Review: Altra 3-Sum and Torin
article & images by Nick Salazar
May 15, 2013
With a flippant name and extremely in-your-face colors, it might be easy to suspect the Altra 3-Sum is nothing more than a pretty face. But that would be a mistake. This shoe is, without a doubt, my favorite running shoe in a long time. I'm using it regularly for all my training runs, and it's absolutely awesome. But let's back up.
First I want to tackle the most important aspect of any shoe, the fit. Obviously with a different construction, the 3-Sum is going to fit a bit differently from other models in the Altra line, and that deserves some attention. The Altra 3-Sum is obviously built with the same DNA as the rest of the shoes in Altra's lineup. The distinctive toe box and zero-drop design make it an Altra, through-and-through. I'm not going to talk specifically about using a zero-drop shoe in this article. Check out my Instinct review for more detail on all that. For now, let's talk about the fit. Then I'll get to the tri-specific aspects of the kicks, and my overall impression.
Space inside the shoe is ever-so-slightly smaller than other Altra shoes of identical size. This, I presume, is to accomplish two goals. First is to make sure the last is nice and snug despite the one-piece construction. And second is to accommodate for the idea that you might not be wearing socks with the 3-Sum. If you're already used to running with no socks (or really thin ones), you might want consider going a half size up with the 3-Sum. Personally, I usually run with standard-thickness socks, and kept the same size in the 3-Sum. It does feel a little snug when I use my usual socks.
However, since the shoe was designed to work well without socks at all, I figured I'd give that a try. Altras tend to fit me well, and although I can easily blister in other shoes, I've done some moderate-length runs in my other Altra kicks without suffering any. The 3-Sum has proven even better in this department, at least for me. I've switched to running almost exclusively sockless with the 3-Sum, and haven't had a single blister. The interior stitches are flat and smooth, and there's nothing that seems to bug my foot anywhere. And going sockless gives me the same amount of room in my size 11.5 3-Sum as in my size 11.5 Instincts with socks.
The idea of the no-tongue design deserves some attention as well. I used to like my laces nice and tight. It's what I'd always been trained to do as a runner, and it felt good to have a foot nice and locked in. But after dealing with a ganglion cyst in my foot and its subsequent surgical removal, I've come to prefer a bit more give. That led me to switch over to using elastic laces full time, because they can keep your foot snug without being quite so constrictive. The problem is that elastic laces just aren't designed for use with traditional shoes. The tongue can get all out of line, the laces can migrate, and it can be difficult to dial in just the right amount of snugness. Nevertheless, I've been carrying on with the imperfect solution of various elastics for years. And that's why I've been particularly intrigued by the newer tri-specific no-tongue shoes.
As it turns out, no-tongue shoes are exactly my cup of tea. The continuous, one-piece form acts a lot like a slipper, and feels just as comfortable to my feet. The elastic laces are basically there for that last little bit of compression, and aren't tasked with trying to keep two sides of a last together with the tongue. This seems to be a better role for elastics, and certainly makes for a more comfortable ride.