Thursday, June 16, 2011

Altra Instinct Shoe Review

Warning:  This is not a minimalist shoe (but I still dig them)!

As someone who has recently switched to minimalist shoes, and natural running form.  I have been looking for a shoe that would allow me to keep running long distances but also a shoe that maintains many characteristics that are important to me in a minimalist shoe.  All of the minimalist shoes that I own are zero drop, light weight, have a wide toe box, and are super flexible.  However, they are also have very little cushioning.  This is normally a good thing as less cushioning means more ground feel.  However, running long distances on pavement can put a lot of stress on the muscles, tendons, and bones in your feet.  Transitioning to minimalist foot wear takes a lot of time and patience.  Two things that I am often short on.  I didn't take enough time or patience and ending up with a stress fracture in my left foot after running a half marathon in  Vibram Five Fingers Komodo Sports  (review coming soon).  Therefore, I needed a shoe that would allow me to run long distances while my feet continue to strengthen.  This is where the Altra Instincts come into play. 

The Instinct from Altra Running is in a shoe in a class all to it's own.  It has many of the features of a minimalist shoe with out being minimalist. 

Minimalist Characteristics

First and foremost the Instincts are zero drop.  They are built completely flat from heel to toe.  Having a zero drop shoe makes it extremely easy to maintain a natural running form.  What is great about Altra Running is that they not only make great shoes but they also show you how to run properly in them through their Learn to Run Initiative .  They also provide information on and in the shoe box which is extremely helpful to those who are just learning proper running technique. 
Much wider last and much more foot shaped than the Saucony Kinvara
The Instincts have by far the widest toe box I have ever seen in a shoe.  The shoe looks a bit different because it is actually foot shaped.  What a weird concept!  Because of the shape of the shoe, the Instincts for me, run a half size shorter than my normal running shoe.  The ultra wide toe box gives your toes room to splay completely with out any constraints.  With a wide toe box, comes the possibility that the shoe will feel sloppy. The Instinct locks the foot in place nicely via asymmetrical lacing, Altra's heel claw, and A-Wrap .

Heel Claw
Altra does a nice job of making the shoe customizable with two different insoles.  Altra provides a "support" insole that has a bit more cushioning and small amount of arch support.  They also provide a "strengthening" insole that is completely flat and very thin.  The shoe can also be worn without the insole to provide more room in the shoe with less cushioning and more of a minimalist feel.  The Instinct can be worn sock-less with or without the insoles.  I have not encountered any rubbing or blistering to this point. 

Support insole on left. Alternate lacing method shown

 Altra refers to the outsole as their FootPod outsole. The outsole of the shoe seems to be extremely durable and that seems to be very common amongst minimalist shoes.  I would expect to get at least 500 miles out of this shoe if not many more. 

Less Than Minimalist Characteristics 

Keep in mind that Altra has a true minmalsit shoe set to release later this summer.  The Adam is a shoe that I am very excited to get my hands. The Instinct while having many minimalist characteristics it also shares some characteristics of "regular" trainers.  The Instinct is by no means a heavy shoe.  It comes in right around 9 oz in a size 9.  This is much less than most shoes with comparable amount of cushioning but also weighs more than true minimalist shoes.  However, this is not a deal breaker for me because this shoe will not be a short distance race shoe or a tempo shoe for me.  I don't believe the shoe was designed as an up tempo trainer even though it would perform just fine in fast pace run.

The Instinct also has more cushioning than your typical minimalist shoe.  The negative of this amount of cushioning is that there is very little ground feel.  Ground feel is important to make sure that when running you do not land too hard or land on improperly (on your heel).  However, because this is zero drop, landing on the heel is not a problem. I seem to land  ligtly with this shoe.  The other disadvantage is that shoes with cushioning aren't usually flexible.  The Instinct is actually a little more flexible than I expected.  It is by no means as flexible as other minimalist shoes but it definitely flexes enough for me.
The advantage of some cushioning is that it provides protection against long runs on unforgiving pavement. The Instinct works great for long runs and my feet have never been happier after putting in long miles.  The Altra Instinct will be my shoe of choice for all my long runs and probably my marathon in late September (tough to give a bigger compliment than that).

Altra has more shoes that are set to release in the coming months that include a trail version, a laced version of the Adam and Eve to accomidate more foot types, and other models that they are being pretty tight lipped about. Keep checking their website for updates. 


  1. i just got a pair of the intuitions (women's version of the instinct) and the description above is accurate for them as well. i'm very new to natural running, transitioning from newtons to the altras. width is always an issue for me, so much so that i generally wear men's shoes, and the alternate lacing and taking out the insole have made the altra fit perfectly. i mean perfectly. the shoes are great, so now i have to learn to keep up with them!

  2. btw - i wore the intuitions without socks and got rubbed on my achilles pretty bad. i have thin, blister-prone skin on my feet, so if you have sensitive skin be sure to wear socks.

  3. The current stock does rub a little on the first few runs, try using baking soda and water to massage it down. Great review! Thank you for the great positioning of The Instinct and The Intuition as non-minimal shoes!

  4. Thanks for the tip Jeremy!

  5. Great review. So did you order your Alta's a half size larger than your normal shoe size? Without socks, mine fit okay, but are pretty tight with them. I do have very wide feet though. If not these, do you have any good transition or minimalist shoes you can recommend for wide feet? Thanks!

  6. sounds like the kind of shoe i run in, which is not the altra. this may be a niche field of shoe (the cushioned minimalist shoe with zero heel to toe drop) but altra does NOT have sole (pun) ownership of this niche.

    i run in the newton distancia, which runs exactly how this altra is described...a minimalist shoe with not excessive but wonderfully needed cushioning for those of us who run an hour or more on concrete/asphalt. running on city concrete in a merrel, or even training flats with minimal cushioning, was torture on my feet and made running arduous, tho it did save my back from the heel striking.

    with the cushioning of the newton, i can avoid heel striking and still feel good after an hour on the concrete and asphalt. sounds like the altra offers the same, but i'd suggest the newton as another choice in this very niche field of cushioned minimalist shoes.

  7. I can't get over the lack of flexibility, especially under that wide forefoot. The outsole seems very durable, but at what cost? I find them to be very clumsy feeling. The term "clown shoes" comes to mind. Maybe the outsole will soften up in time, but I'm not willing to find out. I think I'm going with Kinvaras.

  8. Just got a pair last month, and while nursing what might have been a stress fracture from use of my Kinvaras (Kinvara I), I finally started using them 2 weeks ago and they are GREAT!!! I now can run for 3-4 days in a row of 5-10 miles and each day feel great. For some reason, I could never do that in my Kinvaras.


  9. I have these and love 'em. I ran the Oakland Marathon in them this year. I bought them for the exact purpose you mention, Long road miles. I find them to take a bit to break in, but they do soften up, and I'm a big fan. And I've probably got a couple hundred miles on them and can barely see any wear on the outsole.