Thursday, December 29, 2011

Altra Lone Peak Shoe Review

I first heard about this shoe over two years ago from my friend Brian Beckstead who couldn't contain his excitement over his revolutionary new shoe design. While I did not immediately dismiss him, I definitely had my doubts about his description of a "Zero Drop" shoe. I'm happy to report my doubts have been erased.

First a couple of housekeeping issues before the review.

Definition of Zero Drop: The amount of drop found in the sole of the shoe from heel to toe. Most mainstream shoes are in the 10 to 12 mm range. All of the Altra shoes have a zero drop from heel to toe, meaning the sole is even along the length of the sole. Another important distinction; zero drop does not mean minimal. Hoka's don't have a very big drop and have a ton of protection.
Montrail Masochist heel

Montrail Masochist toe

Altra Lone Peak heel

Altra Lone Peak toe

Why Zero Drop? That's a very good question. There is no science behind the fact that zero drop could be better (or worse) for your running form, yet. I trust there will be plenty of studies done over the next year to discover the advantages or disadvantages. Many shoe companies are already cutting the drop in order to keep up with market demand. My own personal opinion; it simply makes it easier to strike on my mid to forefoot area. For me, that translates into happy knees and joints. The landing is softer and much of the shock is taken up by my muscles and supporting tendons. I discovered this by accident shortly before my knee surgery nearly two years ago. At that time I had made the switch to Inov-8 shoes looking for something with some grip to use at the HURT 100. Little did I realize the Inov-8 310's and 295's had less drop than my normal shoes (8mm), but I did notice I could strike mid to forefoot much easier.

The Review:
Right out of the box the Lone Peaks come with an instruction manual, explaining zero drop and why it is important to make a slow transition into using them daily. I ignored the advice and just started running with them every day thinking my legs and feet were already prepped. I was wrong and ended up with a small strain on the outside of my foot, opposite of the arch. Ever since then I have been working them in a few times per week with great success.
The Lone Peaks run a bit large, so you may consider dropping a 1/2 size. Most of my shoes are 8.5's, like the Inov-8's, Montrails and Brooks and I went with an 8.5 in the Lone Peaks but I think I will try an 8 for my next pair.
Priced at the $100 mark and weighing in at 10.2 oz/295 grams they are competitive with other shoes in this range

The Upper: Comfortable is the word. The toebox has more room than I have ever experienced in a shoe. My big toe frequently gets a callous and irritated ingrown toenail but with these shoes I have seen both disappear. I did catch my forefoot on a few rocks when I first started wearing them because of the extra width but I adapted quickly and haven't found it to be a problem since. The extra room plus the toe protection meant that when I did kick a rock I couldn't feel it.
While the forefoot is loose the midfoot upper is super supportive and keeps the foot from moving around inside the shoe. My arch is quite normal and I felt like I had ample support, however the outside arch could probably use just a little more.
The heelcup feels loose but supportive. I thought for sure my heel would lift, based on how it felt when I put them on but it does not. This also means I have not experienced any heel rub whatsoever.
The mesh upper is very breathable and the protection on the sides are all mountain profiles. While I haven't truly waterlogged them yet I believe they will drain just fine.
Big toe box

Heel with throwback trail rudder

Inside of the Lone Peak, note the cool mountain profile

Outside of the Lone Peak, note the cool mountain profile

The Midsole: The Lone Peaks ride 11mm off the ground and have a rockplate that runs the entire length of the shoe. The protection is on par with the Brooks Cascadia's and Montrail Masochist's. I like it because I can still feel the trail but my feet don't take a beating like they did in the Inov-8 295's and 310's. The cushioning is adequate for mid to forefoot striking but not enough to handle heel striking all the time. The midsole is also pretty stiff and I notice it more on the pavement than I do on the trail.
The other striking feature of the midsole is the wide platform. Initially I thought they would feel sloppy but really they are extremely stable and a larger surface area potentially equals better grip...

