Altra Olympus 4 - Initial thoughts

Well, it's finally here!

It feels like it's been forever since I first heard about the Olympus 4 dropping this summer.

I've been checking Altra's website every day hoping to hit it early enough to get in an order before everyone bought them up...and I still almost missed 'em!

I actually ended up purchasing from some 3rd party running stores because Altra isn't offering them on their website yet. 2 different running stores accepted my online order only to cancel due to Altra being back ordered...I guess there were quite a few people waiting for this one.

So, let's get right into it. This is going to be a fairly quick "Initial thoughts" article because I've only had the opportunity to get one 6-mile run in on these bad boys since I got them yesterday!

I thought about waiting to publish this but after that first run I knew I had to give you the good news!

First of all, if you are unfamiliar with Altra they are known for 2 important features in their shoes.

  1. A foot-shaped toe box. This means that the area that your forefoot and toes are in is wide and roomy so that your toes can splay nice and wide to give you the best comfort, stability, and strength while you're running.

  2. A 0 mm drop from heel to toe. Most shoes have anywhere from a 4-10 mm drop from the heel of the shoe to the toe. That means you're getting a lot more cushion in the sole of the heel and not as much in the front. With Altra's their is no drop, so you have the same amount of cushion in the heel and toe.

Every single Altra shoe has these 2 features so you never have to wonder if you're getting them when you buy from Altra.

These features are partly why I love Altra shoes. I have horrible, weird shaped feet that cause them to hurt in lots of running shoes. But the wide toe box in the Altra's has been a game changer for me. I still use some other brands that offer wider shoes but it's always a guessing game to know what you're going to get.

So, let's talk about the Altra Olympus 4.

The Olympus 4 is a maximalist trail running shoe. You didn't misread that. Maximalist trail running shoes...I know...weird.

You see, the vast majority of trail running shoes are either moderately or minimally cushioned. The reason is because of the nature of trail running. Because you will be running over roots, rocks, and uneven terrain you generally want a shoe that is going to be super responsive and give you excellent ground feel.

On the road you can get away with a maximalist shoe because roads are generally flat and even and you don't have to worry where your foot is going to land with every step.

Also, with a taller stack height (that is, the height of the midsole of the shoe) you run a higher risk of rolling your ankle if you end up turning the shoe on its side!

With all that being said, a minimalist trail shoe will give you excellent ground feel, but it will also beat up your feet, which is exactly why I've been looking for a maximalist cushioned trail shoe. The problem is, not many of them exist...and even fewer exist that I actually want to wear!

So when Altra announced the Olympus 4, I was super excited to get into a pair and try them out...

And after my run today I can tell you, I am not disappointed!

Let's start with the basics.

The Olympus 4 is a beast of a shoe. It weighs in around 11.6 ounces each, so it's definitely on the heavy side.

It's got a 33 mm stack height which is right where many maximalist shoes live.

It also boasts a Vibram Mega Grip outsole with individualized "suspension" through the forefoot. When you looks at the lugs it's pretty obvious that they were trying to make this shoe super aggressive.

Here is a quick video from my run today to give you a better look at the shoes...

Fit and finish

When I popped these guys on yesterday one of the first things I noticed was how secure my foot felt. The heel cup is pretty deep which makes it feel like the shoe is swallowing your foot. The tongue and laces cinch up high enough to make sure you're locked in without interfering with your ankle flexion, which I find really important.

I was surprised at how nimble these felt. I was fully expecting a giant, bulky shoe that felt more like a clown shoe than a trail shoe...but that's not what I got. They don't feel light, but they don't feel like a 12oz shoe either. I was feeling pretty springy when I was bouncing around the trails today.

The lacing system is simple and straightforward, but honestly, I don't love it. So far, this is the only thing that I have an issue with. It's not a bad lacing system but the combination of the system and the laces make it kind of hard to get a good, tight lace-up. It's just one of those things where you snug up the toe of your shoe and as soon as you let go of the lace it loosens right up. So you have to kind of figure out how to tighten the toe and keep pressure on the laces while you cinch up the next eyelet. Not a big deal, just a little annoying.

As always, the shoe is spacious and feels awesome on my feet. I had enough room in the toebox to feel like my forefoot wasn't being pinched, but not so much that I felt like I was sliding around.

The uppers are a nice mix between durable rubbers and a lighter weight mesh. I actually thought the uppers were going to be closer to their Superior line, but was pleasantly surprised to find it to be lighter weight and a bit more breathable.

