Altra Instict Shoes

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Manufacturer Description

Forefoot pain? Bunions? Shin Splints or Knee pain due to traditional running shoes that cause heel striking and over-striding? The Instinct gives you a foot shaped shoe to free your toes & alleviate your forefoot pain along with a Zero Drop platform to help you run better and reduce impact. Get the benefits of barefoot (& ultimate comfort) without sacrificing the cushion, comfort, & support you love. Experience the world’s first cushioned, foot shaped, Zero Drop running shoe & run instinctually!


  • Foot Shaped Design – Male FS-1 Last
  • NRS – Natural Ride System
  • FootPod Outsole Encouraging Natural Motion
  • Quick dry air mesh upper with minimal seams
  • Asymmetrical Lacing, Heel Claw, and A-Wrap for superior fit
  • Drilex Premium Liner

    Top View
  • Strengthen and Support Insoles
  • Designed to be worn without any insoles for Minimalist Runners or for those who prefer less cushioning or more room.
  • Measured size 9
    • Weight – 232 g (8.2) without insoles
    • Support Insoles – 17 g (0.6), 6 mm thick
    • Strengthening Insoles – 13 g (0.45), 3 mm thick
    • Forefoot width – 102.7 mm (4.04 in)
    • Stack Height – Heel (13.7 mm), Toe (13.7 mm), Drop (0 mm) – without insoles
  • Retail – $100

YMMV Review

With the recent surge in barefoot running there has also been a surge in new shoe companies. Altra was one of the first of these new companies to come to the scene and have roots to back before the rush began. I first got a chance to talk with the guys form Altra back at the Winter 2011 Outdoor Retailer Show and was instantly intrigued. Unfortunately it took until late summer for me to get a pair of the Instinct’s to test. I am happy to say they have been worth the wait.

Side View

Design ★★★★½

The thing you will first notice about the Altra Instinct’s is they seem really simple. No a lot of bells, whistles or plastic pieces on the shoes. The upper is made out of a quick dry mesh with minimal seams. There are three structure elements running up the instep of the shoe and two on the outside of the foot. This is what Altra calls their A-Wrap support. The heel has a bit of structure built in to cup the heel of your foot. There is also a synthetic overlay on the front of the toe box with a little extra protection for the big toe. The tongue of the shoes is also made out of the same mesh material with a good amount of padding from the laces. The lacing system is asymmetrical with a heel claw and a loop on the tongue for superior fit.  The shoe is actually devoid of many of the flashy logos that you find on most other shoes. There are logos but they are subtle.

The shoe comes with two different insole models and also can be worn without insoles. There are Support Insoles for more cushioning and Strengthening Insoles for more ground feel. The interior of the shoe has Drilex lining for a soft feel against the foot and wicking of moisture. In the sole of the Instinct’s the cushioning comes from Altra’s A-Bound material and some EVA Cushioning. A-Bound is a recycled material that has energy return when compressed. It sits directly below the foot to return energy back and dampen hard surfaces while still maintaining ground feedback. A-Bound also retains on a 10% compression set compared to 70-90% with traditional running shoes foam. This means it will not deform as much over time. According to Altra the stack height is 16.5 mm (8.5 mm EVA, 3 mm A-Bound, 5 mm Rubber Outsole), I measured them to be 13.7 mm.

Inside without Insole

The outsole of the Instinct’s is made out of a durable and flexible rubber. It has no built in seams along the sole allowing it to flex evenly with your foot and eventually learning where your foot flexes. The other main component with these shoes is the last. They have a foot shaped Male FS-1 Last. What this means is that it is narrow at the heel, medium width at the midfoot and wide in the toe box. If you have ever looked at your foot, it is not pointed, so Altra did not make pointed shoes. The look takes a bit to get used to but makes sense. Altra Instinct shoes are also zero drop, the heel and toe sit at the same height just like standing barefoot. This allows your foot to act more naturally with no artificial angles built in by your footwear. Overall I think Altra did their homework and came out with a solid shoe.