The Outsole: Aggressive gripping power with style. First, the lugs are similar in design to the Cascadia 5's but the size and arrangement seems more effective to me. I've tested them on hard packed trails, dry loose dirt, mud, and snow with great success. The rubber compound grips almost as well as my favorite sticky shoes and sheds mud quite easily. So far I've put about 100 miles on them and they seem to be holding up well. I'll post an update in the future about their durability.
Lone Peak on the left, Cascadia 5 on the right

The trail rudder seemed a little odd to me at first but that's because I spent the 90's era cycling and not running. Many of the original trail shoes from that era had a rudder and I suppose Altra decided to give them a graceful nod for their innovative style. The rudder is supposed to help grip on the super steep descents and while I can't tell if it's the sole reason I'm not slipping, I haven't ended up on backside yet. I'm also anxious to try them out for some glissading action if we ever get some snow this winter.
The last little feature I would like to point out is something to distract your friends running behind you. I've received many comments on the yellow foot imprint that is quite visible from behind. I'm still not sure if there is a functional purpose as the rubber feels like the same compound but I'll find out put it in the update.

Conclusion: Possibly my favorite trail shoe so far. I say "so far" because I really need to do some longer 3 or 4 hour runs to get a real idea if they will keep my feet happy. I also want to test their durability, but like I said earlier, after 100 miles there are no signs of wear. Priced at the $100 mark, I suspect they will hold up quite well through at least 300 miles, we shall see.
I would highly advise making a transition into the shoes slowly. Work them in a couple times a week at first. Zero Drop means the the heel drops more and the achilles is doing more work than it's used to. Take it slow.

Anyone else out there running in the Lone Peaks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


JimM said...

I got a pair for Christmas and while I only have a couple of runs on them so far so good. I love the toe box it was so nice running down from Desolation Monday and not having my toes stacked on top of each other. Yesterday I did manage to step funny on a rock and while this normally would have meant a rolled ankle for me the lower heel and my foot being in a more natural position allowed me to absorb it and keep on going. Hard to say if that will always be the case and I want to try them on something more technical but it would be so nice to be done with kankles. The traction is great and only time will tell on the rest but so far I would say the shoes are a winner.

Greg said...

I have a pair of these and I love them! The extra toe room is nice. I can lock down my midfoot well and I can midfoot strike with good rock protection. Love em!

Last year I ran the Bandera 100k in a pair of XC spikeless flats and my feet were bruised for weeks from the brutal rocks. I will be wearing the Altra Lone Peak this year and anticipate no such issues on the Texas rocks.

Protection not correction!

My only complaint is that I would like the lugs to be a little bit deeper. The shoes seemed to skate around on wet rock.

Nick S. said...

Christian thanks for the great review. I was Excited to hear what you had to say since every review so far has come from either minimalist runners looking for cushion or runners who have some sort of attachment to the company. As a gearhead I want to give them a shot, but as with most people I need to make every run count since time is a issue.
As a solid midfoot striker who rotates between Bondi B and traditional 10 mm Montrails, can my first runs be a 5 mile 1500 vt lunch run or is there a buildup to something like that? If that Is manageable Im buying a pair today, so this $100 will stop burning a hole in my pocket.

Anonymous said...

Christian's review is spot on. The combination of zero drop, real cushion and a wide toe box make the Lone Peak's the perfect trail shoe(at least for me). I ran the Bear in the road version of these shoes (Instincts) and they were awesome. I can't wait to run a 100 in the Lone Peak's. I have over 500 miles on the Instinct's (about half trial, half road) and a few hundred on the Lone Peak's. Both pairs are holding up well. They've become the only shoe I run in anymore. No reason to run in anything else.

Brian and company have really come through with an innovative, well thought out line of shoes.

Kiley Newbold said...

I picked up a pair about a month ago. They felt great everywhere but in the heel. Even with loop lacing and VERY tight lacing I couldn't get my heel to stick-even after sizing down a half size. I must have really narrow heels. I was disappointed because I really wanted to try them. I took them back and swapped them for the Intuition (another Altra shoe) and they are GREAT. For some reason the heel cup works much better for my foot in the Intuition. For now, my quest for the right zero drop trail shoe will continue.

