Saturday, April 14, 2012

Altra Adam Review and Minimalist Shoe Revelation

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Shoes like the Altra Adam (and the feminine counterpart, the Eve) are a testament to running footwear evolution. Men and women who abide by the minimalist/barefoot/natural way of running want to apply the closer-to-the-ground philosophy to their every day lives. And, shoe designers are somewhat happy to assist.

Consequently, such sensible individuals no longer suffer the plight of having to choose between harsh work shoes and white, wedgy running shoes with khakis; like our hero from Crazy, Stupid, Love. Observe:

If you haven't seen the movie, Ryan Gosling's character goes on to espouse the benefits of minimalist footwear in a very insightful dialogue with Steve Carell's character.

If you have seen the movie, and you don't remember it that way, then you need to watch it again. ;-P

Anyway, what I'm saying is that minimalist running values are more of a lifestyle choice than a scientific set of rules applicable to just one or two activities. And, that translates to practical shoe designs. By practical, I mean more stylish and functional. And, by that I mean both my running shoes and daily-activity shoes do not have to be big, clunky, and ugly. In fact, they can now be the same shoe.

So, I find myself wearing the Adams—or something similarly stylish, lightweight, and conducive to running—more often these days. For instance, the Adams are good for wearing while kicking the ball around with the dog, going to Whole Foods for breakfast before work, or hiking with the lads.

In the not-too-distant past, I'd have to change out of my work shoes before venturing into the yard for fast footwork. Or, I'd have to wear heavy hiking shoes when taking the kiddos to Falls Lake. (I have boots in my closet from 2003 that I've worn maybe 10 times!)

Not so with the Adams and other multipurpose minimal shoes of their ilk. They look good with jeans and fit quite nicely in a casual work environment. Yet, they're ready for a run should you ever find yourself chasing down a common thief or stray cat heading toward a busy intersection. You could be a hero!

There is also the long-standing belief that a runner shouldn't wear running shoes for anything but running, because such careless applications of a specially designed athletic device would only cause unnecessary wear on the substantial midsole and highly technical outsole. And, of course, that is tantamount to driving a 1961 Ferrari 250 GT around the streets of Chicago just for kicks. [sarcasm]

So, the distinctive differences in past shoes, coupled with my misguided understanding that running shoes were only for running, made it hard for me to accept that my current shoes are actually just shoes for moving around in. And, it took a little while for me to stop feeling guilty every time I put the Adams on for a trip to the store or a romp with the pup. I ran in them, too, sure. But, their excessive comfort made me want to wear them for other activities.

Then, I read this reviewer's remarks on the myriad uses for the Adams. And, everything just clicked for me.

I'm wearing the Adams right now.

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

More Minimal than a Barefoot Shoe

As far as I can tell, the Altra Adam is about as minimal as a shoe currently gets in the running shoe market. It's stack height sans removable insole is a mere 4.4 mm thick. It's upper material is super light and thin. And, it doesn't even have laces! Check out further specifications here.

I did not compare specs of the Adam with those of the various VFF models. I've also never tried on a pair of VFFs. I only assume that the Adam comprises everything I'd like about VFFs without having to, um, get used to the toe-shoe look. (It's not for everyone, okay)

In previous posts, I've hesitated to call a shoe minimalist, preferring instead to use made up words like "minimalish" or "minimalistish". This is because I didn't believe in calling something minimal just because marketing folks decided it should be labeled as such. As someone with an art history degree (with a concentration in not using it), minimalist means something more to me.

Granted, a flip flop is minimal. It's basically two parts, three or four if you're buying the fancy ones. But, flip flops are not for running. They flip and flop all over the place and pose a significant tripping hazard. Also, a flip flop does not conceal hideous toenails. So, a minimal running shoe requires more than two parts.

Thus, the Adam is one of the first shoes I've tried that I happily describe as minimalist!

It's got rugged strappy things for securing the shoe to the foot. It has some super smooth material making up the upper so that my hideous toes are not exposed to my work colleagues or the natural elements. There's no cushioning unless you put it there. And, it's really freakin' lightweight!

Boom! Minimal!

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Toes Under Toes

The fact that the outsole of the Adam represents the shape of a common human foot should tell you that this piece of footwear has your foot's best interests in mind. There are five toe shapes there, people. Count them!

Okay, I'm kidding about the significance of those shapes. But, the modest outsole really does take care of your foot. It's thin enough to provide the ground feel and real-foot maneuverablility you'd want in a minimalist shoe. But, it protects your soles from the sharp, pointy things that might surprise you in the dark of the night.

As for traction, the outsole of the Adam performs marvelously on pavement. And, it's fine on unpaved, gritty surfaces, too. But, I wouldn't trust it on anything especially slippery. (I slid on some damp grass during a run one morning).

Still, this outsole's best quality is the feedback it conveys to your feet. So, you're going to be a lot more stable in the Adam while on peculiar surfaces than you would be in something with several millimeters of midsole between your foot and the ground.

And, the flexibility oozing from every fiber of the Adam will allow your feet to bend and secure themselves over precipices easily (assuming you practice).

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Inside and Inserts

You're probably already aware that the thoughtful geniuses at Altra send along two insert options with the Adam, one for strengthening (more minimal) and one for supporting (less minimal). I've been switching between the strengthening insert and no insert. There's a difference in cushioning, for sure.

