Monday, October 31, 2011

The Perfect Trail Shoe?

Is there such a thing as the perfect trail running shoe? Few companies have attempted to lay claim to the auspicious honor. Fewer still have even remotely lived up to the relative title of possibly being the best. I won't make the claim right now that the Altra Lone Peak is the greatest trail shoe ever built, I don't think I have the expertise to do that. But upon initial review of the shoe I'm ready and willing to put it up there with the best.

I've worn pretty much all of the top rated trail shoes on the market, at one time or another. I can speak to fit, footbed, pronation, traction, durability, etc. However, when it comes down to it only two things really matter - trail performance and comfort. There is hype flying all over the internet and in magazines about the need for the lightest shoe, the most durable shoe, minimalist shoes or the opposite. What we really want is the most shoe for our money. I'm no different.

In April of this year I gladly changed over to running in the Altra Instinct for both roads and trails. I'm several hundred miles into my 2nd pair (my first pair are still running strong at 650+ miles too) and can say in all honesty that I'll never wear another brand of shoe. I've worn my Instincts in two 100 mile races and in both I never changed my shoes and even wore them home after. I've worn them in road half marathons and on forever long trail training runs, always without a single complaint. To this day I'll vouch for them as the best shoe I've ever worn. Well, except maybe until now. We'll see.

Seth Wold flying in the Altra Lone Peaks at the Pony Express Trail 50 (photo - Frank Bott)

The Lone Peak is a shoe constructed on the same wonderful footbed as the Instinct. Like all their shoes, they are shaped to fit your feet, allowing for your toes to spread while keeping the heel locked down through the full motion of your cadence. Yet, the Lone Peak is more like an Instinct on steriods. They've added a rock plate to the sole. But pay attention, unlike every other shoe companies (that I am aware of), instead of putting the rock plate between the outsole and the midsole, they have put it between the two layers of midsole. This allows for more flexibility on the outside of the shoe, without the internal breakdown. It's literally genius. Additionally, like a real trail shoe they have added just enough additional traction to make the shoe grippy on loose dirt and in the mud. I just ran in them again today in some very loose dirt and felt like I had much better traction - especially uphill - than in the Instinct (obviously). Because of the rock plate and the lugs there is obviously some trail sensitivity lost. But, unless you are an ultra minimalist that shouldn't really matter. I want protection and these certainly offer it. Finally, Altra has added a stronger toe protection on the front and the sides. What seem like meaningless fluff by having a mountain range on the outside and inside of the shoe actually contribute to structural stability and lateral protection from rocks.

Golden Harper, Altra founder, high in the Wasatch (photo - Altra)

From a performance standpoint I found the Lone Peaks to be extremely nimble and movable. I had no problem moving around rocks. The biggest addition I saw over some of my more recent shoes - Inov-8 and La Sportiva - was that there is now more lateral stability due to the wider footbed and rock plate. So it's a couple of ounces heavier per shoe than the lightest ones on the market? Who cares if I'm getting added protection and comfort. The reality is that I can run faster for longer, which translates to better training and race results.

The biggest problem I have with the shoe is that I didn't have them on hand for my Pony Express Trail 100 race just over a week ago. 100 miles on very rocky dirt road would have been much more enjoyable in a shoe with lugs and a rock plate. Don't get me wrong, my Instincts were plenty comfy, but those little pebbles just start to eek through once you are 70+ miles in.

Thanks again Altra, you've outdone yourself.


Σπύρος said...

How does the size compare to that of the Intinct? I read in Altra home page that Lone Peaks fit slightly larger then the Instinct. Do you think that i should try half a size smaller than the Instinct?

jun said...

That's a good question. The Lone Peak does size slightly larger than the Instinct. I wear an 11 in the Instinct and still went with an 11 in the Lone Peak because the size difference wasn't big enough that it made a difference. If the Instinct you wear is already on the large side for you then I would recommend a half size down. If they fit perfectly then I would stay with the same size.