Fit ★★★★☆

The Altra Instinct’s are an interesting fit. Since there are three ways to wear the shoes there are also a couple ways in which they fit. First thing I will say is that they run slightly small. I would recommend sizing up a ½ size unless you are on the small side of your size. I am normally a 9 and I tested a size 9. With the support insoles the fit was slightly shorter than optimal but not bad. With the strengthening insoles the fit was just what I had hoped. Without an insole there is lots of room for my foot. These have been the widest shoes I have tested so far. The forefoot has plenty of room while the midfoot and heel are snug. This creates a shoe that stays secure on your foot while giving plenty of room in the toes. The area around the ankle comes up a little higher than some of the other shoes I have tested. It would be nice if this was a little lower, especially when not using insoles as your foot sits a bit lower in the shoe. The Instinct’s really are the way a barefoot shoe should fit.

Sole of Shoe

Performance ★★★★½

The Altra Instinct’s are a pleasure to run in. I ran in them with each of the two insoles and without insoles as well. You can definitely tell the difference between the three. I was impressed that Altra included an extra insole and it actually did change the performance of the shoes. With the Support Insoles there was a little bit of ground feel and more cushioning. The cushioning was slightly less with the strengthening insoles and you could definitely feel a bit more of the ground. This is the way I preferred to wear these shoes. Without the insoles was a slightly different feel than I like. It was not the increased ground feel or decreased cushioning that I was not a fan of but rather the feel of the material at the bottom of the shoe. The one thing I wished that they did (as with other manufacturers) is use a thin tape over the seams. Like you would see on a waterproof jacket. That would help a bit with the feel of the shoes when not using insoles.

2 Insoles

I am a big fan of zero drop shoes but most of the ones on the market are really low to the ground. Altra has struck a nice balance between a lightweight barefoot shoe and still providing some cushioning. The A-Bound material is on the firm side and does protect your foot from rocks. You can still feel them but they do not hurt. The sole of the shoe is free of any artificial seams which gives the shoes and even flex when you run. Since they do not bend in any specific spot that has been determined by the manufacturer, they are able to flex where your foot does. Over time they will also become more flexible. The outsole has good enough traction for most surfaces. I would hesitate to run in the snow and ice or on technical trails in the mud as they do not have a lot of grip. Other than those instances these shoes can be used for long and short runs alike. The uppers seamed to breathe fairly well and I did not notice them being warmer or cooler than most other shoes I tested.

Profile View of Insoles

Overall ★★★★½

For their first shoe in production, Altra has done a great job with the Instinct Shoes. They are comfortable and offer plenty of options for creating the amount of cushioning and ground feel you wish to have. They may look slightly unconventional due to the wider toe box but the shoes absolutely deliver in barefoot fit. Eventually I would like it if they had some darker colors for these shoes and rumor has it they are coming. I believe this is a great option for those looking to get a more natural running experience while maintaining the cushioning from the ground they have grown accustomed to. These shoes also lend themselves to other activities other than running. I look forward to testing other models of Altra’s in the future. As always, your mileage may vary.

Pros [field name=iFrame]

  • Foot shaped design
  • Three options for wearing
  • Cushioned zero drop
  • Comes with an education booklet. This booklet describes the fit of Altra Footwear and why they shaped them the way they did. The booklet also outlines the proper way to transition to zero drop footwear as it will take time if you have been running in standard drop shoes.  Lastly the booklet touches on technique to help you reach all the benefits of running more naturally.


  • Different feel without insoles
  • Runs slightly short

About the Author

I am an avid runner, cyclist, swimmer, hiker, climber, skier and many other activities that would make this list too long. I started Your Mileage May Vary Reviews in Early 2011 to combine two of my passions: sports and gear.

One Response to “Altra Instict Shoes”

  1. Wonderful review of a great new shoe. You should try the Lone Peak, it may even be better. I have been putting non-runners in the shoes to treat numerous foot related problems with amazing success. Also important is the fact that they are among the few “minimal” orthotic friendly shoes.

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