The slightly bothersome thing about the alternate-inserts option is that the size and fit of the Adam depend on your plans for the insert. If you intend to wear the shoe with one of the insoles, then your standard shoe size (Merrell Road Glove, NB Minimus MT10 US Men's size 12 for me) should be fine. But, if you're going to wear the Adam without the insole, you might find the shoe to be a tad large. This is especially true if you don't wear socks.

So, I'd recommend trying two sizes and opting for the one that you think will best suit your future plans for the Adam. My guess is that most people will eventually want to wear the shoe without inserts, in which case those people would want to order a half size smaller than what they'd wear in the Road Glove.

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

The Adam is made for people who like to leave socks out of their lives. And, I've found myself becoming one of those people. The fabric and insert material is soft, smooth, and pleasant. The seams are unobtrusive. And, not wearing socks just makes one feel so carefree.

Really, though, my shoes have never been more stinky than they've been these past few days sans socks. Maybe it's just me. But, my feet sweat a lot in shoes without a moisture-wicking sock buffer. And, I don't like the smooth fabric enough to forego the sense of security an unoffensive foot odor affords.

Plus, the first time I ran in the Adams without socks, I developed a blister on my little toe. This is partly because I have weirdly angled feet, I think. My little toes will always rub against a shoe upper. Always.

My name is Ash. And, I am a sock wearer.

Altra Adam Minimal Running Shoes

Velcro and Toes

Velcro straps are not as efficient as I thought they'd be, not straps of this length, anyway. They're also noisy. So, if you're putting these on your feet in the dark so as not to awaken your significant other, you'd better be sure you secure those straps properly the first time. Pulling them back to realign them will not be an option if silence is an issue.

Besides the noise, the straps are great. They feel a bit different if you're used to wearing shoes with laces. But, I haven't felt any strangeness about them while running. They definitely secure the Adam to your midfoot while allowing the toes plenty of splay room.

(The Altra Samson is described as a laced version of the Adam. And, I'm very curious to feel the difference)

Are You Adam Enough for the Adam?

(I don't know what the hell that sub-headline is supposed to mean. I'm on a Mini-Egg-induced sugar high. And, I don't want to use something like "Who Should Buy the Altra Adam?")

Whether you are in the final stages of your minimalist "transition" or a hardened barefoot runner who's having to settle for footwear due to some godawful natural element that keeps bothering your crusty calluses, the Adam is worth your serious consideration. The sole requirement is that you are open to letting your feet do the work. Think of the Adam as just something to protect your bare feet from hot pavement, pieces of glass, and prejudiced shop owners refusing service to people without shoes.

I like the Adams a lot. I wear them a lot. They serve a lot of purposes thanks to their down-to-earth design and minimalist heritage. Even better, they're made for running!

'Course, they're made for a certain kind of running, the "natural" kind. And, that's something that one must learn to do. I mean, I only thought my calf muscles were strong until I went for my first run in the Adams. Whew boy!

So, practice if you need to practice. You know who you are.

Don't need to practice in the take-it-easy sense? Then the Adams will fit that niche you've been wanting to fill since you caught yourself wishing your VFFs didn't have five toes. (Yeah, I went there!) Check out this review for a more VFF-experienced perspective.

Overall, this reviewer highly recommends the Adam to anyone wanting a shoe with fantastic barefoot sensibilities. I can only repeat that so many times.

Thanks for reading!

Product provided by Altra


  1. I like! I like the idea of wearing a minimalist shoe around and yes - I think I could just about get away with it. As for not running wearing your running shoes other than when you're running - pshah! I dream of them whenever I'm out in heels!

    1. Oh, I'm sure you could get away with it, Petra! Pshah indeed!

  2. So many fine turns of phrases here and piles of splendid Algonquin-style wry wit. You should be the only effen runner allowed to review shoes.

  3. "Pulling them back to realign them will not be an option if silence is an issue."

    I love that you consider one's aural requirements in a shoe review.

    1. Thanks Josh. Aural qualities of shoes are often overlooked, I think.

  4. awesome review as always Ash...and so much on point too. thanks!

    i've been wearing my flat running shoes for everyday use now amd it's been great. it took me a while to get over the "runners are for running only" and "alternate between two pairs to preserve cushioning" cr@p but ever since i ditched those chunky shoes, i can't wear anything but thin ones....and it's strangely liberating. :)

    i am currently test running the Samsons and will come out with a review very soon. for whatever reason, i am averse to straps (even my VFFs have laces!) so i picked the Samsons instead of the Adams...and if the first few runs are any indication, it looks like Altra has come up with yet another winner.


    1. I'll be eager to read your impressions of the Samsons, Stan! They look like a great alternative to the strappy Adams.

  5. Great review! Probably one of the best you've done..

    Life moves pretty fast. I'm glad you stop every once in a while to review shoes.

    I'm also glad I'm not the only one who can turn a shoe into a toxic gas emitting weapon of mass queasiness!

    1. Thanks so much, Scott! It's surprising how long it takes to compose a shoe review. 'Course, that's probably due to my penchant for long sentences and superfluous tangents.



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