Before I go into specifics about the Altra Instinct, it’s important you know what type of runner I am, how & where I use the shoe, etc. So here’s a little background…
My Running Background
I started running in 2006, but have played competitive team sports all my life. [As of Oct 2012] I’ve run 3 marathons, 2 50ks, 3 50-milers, 2 Tough Mudders, and about 40 other races between a 5k & half-marathon distance. I regularly run track workouts, hill repeats, climb stairs, etc.
I believe in a minimalistic style of running, however, I do think the running world has taken it too far, too fast.
I have worn several pairs of minimalist shoes dating back 2 years before I tried the Altra Instinct shoe. I’ve worn the Nike Free for road running, and the New Balance MT101 & the New Balance Trail Minimus (first version) for trail running. I’ve also had a pair of classic Vibram FiveFingers for 3+ years that I wore in place of flip flops.
How I Use The Altra Instinct
I use them for all road running I do. Everything from a 5k to a marathon. I was looking for a minimalist shoe, but with more cushioning than most minimal shoes out there. The shock sent through your joints when running on pavement needs absorbing, and most of the minimalist running shoes out there do not provide adequate cushioning. That’s when I found Altra.
For longer runs (8+ miles), I wear injinji toe socks with them. For shorter runs (< 8 miles), I wear normal athletic running socks.
What Makes Altra Different
A combination of 4 things:
- Foot-shaped, extremely wide, toe box
- Zero-drop from heel-to-toe
- Adequate cushioning in the midsole
- 2 different insoles come with each pair (some models, not all)
My First Impression
When I first took them out of the box & slipped them on, I thought:
Eh. Not the best colors. I kind of look like a platypus with this square toe box. Man, that looks weird. But dude, I feel like I’m wearing slippers.
Altra’s website says the following about the Instinct sizing:
The Instinct runs slightly short in size. If you are between sizes, please go up ½ size larger than your regular size.
I normally wear a US men’s size 12 in all the running shoes I’ve ever worn. I have a size 12 in the Altra Instinct’s as well, and they fit just fine.
Men’s US size 9 weight in at 8.8oz. This isn’t earth-shattering lightness by any means, but it is lighter than most standard (non-minimalist) running shoes. Two things that limit their ability to make the Instinct super-light:
- Extra wide toe box requires more surface area in the forefoot
- More cushioning than most minimalist shoes in the midsole
How do they feel? They feel pretty light. If you’re used to running in an 8mm or 12mm drop cushioning or stability shoe, you’ll probably feel lighter in the Instinct. If you’ve already been wearing zero-drop, minimalist shoes, you might think these are a tad heavier.
I think they provide a smooth ride. I feel similar to the way I felt in my Nike Free’s, although not quite as free. But the Free’s provided nowhere near the support I needed.
Extra Wide Toe Box (Foot-Shaped)
The extra wide toe box gives your toes room to spread out on impact, which is very natural. Most shoes, especially minimalist running shoes, taper at the toe box, therefore squishing your toes. For this reason, the Instinct can help prevent blisters, calluses and pain on the sides of your forefoot.
If you have wide feet, like me, the Instinct’s toe box is especially comfortable. I was experiencing pain on the outside of my forefoot, right on the little bone that sticks out at the base of your pinky toe.
The Altra Instinct has zero-drop from heel-to-toe, which is how we would run if we weren’t wearing any shoes. And the zero-drop does promote more of a forefoot strike, which has been proven in numerous studies to be a more efficient way of running.
Interesting Note: RunningTimes review of the Instinct claims the shoe has a 2.6mm heel-to-toe drop. They actually measured it themselves.
Be careful transitioning into a zero-drop running shoe. It will likely change your stride, and cause you to use different muscles than you are used to [in 8mm or 12mm drop shoes]. Many runners have experienced issues with their achilles tendons & calf muscles. See Altra’s guide for proper transitioning.
A Neutral Running Shoe, But With Cushioning
I would label the Instinct as a neutral running shoe – as opposed to a minimalist shoe. It’s weight (8.8oz), shape (boxy) & adequate amount of cushioning make it difficult to classify as truly “minimalist.”
For me, a neutral shoe with plenty of cushioning makes perfect sense for road running.
When humans first learned how to run, there was no asphalt or concrete. So running barefoot might have worked just fine. But in today’s world, we run on very hard surfaces, and therefore need cushioning to absorb the shock sent through our joints. This is where the Instinct’s cushioning sets it apart from most other neutral running shoes.
Another thing that makes the Altra Instinct unique, is that they come with 2 pairs of insoles.
The support footbed is what comes pre-installed in the Instinct. It’s a 5mm insole with some arch support. Altra recommends you start with this insole, and gradually work towards a more minimalist insole.
This is the insole I am currently wearing with my Instincts, and the only one I’ve tried so far.
The strengthen footbed is a 3mm flat insole. After getting comfortable in the support footbed, you can transition to the strengthen footbed.
I have not tried this insole yet. I will report back once I do.
The Instinct has also been designed to wear without an insole. Altra calls this their BareSole™. The BareSole™ is 3.4mm thick and made of rubber.
Note: Not all Altra shoes are designed to be worn without a footbed. Please refer to the specifications of your particular model.
I have not tried this insole yet. I will report back once I do.
I found an article on Altra’s website about an alternate lacing system. I decided to give it a try, especially since it promotes even more room in the forefoot. It looks weird, but who cares if it works?
Does it work? I wore them with normal lacing for my first few runs, then switched to Altra’s recommended lacing. They might have felt like I had just slightly more room in the toe box, but it was barely noticeable. I did not notice any difference in running comfort or performance.
I have only found 2 negatives so far, neither of which are any reason not to buy the shoe.
- The very back of the shoe that rubs against your heel… can cause blisters or irritation if you wear low or no-show socks. I noticed this before I even ran in them, just wearing them for a few days at work. I highly recommend socks that cover the back part of your ankle.
- They make a “clicking” sound with each foot strike. It is fading more and more as I wear them, but out-of-the-box, it’s noticeable. I think it’s the shiny silver material right on the tip of the shoe. You might not have even noticed it until I said something (sorry), but if you run alone or with really quiet friends, you’d hear it.
Wear to Buy Altra Instinct Shoes
You can buy the Instinct on Amazon, or directly from Altra’s website. They’re actually cheaper on the company’s website ($75) than on Amazon ($86.99 – $100). And you can get a 10% discount if you use the link at the bottom of this post on Running & Rambling’s website.