I’ve been asked a lot about this shoe, and I should have written this review a long time ago. I’ve had a ton of time with these shoes, having gotten my first experience in them over a year ago. Yes, that is well before they were actually released to the public! With a recent price drop putting these shoes at $79.99, I figured it was the perfect time to talk about this great (possibly the best?) minimal offering. There are already some great reviews for the Altra Adam out there, but I’ve got a few things to add to those so sit back and enjoy, my friends, because this is a good shoe to know about.
Yes, I really did get my first taste of the Adam over a year ago, and I have liked it the entire time. The first pair I tried on was a half size too big for me, and they flopped around on my foot, but I could tell there was something great on my foot despite the bad fit. It felt light, flexible, and smooth as I jogged and jumped around in the oversized shoes. I handed them back to my friends at Altra and told them I thought they had a winner.
Fast forward a bit, and I have a properly fitting pair on my feet, and yes I still got them before the rest of you. I’m a big deal, what can I say? The first thing I do with any pair of shoes is look at them. Yes I literally sit there and take them in. I’m a designer of shoes so it’s what I do. I take note of where support is placed, and I don’t mean on the sole but the uppers. Most people don’t realize that the pieces of material on the shoes you’re wearing are usually there to give the shoe structure more than style. I then bend and flex the shoe to see how it responds to movement, and after all that I pay attention to the style. I will then put the shoes on and walk around. With the Adam I had to do this three different times! Once I’ve walked in them for a few days or miles I will run in them, and again I had to do this three different ways. Why three ways? Because Altra gives you options to customize the fit and feel of the shoe under your foot by putting two insoles in the box. The insoles are different and have different purposes so there are two ways to try the shoes. The third comes in the form of an inner liner that is put there to let you enjoy the shoe with nothing but the 3.4mm sole under your foot.
As far as style goes I like the Adam. I like it a lot in fact. It has a rugged sort of everyday style to it. To me it works as well with a pair of shorts as it does with a pair of jeans. Shoot, if I were gonna go streaking I think it would look good then too. The upper is mostly comprised of a soft and stretchy material with a stretchy open mesh over the forefoot. There are some strategically placed strips of synthetic material that looks a lot like leather placed all over the shoe to offer support and hold. They don’t get in the way except for one. There is a piece holding an eyelet where the forefoot strap is anchored on the outside of the foot. It can be bothersome, especially at first, but it seems to become less so after the material is softened by some breaking in. When I first put the shoe on I felt it, and I felt cramped by it, but being the good reviewer I am I kept wearing the Adam and with each trip out in the shoes I noticed it less. I still notice it when I first put it on, but it’s not uncomfortable. I think it’s more that no other shoe I wear has anything in that spot so it’s a new feeling I’m not used to. I realize that sort of trailed off into the comfort and fit aspect of things so I’ll get back to style by saying I like the colors. The shoe is dark and simple with only a splash of light being added with the stretch mesh. It’s a good balance of color that keeps the shoe simple and understated. In other words it’s not flashy, and people aren’t going to stop you all day to talk about your funky looking shoes.
The Adam has a good fit. It has a nice roomy toe box with a nicely shaped heel that doesn’t slip around on your foot. This is because Altra put some thought into the shape of the upper and used the synthetic stuff to create their Heel Claw, which gives you a snug heel fit without interfering with function or comfort. There are a few seams inside the shoe, but I have yet to have any of them bother me or cause any problems. I have read where some people have gotten blisters, but I have never had that problem, and my Adams have never seen a pair of socks so this might be an individual issue. The foot bed is comfortable, and the flexibility is great. It keeps its flexibility no matter which insole option you go with, which I think is impressive. The Adam has a good hugging feel to it without any strap tightening at all so I tend to never actually tighten them. There are only two issues with the feel, neither of which has been a problem for me, and I’ll explain why I think that is. The first is the forefoot strap. There is the odd feeling anchor point at the base of the small toe and if you over tighten this strap it makes things very uncomfortable. It goes over your forefoot at the base of the toes and back up across the foot. If it’s too tight you are going to squeeze your metatarsals together which can cause immense pain. The solution here is to just leave it slightly loose or just lightly snug it down, and it should never be an issue. The other problem some people have is the toe cap. There are a couple of pieces of that awesome synthetic stuff put over the end of the toes to do two things. One, they protect the tops of the toes from things like toe drag, but they also keep the toe from poking up in the soft mesh just above the toes. I have read numerous reports of this being uncomfortable for people, and I can tell you why. Would you like to know? Of course you would so here it is. If you fit these shoes wrong your toe is going to catch the edge of that material on every step, and it will drive you crazy! I put this into practice by wearing a pair for a few hours that were too big and it was nutty how annoyed I was by this little toe protector. When I put the ones on that fit right I don’t even notice it’s there. So in order to size these correctly here’s what you have to do. Put the shoe on and stand up. Sitting won’t do it because your foot spreads when you stand on it and it doesn’t occupy the same space when it’s not bearing weight. So stand up and lift up your big toe. If it hits the edge of the material or misses it going straight into the mesh the shoe is too big. If your toe hit the material and lifts into it then the shoe fits right, and you’re good to go.
