Product Review: Altra Provision 2.0

Altra Provision 2 0

Heading into the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon undertrained due to a 3 week battle with the flu, I stopped in at Tulsa Runner to find a slightly more forgiving road shoe to protect me as I ramped up my mileage way too quickly. My original plan had been to train mostly in Newton’s and run in an existing pair of Brooks Pure Cadence, but after a couple of long runs, I knew I couldn’t get my lower legs ready fast enough without injury. So I tried on a few different shoes and eventually settled on the Altra Provision.

If you are not familiar with Altra, there are a few common features of their running shoes:

  • Zero Drop
  • Large Toe Box
  • Lightweight
  • More Cushioning

This is actually my second pair of Altra shoes. My first, the Lone Peak 2.0, served me reasonably well on the trails but disappointed me some in their durability. Nevertheless, they are a good pair of trail shoes.

My experience with the Provision, however, has not been all that good. In fact, the experience has been literally flipped upside-down from the Lone Peak 2.0’s.

Let’s take a look at the issues.

Blistering

Altra Provision 2 0 Big Toe Blister

The last time I blistered to any significant degree was when I trained for my first marathon in cotton socks and tennis shoes. I may have had wicking shirts, but yes, I was the newbie in cotton socks carrying around bandaids and athletic tape to deal with all of my well-deserved blisters. In my mind, blisters were just part of running because they had always been a part of tennis.

Fast forward a few months, and I discovered Injinji socks. The blisters were just gone. I could run as long as I wanted, and my feet would not blister. In fact, I haven’t had a significant blister in 3 years of training for trail and road races from 5K to marathon distance. That is, until the Altra Provision 2.0.

I’ve worn the Altra Provision 2.0 on a half marathon distance run, a 20 miler, and for the Oklahoma City Marathon. In all 3 cases, I was wearing Injinjji OTC Compression underneath Injinji original weight socks, and in the case of the OKC Marathon, I had a bandaid on my big toe as further protection. In all 3 cases, my big toe on my left foot was blistered severely.

Let me make the absurdity of this a bit more clear. The spot that blistered was a ridiculously thick callous formed back in 2007 while I was playing tennis. That skin was so hard you could cut it with a knife, and I probably wouldn’t feel anything. It hasn’t blistered since cotton socks and tennis shoes with a ton of side-to-side movement over 8 years ago.

I have run hundreds of miles between Vibram’s, Newton’s, Brooks’, Pearl Izumi’s, and even my Adidas tennis court shoes without blistering that particular piece of skin. Nevertheless, even with 2 layers of Injinji and a bandaid, the Altra Provision 2.0 blistered my toe like this repeatedly.

One major selling point of the larger toe box with Altra shoes is NOT having something like this happen to your feet/toes during a run.

Bruising

That’s right, my Altra Provision shoes bruised my foot. Admittedly, this wasn’t as egregious an issue as the blistering, but it’s something I’ve never experienced with any other shoe I’ve worn. My photography the day after my marathon was somewhat poor, but if you look closely, you should see two different bruises on the top of my right foot. One is just behind the big toe, and the other is midway between the pinky too and my leg.

Altra Provision 2 0 Top Of Foot

I’m honestly not sure how the shoe did this or why it was only my right foot affected, but somewhere in the last 10K of the Oklahoma City Marathon, I started feeling significant pain in both of these areas. My best guess is that something in the upper or the tongue was jabbing the top of my foot as I ran. The left foot was strangely unaffected much like the right was strangely unaffected by that blistering on my left.

Heel Slipping

Not unlike my experience with Newton’s, I found it very challenging to secure the Altra Provision on my heel. This often led to tying the shoes too tight around my ankle which caused a significant amount of discomfort. The tongue is a good thickness, but for whatever reason, it still wasn’t enough.

For the Oklahoma City Marathon, I actually resorted to an alternate lacing method to reduce the pressure on my ankle but still get the shoes secure on my feet.

Altra Provision 2 0 Lacing

It’s hard to see in the picture, but I skipped one hole before the last two at the top, went through both of those on the same side, and then crossed back to the skipped hole to tie in the middle. This allowed me to secure the upper sufficiently but transfer the pressure on my foot below where the laces were causing discomfort.

