Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Altra Instinct 1.5 Review: Or, Who's Got Altra Mania?

Altra Instinct 1.5 profile and outsole

The Altra Instinct 1.5 (not 2.0? Hmm.) is a zero-drop, amply cushioned shoe with a toe box wide enough for your toes to have a party. This update to the immensely popular original Instinct [1.0] is an excellent example of what so many shoe makers should have been doing for years: That is, Altra allowed the cushioning but ignored the heel lift. Let's hear it for zero drop!

Altra Instinct 1.5 both

Consequently, Altra is nurturing an almost cult-like (the cool kind, not the weird kind) following of "Maniacs" who absolutely love their foot-shaped shoes. "Awesome" appears in the review vocabulary fairly often. And, I can understand the mania.

My experience with another Altra shoe, the Adam, prepared me for the distinctive extra midfoot and toe box room that I now enjoy in the Instinct 1.5. But, as anyone would expect, the Instinct has even more features to offer than the barely-there Adam.

Pulling on the surprisingly lightweight, albeit husky, Instinct; I immediately noted the super comfy ankle cuff. Also, the asymmetric lacing design allowed me to secure the upper easily without feeling that it tightened in the wrong areas. I wiggled my toes and stood up for a walk around the room.

I bounced on my forefeet, leaned backwards on my heels, skipped to the fireplace, and bounded onto the coffee table. (Okay, I didn't jump on the coffee table. But, I wanted to!)

The Instinct 1.5 felt good!

Altra Instinct 1.5 profile

Cushioning? What?

Being that I tend to wear shoes with much less cushioning these days, you might imagine that I'd have reservations about running in shoes with this much padding between the ground and my feet. After all, the Altra site indicates that the Instinct 1.5's stack height is 22mm. So, yeah, you'd be right in your imaginings. You know me well.

Now, imagine my surprise when I first ran in the Instinct 1.5 and noted a degree of ground feel not too far off from that of the Merrell Road Glove! These are not a pair of squishy-cloud shoes.

Seriously, the smart folks at Altra respect the ground and decided to make Instinct wearers respect it, too. Thus, their rendition of Dual-Layer EVA over a rubber outsole conveys a density similar to what we're feeling in other minimally-centric shoes these days.

'Course, there's more of it, the EVA cushioning. So, please don't think I am saying that the ground feels the same in Instincts as it does in Road Gloves. It's just that the feeling is similar.

Altra Instinct 1.5 outsole


Since I'm being all honest and open with you, I'll admit, too, that I had doubts about the Instinct 1.5's ability to flex properly while facilitating a proper run. I mean, look at it. I defy you to roll it up into a ball. Before my first run, I pictured myself clopping across the pavement like a horse in these bulky shoes.

Well, score another point for the Altra design team, because they know exactly where their shoes need to flex in order to make a natural stride attainable. The FootPod™ outsole lives up to it's description on the Altra site:

Altra Instinct 1.5 front angle
...This outsole maps the bones and tendons of the human foot. With canted lugs mapping your foot, this unique outsole provides a natural, all-purpose traction system for a variety of surfaces from road to treadmill to dirt paths.

Similarly, the unobtrusive toe spring amplifies the smooth transition from ground to air and back during rapid leg turnover. I don't see that feature in the photos of the original Instinct. So, I expect that this is a nicety of version 1.5.

Yes, I was surprised by how easily I practiced a forefoot or midfoot strike in the Instincts. For a traditionally cushioned shoe, the Instincts provide the flex a runner needs on flat surfaces. (Trails? No, not for me. I'll pick something else)

Insole Options

If you've already read anything about Altra, you know that they typically provide two different removable insoles (sock liners, foot beds, etc.) with their shoes. There's a strengthening insole — for those who like it flat — and a sculpted insole — for those who like something under their arches.

Altra Instinct 1.5 back angle

I chose to run first without any additional insoles, mostly because I just wanted to see how the shoes performed with as little cushioning as possible. You can see the inside of the shoe sans insole pictured above.

