The Altra FWD Experience is the first non-zero-drop shoe from Altra, and has a 4mm offset from heel to toe. This will make it an option for many more runners, and if you prefer a firm ride the FWD Experience is a great daily trainer that works well at a variety of paces.
- Effective rocker
- Foot-shaped upper
- Some may prefer softer shoes
- Foam isn’t lively
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The headline feature of the Altra FWD Experience is that it isn’t a zero-drop shoe, unlike all of Altra’s shoes to date. Zero-drop shoes have equal stack heights at the heel and forefoot, but the heel is 4mm higher on the FWD Experience. Some will say that Altra has abandoned one of its guiding principles; others, including myself, will simply enjoy a more accessible shoe. Zero-drop shoes can be hard on the calf muscles and most running shoes have drops of 6-10mm, and suddenly switching from this to 0mm can cause niggles.
With a pronounced rocker and a lightweight design, the Altra FWD Experience is a versatile daily trainer. I don’t rate it among the very best running shoes, mainly because the midsole foam feels outdated, but it’s a great option for those who prefer a firmer, more grounded ride.
Altra FWD Experience: Price And Availability
How I Tested This Shoe
I’ve run 35 miles in the Altra FWD Experience, using it for a mix of fast and slow training runs. I have only tested one other Altra shoe—the Altra Vanish Carbon racing shoe—because I’m not comfortable in zero-drop shoes, though I have tested many low-drop shoes, including most of Hoka’s range.
Design And Fit
While 4mm may not sound like a big deal, in the world of Altra moving away from a zero-drop design is huge. In fact, a lot of Altra loyalists might be dismayed by the change, though the 4mm drop on the FWD Experience means it will work for more runners; it can also act as a stepping stone to moving to zero-drop shoes, because doing that suddenly can put you at risk of injury owing to the different forces placed on the body.
Not only does the FWD Experience have a 4mm offset, it also has a pronounced rocker design, so it really tips you forward onto your toes with each stride. The stack height is 32mm at the heel and 28mm at the forefoot, and the foam used is a compression-molded EVA that’s quite firm, especially by modern standards, whereby most daily trainers have a softer feel.
Altra might have moved away from zero-drop with the FWD Experience, but another key tenet of the company’s approach is still in place, which is the foot-shaped toe box. This wider design allows your toes to splay more naturally, though I found that the shoe has quite a short fit, so going half a size up is advisable.
There is a lot of padding around the heel of the shoe, which hugs the back of the foot tightly but not uncomfortably. The tongue is also well padded and it’s quite surprising that the Altra FWD Experience weighs only 9oz/254g in my UK size 9, despite all the cushioning around the upper.
There is plentiful rubber coverage on the outsole of the shoe, with a harder material used at the heel and under the forefoot. In my testing, it gripped well on wet paved surfaces and there were no signs of wear.
I didn’t quite know what to expect from the Altra FWD Experience, and the shoe has been a pleasant surprise. I’ve not had any of the calf tightness I sometimes get when using low-drop running shoes, and I’ve found the FWD Experience a versatile and enjoyable shoe to use for a variety of training runs.
The rocker is key to this because the foam in the midsole is somewhat dull. I found it easy to get into a nice rhythm with the rocker on all my runs at varying paces. As a result, the ride was fluid, and it also meant I found the shoe comfortable for long, easy runs despite the hard midsole foam.
I also enjoyed using the shoe for runs at around tempo pace. It’s light and tips you onto your toes quickly. There’s not much bounce from the foam, but it’s also not mushy, so it doesn’t take away any pace. It’s not as fast as the best super-trainers with bouncier foams and plates in the midsole, but as a cheaper, more traditional daily trainer the FWD Experience is versatile.
How your gait works with the rocker may well be central to how much you enjoy the shoe, however. It worked well for me, but if you don’t hit the sweet spot to get rocked forward, you’re left with a pretty lifeless and firm foam. I have a high-cadence style and am a heel-striker, and the shoe worked well for me at fast paces, though I know others who haven’t found it as smooth a ride.
Is The Altra FWD Experience Worth It?
I enjoyed using the Altra FWD Experience and if you like a firmer feel to your daily trainer it is a versatile option that’s good value at its price. The main alternative is the Hoka Clifton 9, which has similar specs in terms of weight and drop as well as an EVA midsole, though the Clifton 9 is a touch softer and bouncier. For faster runs I prefer the Altra, but for easy and long runs the Clifton 9 would be my pick.
I’m not an Altra expert, so can’t speak to the FWD Experience versus the company’s popular road shoes like the Torin and Via Olympus, but the FWD Experience looks to be a good entrance point into Altra’s line if you are interested in the brand.
If you’re not looking for a low-drop shoe and just want a versatile daily trainer, the Puma Velocity Nitro 2 is cheaper, and I prefer it overall owing to its softer, springier midsole foam. The On Cloudsurfer is also a great option as a soft, rockered shoe that’s light and enjoyable to use for a range of runs.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.