If you spend some time on Google, you can discover a variety of lacing techniques to circumvent various problems.

Tread and Cushioning

My experience with the tread and cushioning was much better than the rest of the shoe.

Altra Provision 2 0 Tread

I love the fact that Altra used a tread pattern somewhat similar to the Newton lugs. My main challenge with my Brooks’ in 2014 was that my metatarsals were getting sore because of lack of support in the mid-foot area. I had to use metatarsal pads for the 2014 Tulsa Run and 2014 Turkey and Tatur’s 25K trail race due to the damage from training in Brooks’. Newton’s always felt great in the mid-foot because of the excessive support from the lugs. Now Altra seems to have found a nice space in between the two.

The cushioning also worked reasonably well for me for longer runs. I usually run with more minimal shoes so I can feel the ground better. With 3 weeks of missed training due to illness, I bought the Altra’s in hopes that the extra cushioning would help protect my legs. The Provision are not soft and spongy like other maximal shoes I’ve tried. They’re a stiff, supportive cushion that is still fairly forgiving on the lower legs.

Pros:

  • Large toe box
  • Good tread with great mid-foot support
  • Zero drop, if you like that sort of thing (I do)
  • Firm but forgiving cushioning
  • Color options: Thank you for not forcing me to look like a peacock

Cons:

  • Blisters
  • Bruises
  • Insecure fit

I hate to say it, but if you’re looking for a good stability road shoe, I think you should pass on the Altra Provision 2.0. Altra has some work to do on the upper before this can be a good shoe.

 

 

Product Review: Altra Lone Peak 2 Trail Running Shoe

Update 2015-03-02:

While I still like the Altra Lone Peak 2.0′s, I’m not as happy with them as I was when I wrote this review.

This past Wednesday, I did a test run that was meant to be a final check on my sprained ankle for a Sunday race. There was a lot of mud on the trails, and the kind of grip I’ve had from my Cascadia’s just wasn’t there. Additionally, upon cleaning up the shoes at home, I found tread damage like this:

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 Tread Damage

Altra Lone Peak 2.0 Tread Damage

I doubt I have more than 40 miles on these shoes, and the tread is breaking away. My Cascadia’s look almost new at well over double the mileage.

The tread damage in and of itself could have been a fluke, but it also led me to choose the Cascadia’s over the Lone Peak’s for Sunday’s trail race due to the conditions. The trails were covered in snow and ice, and at the last minute, I decided to use screws for traction. I didn’t see any good locations in the perimeter of the Lone Peak’s to hold the screws. The already crumbling tread also had me wondering if the screws would ruin any part of the tread I put them into. The Cascadia’s, on the other hand, had some perfectly sized tread at the perimeter, and the screws held nicely without damaging the tread.

The final issue might be a figment of my imagination. I’m slower and wearing out faster in the Altra’s. When deciding which shoes to use with screws, I noticed for the first time just how soft the Altra’s land vs. the Cascadia’s. I don’t have the speed or fitness to spare to lose energy to a softer landing. That softer landing might also be undermining proprioceptive feedback when my foot contacts rocks and roots.

Again, though, the merit (or lack thereof) of soft cushioning is all conjecture on my part. The only quantitative evidence I can provide is my 9:12 pace in Sunday’s race vs. my 9:45 or slower average in most of my training runs, all of which were run under much better conditions (i.e. dry vs. snow/ice). Then again, it was a race. Adrenaline can do strange things.

So, what do I think of my Altra’s now? I honestly don’t know. I was seriously considering their road shoes for an upcoming marathon, but I might end up sticking with the Brooks Pure line. Regardless, I think we can safely mark me off the list of maximalist shoe proponents. Sorry Hoka.

Original Review

During 2014, I did most of my trail running in the Brooks’ Cascadia 9. I run primarily on technical trails with steep grades, and it’s important for shoes to both protect my feet from the terrain and provide a stable platform with good grip. The Cascadia did both while at the same time providing an upper that fit my feet so comfortably that I rarely have to retie my shoes. That may sound odd, but if you had ever seen me at the beginning of a race obsessively tying and retying my shoes, you would know what I mean.

