Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Altra Instinct Running Shoe Review

The Altra Instinct

I have had many running-related injuries in my life.  Shin splints, plantar fascitis, knee problems, etc., I've had them.  I used to think that dealing with some sort of running-related injury was just part of the deal.  In exchange for being healthy, you had to be unhealthy.  Or in other words, in order for me to not get winded while hiking uphill with a pack at 10,000 feet (which regular trail running allows me to do), I'm just gonna have to deal with the limping that comes from knee pain or plantar fascitis (that running used to force me to do).  That's how I used to think, anyway.  After some coaching on proper running technique (as I explained in the previous post) and after a sweet birthday present from my wife (Altra Instinct shoes), those injuries that I've dealt with for so long aren't an issue anymore.

The Altra Instinct is, by far, the most comfortable running shoe I have ever had on my feet.  Actually, it's the most comfortable shoe of any kind that I have had on my feet, period.  Even more comfortable than my slippers and Sanuks.

Originally I was interested in the Altra Lone Peak shoe because the majority of the running I do is on the trail. Trail running is the only way I can stay motivated to run these days.  Road running just isn't my thing.  When I got these shoes, however, Altra was out of the Lone Peaks.  My wife got me the Instincts instead, and I have never complained.

All of the running I have done in these shoes has been on the road.  I got the shoes in November which means the trails have either been muddy or covered in snow, and I didn't want to subject my new shoes to those conditions.  A couple of times I have run into snow covered roads, but that's the worst these shoes have seen.

So here are a few facts about the shoes:

  • 9.6oz per shoe, according to my scale.  8.8oz according to Altra's Website
  • Truly anatomically shaped; the shoes are shaped like a foot
  • Zero-drop footbed; the forefoot and heel are an equal distance from the ground
  • Drilex Liner
  • Heel claw, asymmetric lacing, A-wrap help with fit
  • Comes with supportive and strengthening insoles to help make the transition to minimalist shoe

My Experience

Ever since I changed my stride from a heel strike to a mid-foot strike, my knee problems have gone away.  It was amazing to me how quickly they went away as well, considering they were so debilitating before making the change.  It seriously took about two weeks for my knees to stop hurting.  But, that wasn't the end of my running-related problems

This is what a zero-drop shoe looks like.  There is the same distance between the ground and the heel as the ground and the forefoot.  When you set this shoe on a hard surface, it doesn't balance on the heel, like it does in most other running shoes.  The balance point is actually in the middle of the shoe, almost like it was designed to help you run with a mid-foot strike.  Weird.  The two grey A-shaped pieces are to help secure the foot without restricting the roominess of the forefoot.  It works very well.  I never jam my toes in the front of my shoes on the downhills.

After running for a while with the new technique, I started to develop Plantar Fascitis.  This was so painful that I gave up running for a while to let it subside.  Once I started up again, however, the pain quickly came back.  It wasn't until I started running in the Instincts that my feet stopped hurting.

I think there are a few reasons for why that is, but the main reason is how wide the shoe is in the forefoot.  All of my other shoes were fairly narrow in the forefoot, which helped to hold my foot in place on the downhills, but didn't allow my foot to work properly during the run.  I'm pretty sure that's why the plantar fascitis started to flare up.

Wide, foot-shaped design allows toes to splay naturally.  I started lacing my right shoe like this because I get a little bit of uncomfortable pressure on the top of my foot when I lace my shoes tightly.  

Out of the box, these were the most comfortable running shoes I have ever put on my feet.  I quickly put my running clothes on and ran five miles.  They felt incredible.  I did have a little pain in my feet (plantar fascitis), but no blisters, hot spots, anything.  The plantar fascitis went away after a few weeks of running in these shoes.  I was amazed at how light the shoes felt and at how well the held onto my foot, especially with such a wide forefoot.  In fact, I didn't even need to tighten them very tight and it felt like my foot wouldn't slop around in the shoe.  The only discomfort I felt (other than the plantar fascitis) was in my calves.  I had taken a break from running for a while because my feet were hurting so bad, so my calves weren't used to it.  Then to run five miles off the couch was overdoing it a little.  After about two weeks of running, my calves were used to it again and the shoes have only become more comfortable.

To give you an idea of how the shape of these shoes compares to other shoes, the "supportive footbed" of the Altra is on the left and one of the footbeds from some Salewa shoes I have are on the right.  The Altra is shaped like a foot.  The shape difference is even more obvious when you put the shoes on.

After a while, I started to notice a little discomfort on the top of my right foot when I would lace the shoes up pretty tight.  A little adjustment in my lacing system and I haven't had a problem since.

I don't mean for this review to sound like an advertisement for Altra, but they are great shoes and really well designed.  I know many of the people at Altra, a couple of which I have become pretty good friends with, and they are all accomplished runners and are very passionate about what they do.

I was a little worried about their durability when I first got the shoe because they are made mostly of mesh.  They are so airy and comfortable while running that I was sure they would fall apart after a couple months of hard use.  That hasn't been the case, however.  After about five months, they are still in great shape.  I can still comfortably run in them.  The only problem I'm running into is that the soles are wearing out, which is to be expected after five months of use.

