Our verdict

The Escalante 4 marks a long-awaited return to the series' origins. In our testing, we discovered that Altra has masterfully balanced a spacious zero-drop shoe with a close-to-the-ground running experience. The revamped knit upper is incredibly cosy, though it could benefit from improved ventilation, and the tongue remains non-gusseted. Despite these minor issues, we think it’s a great upgrade, solidifying its status as an ideal choice for minimalist enthusiasts seeking a versatile shoe suitable for running, walking, or cross-training in the gym.

Pros

  • Minimalist, flexible ride
  • Outstanding outsole
  • Spacious extra-wide toebox
  • Superb stability
  • Lightweight
  • Highly durable upper
  • Recaptures Escalante 1.5 vibes

Cons

  • Poor ventilation
  • Midsole lacks energy return
  • Non-gusseted tongue

Audience verdict

88
Great!

Who should buy

We believe the Altra Escalante 4 is a fantastic running shoe for:

  • Zero drop enthusiasts seeking a stable shoe that delivers an awesome ground feel.
  • Those in need of a versatile, low-drop shoe ideal for walking, some gym activities and, of course, running!
  • Loyal fans of the Escalante series who were let down by the previous model, as this version returns to the beloved features of the 1.5.

Altra Escalante 4

Who should NOT buy

As a zero-drop shoe, the Escalante 4 may not suit runners with recurring Achilles or calf issues. If that's you, we suggest the Nike Flex Experience Run 12, which offers a flexible ride paired with a higher drop—ideal for better heel support.

We also found that the upper, while incredibly comfortable, lacks sufficient ventilation for those in warmer climates. However, Altra addresses this with the Escalante Racer, which boasts perfect ventilation and retains a cosy knit upper, solving this issue while preserving the core Escalante DNA.

Altra Escalante 4 parts

Breathability

The Escalante 4 replaces the mesh upper of its predecessor with a more comfortable knit upper. Initially, we were concerned that, as is common with knit uppers, this change might reduce ventilation. To verify this, we conducted a series of lab tests.

In our initial evaluation with the upper, we employed a smoke-pumping machine to assess the shoe's ventilation capabilities. This test clearly demonstrated that air flow was less effective than we hoped. As a result, we assigned a modest rating of 3 out of 5, indicating that while the shoe provides some ventilation, it falls short of providing optimal breathability.

Using a simple light test, we discovered another significant reason for the reduced ventilation—the knit is much thicker and more structured when compared to the Racer, with reinforced areas in the toebox, arch, and heel to enhance durability and stability.

Altra Escalante 4 microscope

However, to fully understand this issue, we need to use multiple tools. Examining the shoe under a microscope, we found the knit to be extremely cosy, yet lacking in sufficient gaps for air and moisture to escape.

Altra Escalante 4 knit

In our hands-on assessment, we appreciated the upper's stretchiness and how well it conforms to the feet. However, don't expect it to be ultra-padded, as it's clearly designed for being lightweight.

However, it's clear this shoe is best suited for runners who avoid extremely hot conditions.

Test results
Escalante 4 3
Average 3.8
Compared to 235 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Toebox durability

Knit uppers often involve a trade-off between comfort and durability, but the Escalante 4 breaks this mould by being both incredibly durable and exceptionally cosy, scoring 4/5 in our lab.

Kudos to Altra for achieving this rare balance, we're actually impressed!

Altra Escalante 4 Toebox durability
Test results
Escalante 4 4
Average 2.4
Compared to 169 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

After evaluating the toebox, we shifted our testing to the heel using our Dremel sandpaper tip, another critical area for assessing early wear. 

Fortunately, the Escalante 4 impressed us again with another solid 4/5 score, indicating reliable durability in this area—even for those who tend to dig into heel padding quickly.

Altra Escalante 4 Heel padding durability
Test results
Escalante 4 4
Average 3.2
Compared to 165 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

With the upper properly analysed in terms of durability, we now focused into the outsole. Our first measurement placed the outsole hardness at a rock-solid 86.2 HC, which is notably above average.

Altra Escalante 4 FootPod

If you're looking for a running shoe that flexes in sync with your feet, the INNERFLEX design of the Escalante 4 truly delivers.

Why this choice? Well, Altra FootPod outsole, which resembles a human foot in terms of shape and flexibility, can also wear down quicker than a shoe with full-length rubber coverage.

Altra Escalante 4 Outsole hardness
Test results
Escalante 4 86.2 HC
Average 80.5 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 286 running shoes
Number of shoes
52.1 HC
Outsole hardness
93.0 HC

Outsole durability

The Escalante 4 features an interesting outsole that blends exposed foam with rubberized sections for added toughness and hard rubber in the areas most susceptible to wear.

We were particularly impressed with this design after our latest Dremel test, where the outsole sustained only a 0.3-mm dent. That's an A++ for us!

Altra Escalante 4 Outsole durability
Test results
Escalante 4 0.3 mm
Average 0.9 mm
Compared to 147 running shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

To conclude our analysis of the outsole, we measured its thickness, which registered at a substantial 4.6 mm. However, unlike other shoes that simply layer the outsole over the foam, Altra ingeniously sinks the outsole into the foam.

