There are two characteristics which set Altra apart from other shoe brands:
- Zero drop: the heel is at the same height as the toes. This makes it easier to land on your toes, rather than heel-striking, which improves power delivery and shock-absorption
- Foot Shaped toe-box: as the name suggests, the wide front of the shoes lets the toes spread out in a more natural shape, improving the shock-absorption and stability
The Altra range is split, broadly, into road and trail ranges, each with low, medium and high stack-heights (degree of cushioning).
My very first pair of Altras were second-hand Lone Peak 1.0s worn flat; despite their shabby appearance, these shoes revolutionized my running, allowing me to move my strike forward and helping my knees stop hurting. Once I’d had my conversion experience, I started running with the Lone Peak 2.5 (trail, medium stack); more recently I have been running in the more versatile Paradigms (high stack, officially a road shoe, but very capable on trails) for virtually all my running. The one weakness I’ve found with the Paradigm is the light-weight uppers take a pounding between my weight (200lbs) and the rock trails I often run on, resulting in the insteps tearing. You can’t complain too much about a road shoe having limitations on trails, of course!
I’ve taken to reinforcing the insteps with shoe adhesive, which seems to be working so far, but I decided I would also try some trail-specific shoes – the Olympus 2.0 for long distance, and the Lone Peak 3.0 for shorter, more technical trails.
The Lone Peak 1.5 was a good shoe, but suffered from a few points of weaknesses. The “Footshape” logo was square, with abrupt points which caused the stress to focus, and fatigue the fabric, which would then tear. As with many of the 2016 and earlier models, there were abrupt contrasts in flexibility of the fabric; in particular, this caused the insteps to tear – in the 2017 models, Altra seems to have been trying to mitigate this. Lastly the sole material was chosen for grip rather durability – the dart-shaped lugs would wear down fairly quickly; in addition the mid sole would soften up, reducing the cushioning and protection from rocks.
In another effort to improve the durability and structure of the shoe, Altra has added more fabric reinforcement strips. This will hopefully help the shoe maintain its structure – reduce the rate at which the shoe softens up and becomes loose or sloppy.
The mesh upper is designed to promote ventilation. It will be interesting to see how durable the shoe proves to be, but there are no obvious points at risk, except possibly the instep (a regular failure point on Altras) and next to the little toe, where the relatively stiff toe bumper meets the soft rubber of the sole. The dart-shaped logs have been replaced with hexagonal lugs, and the sole compound is harder. In addition, the lugs on the outer edge of the sole have been made more pronounced and angled outward to give better grip through corners and side-slopes – branded “Trailclaws”.
The stack height of 25mm is substantially less than the 36mm for the Olympus and slightly more than the 21mm for the Superior. At 283g, relative to 298g for the Olympus and 261g for the Superiors (men’s shoes), the Lone Peak is neither particularly heavy or light. The shoe is built on the Standard last (foot-form used to shape the shoe), so is more “relaxed” and “comfortable” than shoes like the Superior (Performance last) or the even more extreme King (Racing last), at the expense of being less precise and nimble on technical terrain…meaning that the Superior or King might be a better choice for short races and very technical trails. Note that the mid- and back-foot sections are, despite being on the same Standard Last, are a bit narrower than the Lone Peak 2.5, making for firm hold on the foot without constraining the forefoot. Some people I have spoken to find that this makes the shoe unbalanced, but most find that it makes it much more precise and supportive.
As with all Altra trail shoes, there is a Gater Trap – a Velcro flap at the back of the heel to attach the back for the Altra Lycra trail gaiters; with most Altras, the hook at the front of the gaiter clips to the laces, but the Lone Peak 3.0 has a small metal loop – I’m not sure if this is any easier, but it is thoughtful. This attachment system is an efficient, effective method, and the gaiters do a pretty good job of keeping debris out of the shoes – I find they are very effective on light debris (light powder snow, fine sand) but less effective against coarse material (gravel, cruddy snow).
There are two variants of the Lone Peak: the NeoShell has a waterproof-breathable material which will help keep your feet drier in shallow puddles, wet grass, etc, at the expense of being a bit hotter and less ventilated; then the Lone Peak Mid takes the NeoShell upper and adds a mid-height cuff around the calf to produce a light hiking/fast-packing shoe. Both are good shoes for the correct niche, but for my money the basic Lone Peak is the shoe that does it all.
Always one of the better looking Altras, the new model is even a bit better – still unlikely to appear on the catwalks of Milan, but would look fine at the pub after a run.
I was most pleasantly surprised on my first run in the Lone Peak 3.0. It covered steep and technical climbs and drops as well as non-technical low-angle section. In addition to being a great exploration of some new trails, it gave a good introduction to the shoes.
The firmer, more supportive structure felt great on the non-technical ground. On the technical ground, I noticed significantly better traction. I noticed much less slipping than in my old Lone Peaks, or even my new Olympus.
Anoth.er, unexpected, benefit of the new shoes is that substantially less debris seems to get into the shoes than with the older model. This might be because I was slipping less, or the more tailored mid-foot and heel, or just that I haven’t had a chance to beat the uppers to Hell and gone… probably a bit of all three! A fourth factor is that Altra has finally done away with the last vestige of the rudder – a flap of sole sticking out the back, which was presumably to help with downhill running, but primarily functioned to trip runners up when going down stairs and kick dirt up into the shoes – I was very glad to see this is no longer part of Lone Peak!!
For my money, the Lone Peak is still the one trail shoe to rule them all. There is enough cushion for long runs (I’ve seen them on hundred milers), while the technical performance is enough for short-and-fast highly technical races (at least for mid-field runners like me! I don’t podium often, but I have fun), and the shoe is robust enough for high-mileage training and rough and rocky trails. I’m excited to take this out on the trail!
[Disclosure: I am a 2017 Altra Ambassador.]