So, just to be perfectly clear about something—being an ambassador for a company doesn’t mean I’m going to blow a bunch of smoke your way, or give a thumbs up to a product that I don’t fully endorse. The relationships I have with gear companies are dictated quite simply by my desire to employ what works most effectively. I’ll never sing the praises of an item that I wouldn’t actually use, just because I got it for free or at a discount. I am not a salesman, and the only reason I write these reviews is to assist other thru hikers in the universal task of weeding through the ever-thickening gear jungle. I WISH I had access to reviews like this back in 2003 when I first began my love affair with long distance backpacking. I had to rely on REI sales people!…which is how I ended up sporting leather GoreTex boots on my first thru hike. Ouch.
I am often shamefully lax in reviewing footwear in a timely manner, thanks to the rather astonishing rate at which companies like Altra innovate and refine their products. By the time I’ve spent the summer thrashing a current model, a new and improved edition has hit the shelves. While there are fewer people clamoring to read a review for last year’s shoe, I sure ain’t gonna write up my opinion until I put it through the wringer to see how it truly performs. That said, lately I’ve been exploring more ultra running adventures than backpacking ones, and am now equipped to review on footwear in the fall/winter seasons. Which is handy for those of you preparing for an upcoming backpacking adventure, since it’s a good idea to have the footwear for your hike selected long before you actually set foot on trail.
Last year’s review of the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 gives an idea of why I love the design characteristics of this brand. A foot shaped toebox (shoes designed to be foot shaped…crazy, right?!) and a zero drop platform set Altra apart from everyone else. Most people have an “Ah-ha!” moment wearing them for the first time. Everything else on the market feels like a narrow little rock climbing shoe after you get comfortable in Altra, and wearing something that isn’t zero drop seriously feels like walking in high heels.
The main gripe I’ve had with previous editions of the Altra Lone Peak has been durability. The mesh along the outside edge had a tendency to wear out, creating tiny holes, and the tread would be seriously compromised after 300-400 miles. Not a deal breaker, but there was room for improvement.
The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 is the newest model to hit the shelves, and bears significant upgrades. The tread pattern is much more aggressive than last years model. Which, by the way, never struck me as insufficient—but now that I’ve been tearing up and down the trails at a runner’s pace, I’ve noticed the difference. The durability of the sole is much higher. My current pair clocks in at over 300 miles of trail running, and they still look and feel great. The tread is still solid! How they did this while making the shoe a half ounce LIGHTER is beyond me, but I’m stoked to be cutting weight anywhere I can, especially in my footwear. There is some overall wear after 300 miles, but it looks to be mainly cosmetic (slight fraying of fabric and slightly rounded lugs). From a thru hiker’s perspective, these shoes are just getting broken in.
My favorite improvement by far is the toebox overlay. A synthetic leather material wraps around the front, rendering a once-weak point super beefy. I can’t imagine my pinkie toes ever wearing through these shoes. This overlay material does make the toebox feel a bit more constricted, but that’s only because previous models were constructed of mere mesh, which stretched out and felt roomier. If I had to nit-pick the 3.0, this is the only area I wish was different. Even though the manufacturers last is the same as the 2.5 model, the 3.0 could have been made slightly wider to give my toes more room to splay. I’ve been wearing Altras since 2012, so my feet are probably more used to splaying than most.
Note: the lacing pattern I use alleviates this issue, and I encourage others to experiment with how they run their laces. Skipping the holes up towards the toes allows the shoe to really stretch out. Subvert the dominant lacing paradigm!
Anyway, after a week, I didn’t even notice the difference, and am very happy to have more durability up front.
Those of you who wear gaiters will be stoked to see that Altra still incorporates built-in velcro on the heel, and now even has a little metal ring up near the forefoot to clip your gaiter hook! Pretty neat. Sizing is similar to the 2.5, which I found to run “true to size”, although I tend to wear a half size larger than necessary out of habit. In fact, I tie my laces a little loose so I can slip my shoes on and off without untying them. I like to be able to dump out rocks and dirt quickly, and being able to pull them off like a slipper suits me fine. Maybe I should start wearing gaiters…
Only a few months of thru hiking will truly test a shoe, but I’m exceptionally pleased with this model, and have been wearing it for all my training runs. It’ll be my choice of footwear for my next hike, for sure.