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