This is the extent of the wear after about five months of use.  Now I admit, I am not the most hardcore runner around.  My runs don't often get longer than about five or six miles or more frequent than three or four days a week, but I wear these shoes often as casual shoes as well, so they're doing pretty well.  The lugs are shaped the way they are to mimic the bones in the foot so that the shoe flexes properly and doesn't fight against the foot.  Don't know if it works like it's designed to, but they're really comfy.  The downside, this sole design is super slick in snow.

Altra uses A-bound in their midsole, a type of foam that is 2-3 times more resilient than the standard EVA foam of normal running shoes.  That means that the foam should last longer than the standard running shoe before needing to be replaces.  To clarify, the whole midsole isn't made out of A-bound, just a thin layer.  The other section of the sole is a type of EVA.  I'd usually wear out a standard pair of running shoes in about 3-4 months, but these still feel very comfortable and I should be able to use them for at least a few more months.

The Gripes

There are only a couple things here to complain about.  One thing I noticed, almost right off the bat, is that the traction on the Instincts is quite slippery in snow or slush.  The couple of times I have tried to run in the snow with them has been quite dangerous.  They simply aren't designed for slippery surfaces, I'm afraid. 

The only other complaint is not about these shoes in particular, but about all of the Altra shoes so far.  They don't make a water-resistant model yet.  I'm hoping that they will offer a waterproof/resistant model in the not-too-distant future, especially in the lone peak.  I really appreciate the breathability of their shoes for warm, dry days, but I'd love to have a water-resistant trail runner for backpacking and winter/spring trail running.

The Verdict

As I have mentioned before, these are the most comfortable, best running shoes I have ever used.  I used to never wear my running shoes around unless I was running.  I just think running shoes look bad with casual clothes.  But I wear these shoes around everywhere, no matter what the dress; not because they look good, but because they are comfortable enough that I don't care if they look bad.  I give these shoes a 6 out of 5 stars, because they have allowed me to run pain free again.  I can't wait to use the Lone Peaks on the trails this summer!

And for the ladies, the Instinct comes in a women's specific version called the Intuition.  As Brian told me a few months ago at the OR show, "We didn't just 'shrink it and pink it' like many others do.  Our women's specific last is actually designed a little differently than the men's last.  Even the amount of padding is different." 

Another helpful review that I just found is at this link:

Check out the Altra Instinct and Altra's other shoes at  The Instincts retail for $99.


  1. Good review--it convinced me! I've just purchased a pair of Lone Peaks (at pro deal price to boot [no pun intended]). I will compare the Sparks with the LPs once I can start running again in a month!


  2. You'll have to tell me what you think when you get them. I haven't tried the Lone Peaks yet, but if they're anything like the Instinct (they're built on the same last so they should be), I think you'll really like them. Good luck.

  3. An update: My foot is good to go. Been running in Altras (only on an indoor track thus far) and I love them. I've ran a couple of times in the Scarpas too. Initial thoughts:

    Altras: Pros - 1) The zero drop really helps promote the midfoot strike & it is easier to run in this style than the Sparks. 2) The wide toe box really lets the toes operate in a natural manner. This too promotes easier/better technique for mid-foot strike than the Sparks 3) The mid-foot cushioning is greater on the Altras than the Sparks but still retains a good sensitivity underfoot. I've noticed the Sparks' stock liner has substantially lost cushioning, especially right at the big toe and right in the middle part of the mid-foot.

    Cons: 1) The laces are ludicrously long. Did they even bother to lace them up using all the eyelets, tighten them for actual running and then see just how long they are?! The laces on the Sparks are shorter and have a knobby texture to them--this is good for keeping them tied, especially when you double knot them (I have to triple knot the Altras). 3) Altras just a little heavier than the Sparks--still need to weigh both shoes to get the specifics.

    More on the Sparks to follow. Obviously I need to get both of these shoes out on the road and the trail...


  4. Thanks, Jon-Paul, for the info! I haven't run in the Sparks at all so I really don't know much about them, but I'm glad to hear your comments about the Lone Peaks. My wife has been trail running in her lone peaks, as have my friend Phil and my father-in-law. Only good things from them so far. The laces on the Instincts are super long too; nothing scissors and a lighter didn't fix. I'm excited to hear more on your comparison.

  5. So jealous, snow is absolutely not a concern here in Alabama.

    I just got a pair of Instincts last week that I hope to try out today. My question/concern is when I put them on my feet for the first time the other day I noticed what I can only describe as if the outside edge of both shoes seemed taller (higher) than the inside. This seemed to put a lot of pressure on the outside of my feet. Was just wondering if you experienced anything similar?

    Thanks for the review, and enjoy the snow!


  6. Sorry, Brantley, but I haven't experienced the same thing. If possible, I'd try on another pair to see if those feel the same way. If you ordered them, maybe email Altra to see if they have had the same complaint from other people. I know a few of the people at Altra and they are very helpful and should answer your questions fairly quickly.

    Sorry I can't be more helpful.

  7. Had them three weeks and just ordered a second pair of instincts ten out of ten