Overall, I really like the fit and finish of these. The black color scheme is pretty sweet, but I'm a little biased towards black gear!

The midsole

As far as the midsole of the Olympus 4, it's a monster. Again, 33 mm stack height means this thing is ready to tackle the tough stuff!

I had read that the midsole was pretty soft on these but I found them to have a nice balance. Don't get me wrong, the cushioning isn't what I would consider firm, but it doesn't feel too soft to me. You can definitely feel yourself sink into the shoe a bit (which I like) but I didn't feel sharp rocks or branches trying to push through that midsole.

Obviously, being maximalist shoes, these will not have the best energy return if you're looking for efficiency, but (A) that's not really what these are designed for, and (B) this is trail running, so worrying about running economy is just a waste of time!

I specifically remember bombing down a few hills thinking "ooooh...this is gonna hurt!" only to barely feel any of the rocks and roots that I was so worried about. It is definitely a very different sensation than you get with a moderate or minimalist trail shoe.

Throughout this first run I really enjoyed feeling the shoe just gobble up all of the crazy terrain I threw at it. The softer midsole really does allow you be a little more relaxed with your foot placement without the penalty of walking away from your run with sore feet.

The outsole

The midsole of the Olympus 4 is definitely what I was the most excited about when I was buying this shoe, but after that first run I might be even more impressed with the outsole.

Honestly, I shouldn't be surprised. I wear several different Altra trail shoes and they all have bomb proof traction, but the Olympus somehow seems even better.

First, you can hear how sticky the rubber is when you're walking on pavement or wood. It sounds like a winter car tire on dry asphalt.

On the trail it seems almost invincible. Today was an especially wet day since it had rained last night and pretty much all morning. I was dealing with wet dirt, wet leaves, and wet, mossy, rocks and roots. But throughout my run I didn't have any issues with traction. I really did just feel like I was sticking to everything.

I'm sure one day this will come to bite me in the ass when I slip on some wet rock, but for now, I'm pretty stoked with how grippy these are!


Obviously, I'm pretty excited about the Olympus 4, but that doesn't mean I don't have any concerns.

My first concern is really about the idea of maximalist trail running shoes. Every time I was picking up speed or just recklessly bombing down hills I was thinking "One wrong step and it's snap city!"

Because your foot is so high off the ground, if you start to roll your ankle there is no coming back. This is kind of scary for a road shoe, but it's downright terrifying for a trail shoe.

The Olympus 4 is nice and wide and I felt very stable throughout my run today but I am worried that the thick cushion will cause me to be lazy with my foot placement and roll an ankle one of these days!

My second concern is that the stack height of the shoe takes some getting used to. Already on this first run I was catching the lugs on things every once in a while because I wasn't picking my feet up high enough.

When you are transitioning from a moderate-minimal trail shoe to a 33 mm trail shoe, it's going to be a little weird. I'm guessing it's just going to take some time to adjust, I'm just hoping I don't eat dirt in the mean time!

My third and final concern is more of a complaint. $170 !? Are you serious!? I know this is a premium, beefed up trail shoe, but come on! That price point seems pretty ridiculous to me! I have been saving up for this shoe because I knew that it was one I wanted to get no matter what, but whoa, that's pretty steep!

So, in a few weeks I'll write a full, in-depth review of the Altra Olympus 4, but for now I just wanted to let you know my initial thoughts on these awesome trail shoes.

If you're looking to buy them, I don't really know what to tell you. I ended up buying mine from Let's Run Moore which has a great online store (10% off with promo code 'runmoore'). They are a small shop and seem to have great customer service and a pretty stellar selection of shoes. This isn't an ad or affiliate link or anything, I just had a great experience with them!

However, Steve did tell me that Altra was back ordered on pretty much all of the standard sizes and that they weren't going to be able to fulfill orders again until Altra re-stocked on August 17.

I would suggest trying to contact your local running stores to see if they have any lying around. Otherwise, REI allows you to pre-order, so that might be your next best option.

Thank you sooooooo much for reading!!

Now is the time when I ask you for a favor...If you enjoyed this article, please share with a friend, co-worker, or total stranger!

It goes a long way in helping me continue to build this blog!

What about you, what your thoughts on the Olympus 4's, or on maximalist trail shoes in general? Leave a comment below, let's talk!


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