Disclaimer: I bought these shoes with my own money at full retail, and for the past six months have not used them as the manufacturer intended. I make no apologies for asking a lot from my shoes, nor for emphatic feelings about this most important item.
Altra is about to release version 2.5 of their Lone Peak trail runner, a shoe which has been quite influential since it was released. It was probably the first of what is becoming the latest, and I think the best, trend in light outdoor shoes: zero drop, moderate cushion shoes made of durable materials. Based on my experience with the 1.5s, the notoriety is justified. There is a lot to like, really like, about these shoes, which makes the less desirable things stand out all the more.
The best thing about the 1.5s is the midsole. The level of cushion, stiffness, and the zero drop are for me perfect. There’s enough beef for carrying a 40 pound pack in difficult terrain, while still being flexible and low enough to not loose the sleekness and speed for which light shoes exist. They are quite simply the most comfortable hiking and backpacking shoe I’ve ever had.
The problem with the 1.5s, which dampens the aforementioned virtues considerably, is the poor durability of the mesh fabric. Aware of this issue and wanting to protect my investment, I put on a coating of aquaseal before wearing them on the trail, and have added more on four different occasions since. As shown here, this has kept pace with wear, but only just. I expect mesh to wear before anything else, but the Altra mesh quite simply sucks.
To go along with the zero drop approach, the Altra toebox is wide and anatomic, which is easily seen in the above photo, which shows a more traditional trail shoe (the La Sportiva Bushido) at right. The wide toebox is more comfortable, and only sacrifices a small amount of agility and precision in technical terrain. I have a middling forefoot and a narrow heel, and found the Altra to fit very well throughout.
The toebox does not hold the 1.5s back in rough country; that task is unfortunately accomplished by the lackluster tread pattern and the absolutely awful rubber, which manages to both wear quickly and have poor traction. On wet rocks the 1.5s are nothing short of frightening, and I hope that in the new versions Altra has simply discarded both and started over.
Altra does get the rest of the details right. The velcro gaiter trap is a brilliant feature which is well done. I’ve never found a glue-on gaiter patch which didn’t eventually fall off, and this solves that problem in a low-profile way which you’ll never notice when it is not in use. Other good stuff includes the laces, which stay tied well, and the burly rubberized fabric used in the toe bumper.
Will the Lone Peak 2.5 (due in July) improve upon these glaring flaws? I really hope so. I bought the Bushidos above right before we left for New Zealand, strictly because I was worried that the Lone Peaks would not last the whole trip, as well as some dis-ease about taking their poor traction fly fishing and mountain hunting. The Bushidos have the unmatched rubber and tread which Sportiva does so well (they’re probably 2-3 standard deviations better than anything else on the market, including Inov8), but after using the Lone Peaks all fall even 6mm of drop feels weird, as does the narrow toebox. If Altra put good rubber on the Lone Peaks, I’d be willing to put up with bad mesh, even at 120 dollars a pair. If they also fixed the durability issue, I’d be in shoe heaven.