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Gear Review – Altra Lone Peak 3.5

As with all of our shoe reviews, we focus on some key areas to make sure you can easily compare models.  We like to look at the looks; fit; grip; value; weight; durability as well as our likes and dislikes; and our overall thoughts.

Today we’re reviewing the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 and let me start by saying I really wanted to love this shoe.  I’m a big fan of their ‘foot shaped’ ethos and this shoe has been such a hit with long distance hikers (particular thru-hikers of the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails for example) and runners generally across the world.  

Altra pride themselves on making shoes to reduce running injuries, with a wide foot-shaped toe box and zero drop to enable the runner to mimic the natural running gait and foot position.

So, what did we think?  Let’s dive right in…

Looks

I knew when I purchased the Altras that they weren’t the best looking shoe on the planet.  Mine were the purple and grey ladies version and, let’s be honest, they’re pretty old fashioned.  I love the foot shaped imprint on the sole, which gives them a funky look and reminds you of the whole point of these shoes – they’re foot shaped.  Other than that, there isn’t anything to love in my opinion.

The sole looks bulky and platform-like, but without the coolness of a Hoka.  The upper is grey and purple with purple laces and black accents round the heel, on the gaiter trap and the tongue.  They’re certainly not a pretty shoe, but I’m happy to sacrifice looks for comfort, fit, grip, value and durability.

Fit

The fit was primarily the reason I purchased this shoe – I typically run in Inov8s but wanted a shoe that was slightly more cushioned for my training runs where I am running on the road or by the canal.  But, I didn’t want to sacrifice a wide toe box for this extra comfort.  So, the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 was appealing.

Sadly, the fit hasn’t been quite what I had hoped.  On the positives, the toe box is nice and wide, with plenty of volume, and the shoe is foot shaped.  The toe box is comfortable, and the toes have room to splay nicely when running.  The heel cup is soft and snug and holds the heel securely in place.

So far, so good.  But, there are a couple of serious downsides here.  I couldn’t seem to get the laces to give me a secure fit, so no matter what distance I ran or what lacing configuration I used.  I typically lace my shoes using the extra lace holes at the top to give a secure fit and ensure the foot stays snugly in the shoe.  I tried that and multiple other tying methods but the laces or perhaps the upper just didn’t feel secure.  

And that, I think, caused the biggest problem.  I simply couldn’t run any decent mileage in this shoe as, less than 3 miles in, on every single run, they rubbed on the inside of my arch on my right foot.  Same spot, every single time.  Which was just so frustrating because I really wanted to love the shoe and be able to clock up reasonable mileage in them.

Grip

The Lone Peak 3.5 are designed as a trail shoe, so the lugs are nice and grippy, spaced to push any mud out and away from the sole.  Because I struggled so much with fit on these, I ended up doing most of my running in them on the road, but during the little trail running I did I was impressed with the grip.  Mostly rocks, very light mud and roots and the Altra Lone Peaks handled all of them admirably.  Not as good as Vibram MegaGrip, but better than the Inov8 grip (in my opinion).  On the road, they performed well in both wet and dry.

Value

Whilst the Altras have quite a following in the US, they are still relatively tough to get hold of in the UK (well, they certainly were when I bought these in April 2019).  I got a bit of a bargain on the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 and purchased them for £76, where most pairs at that point were retailing for around £100 – £120.  As at the point of writing this review in November 2019, you could pick up a pair of Altra Lone Peak 3.5s for between £60 to £75, if you’re one of a select few sizes.  For me, in a size 8 I’d be forking out closer to £90.  The updated version, the Lone Peak 4 is available for £120 direct from Altra.  So they’re certainly at the pricey end of the scale of running shoes.

Value for money is relative of course, as any pair of shoes (or anything else for that matter) are only worth as much as you think they are.  At the time of purchase, I felt that £76 was good value for these shoes – they are relatively unique in the market with being foot-shaped, zero drop and cushioned and I was willing to forego good looks for a comfy shoe.  I have read numerous reports online regarding poor durability and that the cushioning in particular reduces far more quickly than one might expect, which may affect your view of value.

For me, the simple fact I can’t run more than 3 miles in this shoe without them rubbing the inside of my arch raw, means they just don’t provide value for money at all.

Weight

Altra state the weight of the Lone Peak 3.5 as 247g.  My size 8s weigh in at 295g per shoe, so not the lightest shoe on the market, but not the heaviest by a long stretch.  I can definitely tell these are heavier than my Inov8 Race Ultra 270s but they don’t feel uncomfortably heavy or bulky to run in.  Good for training runs but maybe not for those racing whippets out there!

Durability

This is a tricky one as I’m not best placed to comment – I’ve had the Altra Lone Peaks 7 months but have not even racked up 200 + miles in them because of the blistering issues.  I can report what I have read and watched on other reviews online, where the general consensus seems to be that the upper is not as durable as some might expect (with reports of fabric ripping) and that the cushioning in the midsole loses it’s ‘bounce’ remarkably quickly.  Whilst Altra do seem to have made improvements to their midsole, it seems this is a recurring problem in many of their models, which many have reported last less than 300 miles before feeling ‘flat’.

My personal opinion is that I didn’t notice any particular flattening in the midsole and the uppers don’t show any undue signs of wear, given the mileage I’ve run in these shoes.

My likes/dislikes

As I said, I really wanted to love this shoe.  I like the foot-shaped style, the wide toe box, the zero drop.  So the concept definitely ticks the like box for me.  I also like the heel cuff and the inbuilt gaiter trap, which is great to save having to attach separate bits of Velcro to your shoes to attach gaiters.  

Dislikes are the fit and the styling – I was willing to overlook the old-fashioned design for a comfortable and foot-shaped fit, but with the bad fit and the bad styling, it definitely ticks the dislike box.  The weight of the shoe could be less, but that’s not a huge dislike as it could also be heavier, and I didn’t buy the Lone Peaks as a lightweight racing shoe.

Overall impressions

I’m sure the Altra Lone Peak 3.5s work for many – in fact, you only have to read the many glowing reviews online to know they do.  But, sadly, they didn’t work for me and they certainly have issues that need resolving before I would consider another pair of Altras.  The concept is great, and Altra, as a company, do seem to be listening to feedback from runners and hikers, and making improvements based on this feedback with each new version.

Altra are becoming more widely available in the UK, so I would recommend visiting your local running retailer to try a pair before buying, as the sizing is tricky (possibly tailored to US sizing vs UK).  

If the fit had been spot on with these, I’m sure I would have had many happy miles running, but for now, it’s back to the Inov8s for trail and back to the drawing board for road running.

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