The Cascadia was my first real trail shoe, and judging by the opinions of other bloggers, it’s the benchmark by which many trail runners judge shoes. To say the Altra Lone Peak 2.0 had a lot to live up to would be an understatement. With a couple of runs now under my belt, I’m happy to report the Altra did that and more.

IMG 1621

Like my Cascadia 9’s, the Lone Peak 2.0’s were a Christmas present from my in-laws. No, you can’t have my in-laws….they’re mine.  Moving on…

My first reaction upon tearing open the gift and opening the box was that I had received the wrong size. They looked huge. I had trouble taking a picture from an angle that would do the size difference justice, but if you’ve ever seen a 2E or larger shoe, that’s what I initially thought I was seeing. Nevertheless, the shoes fit perfectly and seem true to size.

IMG 1624

Altra shoes are known for their natural toe box size and shape, and that’s the major reason I decided to give them a try. With years of wearing J-toe cowboy boots having shoved my toes together, I blister easily and sometimes end up with cuts from toenails from one toe impacting another toe. To counter my messed up toes, I wear toe socks. With a single layer, toe socks do not normally cause a width problem, but if it’s cold or I’m running over 10 miles, I will wear toe socks over toe compression socks. Even in the generously sized Cascadia’s, it can be tight and uncomfortable.

On today’s Lone Peak 2.0 test run in 30 degree weather, I wore both layers, and my feet were unquestionably more comfortable than they’ve ever been. My toes could spread out naturally, and I experienced no numbing sensation in my little toe like I have with other shoes.

The other selling point of Altra shoes is zero drop. The Cascadia is the only shoe I’ve worn with a traditional heel-to-toe drop since changing to a mid-foot strike. I usually race and train in Newton’s or Brooks’ Pure Cadence in the 0-4mm drop range. While I can accommodate the 12mm drop of the Cascadia in my trail gait, I felt like I was running with a more natural, comfortable gait in the Lone Peak 2.0. That said, if you’re a heel striker, the Altra may not be your shoe.

Traction in the Lone Peak 2.0 rivals that of the Cascadia. In 4 miles on Turkey Mountain today, I don’t recall slipping once, and in those 4 miles, I covered the steepest, most technical ascent and descents Tulsa’s trails have to offer. You can see the tread pattern below. It reminds me a bit of Newton’s with the 5 triangular treads under the metatarsals.

IMG 1628

The Lone Peak 2.0 also have a few millimeters of extra rubber sticking out behind the shoe’s normal sole. I think they call this the Trail Rudder, and I managed to trip myself on it a few times when I put them on. Given the incredible grip these shoes provided, though, I’ll just assume Altra knows what they’re doing and continue to appreciate this little oddity.

The shoes also have a little velcro trap for gaiters, but I must be a wimp because I’ve never run in conditions where I needed gaiters and don’t own any.

A lot of zero drop runners are likely minimalist shoe lovers. Minimalist the Lone Peak 2.0 are not. At 10.9 oz they come in just mere fractions of an ounce lighter than the 11.7 oz Cascadia 9’s. The first time I wore them, I honestly thought they were much heavier, but in retrospect, I hadn’t worn anything but Pure Cadence in quite some time so I likely would have had the same reaction to the Cascadia’s weight. It would be interesting to compare the Superior 2.0 weighing in at 8.7 oz, but unfortunately I can’t buy all the shoes.

Summing up, I’m pleased with the Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s, and given some of the challenges I had this year with my favorite road shows, the Pure Cadence, I may have to give Altra’s road shoes a look for my upcoming marathon. Altra and the Lone Peak 2.0 definitely get the 3-Toed Seal of Approval.

Pros:

  • Large, natural toe box encourages more natural toe position
  • Great grip on technical trails
  • Good protection from hazards
  • Secure but comfortable fit
  • Zero drop, if it’s your thing

Cons:

  • A bit on the heavy side at 10.9 oz
  • Zero drop, if that’s not your thing

As I put more miles onto The Altra Lone Peak 2.0’s, I’ll try to post an update if I discover anything new, but for now, it’s hard to say anything negative about the shoes.