Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ahhh, That's Better! - Altra Instinct Shoe Review

I've been waiting (and waiting, and waiting...) for the Altra shoes to finally hit my local shop (Bull City Running - can't say enough good things about this place!) and this week, the Instinct finally arrived. For those of you who don't normally read my blog, I have wide feet. I've been searching for a flat shoe with close to zero heel to toe drop, mainly for road running where I like a bit more padding, that would accommodate my paddle feet.

I had been running in Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats for the past 8 months or so, but my pair was really worn out and I felt unstable on anything wet or slippery. The MWU3's have been great shoes for me, but unfortunately, since the time I bought my first pair, my feet have widened to the point that a new pair is painful to wear, so simply wearing a new pair was out of the question. Sometimes, being a mid-foot runner has it's downsides...

Even the new minimal trail shoes weren't wide enough for my feet, so I was getting a bit frustrated, until I tried the SoftStar RunAmoc. But I still wanted a more substantial shoe with more grip for conditions where the RunAmoc would not cut it (wet, muddy, very technical single track trail or long runs on pavement). What follows is my purely amateur review of the Instinct.

To say I was happy about the fit of the Instincts is a bit of an under statement. I actually almost laughed out loud in the store when I tried them on. They had a simply beautiful wide forefoot and mid foot area that actually fit my foot nearly perfectly. No other shoe, besides my custom built RunAmocs, has felt as good. In the first 24 hours that I wore them, I was concerned that perhaps the left shoe was a bit too tight near the ball of my foot, but after using the Altra recommended lacing technique, I was left with a perfect fit. And I don't use the word "perfect" lightly. I'm a stickler for good shoe fit. The Instincts fit like a snug, beefy version of my RunAmocs, which is high praise from me.

The Instincts come with two insoles - one with a more traditional arch support and padding, and one which is simply a very thin, flat insert which functions to cover the internal stitching of the shoe. Since I'm a mid-foot striker when running, I use the flat insert (I think it's called the strengthening insert in the Altra product literature). This also gives my foot more room inside the shoe, which is a bonus.

Since I've purchased them, I've run a 5K on pavement and a 12 mile trail race (MST 12 Miler race report). On pavement, the shoes feel firm and stable. I especially like the firmness of the sole, since it quietly informs me when I over stride and heel strike. Ground feel is not great, but that's not what this shoe is all about (and I always have the RunAmocs or my Vibram Five Fingers to provide me with form tuning feedback via good ground feel).

What's really surprising is how well the Instincts performed on the trail. I intentionally wore the Instincts for the MST 12 mile trail race, as a sort of trial by fire.

I know what you are thinking.

"Scott, you are an idiot! Never wear new shoes you just bought and have only run 3 miles in for a 12 mile trail race!"

Hey, sometimes idiocy is how I roll (well, a lot of the time this is true, especially when it comes to running). Although I didn't mention it in my race report for the MST 12 miler, let me just say that the Instincts performed fantastically. They had plenty of grip for the wet, and sometimes muddy, conditions of the trail. I finished the race with no shoe induced blisters and my feet felt great! Actually, my feet felt much better after wearing the Instincts than they do when I wear my MWU3's (the Mizunos' have a bit of arch support that aggravates the plantar fasciitis in my right foot).

I really like them. I'm glad I bought them. I can't wait for the Altra trail shoe, the Lone Peak, to be released. It will give me an excuse to buy another pair of shoes (like I need one!).


  1. Very interesting... I have freakishly wide feet too.
    I'll have to try those out.

  2. Great report. I'm about to write up a quick review of the shoe myself. The first time I ever put them on I took them for a 10 miler on a very rocky and technical trail. I was really impressed how well they performed considering they are a road shoe. I also can't wait for the Lone Peak.

  3. I have to say these are the most comfortable running shoes I have ever tried on. If I had the money I would have totally bought a pair on Wednesday before the race too. I wouldn't have had the balls to run the race in them though! That's impressive! So does your plantar fasciitis just flare up from wearing the MWU3's or are you waging an ongoing battle with it? Just curious as I've been going back and forth with mine the last year. I finally resorted to wearing Superfeet Green on my longer runs or when it gets bad, but none of my shoes work very well with the inserts, as it gives me way too much heel lift and it screws up my good foot.

  4. @Andrew - I've been battling PF for nearly a year now. It's finally down to low grade, but will flare badly on occasion, mostly when I wear the wrong shoes. Anything with an arch will cause my PF to go crazy. I think it's because an arch support puts pressure on the plantar fascia and doesn't allow mine to move/spring in a normal way. I've been working on strengthening my feet for the past 6 months and that has definitely helped, but the wrong shoes still kill me. The Altras have no arch support, so they work great for me.

  5. I or'd. the instinct on Sun., look fwd. to hopefully a good fit!! Me too; wide forefoot/narrow heel-mod.high arch&instep. Wear V-5-treksport,Univ.3,NB 101's. Yeah, the MinimusTR& Merrell didn't fit my feet either. Totally buying into this shoe's design,pointed-tapered toes are OUT!! (saucony!) Once you make the minimalist transition --it's the only way ta go! -Scott in Mi.

  6. @Scott in MI - Hope the Instincts work out well for you!

  7. How has the sole held up?
    I was thinking the Instict might be a fit for my wanting more shoe for longer runs. I tend to wear out the ball of my right foot first in Vibrams. Trying to improve my form with my current effort in the Hattori.

  8. @Chris J - So far the sole has held up very well. I have a couple hundred miles on them plus a lot of day to day wear and the sole has only minimal wear.

  9. Thanks for the review! I'm looking forward to trying these as I have a wide midfoot and narrow heel that's difficult to fit in traditional shoes. Running in the Minimus Trail now, which is flexible enough in the area outside of my arch to not cause too much discomfort. If you've tried the Minimus Trail, can you compare the midfoot fit between it and the Instinct? Thanks again!

  10. Also--are you wearing your normal size, or did you have to size up/down? Thanks.

  11. @Dave - You're welcome! I tried on the Minimus Trail, but it was simply too tight for me in the midfoot, so I didn't buy it. As for the sizing of the Instincts, I'm wearing my normal-ish size 9 in them (I wear anywhere from 8.5-9.5 depending on the shoe). Hope that helps.

  12. Have you heard anything about the quality of the shoes after they get wet? I heard that they don't hold up well to getting wet and have actually broken apart.

  13. @Landi - So far, mine have held up well with getting both wet and muddy. I even washed them (with cold water) on gentle cycle in the washing machine without any bad effects. But I have heard the same thing as you about some of them not holding up after getting wet. Not sure what to say other than it might be manufacturing variance or the like.


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