Update (Winter 2022): Altra, the company, has been purchased by a larger company since this article was first published many years ago. Much has changed about the footwear, including seemingly ever-increasing stack heights and a general narrowing of the toe box in models throughout the product line. So, take the following with a grain of salt. We'll be looping back on this review article to make more in-depth updates at a future date. Quickly though: For those who are seeking a “transitional” style shoe, which is the category that most models of Altra footwear fall into, we'd recommend you purchase the Lems Primal Pursuit instead (for its more foot-healthy design features).
Altra running and walking shoes are foot-healthy athletic shoes for men and women that allow the feet and toes to function the way nature intended. In this product review, I’ll discuss the beneficial design features that are incorporated into these shoes as well as how these wide toe box shoes for runners, walkers, and hikers can be used in combination with other natural footgear to support long-term foot and toe health.
Beneficial Design Features
Altra running and walking shoes are a foot-healthy alternative to conventional athletic shoes. Unlike traditional athletic shoes, Altra shoes actually nurture your feet and toes, providing a healthy environment that accommodates natural toe splay, and they offer a truly stable base of support. Altra running and walking shoes include several important design features that can help prevent or correct many common foot, toe, and lower leg problems, such as bunions, hammertoes, ingrown toenails, plantar fasciosis, shin splints, runner’s knee, and neuromas.
A sufficiently wide toe box to accommodate natural toe splay is one of the most important of these key design features built into Altra shoes. Most conventional running shoes have a tapering toe box, or a toe box that gets narrower from the ball of the foot to the ends of the toes. But the toe box of Altra shoes is widest at the ends of the toes, where you need the width the most. I really love this feature of Altra shoes because it allows me to wear my Correct Toes toe spacers inside my running shoes, which keeps my toes aligned properly and foot free of injuries.
Something else I really like about the wide toe box is that it prevents jamming of the toes at the end of the toe box. This is an important consideration for active people who are running or walking a lot. Every footfall you take (especially on downhill slopes) puts a tremendous amount of force through your feet and toes, so keeping your toes from being repeatedly driven into the wedge-shaped toe box of a conventional athletic shoe goes a long way in preventing problems like bunions and hammertoes, and it also helps stabilize your ankles and knees and restore natural toe splay. Toes that are splayed well apart are commonly seen in unshod or minimally shod groups and indicate healthy feet and toes.
Another beneficial feature of these sporty shoes is their zero drop platform—a term coined by Altra itself to describe the support base of their shoes. I am a huge fan of zero drop shoes, or shoes that have absolutely no heel elevation or toe spring. The completely flat sole of Altra running and walking shoes provides the best possible support base for your feet and encourages natural arch support. Just like an arch bridge, your foot functions best when both ends of your main foot arch—your heel and your forefoot—are on a level plane. Getting your toes splayed properly and your foot on a level surface is the most effective way to create a stable foot configuration and prevent excessive pronation, or an inward rolling of your ankle.
Another beneficial design feature of Altra shoes that I really appreciate is the relatively flexible sole that's built into most models. The soles of Altra running and walking shoes are a little thicker and stiffer than some of the other footwear options we offer on the Natural Footgear site, but they do still flex a fair amount under weight-bearing pressure. Altra shoes’ sole flexibility typically exceeds what you would find in other, more conventional running shoes, whose relatively rigid soles effectively immobilize your feet, often in a bunion configuration or other toe-deforming position. Altra shoes largely stay out of the way of your feet, allowing your foot to function the way nature intended.
Because the soles of Altra shoes are thicker and stiffer than some other shoe offerings on our site, these shoes can be excellent for people who are entirely accustomed to conventional footwear and have little or no experience with minimalist or barefoot-like shoes or are just starting down the path of using healthy footwear. On the other hand, for those of you who are more accustomed to minimalist footwear with thin and ultra-flexible outsoles, Altras may feel a bit stiff or like “a lot of shoe,” and you may not be able to feel the ground as well as what you’re used to. Whether or not strong ground-feel is desirable is a personal preference.
Other Key Features
Altra running and walking shoes have several other key features that help set them apart from other athletic shoes. For example, Altra shoes are built from men and women-specific foot molds that consider the differences between men’s and women’s feet, including women’s relatively narrower heels. These anatomically-appropriate, foot-shaped shoes are also extremely lightweight. Most models weigh somewhere between 6 and 10 oz per shoe. The outsole thickness of Altra shoes varies depending on the specific model, with some models having a little more material between your feet and the ground and some models a little less.
Altra running and walking shoes can be used in a variety of ways. Some models are geared toward the trail while others are designed for pavement and road conditions. In most cases, though, there is pretty good crossover between the models, and you should feel fairly comfortable in using any of the models for most athletic activities.Altra updates their product line fairly regularly, so be sure to check the Natural Footgear site for changes and updates to our men’s and women’s athletic shoes pages.
What I find really great about Altra running and walking shoes is that they can be used with other beneficial natural footgear to encourage lasting foot and toe health. Products that work great with Altra shoes include Correct Toes, Injinji toe socks, and Pedag metatarsal pads. Using this combination with Altra shoes can help you achieve optimal foot health, prevent common athletic injuries, and allow you to perform at the top of your game.
In terms of sizing, we find that all the Altra models run a bit small. Our best recommendation is to order at least a half size up from your conventional running shoes. For example, if you normally wear a women’s US size 9 running shoe, you’ll want to go with at least a women’s US size 9.5 in Altra shoes. Other factors to consider when you choose your size include whether or not you plan to use your shoes with the optional footbeds that are included with most Altra models and whether or not you plan to use your Altra shoes with Correct Toes. If you plan to use your shoes with any of the included footbeds or with Correct Toes, you will most definitely want to size up a half to even a full size beyond your conventional running shoe size.
Of course, if you’re on the fence about what size might be best for you, you can always order both sizes and then return the one that does not fit as well. If you have any questions about sizing, please do feel free to contact us.
I think that Altra athletic shoes are among the first of their kind to truly respect normal and natural foot and toe anatomy and help prevent lower extremity joint and soft tissue problems. Altra shoes have the classic look of a conventional running shoe, but they also have a lot of new features that set them apart from other brands and companies, including that incredible toe box and completely flat support platform. Wearing Altra running and walking shoes is a comfortable and constructive way restore or preserve your foot and toe health, and I definitely recommend these shoes to anyone looking to combine athletic performance with foot comfort and health.
Like anything health-related, though, it’s important to transition to this new style of shoe in a slow and progressive manner. I encourage you to check out our blog post about how to safely transition to minimalist or barefoot-like footwear.
We may receive affiliate compensation in connection with the purchase of footwear mentioned on this page (this doesn't cost you, the purchaser, anything, and it helps to keep Natural Footgear going). Even though we may receive compensation, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on or about all models. See our Ethics Policy for more details.
Dr. Marty Hughes is a chiropractic physician, or DC. He received his doctoral degree from Western States Chiropractic College (WSCC), now known as the University of Western States (UWS). Dr. Marty has always been interested in foot health, due to the connection between the feet and the spine. He has worked as a freelance writer for LiveStrong.com, for whom he contributed over 2,200 health-and-fitness articles. He is a co-founder of Natural Footgear and an ardent supporter of natural foot care approaches. Dr. Marty enjoys road cycling, trail running, hiking, canoeing, and cross-country skiing as well as exploring the mountains of Western North Carolina.
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