I first heard about Altra and the Adam (their minimal offering to the market) about a year or so ago.  I made contact with them through email and then had the opportunity to meet in person back in November at the Running Event in Austin.  I was impressed both with the men of Altra as well as the product they were presenting.  As a minimalist runner I was very interested in seeing the Adam, but due to the pains that had developed in my heel I also wanted to see the Instinct.  I was brought right in and given the info on all the models they had, and I was very impressed.  They have gone the extra distance to create great products that meet the various needs of runners, which is possibly the most impressive aspect of Altra as a company.  I was lucky enough to leave the Running Event with a pair of Instincts to enjoy, and they have been on my feet almost daily since then.

One of the great things about Altra is that they have entered into the minimal market with a great product, but they also understand that not every runner out there wants to drop their soles to the ground.  In fact the vast majority of runners are not entirely on board with the whole minimal idea.

Enter the Instinct.

What most runners do want is comfort.  They want to log the miles comfortably without pain or fear of injury.  Do running shoes cause pains and injuries?  The jury is still working on that one, but the science is leaning towards yes with, I’m sure, a lot of exceptions.  What Altra promotes more than anything is natural running.  What is that?  Simply put, it means running the way we are designed to by getting us on the forefoot and putting the heel on a level platform or, to use a phrase I believe they coined, “Zero Drop.”  Studies have shown negative effects on the joints and muscles when the heel is in a raised position through walking and running motions.  The Instinct takes care of that problem in a great way.

The sole is 12mm thick and level so there is no difference in heel and toe thickness.  I personally would like a six or eight millimeter thickness on the sole, but the twelve they have employed offers a great positive for the conventional runner by making the shoe feel like nearly any other.  The shoe is by far thinner in the heel than most conventional shoes, but it still feels like it has as much under the foot as other shoes on the market.  I find this to be a great bonus as it offers runners the best of both worlds.  The flat sole eliminates issues that go with a raised heel, but the cushion and ride is still there to enjoy.  The shoe also weighs in a fairly light 9 ounces.  The outsole is made of durable but flexible rubber so the shoe can move with the foot and last for a long time.  I have been wearing these daily for over four months, and they show zero signs of wear.  One of the most interesting aspects of the sole is its material – something called A-Bound, which is a pretty cool material.  According to the Altra site:

A-Bound is an environmentally friendly energy return compound with incredible resilience and protection. This unique compound sits directly under your foot to return energy back and dampen hard surfaces while still maintaining fantastic ground feedback.  A-Bound also retains only a 10% compression set (compared to 70-90% with traditional running shoe foam) so it won’t deform over time. Recycled.

The energy return from the sole is noticeable in a good way; I feel like I’m working less than when I run in minimal shoes.  For some that will be less appealing, but if you normally run in a conventional shoe this feeling will be a great pleasure to you.  It is also molded with durable Out Pods to mimic the bone structure of the foot, and it too offers a great feel.  When I got the shoes I worried that they were too big, but I was assured they were perfect as the pods on the sole lined up perfectly with my actual bone structure.  My concerns about sizing disappeared after taking only a few steps in them.

There is no arch support in this shoe unless you want it.  The foot bed is flat to allow the arch to flex and move as it pleases, which will offer the foot a chance to strengthen as you wear the shoe.  The shoe is shaped like the foot so you won’t find any pointed toe on these.  There is plenty of room for the foot to do what it wants within the shoe, and it is designed to be worn in any of three different ways with different insole options.  There is a stiffer Support insole for those of you who enjoy support, a more flexible Strengthen insole for more foot freedom, or you can go sans insole altogether for a roomy and free ride.  I have used all three options and usually go with either the thinner insole or none.  The stiffer one was not my cup of tea as it has typical arch support built in, but if you typically enjoy some support in your shoes then this insole should give you the feeling you like.