The insole-free run was comfortable enough underfoot. But, I found that subtracting the extra millimeters that the optional insole usually occupies created an even higher toe box. This turned out to be a little too much for my low-volume feet to handle. So, I sustained a blister on the top of my toe.

Since that run, I've used the 3mm strengthening insole whenever I wear the Instincts. It's fine.

Altra Instinct 1.5 front and back

The Big Question

Are you looking for a zero-drop, well-cushioned running shoe with plenty of room for your toes?

If you answer "yes" to at least two and a half parts of that question, then you've just spent a lot of time reading about a shoe you should have already ordered.

I'll elaborate: The big factor here is cushioning. If you've been running in Skoras or something from the Merrell barefoot line, you've been running in shoes with a bit of cushioning. The Instinct 1.5 will give you more of that cushioning. Do you want that for longer runs, perhaps?

Now, suppose you've been running in, um, something like the Brooks Pure whatever. And, you want to see how it feels to run in a zero-drop shoe. The Instinct 1.5 would be an excellent choice for you. It has cushioning, but not the especially squishy Brooks cushioning. And, clearly, the Instinct has that zero-drop element.

I wear my Instincts in a US men's size 12, which corresponds to the sizes I wear in Merrell Road Gloves and New Balance Minimus. So, I guess that means the Instinct fits standard.

Other than the actual Altra store, you could order them from a number of reputable online retailers — NaturalRunningStore.com is a fine place to start your Instinct-buying adventure.

Feel free to pose questions in the comments section. And, as always, thanks for reading!

Altra Instinct 1.5 back angle

Product provided by Altra.


  1. Great review! Man, do I love that colorway. If only my Darth Vader colorway Instinct 1.0's would wear out, but that's going to take another 500 miles or so (Altra's really hold up well). I've been especially glad of the extra cushion since my metatarsal injury during the summer. The cushion allowed me to keep running while that injury slowly healed.

    Oh, and here's a gratuitous "awesome!" just for this review.

    1. Thanks Scott! That is such an excellent point you make about the cushioning being useful when recovering from certain injuries.

  2. I recently got my 1st pair of Altras: the new Superior. I sure do love the toe box! my toes are much happier. I'm using the insoles now because I'm fighting a bit of PF. so i'm happy for the cushioning that they provide at the moment. I do look forward to removing the insole when the PF heals.

    The Superiors are supposedly a trail shoe but the sole has only limited grip. I was slipping this weekend on the fall leaves. they are probably better on other surfaces. but the sole is not that aggressive so it should be a good shoes for mixed routes.

    Anyway, I'm quite impressed with Altra so far.

    1. Thanks for sharing your observations on the Superiors, Bobby! Those look like great shoes. And, for what it's worth, I've been slipping on leaves in my most aggressively grippy trail shoes these days. So, I'd say that dry leaf cover is just one of those things that hinders stable footing no matter what.

  3. Serious replacemente option for my Kinvaras, I love the Kinvara design except that it is too pointy and narrow, and my toes feel cramped in comparison with my MT10s.

    So it appears this could be the shoe for longer runs (marathons perhaps?). Any Inov8 that would compare to this one?

    1. I agree about the Kinvaras. Just looking at those makes my toes hurt.
      At this time, there doesn't seem to be a directly comparable Inov-8 shoe to the Altra Instinct. The Inov-8 Road-X 233 has similarly ample cushioning. But, it's heel-toe differential is 6mm. The Bare-X Lite 150 has the zero differential, but it definitely doesn't have the same amount of cushioning as this Altra option. So, there'd be a compromise if you really wanted to go with that Inov-8 fit over the Instinct.

    2. I just posted a heads up for sizing of the Inov8 Trailrocs in your other review. I found that they run smaller than the NB MT10s even when runningwarehouse mentions them to be same size and slitghly bigger.

      I am getting the Inov8 BareX lite 150 as a Bday gift, went for a half size smaller than my MT10s (which have become my point of reference) but since the Trailrocs I got today are smaller than the same sized MT10s I feel a bit aprehensive about the 150s.