This innovative approach allows for more rubber without making the shoe cumbersome. However, after observing the toughness of the rubber when it faced our Dremel, we believe that a 4.6 mm thickness is excessive and Altra could benefit from slightly reducing this measurement.

Altra Escalante 4 Outsole thickness
Test results
Escalante 4 4.6 mm
Average 3.2 mm
Compared to 305 running shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole thickness
6.6 mm

Weight

While we previously suggested that Altra might consider reducing some weight from the Escalante 4, it’s not something that worries us at all.

At just 8.4 oz (237g), the E4 is remarkably lightweight, although any improvement in the next update would be appreciated here in the lab!

Altra Escalante 4 Weight
Test results
Escalante 4 8.36 oz (237g)
Average 9.38 oz (266g)
Compared to 306 running shoes
Number of shoes
5.26 oz (149g)
Weight
12.56 oz (356g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

The Escalante 4 features a heel with a relatively low stack height of just 23.8 mm, at least by today's standards.

Though this may seem low, it's crucial to remember that Altra tailors its shoes with a zero-drop design, so heel cushioning is not that important because most runners should strike the ground with the midfoot or forefoot with this shoe.

Altra Escalante 4 Heel stack
Test results
Escalante 4 23.8 mm
Average 33.7 mm
Compared to 305 running shoes
Number of shoes
7.6 mm
Heel stack
45.7 mm

Forefoot stack

The forefoot of the Escalante 4 maintains a similar profile at 22.4 mm, perfect for those seeking a ride that’s a bit cushioned yet still feels very connected to the ground.

Additionally, the photo below clearly shows what we previously discussed during the outsole thickness test—the rubber is integrated into the foam rather than merely being glued on top.

Altra Escalante 4 Forefoot stack
Test results
Escalante 4 22.4 mm
Average 25.0 mm
Compared to 305 running shoes
Number of shoes
7.6 mm
Forefoot stack
36.9 mm

Drop

We discovered a 1.4-mm heel-to-toe drop in the Escalante 4, which is acceptable for a zero-drop shoe due to slight manufacturing variations or foam compression.

Altra Escalante 4 zero drop

Given this minimal drop, the shoe isn't suited for everyone. Zero-drop footwear caters to those who are comfortable with such an offset. For newcomers to this group, we recommend gradually integrating this shoe into your routine to ease the transition, starting just walking and then gradually increasing running.

Altra Escalante 4 Drop
Test results
Escalante 4 1.4 mm
Average 8.7 mm
Compared to 305 running shoes
Number of shoes
-0.8 mm
Drop
16.1 mm

Insole thickness

The insole is thick (5.5 mm) and plays a crucial role in the shoe's overall cushioning system.

Altra Escalante 4 Insole thickness
Test results
Escalante 4 5.5 mm
Average 4.5 mm
Compared to 301 running shoes
Number of shoes
1.5 mm
Insole thickness
7.3 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

Moving to the midsole, we discovered that Altra employs its standard EGO foam, which offers a balance between a firm and balanced feel for us (27.8 HA).

For those who favour plush midsoles, the Escalante 4 won't meet expectations. However, we advise against soft midsoles in low-stack shoes, as softer foam could lead to bottoming out and discomfort. If you're seeking a plush yet low-drop option, the Altra Via Olympus 2 provides a cloud-like ride with a zero-drop design.

Altra Escalante 4 Midsole softness
Test results
Escalante 4 27.8 HA
Average 21.4 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 233 running shoes
Number of shoes
8.5 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
41.5 HA

Secondary foam softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

With the upper properly analysed in terms of durability, we now focused into the outsole. Our first measurement placed the outsole hardness at a rock-solid 86.2 HC, which is notably above average.

Altra Escalante 4 FootPod

If you're looking for a running shoe that flexes in sync with your feet, the INNERFLEX design of the Escalante 4 truly delivers.

Why this choice? Well, Altra FootPod outsole, which resembles a human foot in terms of shape and flexibility, can also wear down quicker than a shoe with full-length rubber coverage.

Difference in midsole softness in cold

After spending 20 minutes in our freezer, the firmness of the EGO foam increased by 30.6%—a notable performance for a midsole crafted from EVA, though there's still some room for improvement.

Altra Escalante 4 Difference in midsole softness in cold
Test results
Escalante 4 30.6%
Average 25.5%
Compared to 232 running shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in midsole softness in cold
100%

Stability

Lateral stability test

One of the key benefits of a shoe that keeps you close to the ground is the immediate increase in stability compared to average running shoes. We can confirm that the Escalante 4 provides a remarkably stable ride for neutral runners.

Torsional rigidity

The Escalante 4 bends and flexes like crazy, scoring a 1/5 from us, which is a crucial component of its natural feel and comfort. And while its flexibility might detract from stability, the low stack height naturally enhances this aspect without necessitating a rigid structure at all.

