The barefoot running craze revolutionized the footwear industry, triggering an avalanche of minimalist shoes—and the inevitable “maximist” counterargument best personified by the burly Hoka One One. For those who embraced the minimalist movement, liberation came as they re-learned how to run, increasing their cadence and striking with the middle of the foot, rather than the heel-toe style popularized during the birth of jogging in the ‘70s.
For me, the learning curve was a bit more acute. My long legs and a longer tradition of the old-school running style made me nervous to lace up a pair of minimalist shoes, largely because most of the trail runners on the market stripped out the underfoot padding to deliver a barefoot-like feel to the terrain, which just seemed like a great way to bruise my foot arch on an unforgiving rock. Enter Altra, an innovative footwear manufacturer who not only recognizes the value of padding, but who pioneered the whole barefoot craze in the first place.
The real benefit of barefoot running is found in the reduction of the “drop” – the height from the heel to the toe. The traditional runner has a decent-sized drop, but the minimalist shoes have no drop; the height of the toe, heel, and middle of the foot are all the same. And Altra was the first “zero drop” shoe on the market. The company founders, who ran a running shoe store in Salt Lake City, were unhappy with the models they sold. So they took a knife to ‘em, stripping out the excess padding and re-sealing the shoe in a toaster oven. Fast forward several years, and they’re producing some of the best zero-drop, minimalist-style trail and road runners on the market.
I’ve been running in their Lone Peak trail-runners for two seasons, and I can say with confidence that it’s one of the best shoes I’ve worn. The zero-drop shoe architecture delivers an even, tactile feel while running, and boasts all the minimalist benefits (including reduced injury and foot fatigue). But the use of EVA/A-Bound padding, which gives the shoe 22.5 millimeters of padding (footpad included), offers the right amount of protection against the roots and rocks of the trail—and offers a touch of forgiveness if your stamina and your running posture wanes. I also love the wide toe box, which lets the toes splay out, rather than being forced into the narrow wedge pattern seen in other running shoes. This allows the feet and toe to sit naturally inside the shoe for better front-end balance.
The Lone Peak boasts a sandwiched StoneGuard system that deflects the impact of harsh trail elements on the midsole, and quick-drying mesh uppers with minimal seams to keep the shoe a feathery 9.9 ounces. At first blush, the tread seems a touch less aggressive than you might want; I was reticent to run in the Lone Peaks when conditions were slippery. But the shoe handled mud, standing puddles, and wet roots and rock with a aplomb when I got caught in a violent mid-July downpour in Washington, D.C.’s Rock Creek Park.
The only thing I’d change? Perhaps a more protective toe cap—but then, most runners probably don’t drag their toes as much as I do when exhaustion sets in. And after several seasons, the mesh on the front right shoe did start to fray a bit. Otherwise, the Lone Peak—named after the rockiest, toughest mountain in Utah’s Wasatch Range—is tops. (Note: the minimal toe cage has been beefed up in the new 1.5 model).
– Nathan Borchelt