Kiley Newbold said...

Oops. I mean I swapped them for the Instinct. I think Intuition is the women's version.

Christian said...

Nick, I would say your 5 miler at lunch would be fine. Before I even bought the shoes I had an small strain in my achilles. I think the shoes were enough to set it off and strain my midfoot. Also, I did not notice any pain while I was running, it would hurt after I had stopped for a few hours or the following morning. I just wouldn't use them daily right away. Start with a couple times per week and keep increasing each week.

Kiley, sorry to hear about the heel issue. Remember though, this is version 1.0, with a little feedback things could change in the future. I'm glad to hear you like the Instincts, I think I'll pick a pair up for the road.

Scott Dickey said...

I have only ran in them once, the uppers were great, the best uppers I have ever put on my foot actually. I found them a bit firm for my liking though. I will give them more time before I decide if I like them or not. They gripped the trails quite nicely.

Imagine this upper on a Hoka... ;)

kar jar said...

I just got some for Christmas and haven't had a chance to do any real 'testing' in them, but I have had the Altra Instincts for 8 months (Altra's road shoe). I've really liked the Instincts and have used them for lots of road and trail running. I feel incredibly stable in them, which I attribute to zero drop. I actually preferred them to all my trail shoes until I blew them out playing soccer. I have bunions that had been painful on every run for several years, but no more at all with the Altras because of the wide toe box. Out of the box the sole and uppers of the Lone Peaks feel stiff, but that has diminished after a week of use. Loving them so far.

One thing I'd say about sizing is that I think they don't run small at all. Since other shoes have such tapered toe boxes I've had to get 12's for years. With the Lone Peaks I have enough space for my forefoot and toes so I'm using 11.5s and I have plenty of space. So sizing depends on your foot shape.

Jay said...

I gave the Lone Peaks a demo today (thanks to Christian for loaning me his pair). I ran on packed snowshoe trails and snow packed roads - so perhaps not the best best test/evaluation environment. None-the-less, my impressions and questions...

- the midsole seemed a bit stiff. My current shoe of preference is the Montrail Rouge Racer which is very flexible. This resulted in less "feel" of the surface than I like and had me wondering would I experience cramps in my foot after an extended period in the shoe from not having the flex and movement in my foot that I am used to.
- I felt that the shoes required more "work." I tried to factor out that I was running in snow, that my legs were heavy and tired, and that I had to force myself out the door - yet I felt I was back on my foot more than I am used to and was having trouble keeping the turnover that I like. The shoes just didn't feel fast.
- I could feel the effect of the zero drop on my legs. I'm used to a 9mm drop (Rouge Racers + the La Sportiva's I mostly run in) and I could feel strain in my calfs and achilles, particularly as I pushed through soft snow. I'd suggest to everyone to transition into a zero/low drop carefully so as not to injure yourself.
- The shoes were super grippy in the snow and I think the larger surface area of the sole contributed to good stability and traction on the snow. This is one of the best shoes for snow that I have run in.
- The upper was super comfortable and I liked how my foot felt secure - yet not constrained.

I could see a pair of the Lone Peaks in my quiver of shoes. But, are there issues/complications/risks of running in shoes ranging from a zero drop to say 10mm of drop? If one transitions to a zero/low drop shoe, should one stay exclusively with zero/low drop shoes? I'd be curious as to what people have experienced or think.
And, I'd be curious to know if Altra has plans for a lighter more flexible shoe for racing or "friendly" terrain? Also, might there be consideration of developing a shoe with say 4-6mm of drop? I'm not sure I'm a zero drop runner, but I'd be very interested in shoe with the features and comfort of the Lone Peak with some drop.

