Most running shoes are either too restrictive, offer no support, or cause my knees to ache after just a few miles. Thankfully, Altra seems to have noticed these same problems and has designed a new shoe with an aim to correct them. With a wider toe box and a Zero Drop platform, the shoes emphasizes a more naturally running form with spread toes and a balanced gait. Does this work? I’ve been putting them to the test, and this is what I think.
Where typical running shoes scrunch the toes up into a narrow foot box and restrict their natural sprawl, the Altra 3.5 shoes allow them room to spread out naturally on impact, improving balance, absorption and forward drive. The shoes are built upon the Zero Drop Platform technology, basically meaning the shoes lift the heel and forefoot off the ground even amounts instead of angling the foot forward like most shoes, which essentially puts the runner into a down hill stance even on level ground. The laces follow the natural curve of the foot, veering towards the big toe instead of straight down the foot. This reduces tension between the foot and the laces, allowing the shoe to flex in a more natural way without the resistance against the metatarsals. Other prominent features include gender specific geometry, targeted high grip sections on the out-sole, and a feathery light 8.1 oz build. They are available in various colors and sizes, and retail for $115.
What I liked
Starting out, these are by far the most comfortable running shoes that I have ever worn. The wide toe box allows my feet to breathe and spread naturally as I run while the off center laces dramatically reduce the tension that laces normally drop onto the top off my foot. The shoes tighten in against the heal and the side of the foot, preventing heal slip and keeping them in place without causing pressure points. The soles are soft enough to provide plenty of cushioning, but also stiff enough to provide long mileage protection when running or just walking. The materials are soft, highly breathable, and are simply delightful to wear. All in all, the incredible fit make all of my other shoes (and boots) feel a bit inadequate when it comes to fit and ergonomics. They’ve even replaced my every day shoes.
Running feels incredibly responsive in these shoes, for a variety of reasons. The wide toe box allows the toes to spread on impact which widens the contact patch and enhances grip and stability. Along the bottom of the out-sole, the shoes utilize targeted grippy rubber patches along the big toe, long toe and heal for traction. Alternatively, a slicker material is present on the outer toes and in the arch. This allows the foot to pivot in the turns when needed, but always hooks up when sprinting forward or putting on the brakes. Additionally, the shoe’s upper contours around and under the foot while the sole widens out, increasing impact absorption and grip as it creates a snug fit with a wider base. Combined with the feathery 8.1 oz weight, the end result is a shoe that instantly responds to the needs of the runner, outperforming even barefooted control and mobility.
While wearing the 3.5’s, I’ve found that I experience less fatigue in my calves and far less knee pain over a distance. As someone who deals with patellar tendonitis, anything that I can do to lessen the strain on my knees is sorely appreciated (see what I did there? ). The evenly distributed padding allows my gait to be more natural and fluid too. Instead of pounding the heal of my foot into the ground in an attempt to lessen the impact, the 3.5’s allow me to land flat or even toe first, which naturally softens the blow and improves my times.
What I didn’t like
So far, I have not a single complaint about these shoes. I do have some concerns over long term durability, but as of yet I’ve been unable to destroy them or really even wear them down. Be it running, walking or working in them, they’ve been fabulous shoes.
With the 3.5’s Altra set out to correct problems with my shoes that I never knew that I had. Cramped toe boxes, uneven padding, high tension on my laces, and an unforgiving foot bed are all issues that I’ve completely overlooked as they were simply par for the course, until now. The revisions that Altra has made to their shoes at first seem minor, but as the miles accumulated and I started to adapt to the new shape and build, I quickly began to realize where others are going wrong. The flat toe box is a godsend, and the well padded Zero Drop sole has done wonders for my knee pain while running. They’re fast, nimble, and so comfortable that other shoes that I previously loved just seem horrendous by comparison. If you’re looking for new shoes and you’ve had any of the issues these set out to fix, I cannot recommend them enough.
The highest of recommendations
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For more information on Altra and their excellent line of gear, check out https://www.altrarunning.com
I wanted to send a special thanks out to Altra, Promotive and ExpertGear or their continued support and for providing this excellent piece of equipment to review. We couldn’t do this without their help. Thank you so much! Our full disclosure can be found on the about me/contact page.