Towards the end of last year, a couple new trail shoes caught my attention, the Altra Lone Peak and the Brooks PureGrit. Both are now available and I’ve recently procured a pair of each. The mild winter has offered me the chance to do some extensive trail running in each. I already did a review of the Brooks PureGrit. This post reviews the Altra Lone Peak.
Rooting for the Underdog
Altra is a new startup shoe company in Utah. It would be great if they succeed and come up with winning products. Having spent some of my formative teenage years (way back in the 1970’s) in Utah skiing and climbing (even in the Lone Peak Cirque – the name sake of this shoe), I have a sentimental wish that Altra prospers as a shoe company.
The Lone Peak comes close to being a great shoe, but unfortunately after running in them, there are a couple of serious problems that become apparent. Let’s hope that the shoe I purchased are part of a prototyping process and Altra learns from and improves things next year.
Poor Quality Control
Right out of the box, I notice there are some manufacturing defects. The stitching inside the shoe looks like there was a problem with the sewing machine during manufacturing. The stitching is chaotic and actually misses part of the upper and liner. Besides the stitching problems, the foot bed is warped and lumpy. Both of these problems should have been caught by some kind of quality control check. The pair of shoes I got should never have made it out into the retail world. So before you walk out the door of the shoe store, make sure you inspect them for defects.
Why So Heavy?
This shoe was originally advertised as being around 9 to 10 ounces for my size, but my pair weighs in at 11.8 ounces. The Altra website claims a weight of 9.9 ounces.
Compared to similar lower heel shoes (not necessarily minimal) they are heavy. And they feel heavy. For such a thin soled shoe, why are they so heavy? Just handling the shoe, the weight and heaviness seems to be associated with the sole more so than the upper. Bring your scale to the shoe store. Perhaps different manufacturing lots weigh in differently.
Short Wide Fit
I originally got a size 10 (my normal size). When I realized that the fit was so wide and sloppy in the heel, I returned them for a size 9.5. The 9.5 fit me less sloppy in the heel, but I still had to keep tightening the laces to get a secure fit. The laces are generously long (way too long) after tightening them down. The size 9.5s are just a tad short for my liking and may lead to bruised toes on downhills. Perhaps a women’s size 11 is narrower in the heel and would fit me better?
If you have wide feet, especially toward the rear or heel, then these shoes may fit better for you than they did for me. The toe box is purposely designed to be wide and roomy and that is fine and expected. Nevertheless, you need to be able to comfortably tighten the shoe around your heel to keep your foot securely attached to the sole of the shoe. These shoes make it a challenge to get a secure attachment between foot and shoe.
Running on a rugged rocky trail like the Ridge Run requires a shoe that has a feel of being a part of the foot or at least securely attached to the foot. These shoes don’t give that sense of oneness with the foot when the terrain gets rugged.
The Lone Peak has a comfortable slipper like feel. As long as the trail was smooth, the Lone Peak provided an enjoyable ride. They flex easily and naturally.
Compared to the Brooks PureGrit, they have a much more natural and cushioned feel. This is even apparent while walking. In fact the Lone Peak’s comfort and cush makes it a great walking and casual wear shoe. The Lone Peak with its flat zero drop sole felt totally natural as compared to the PureGrit’s front to back rocker style sole that feels unnatural while walking or standing.
Supposedly, the Lone Peak has a rock protection plate embedded in the midsole. In my experience, they offer about the same protection as the Brooks PureGrit that lacks a rock protection plate. I did feel some pokey rocks making themselves known to the bottoms of my feet. After a 10 mile run on rocky trails, the ball of my left foot was a bit sore from some intrusive rocks.
The low heel of the Lone Peak gives them a sense of stability and resistance to ankle roll over. But the sole is flat and there is a sharp edge on the outside of the sole. Consequently, when they do roll they pivot abruptly on this edge. If the outside edge was rounded it would make them even more stable.
These Shoes are Toe Stubbers
Regardless of the context, fanatical adherence to an altruistic ideal more often than not leads to suffering. In the case of these shoes, the concept of zero drop meaning the same thickness of sole under the toe as the same thickness under the heel has caused an unexpected problem. During my first trail run in these shoes, I kept tripping and stubbing my toes on rocks. This occurred even as I was going uphill at a slow pace! At first, it just did not make sense that I was stubbing my toe and tripping with such a thin soled shoe. It took me a while to figure out what was going on and why these shoes are so prone to tripping.
The culprit is the midsole that does not taper at the toe. The midsole extends right out to the tip of the shoe. This creates a thick bumper under the toes that tends to catch on rocks and irregularities on the trail. If I had my wishes, I would tapper the midsole at the toe to make them less trip prone. Perhaps, I will grind the pair I have down. Ironically the Altra Instinct has a tapered midsole at the toe. Even the pictures of Lone Peak on the Altra website appear to have a more tapered midsole than the pair I own.