      Even the Kinvaras have more room than the Trailrocs I received...

      Now I am starting to seriously wonder if the Altras are a better option to my feet since it is apparent that Altras might be the roomier option out there or stick to MT10s and perhaps the new MT1010s. Problem is, around here it is impossible to try any of these shoes. =/

      If you are reviewing the Altra Superiors by any chance, it would be cool if you can comment on how they compare fit wise and the toe box.

    3. Wow, even your Kinvaras feel roomier than your Trailrocs? That's really surprising. My Trailrocs feel significantly wider than any Saucony shoe I've tried. And, they fit my feet better and allow more space in the toe box than my MT10s.

      In my experience, the Bare-X Lite 150 fits almost identically to the Trailroc. They're built on the same last. So, the toe box is pretty much the same all around. The midfoot of the 150 has a bit more external material. So, that makes it feel a little more snug, for some people, I think. But, I wouldn't say it's narrow.

      Altras are definitely the widest shoes I've worn. I haven't had the opportunity to try the Superiors yet. But, there's a good review of them here that addresses their size relative to the Altra Instincts. And, for me, the Instincts fit best in a size 12, just like my NB MT10s. Although, I might say that the Instincts are a tad shorter in the toe than the NB MT10.

      Best of luck with your quest for a new shoe!

    4. I know right? how come the Kinvaras have more room than the Trailrocs...but they feel indeed much roomier in the toebox than the trailrocs =/ (perhaps I should try the Kinvara TR?)

      I compared both my MT10s and the Trailrocs today, the MT10 sole is about 5 to 8mm wider than that of the Trailrocs, the lenght seems to be roughly the same, but the form of the trailrocs (which is more tubular, more of a "burrito" form than tapered) makes my bigger and smaller toes actually not only touch the upper, but they actually kind of protrude a bit (sockless).

      Build quality in the Inov8s is excellent, I´d say even better than the New Balance. Is just this "tubular/burrito" form that bumps me. Everyone mentions the same as you do, that these are quite roomy... but mine arent, perhaps in half a size bigger. (Problem is here in Mexico is impossible to buy such shoes, so I have to rely to online shopping) I might give these Trailrocs to my brother who wears the MT10s in 10.5 size. And order them half a size bigger, or go directly to the Merrell MixMaster 2, MT1010 or the Superior since these 3 appear to have more of a foot rommy shape.

      Have you by chance ran in the MixMasters 2 and the new MT1010s? If so, could you compare the toe boxes widths and lenghts among the 3 (trailroc, MM, MT1010)? That would be awesome!

    5. Do you have the MT10 in the wide, 2E, size? That might be silly for me to ask. But, it just occurred to me that they are available in two different widths.

      Anyway, to answer your question, I haven't had the chance to run in the Mix Master or the NB MT1010 yet. I know that I should in order to be a properly educated running blogger. But, I haven't had the budget to acquire those shoes for testing yet. I'll definitely make a point of it, though, and let you know how I think their fit styles compare.

    6. Hi Ashwyn, nope I have the MT10s in standard size, and they fit just fine with space enough, which leds me to believe a 2E might be huge for me. But I am curious about it and will try the 2Es whenever I get the chance.

    7. Allow me to jump on the "I loved my Kinvaras but they killed my feet" bandwagon. There was no way to keep them from blistering my toe/bunion area on anything longer than 4 miles. Altra Instinct was where I ended up and 450 miles into my first pair, I haven't looked back.

      I wonder how much the Instinct's longevity is tempered by the "big heavy guy" factor. At 6'3" and 205-210 pounds, I hit 'em pretty hard, and lately I've been plagued by foot pain on longer runs (13-14 miles). I can't tell if my form is just suffering (from tiredness or whatever) or if the shoe is succumbing to the unusual pressure. Add to that the fact that the wall of my left shoe just developed a hole in the ball area (separating from the sole), and I have to start asking questions.

      Great shoe, though. I hope to get the Superior in a week so I can cross-test with those.



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