Test results
Escalante 4 1
Average 3.3
Compared to 284 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The heel counter is neither intrusive nor overwhelming; in fact, it's quite the opposite. It collapsed to our slight pressure, prompting us to rate it just 2 out of 5.

Test results
Escalante 4 2
Average 2.8
Compared to 268 running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

Returning to the midsole, we measured its dimensions using callipers, starting with the forefoot.

Our initial measurement revealed a very wide platform at 118.3 mm, which undoubtedly contributes to the remarkable secure feel we experienced during landings on our runs.

Altra Escalante 4 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
Escalante 4 118.3 mm
Average 113.8 mm
Compared to 306 running shoes
Number of shoes
100.5 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
126.5 mm

Midsole width in the heel

Discovering a narrow heel measurement of 82.5 mm on the shoe was not a shock to us in the lab. It seems Altra relies on the stability provided by its moderately firm midsole, and low-drop configuration—all tailored to enhance stability and reflect the natural shape of the foot.

This narrower heel may not suit extreme heel strikers though, but it's likely that such runners may have been attracted to the Escalante series, considering that it's a zero-drop shoe.

Altra Escalante 4 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
Escalante 4 82.5 mm
Average 90.5 mm
Compared to 306 running shoes
Number of shoes
74.9 mm
Midsole width in the heel
106.6 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

We previously discovered that the shoe flexed impressively in our torsional test, yet we still needed to evaluate how it performed in our 90-degree bend test, where we measure resistance with a force gauge in Newtons.

Following the test, we recorded a force of 16.0N, confirming the shoe's exceptional flexibility!

Test results
Escalante 4 16.0N
Average 29.1N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 288 running shoes
Number of shoes
2.2N
Stiffness
94.4N

Difference in stiffness in cold

After placing the Escalante 4 in the freezer for 20 minutes, we tested its stiffness again. This time, we observed a 26.4% increase in the shoe's resistance.

Test results
Escalante 4 26.4%
Average 35.9%
Compared to 288 running shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in stiffness in cold
148%

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

Our expectations were sky-high for the spaciousness of the upper, as the Escalante 4 boasts Altra's Original FootShape—the brand's roomiest toebox design.

That's why we weren't surprised to measure 103.6 mm at the widest part of the toebox, providing ample room for those blessed (?) with wider feet.

Altra Escalante 4 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
Escalante 4 103.6 mm
Average 98.4 mm
Compared to 306 running shoes
Number of shoes
89.5 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
109.1 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

Yet, as with every Altra, our second measurement at the big toe reveals the true fit. At 90.8 mm, the Original FootShape design springs to life, offering what we believe it's one of the roomiest toeboxes we've ever tried in the lab.

Altra Escalante 4 toebox

While it may appear somewhat unusual or even clown-like from our POV, the comfort it provides for our feet is simply unparalleled, making it challenging to return to an average design with a more tapered and cramped toebox.

Altra Escalante 4 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
Escalante 4 90.8 mm
Average 78.2 mm
Compared to 180 running shoes
Number of shoes
60.4 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
92.5 mm

Tongue: gusset type

Unfortunately, we discovered that Altra omitted the gusset in the Escalante 4, a decision that proved disappointing for us as it would have significantly enhanced the shoe's overall lockdown.

Altra Escalante 4 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
Escalante 4 None

Comfort

Tongue padding

The tongue of this shoe breaks away from the average design of daily trainers, sporting only 1.5 mm of padding—reminiscent of competition shoes

Altra Escalante 4 laces

The lockdown is excellent, yet we still appreciated having the extra eyelet to tie a runner's knot if needed (not for now).

This makes it suitable only for those comfortable with minimal instep padding. Conversely, runners who tighten their laces tightly might face discomfort due to the thin tongue of the Escalante 4. For a cushy option, try the Saucony Kinvara 14, which features a 3.9-mm tongue.

Altra Escalante 4 Tongue padding
Test results
Escalante 4 1.5 mm
Average 5.6 mm
Compared to 303 running shoes
Number of shoes
0.5 mm
Tongue padding
14.2 mm

Heel tab

Like many Altra road running shoes, we proved that you won't find a heel tab, and the heel collar isn't extended as it is in Hokas, so we found that slipping our feet into the Escalantes is not as effortless as in other kicks.

Altra Escalante 4 Heel tab
Test results
Escalante 4 None

Removable insole

We discovered that removing the insole from the Altra wasn't an issue since it isn't glued down. 

However, due to its distinctively rounded design in the toebox, integrating an insole from a different shoe or custom orthotics may not work well. Oh, and another reason to keep the stock insole is that it's one of the few on the market that is perforated, enhancing the shoe's ventilation.

Altra Escalante 4 Removable insole
Test results
Escalante 4 Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

Altra is typically known for adding reflective elements to their shoes. However, our lab evaluation reveals that the lower cost of the Escalante brings some minor drawbacks—reflective features being one of them.

Altra Escalante 4 Reflective elements
Test results
Escalante 4 No