So how do they perform? Remember when I told you about the three insoles? Well those cause these shoes to perform in three different ways so I’m just going to lay it out for each way in three separate paragraphs since I think that’s the easiest way to cover it.
NO INSOLES: I think this is my preferred way to run in the Adam. With no insoles the sole is only 3.4mm of rubber underfoot, and it’s very much the most minimal way to go. The shoe fits a little looser without the insole but not so much that it’s bothersome. The ground feel is the best in this manner, and the shoe is extremely flexible. It’s also light and airy on your foot. If I had to compare, and I do, I’d say this is what I was looking for when I got my first pair of VFFs all those years ago. I loved the toe thing and the natural feel but every one of the early models gave me blisters in the toe pockets. With the Adam I go sockless and get the same ground feel I got with my old VFFs, but I’ve yet to get a blister.
STRENGTHEN INSOLE: This insole is made of the non-compressive composite material called A-Bound. This insole still gives a decent amount of firm feedback, but it does mute the ground feel a good amount as well. I instantly noticed my footfalls were noisier when I put these in. I can quiet my feet, though, and I think maybe this becomes a good training tool. By forcing me to work on my form to achieve a soft and quiet foot fall is, well, forcing me work on my form and that’s always a good thing. I should also say I’m a little noisier in the Adam in general when I run. The sole under the forefoot is about as flat and smooth as it can be except for the siping (the thin slits cut into the sole) for grip. This flat surface does cause some ground slap, but that doesn’t mean your form is changed. It’s just a side effect of the shoe. I like the Strengthen insole for walking and standing in this shoe, but not as much for running. I can see someone who likes a little bit or even a lot of cushioning really enjoying this insole experience.
SUPPORT INSOLE: This one is the conundrum. It mutes the ground feel more than the Strengthen Insole and is spongier, but it doesn’t really offer that much of a different ride. I feel like this insole gives the Adam the most “normal shoe” feel, and I really liked it for walking because it’s slightly more padded in the heel than the forefoot. That’s a great benefit for walking since I’m a heel striking walker like most people. I wasn’t a fan of running with this insole in the shoe. I felt it just muted the experience more than I liked, but I’m a strong minimalist when I want to run minimal. If I want a shoe-like experience I’ll just lace up my Instincts. I’d say if you’re going for a long walk or a long day of walking around in the Adam then this insole is a pretty good thing to have once the feet get tired or to help keep them from getting as tired.
So there it is. The Altra Adam! I love this shoe and think it’s about as close to being just right as any minimal shoe has gotten. There are a couple bumps in the shoe that could be fixed, and word on the street is that those things are being worked on to make this the ultimate minimal shoe on the planet. Until then this is by far the best bang for your buck.
EDIT: I have found a simple solution to the forefoot strap discomfort. Cut the three small stitches that attach the eyelet tab on the outside of the foot to the upper and that really opens up the shoe. I noticed the eyelet tab was attached to the upper which means it is being pulled into the foot when the upper mesh is stretched. By snipping those little stitches it allows the eyelet tab to move independently of the upper and makes this shoe very comfortable. The three stitches to be cut are the ones in the picture where there are two stitches in the tab. Only cut those .