Altra is unarguably one of the brands on a very quick rise in the running world these days, especially in the trail and ultra market. I’ve had a long history with the Lone Peak, picking up a pair of the original Lone Peaks pretty much right at release. I ran a couple of ultras in them, but ultimately I ended up drifting away from them, only just recently coming back to trying the Lone Peak 2.5 and Neoshell (Disclosure: Altra was kind enough to send both shoes free of charge for review purposes).
Traditionally, the problem I’ve had with Altra is that while I love the wide toebox, the midfoot and heel are just far too roomy to hold my foot adequately. The Superior 2.0 is the first of their shoes where I don’t have this problem (although the heel is still wider and more padded than necessary). The Lone Peak 2.5 and Neoshell are the best fitting Lone Peaks yet, and show some solid improvement. Below I detail some of those improvements, as well as areas where the shoes can continue to get better.
Lone Peak 2.5 – weight: 10.1 oz (286 g) mens 9; 9.1 oz (257 g) womens 8, stack height: 20mm forefoot and heel, price: $120
Lone Peak Neoshell – weight: 11.4 oz (323 g) mens 9; 9.6 oz (272 g) womens 8, stack height: 20mm forefoot and heel, price: $150
Specs via Running Warehouse.
Upper and Fit
While fit is one of the bigger problems I’ve had with Altra shoes in the past, the good news is that the Lone Peak 2.5 and Neoshell are both better than past Lone Peaks in providing a more secured fit. I initially thought that the 2.5 was near perfect fit-wise, but unfortunately after taking them out for a couple runs the upper material stretched to the point where I couldn’t tighten them anymore (I think this is due to the fact that there are no overlays to speak of on the shoe, thus no structural support for the upper). This was especially noticeable on a trip down Grandeur Peak in Salt Lake City while I was attending Outdoor Retailer this past summer. The Neoshell doesn’t have this problem – even though it also has no overlays, the Neoshell material itself does not stretch and acts as one large overlay. So, despite having the Lone Peak 2.0 fit (which has more volume than the 2.5), the Neoshell actually held my foot better and is by far my favorite Lone Peak to date.
The great news is that Altra is completely revamping the entire Lone Peak line, and added overlays on the uppers and a new outsole for summer 2016 with a Lone Peak 3.0 and Neoshell 3.0, along with a mid cut Lone Peak Neoshell which looks awesome for long winter outings. Sam Winebaum has a great writeup from The Running Event that details the new Lone Peak lineup.
In the end, the Neoshell 2.0 has a comfortable fit that, especially due to the wide forefoot, is very warm in winter. I think that the Neoshell material, which is put on the outside of the shoe rather than in an inner waterproof bootie, is going to set a new industry standard. I’ve hardly ever liked shoes with GTX because of the bootie seams, particularly in the heel, and they almost always have the same upper as the regular version just with the added bootie. This allows that outer upper material to get wet and heavy, yet it doesn’t really serve a ton of purpose. The Neoshell material and design simplifies the upper, doesn’t absorb water and the interior of the upper has no added seams. It’s one of those, “duh, why haven’t companies done this sooner”, type of design shifts.
Midsole and Ride
The Lone Peak is in an interesting spot for me ride-wise. The protection that they give is fairly moderate, they’re not super heavy, and they have quite a bit of cushion. On paper and on initial runs they felt like a great all-around package, but after a few more runs I started to notice a very apparent lack of sharpness on most uneven terrain, and while cushioned, they just aren’t at all responsive. I think this is partly due to the midsole material being fairly average in terms of rebound (the softer midsole on the Neoshell actually feels better in this regard), but also because of the geometry of the midsole and some constraints brought on by Altra’s zero drop design philosophy. While not as bad as the Olympus, the one problem zero drop creates on shoes with more stack height (which BTW, even though zero drop is natural, high stack height is not) is that you can’t have a gradual toe spring/taper because of the need for the shoe to be absolutely zero drop through the ball of the foot. When you have to go from 20mm of stack or higher to some sort of taper to the end of the shoe all from the ball forward, it creates a delayed toe off that, while not a big deal at slower speeds, is really noticeable to me below 8 min/mile pace or faster, which makes the shoe feel like it won’t turn over very quickly and just lands flat.