Altra’s road shoe the Instinct has a tapered midsole at the toe. And the Nike Zoom Trail my favorite trail shoe also has a tapered midsole at the toe.
Since the rocky Ridge Run terrain is so prone to tripping, the last thing you need is a shoe that also promotes tripping.
- The Altra Lone Peak is a low heeled (zero drop) trail shoe that has a natural comfortable ride when running on gentile terrain.
- The pair I got suffered from some serious manufacturing defects that cause me to question the quality control of Altra’s products.
- When compared to similar semi minimal low heeled shoes, the Lone Peak is rather heavy and feels heavy.
- The fit is wide and comfortable, but that yields a sloppy fit and insecure feeling on rugged trails.
- The outsole pattern has good traction on soft surfaces, but the material is rather hard and feels greasy and slippery when wet.
- The Lone Peak’s midsole extends all the way out to the very toe tip of the shoe. This creates a thick bumper under the toes that catches and trips on rocks and trail irregularities. This in my mind is a fatal flaw of these shoes and would prevent me from using them or recommending them for the Ridge Run.
- As long as the trail is smooth or if you are running on roads these shoes have adequate cushioning and feel natural and comfortable.
Changes I Would Make
- Taper the midsole thickness at the toe so they are less prone to stubbing toes and tripping.
- Improve the fit at the heel so they aren’t so sloppy in the rear foot.
- Make the sole more convex so the shoe rolls naturally and does not pivot on the edge resulting in twisted ankles.
- Make them lighter by using different materials for the outsole and the upper.
- Add a bit more rock protection right under the ball of the foot.
- Get rid of the heel spoiler.
Modifying the Altra Lone Peak Update 03-06-2012
I’ve made some quick and simple modifications to the Altra Lone Peak with the intention of improving their suitability for running trails.
First off, the most important modification is to grind down the sole under the toe. This is to make them less prone to stubbing a toe when encountering irregularities on the trail; resulting in a trip and stumble. I only ground down the outsole and avoided grinding into the midsole. After some wear testing, I may find I will have to grind into the midsole (the white stuff).
Next I ground the outside edge of the outsole to make a more gradual transition when you roll an ankle. This avoids an abrupt pivot on the outside edge and ankle sprains.
The most forward strap on the outside of the upper was irritating my little toe, so I removed it. I may have to remove more material and part of the mountain profile that serves as part of the upper reinforcing.
The rear heel spoiler tends to catch on rocks. It also picks of mud, rocks and debris tossing them into your shoes. The worst situation was running in sticky mud where the spoiler gave the mud more leverage and tended to pull the shoes off my heels; kind of like having someone step on your heels.
I’m not sure what the spoiler is intended to do, but I figured its disadvantages outweigh its advantages, so I cut it off. Decades ago, Adidas put these heel spoilers on some of their shoes such as their Marathon Trainer and Brahma Trail Shoe. It was supposedly to cushion the foot when heel striking. Considering the Altra philosophy is natural mid foot and fore foot striking as opposed to heel striking, it is curious that they used this design feature in the Altra Lone Peak.
My pair of Altra Lone Peaks came with excessively long 5 foot long laces. I replaced them with 4 foot long laces and even these are a bit long.
I added a metatarsal pad to further protect the ball of my foot when running on sharp limestone that is so prevalent around here. The pad is just some 2 millimeter thick foam. So now, instead of zero drop shoes I have positive drop shoes or is that negative drop shoes. It depends on how you define it. If traditional shoes with a thicker sole under the heel compared to the ball of foot are positive drop, I guess I now have negative drop – like the old earth shoes of the 1960’s and 70’s for those that were around back then.
Minor Modifications Result in an Improved Lone Peak
What a difference, just a bit a grinding of the outsole at the toe and these shoe no longer have a tendency to cause me trip. It doesn’t look like I need to grind any more material off them.
These shoes are now a pretty decent trail shoe. If you happen to have the type of foot that these shoes fit well; then they may be a good choice for rugged trail running on the Ridge Run.
For me and my narrow heels, they fit just a little too sloppy in the rear foot for extremely rugged trails. I would need to add some adhesive foam pads inside the shoe to narrow up the upper around my heel. I think I would also replace the insoles. The insoles these come with have a surface that is quite slippery. Depending upon what type of socks I use and combined with the loose fit, my foot tends to slide around inside the shoe more than I like. Unfortunately, the Lone Peak insoles are a very unique shape and finding some replacement insoles that fit the Lone Peak may be a challenge.
A couple adhesive backed foam heel pads help tighten up the fit in the rear of the shoe. I got these pads at CVS. A few years back they were only a couple bucks. Now they are over twice that. Food, Energy, Shoes and now heel pads have doubled in price in the last three years!
Now, the only thing left to fix is to replace those slippery insoles (sock liners).