Altra Zero Drop Running Shoes Review

 Feb 19, 2012 article by Nick Salazar & Nina McVicker, images by Nick Salazar

The Altra Instinct core training shoe is light, durable, and promotes better form.

You'll notice there isn't a whole lot of footwear being reviewed on TriRig at the moment. The reason for that is that a real, thorough review of any shoe requires an enormous investment of time. Giving a shoe its due means gradually transitioning to it from your old kicks, over the course of weeks or even months. A running shoe won't show its true characteristics until it's been broken in for a good 100 miles or so. What's worse, if the shoe doesn't suit your particular gait, you may be having a bad time running in it, and your review may not do service to the product if you simply dismiss the shoe as uncomfortable. There are many websites out there dedicated to nothing but footwear, because it's a very deep topic that can demand a whole lot of time.

So with that in mind, perhaps you can understand that I was somewhat hesitant when the guys at Altra contacted me asking if I'd take a look at their stuff. But after hearing about what they're doing, and about their philosophy on footwear, I happily agreed to take the plunge.

Altra is a company that, in the words of Altra founter Golden Harper, they are"devoted to better running technique and reducing injuries." Altra wants to improve the mechanics of your run by improving the way you hold your body, the way you strike with your feet, and the way your feet sit within the shoe itself. They have a wealth of great information on their website about running technique, alternate lacing methods, and of course, a lot of information about their products. For the shoes at hand, that's characterized by a minimal design that's squarely of the "barefoot" running persuasion. But there's more to them than that, which I'll get to below.

You've likely heard of the barefoot philosophy before, and you may be familiar with far-out designs from the like of Vibram, Adidas, and others. I've actually spent a sizable amount of time in the Fivefingers, various entries in the Nike Free line, and Newtons. In the end, I've always come back to traditional models from Saucony, which at the end of the day, just fit better for me and my running style. I tend to lead with my heel, without a big strike, and roll off of it into my midfoot. Switching to "barefoot" shoes like the Vibrams does change my foot stride to more of a midfoot strike, but those shoes tend to bug my feet on pavement, where the surface just puts too much stress on my bones and joints. And taking a set of Fivefingers onto a trail run is a very prickly affair when running over small rocks.

The female-specific Intuition is the Instinct's counterpart, with special features just for women.

Altra takes a different tack. Their shoes are designed with full cushioning, so they're good to go on any surface. They are a "zero drop" shoe, meaning that the thickness of the cushion is exactly the same from back to front. And finally, they have an extra-wide toe box that looks a little odd at first, but is designed to be shaped more like your own feet, and give your toes plenty of room to splay without resorting to a radical toe-glove design. The idea is to promote a midfoot or forefoot strike, and the body mechanics that go with it, but still provide ample cushioning.

But as mentioned above, a shoe review can't be compressed into a couple sentences, and it can't be performed over a weekend. I've been running in the Altra Instinct for several months, and also recruited a female tester to run in their matching female-specific Intuition model over the same time period. Hopefully these dual perspectives will help illuminate what these shoes are all about.

This review is split into two parts. In the first half, Nina McVicker reviews the Intuition, Altra's female-specific shoe. The second half is my review of the Instinct, the male-specific version of the same basic shoe. I spend the last several months transitioning into the Instinct, and eventually got to the point where I was running in it full time.

Hit the jump for the whole shebang.

Tags » altra,  barefoot,  shoes
  • The Altra Instinct core training shoe.
  • The Intuition looks just like the Instinct, but has some subtle differences just for girls.
  • Like the Instinct, the Intuition is a zero drop core trainer, but has some padding and fit differences to fit women's feet better.
  • Nina's stride in the Intuition shoes.
  • The Instinct and Intuition shoes are at home on the road or the trail, but Altra also makes trail-specific versions with more tread.
  • The zero drop construction is deceivingly simple and surprisingly effective.
  • The funky tread is unique and distinctive.  Almost looks like a foot with rubber on it.
  • Believe it or not, these shoes have about 100 miles in them at the time of this photo. Apart from a little mud stain on the right shoe, they look brand new.
  • They look rather minimal, and they are certainly light.  But simple, they aren't. There's a mountain of very smart, nuanced design in these shoes, and it translates into a very comfortable ride.
  • The tread pattern on the Instinct.
  • Altra says you can squeeze up to 800 miles on a pair of these shoes.  Having put 100 miles into these ones so far, I have no trouble believing that figure.  They still look brand new!
  • The ultra-wide toe box gives your piggies room to splay, and is a blessing for swollen feet.
  • I slapped my favorite Xtenex laces on here, and the combination couldn't be more comfortable on the run.
  • The mesh upper is very airy and breathable.
  • The Altra Instinct is an amazing product, and I look forward to seeing what the company does next.

Related Articles
The Zero Drop specialists have expanded their foot-shaped lineup to serve trail runners, and those who need a bit more stability.
I've been in love with Altra's whole design ethos since the company started several years ago. Here's my take on their current lightweight racer, the One 2.5.
Three new and very different shoes from the Zero Drop specialists, Altra.
Our favorite zero-drop footwear now comes in a tri-specific package that's light, comfy, and packed with features. And you know we love that orange color.
We take a trio of Louis Garneau's latest triathlon products and put them to the test. Included are the new M2 Tri Suit, TRI-400 shoes, and Course aero road helmet.