Additionally, while some of Altra’s design philosophy is industry leading and a huge asset (like the wide toebox and Neoshell construction), their rock plate design is not my favorite. They sandwich the rock plate between the midsole and strobel to, as they say, add some ability for the midsole to deflect the rock before it hits the rock plate instead of hitting a rock and causing the shoe to pivot as they claim a traditional rock plate construction that puts the plate between outsole and midsole does. In reality, I’ve found the opposite to be true. The only time the Lone Peak (or Superior) rock plate design works as advertised is for very small gravel, which the shoe absorbs and it thus doesn’t tip or pivot much.
However, when you get on technical terrain with anything larger than a marble sized rock, I find the Altra rock plate design actually makes the shoe more unstable and less protective. You can’t feel the rock on initial contact, but as the midsole compresses, it hits the rock plate and then pivots in a more delayed nature which is way worse to me than just feeling the rock on initial contact and relying on your proprioception of the ground and foot/ankle strength to stay balanced. Additionally, the Lone Peak rock plate design doesn’t protect the midsole from the abuse of rocks like a traditional design does, and therefore th midsole deteriorates quicker than it would with a traditional rock plate. I’m contemplating a future post on rock plates to highlight some of the designs that work best in my experience, but this is one area where I hope Altra reconsiders their alternative approach, and it is even more relevant with the Superior which has exposed midsole on the bottom of the shoe.
The Lone Peak 2.5 and Neoshell have the same exact outsole design. While in general the outsole works well as an all purpose outsole, and isn’t too luggy for dry terrain, nor lacking grip in looser terrain, I also found a few things that could use some tweaking. First, I think, like the Nike Kiger 3 the lugs are too deep for the stack height of the shoe, which only adds weight and decreases the responsiveness of the ride. The shoe isn’t light or precise enough to really take advantage of the lugs, and especially with the Lone Peak 2.5 upper, doesn’t hold the foot securely enough on technical terrain either. For the Neoshell, I actually think the lug design is just fine since I end up using that shoe mostly on snow and mud anyway, and not on dry trail that often.
The other issue with the design is that the lugs on the lateral midfoot are oriented to break and I don’t find this to be very enjoyable on drier trail, especially on downhills. A little bit of float is really helpful on downhills, and I don’t think there need to be any lugs oriented for breaking traction until the heel, and even then the center and medial heel is enough (more like the Salming T1). If we are talking about an all out mountain/off trail shoe, then I think lug design is a different story, but for any trail shoe that is designed more as an all around, varied terrain shoe, then the lugs need to be shallower and oriented so they don’t break too much on hardpack. The new Lone Peak 3.0 outsole looks to address a few of these issues with multidirectional lugs in the middle of the outsole (a great change) and less aggressive lugs on the midfoot, although they are still oriented horizontally (would be better flipped on their side in the direction of the travel of the foot; which would also decrease the shearing effect on the lugs).
Overall, I am a big fan of what Altra is trying to do, and that is why I even went to the effort to detail the issues with certain design elements, and the reason for the longer review. I think there is a lot to like in their shoes, and I want to see them continue to improve. The Lone Peak has such potential to be the perfect ultramarthon/long run shoe with their wide toebox, medium stack, and versatile outsole, but it needs some tweaking for me to start a race with them on my feet. The Neoshell is by far my favorite out of any Lone Peak I’ve tried, and is a very nice addition to my winter shoe quiver with the wide fit and fantastic Neoshell upper design. Unfortunately, for any temps hotter than 30 deg F, I can’t see using them just because of how warm they run (which is a major asset in winter). I’ve been dreaming of doing the Iditarod Trail Invitational (350 winter race in Alaska) someday, and am always evaluating a winter shoe with that in mind; the forthcoming Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshell Mid looks really good for a race like that or long winter outings in general.
In the end, I can definitely recommend the Lone Peak Neoshell 2.0 as a winter shoe. The design that puts the waterproof material on the outside is nothing short of revolutionary for waterproof shoe construction, and the shoe just runs and feels better for me. The Lone Peak 2.5, on the other hand, just doesn’t come together in a well enough executed package for what I feel the intended use of the shoe (all around trail) is meant to be. For flatter terrain, it’s fine and the fit will be nice and comfortable, but, for me, the lack of upper security, unstable midsole/rockplate design, and outsole design issues take too much away from the experience. I feel there are better shoes in the same weight/protection category like the adidas Response TR Boost, Nike Wildhorse 3 and Pearl Izumi N2v2 that run better, are more secure and are more stable. Needless to say, I’m still super excited to see where Altra continues to go with their shoes, and also eager to see how the Lone Peak 3.0 lineup can improve the Lone Peak experience.