Missy B. said...

actually, there is some evidence that zero drop is the way to go, rather than the "standard" 10-12 mm drop. in the '70s, when ramping up the shoe began, there was a correlated increase in running injuries... whether this was because of the fact that more people were running (who previously hadn't been... ) or the fault of the shoes is a point of contention and much discussion. i, too, will be interested to see what happens in the next few years, especially as barefoot running dies out. the death of barefoot running will mean a likely decrease in injuries, so we can start with a true analysis at that point in time.

i believe the Hokas have approximately a 4mm drop, which i would consider to be comparable. i agree with you that it takes some getting used to, and i had a bit of lateral foot pain at first too. i think it is related to the peroneus brevis attachment, which is integral in foot mechanics of a runner. the more or less you stretch it (tightness vs. overstretch) with changing the drop of a shoe, the more you will notice it being pissed off.

question: how did you feel about the amount of cushion in the Zero-Drops?

thanks for a great review! i'm tempted to try these shoes, if only for the traction. it's the one failing of my Hokas, as far as i'm concerned.

Missy B. said...

correction: i just read your review again, and the cushioning question i had is adequately addressed. thank you!

jun said...

I've been wearing the Lone Peak exclusively since the day they hit the stores. My current pair has 275 miles on them and they look as good and new as the day I bought them. That is 275 miles of tough, muddy, snowy, rocky trails along the Wasatch Front. I've done runs from 30 minutes to about 4 hrs in length and was always comfortable.
I agree with all of your assessments, even Jay's. I will say this to Jay, give the stiffness time and they will work in. Mine became much more flexible after about 75 miles. I will also agree that the heel is a little loose on me too, but i've adapted and don't really notice any more.
I've had some good talks with Brian about the shoe and he said my feedback (along with all of yours) is pretty consistent. To reiterate, this is version 1.0 and Altra has been very open to the feedback and look forward to doing whatever is necessary to making it literally 'perfect'.
You can read my initial review on my blog at That was after only 50 miles on the shoes. I have two pics from this morning on my facebook page that show their current state, nearly perfect. I hope everyone enjoys them as much as I do.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the great review Christian.

I have to prefaced my comments with letting you know I work for ALTRA. I love reading the honest feedback runners have. Especially trail runners. Here are a couple answers to questions posed earlier;

Will ALTRA design a lighter weight, more flexible version of the Lone Peak. Yes. But please understand that all ALTRA shoes will be foot shaped, Gender specific and Zero Drop. The transition time from traditional shoes to 0mm or 4mm drops are almost Identical. We have no evidence of the benefits of one vs the other, but we know we were designed without our heels being lifted. That is good enough reasoning for us.

I will look into the heel being to loose for Kiley. If there are any other issues you notice feel free to send me the feedback

PS My first run in the production version of the Lone Peak was the Pony Express 50 miler. Longest run of my life, no blisters, and I didn't take off the shoes until I got home. My Second run in the Instincts was my first 50k, buffalo Run. They tore up my achilles tendon, I gave the feed back and now the Instinct has a different sock liner. So please give us feedback. We are the company that is listening. Thanks again for all your great comments.

Rachid said...

Hi. I have heard great reviews on the Lone peaks. I have been running in Invisible shoes since August 2011, including a 3h21 marathon and a 30miler. I am ordering from the UK and I am concerned about sizing. I normally wear a US 9.5 and my feet are narrow. Could I be confident enough to order from the US a 9.5? I would wait till European distribution but I would like to break them in for a couple of 60 and a 95 milers in June. Great review

Christian said...

A size 9.5 would be the safe bet. It kind of depends on how much room you have in your existing 9.5's. If you have a thumb width or more then you might consider dropping down to a 9. I wear an 8.5 in most shoes (Inov-8, Montrail, Brooks) and I'm considering trying out a size 8 for my next pair. In all fairness, I did not get a chance to try them on before I bought them from the running store, instead I tried on the the Instinct's (road version).

David said...

Kiley Newbold: You might actually try the Women's version of the Lone Peak. It is my understanding that it was made with a more narrow heel cup.

The only downside would be if you didn't like the color...