Gear Review: Altra Lone Peak 3.5 ($120)
What are they?
The Altra Lone Peaks are classic trail running shoes and are immensely popular among thru-hikers. Brooks Cascadias were the ubiquitous shoe encountered on the PCT when I hiked in 2015, but the market has definitely shifted in Altra’s favor. A combination of low-ish weight(18oz), wide footbox, and low(read:zero) heel-toe drop have made the brand my favorite for hiking, and the thru-hiking community agrees. According to halfwayanywhere’s CDT gear survey, one third of CDT hikers used the Lone Peaks. Clearly, they are Altra’s most popular model, though others exist with minor variation focused on the amount of cushion offered. Altra footprints were all over the CDT and, as a believer myself, I totally get it.
Altra’s brand is all about keeping foot mechanics natural. The wide toe box or “FootShape” lets the toes do what they’re designed to do by staying spread and relaxed. The wide fit is also great for thru-hiking as feet tend to swell with all those miles under an unusually heavy load, normal body weight plus heavy pack. Zero heel-toe drop keeps the achilles tendon and calf muscles honest while supporting a more natural stride with limited heel strike. Take all these claims with a grain of salt, but I welcome the chance to try them out. Altra isn’t the only company doing these things, but they are nailing it. And having more variety can’t hurt, right?
I had hiked extensively in and liked the older Lone Peak 2.0 and 2.5, so when I saw the 3.5’s on sale for $70 in January before the CDT, I bought six pairs of them. This was my first CDT purchase and though I was still living in the UK at the time, I remember it fondly as the moment I put my money where my mouth was. I’m hiking the CDT! The Lone Peak 4.0’s were new on the market (and have recently become obsolete themselves with the release of the 4.5’s), hence the sale, but after doing some research, I felt confident that the 3.5’s would give me what I needed. My boldness was rewarded. The shoes worked great.
How’d they do?
Like I said above, the shoes worked great. I was surprised by their durability and they took care of my feet during months of abuse. My big mistake was beating my second pair to heck, trying for an accurate-ish comparison with the Adidas Free Hikers, which made it an exceptional 900 miles. After nearly 800 miles, I decided that I had pushed the Lone Peak’s beyond their limit, and my feet beyond theirs as well, but the upper showed no holes and there was decent tread left on the sole. It was the EVA midsole that prompted me to change them out. My feet ached tremendously after a big day on rocky trail, and the final roadwalk into Grants, NM was brutal. I still love the shoes, but will limit them to around 650 miles maximum in the future. Not Adidas miles, but still good.
Other than that, I’m sold on the Altra propaganda. The wide forefoot really does free my toes to a greater extent than the more traditional, pointier shoes. Is this linked with better hiking or fewer blisters or injury? Would Elvis wear Altra’s if he were alive today? The zero drop between heel and toe height is another feature that I’m fully onboard with. Changing between Adidas(10mm) and Altra(0mm) in Yellowstone felt drastic. And it felt amazing, like I could walk normally again. Like I was wearing slippers. My feet, my legs, my body prefer a mid-foot strike and Altra’s allow this. No more feeling like I was walking in high heels.
- Zero drop: This might vary person to person, but I prefer zero drop shoes these days. Call me a hippie, but I think it makes sense for the feet and legs to work as naturally as possible. I hiked the whole PCT in shoes with 10mm drop, and started the CDT with 10mm drop as well, both without big problems, but my stride works best without that fat heel.
- Wide: This is generally good for thru-hiking foot swell, which can increase a hiker’s shoe size by ½ or a whole shoe size. I have narrow feet, but prefer the loose fit in the toe box especially.
- Cheap: At $120 retail, Lone Peaks run average for the trail running market, but I was able to buy the outgoing model for ~$70. I highly recommend this strategy. Outdated Lone Peaks are abundant on the internet and hardly differ from the newest.
- Durable: At almost 800 miles, my shoes showed no upper trouble at all and had tread left. However, like I mentioned above, my future maximum for this model will be 650 miles on account of the midsole turning into cardboard around then. Future models might change this.
- Lightweight: At 18 ounces for a pair, they ain’t the lightest, but they felt like slippers compared with the Adidas Free Hikers. They’re running shoes after all.
- Breathable: The mostly mesh upper dried waaay fast, which is great if you have super sweaty feet like I do.
- No break-in: These felt best just a few miles out of the box.
- Grip: My main gripe with Altra’s is the grip. They rubber is neither particularly sticky nor durable and the toe box is so wide that they quickly start to feel like skis on gooey surfaces. They wouldn’t be my first choice for off-trail scrambling, but for most hiking they perform adequately. I dream of better though. Maybe the Adidas rubber spoiled me.
- Foot protection: The Lone Peaks provide “moderate cushion”. This is enough for me, but sharper rocks do make their presence felt after the midsole breaks down. I never ended up with terrible foot bruises, but got a zinger more than I would have liked. Many boots and some running shoes boast a “rock shield” or something similar to prevent this. These 3.5’s did not, the Lone Peak 4.0 and 4.5s do, called StoneGuard.
- Common: So many hikers use Altra Lone Peaks that I wonder if it is some kind of fad for hiking nerds. Are they really that much better than other shoes for so many different feet? I love these shoes, but do I really? Am I a hiking nerd?
Would I recommend them?
Oh yeah, big time, with the caveat that shoe choice is super personal and super important(Don’t listen to me!!!). However, for thru-hiking and running, the Altra Lone Peak, whatever generation, is worth checking out and I will continue to use them as my primary shoe for the usual three-season hiking stuff in my future. Great shoes, easy to pick up on sale.
That’s it and that’s all.