability that you would be lacking with a true “barefoot” type of shoe.
Sure enough, if you give your body time to adjust to a zero drop running shoe, then you might find your achilles, calves and feet getting stronger and more mobile. However, you must be careful and patient so you do not injure yourself in the process.
Although this may seem pretty intuitive and normal, it is fairly uncommon to see this design feature in mainstream shoe brands. Even a heel-to-toe offset of 4mm can provide just a little extra support to your calves and achilles, and this is usually the minimum that shoe brands will employ.
Nevertheless, Altra is well known for being one of the only shoe companies that exclusively manufacture zero drop athletic shoes.
Asics on the other hand, is well known for making more “standard” offsets for running shoes usually ranging from 6-12mm drops. This provides increased protection and stability.
Most people will probably tell you that they like Asics because of the Gel cushioning system, comfortable upper mesh, and stability. When seeking out proper build quality, there are few brands that do this as well as Asics.
As you can see by the title, the second big niche that Altra has entered the market with is an ultra-wide toe box. It makes shoes that are more “naturally” wide to match the anatomy of the foot.
The argument here is that over our lifetime of wearing “normal” shoes, our feet are unable to splay out and spread naturally, so having this super wide toe box provides a natural range of motion and further stability over the “standard” running shoes that we all usually wear (like Asics).
Asics is no stranger to providing wide options for many of its most popular trainers (even extrening to a 4E ultra-wide), but of course it is just a different kind of width modification because the overall last of these shoe brands are just not the same.
Little quick lesson in shoe tech: the last of a shoe is a mechanical form shaped like a human foot. It is used by shoemakers and cordwainers in the manufacture and repair of shoes.
Altra vs Asics Running Shoes - The Other Important Aspects to Consider:
When deciding upon a shoe brand, understanding the durability might be one of the first topics that most look for in a shoe. Let’s be honest, if you are going to spend so much on a pair of shoes then they better get you some good wear and tear!
Thankfully, both brands perform pretty well in regards to durability.
However, although Altra does make some highly durable models, some others have shown to be less impressive when it comes to a shoe’s lifespan and overall build quality. This is neither good, nor bad, but it is something to think about when looking at your purchase.
In most cases the same can probably be said for Asics shoes as well.
There are no two ways about it, Ascis is well known as one of the most reliable shoe brands on the market. Much of this credit can go to the durable Gel-Cushioning system and the ASICS High-Abrasion Rubber (AHAR) that protects the shoe as the outsole.
Both shoe brands can offer reliable durability, but for Altra you will want to choose more carefully to find the right model. Ascis can pretty much get you a long lasting pair of shoes for any model.
Comfort is another super important feature that people look for in their daily trainer. If you are going to spend a lot of time in these shoes then they should feel comfortable on and round your feet!
As someone who worked in specialty running for years, I can confidently say that this is the first thing most people notice and grade when they step into any shoe.
Furthermore, it will often be the deal-breaker when all other things are considered equal between two shoes.
Asics has comfort dialed in. Between a secure and comfortable upper and a stable and soft midsole you should pretty much be good to go the distance in a solid pair of Asics daily trainers like the Nimbus, Cumulus, and Kayano.
One of the most popular shoes from the Asics lineup in the Gel-Nimbus, it provides outstanding cushion, durability, and performance.
Altra’s Quantic midsole foam does offer some very good comfort as well, and the toe box is especially comfortable if you have a wider foot and need more space for your toes. It will give you plenty of breathing room and give your feet some extra room to splay out as naturally as possible.
It is worth mentioning that although the toe-box is wide, the midfoot lockdown is still super solid in most Altra models. So when you are trying a pair on make sure to note the overall lockdown as a factor.
As far as a comparison goes, each brand offers better comfort for different reasons, although I think most will prefer Asics over an Altra, as the latter can be a bit of an acquired taste.
A bit of a sub-category, but solid cushioning systems can really be the backbone of a running shoe and bring up the comfort, durability and overall performance, so let's take a look at the technology of each company and apply it practically.
Asics is well known for its Gel-Cushioning system, which is a silicone-based gel for responsive shock absorption on impact. It has been the standby for Asics for many years and it is featured in most of its well known models.
Although it is great for impact absorption, it does tend to feel heavy and bulky when compared to other cushioning systems used from other brands. This is not bad though, as it can contribute to a more solid and hefty feeling under foot and provide what feels like some extra protection.
Complementing this gel, the midsole is now made up of Flytefoam Propel foam, which is actually pretty lightweight on its own. It feels ok most of the time, but it never stands out as amazing when compared to other shoe brands.
Anyway, Asics constructs shoes for a wide audience of runners from weekend warriors to elite athletes. You’ll find few people who will put on the Gel-Cumulus or Gel-Kayano and dislike the experience.
Altra offers a comfortable combination of cushion, but it tends to feel stiff underfoot on even its most “plush” trainers.
This might feel like a generalization because everyone will feel a different sensation underfoot, but the general consensus is that there is plenty of foam, but it leans on a most stiff and snappy side.
The Altra Torin is a beloved shoe within its community and has plenty of fans because of its solid blend of responsive cushion.
If implemented correctly in training, many runners could benefit from running (or atleast walking) in zero drop shoes on some easy days to let your achilles and calves get stronger and more flexible. This MUST be done with caution, as it could also lead to injury if a runner is not used to wearing a shoe with no heel-to-toe drop.
Altra vs Asics: Conclusion
It is obvious that Altra and Asics play in different niches within the running shoe market.
Asics makes traditional trainers for those seeking a soft and reliable experience that gets the job done. Altra makes a killing by providing zero-drop shoes with a wide toe box to the natural running community.
It allows runners who want to experience a cushioned “barefoot” running feel an opportunity to do that, which is awesome!
There probably isn’t an objectively “better” brand between Altra and Asics, but generally if you are a runner who likes the idea of getting closer to a very natural running gait, then Altras are worth a try.
Make sure that you walk around and do easy jogging in these shoes before hopping into any crazy mileage or intensity. A hasty transition from traditional 6-10mm drop shoes down to a zero-drop can lead to an unnecessary injury risk.
Asics will be great for those looking for a supportive and cushioned trainer, as well as a more traditional construction. If you are prone to injuries, then getting a pair of Asics can help increase protection for your feet and legs as you continue to enjoy your running journey.
Last update on 2022-09-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API