By Brian Metzler
It’s been about a dozen years since Altra showed off the initial models of its uniquely designed shoes at a trade show to curious retailers in Salt Lake City. While some outliers were immediately interested in the quirky new shoes with a foot-shaped toe box and what was then called a zero-drop platform (but now called “balanced cushioning”), few figured the tiny startup brand conceived by Golden Harper and Brian Beckstead would grow to a sizable brand.
Not only did the brand – aimed at producing better running form – blossom dramatically, but, now under the umbrella of VF Corp, it’s become one of the biggest brands in trail running. It also continues to make headway with its road running shoes. No matter if you’re a fan of Altra or if you’ve never laced up a pair of its shoes, I’d recommend giving the new Altra Rivera 3 a try. It’s one of the most moderate and accessible shoes in the Altra line – by shape, feel, look and ride – and a shoe a lot of runners could benefit from by having in their quiver. A few minor updates have helped make noticeable improvements and turn a good neutral trainer into a great everyday workhorse.
What’s New: The biggest changes to the Rivera 3 are a slightly thicker foam midsole (about 2mm higher from heel to toe), a new layered mesh upper, a padded, breathable (but not gusseted) tongue that provides a more secure fit, and a molded heel collar that provides enhanced rear-foot security. There’s also a sleeker version of Altra’s Slim-Footshape Fit, giving it both a lower volume interior and a slightly narrower footprint. Those changes are subtle, but collectively they provide an enhanced fit, a softer feel and a cushier, more agile ride.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Rivera 3 fits true to size with a medium interior volume that feels narrower in the heel and midfoot with a flat interior geometry under the arch and just a smidge of wiggle room in the toe box. (It’s definitely not as wide and voluminous in the forefoot as many of Altra’s original shoes.) It has a moderately soft, semi-plush step-in feel that’s enhanced by the medium-weight tongue, premium sockliner and extra padding around the heel collar. The slimmer profile is noticeable both when you lace them up and when you start running. Honestly, it feels as much like a neutral-oriented Brooks Ghost or a Saucony Ride (even though those shoes have a more angled heel-toe drop) as much as it does a classic neutral model from Altra like the Torin or Escalante. The Rivera 3’s lively Altra EGO midsole foam feels slightly more firm (and not quite as bouncy or mushy as those other everyday trainers), and that’s a good thing. It gives off a good blend of softness and snappiness in serving up a moderately energetic ride. It’s not as light as a performance trainer, but it’s certainly light enough for an everyday shoe.
Why It’s Great: It’s a great shoe because it’s simple and not overbuilt. No part of the shoe inhibits the natural flex and movement of your feet. If more shoes were designed that way, we’d all be much better off.
Altra Rivera 3
Weights: 8.2 oz. (women’s size 8), 9.8 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-Toe Offset: 0mm (28mm in the heel, 28mm in the forefoot)
Why You’ll Love It: New runners will appreciate it for its versatility, while experienced runners will like it for its moderately light and agile feel. With such a luscious combination of cushion, lightweight vibe and upbeat performance, the Rivera 3 can be a versatile, do-everything training shoe, a long-run specialist or even a fast-workout option in a pinch. It’s also a great shoe for tempo runs, progressive long runs, fartlek workouts and longer interval sessions. It’s probably not the best choice as a racing shoe, but you could definitely cover a 10K or half marathon at an upbeat pace while wearing a pair of these.
Pro: The outsole utilizes the FootPod Technology that maps out the foot's bones and tendons for the foot to flex naturally. With maximum flexibility, runners will also enjoy a responsive ride. The shoe features Innerflex technology, a design element that cuts a grid through the entire midsole of the shoe, running both vertically and horizontally for optimal and natural foot movement through the gait cycle.
Con: It might take some time to adjust to running in shoes with a level or zero-drop platform like this. There can be plenty of benefits, but if you’ve been running in shoes with a high to moderate heel-toe offset of 8mm to 13mm, consider making a gradual transition into Altra shoes which are built on a level platform.