The upper is comfortable and breaths well.  It is supportive in that it does a good job of holding the shoe to the foot without inhibiting movement.  It has a minimal number of inner seams and does well as a sockless shoe for both walking and running, but I will admit that I had to break it in a bit before the inside felt comfortable for going bare in them.  I never got any blisters, but the few seams inside the shoe were more noticeable at first, where now I feel nothing and really enjoy leaving the socks at home.  There are numerous technologies added to the upper including asymmetrical lacing, a heel claw, and A-Wrap for a great fit.  The lacing is comfortable and does not restrict the foot, which is a very nice touch.  The A wrap is also something nice as it hugs the mid foot but allows the toes plenty of room to splay.  I think the brightest design aspect of the upper is the heel claw.  I personally could care less if a shoe hugs my heel, and most times I do not want the heel to be very tight.  I like my foot to be able to move around either with or without the shoe as long as the movement is natural, which makes most conventional shoes uncomfortable for me as they are designed to really hug the heel.  I still cannot figure out when runners decided the heels of their shoes should strangle their feet, but this seems to be prevalent in typical shoe reviews.  The heel claw in the Instinct does a great job of wrapping the heel for support but not doing it in an uncomfortable way.

For running and walking this is an outstanding shoe.  I cannot say enough positive things about the Instinct, and it is comfortable enough to have been my shoe of choice for long days of walking at Disney World.  Is this a minimal shoe?  Not really.  Is this a conventional shoe?  Not really.  So what is it?  I’m going to say it’s a nice marriage of the two, which is really saying something.  It will get a conventional runner closer to the ground without feeling like he has gone bare, and it will give the minimal runner a chance to let his foot relax from time to time. All in all, this could be the best of both worlds.



19 responses »

  1. C. Beth says:

    I gotta say, that toe box looks AWESOME. I really love what I’m hearing about Altra.

    I’d probably be more interested in the Eve, but I’d be more likely to recommend this to someone who wants to run naturally but is hesitant about ultra-thin-soled shoes. I wonder if they’ll get some of the Newton market? I hope so.

  2. Matt Hester says:

    Very cool, I hope them come in wide!

  3. […] over at gobarefooting had a chance to test the Instincts over the last few months and wrote a great article about his […]

  4. Rich says:

    Curious how you know they are 12mm? Runblogger lists them at 8, which would be more appealing.

    • I know they are 12 because that is what Altra told me personally and I measured them myself. I also work pretty closely with Altra so I think runblogger has it wrong this time although I agree 8mm would be pretty awesome on this shoe.

  5. Trail Clown says:

    Does the extra wide toebox allow for downsizing in shoe size?

    • Good question and it’s not really necessary. The width of the toe box doesn’t have much to do with the size of the shoe. The toe box is designed to give your toes room to splay when you land which offers better foot function than when they are all bunched up together. The sizes are based on length so you would want to stick to your normal size and just enjoy the added benefit of a wide toe box.

  6. janet says:

    I suffer from Mortons Neuroma. I tend to be a toe runner and after years of running this way, my forefoot and toe areas are a mess. I
    Like the wide toebox idea…any thoughts on folks like me who land on their toes much to their detriment and this shoe being a viable alternative to other minimalist shoes? BTW…can stand the Newtons..

    • Janet, as a coach I would have to start by saying that you need to think about adjusting your form first. It won’t matter what shoe you put on, if the form is too far on the toes, your problems will remain. As for the fit of the Altra Intuition being good for you the answer would be yes. A big part of neuromas is tight shoes and the forefoot not having room to spread out so having the extra room in the toe box would be good for you. It would be even more of an advantage if you were to find a way to adjust your stride so you landed a little flatter instead of being up on your toes.

  7. Brian says:

    I might be wrong, but I think the midsole is 8mm, and the outsole is 4mm. hence the 12 mm height, and probably the discrepancy in the reports of the thickness underfoot! GoAltra!! Will be in mine as soon as I wear out these NB minimus!

    • You are close Brian. The sole of the Instinct is actually a three parter. The top part that is closest to the foot and that is 3mm of A-Bound which is Altra’s proprietary material. It compresses at a rate of 10% which is much lower than traditional shoe foam which compresses at a rate of 70-90%. Then you have the midsole which I believe comes in at 7mm and then the outsole at 2mm for a total of 12mm. I may gotten some of the thicknesses wrong but it is the three materials and it does for a fact (per Altra) total out at 12mm.

  8. Golden says:

    Hey guys, Golden with ALTRA here. The sole is 4mm of rubber + 8mm of EVA + 4mm of A-Bound Energy Return and Strobel. 16mm + the footbed of 5mm = Stack height of 21mm. Thanks!

  9. […] I do for a lot of brands, but I’ve taken a strong liking to shoes from Altra.  I reviewed the Instinct over a year ago.  I was one of the first people to have a pair of those shoes, and I love them.  […]

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