When I first considered purchasing a pair of Altra running shoes, I was pretty confused over all of the different styles and versions available. After some head scratching, I eventually purchased a pair of Instinct 3.0s, and a few months later, added a pair of One 2.5s. I still do not have a complete knowledge of the entire Altra product line, but now that I have a couple hundred miles in each of these shoes, it is time to share what I know so far.
You can think of this as two reviews in one. I will take look at what both shoes have in common, what differences they have, and then share my final thoughts.
Zero heal-to-toe drop
There are two things that all Altra shoes have in common. First, they no heel-to-toe drop. Altra calls this common feature “zero-drop”. The vast majority of shoes on the market have a heel that is quit a bit higher than the forefoot, or toe, area. I don’t know all the reasons why shoes are made this way. There has been a consensus for a long time amount health professionals that high-heeled shoes typically worn by women aren’t good for you. Yet almost every shoe on the planet has a heel at least a little higher than the two. Altra’s philosophy is that the foot works best when it is in it’s natural position, which is flat. For that reason, all of Altra’s shoe are “zero-drop”.
Wide toe box
The second feature in common amount all Altra shoes is what they call the “foot-shape toe box”. Basically, its a wide, roomy space at the front of your foot so your toes don’t get squeezed. It gives the shoes a boxy look that some people criticize as being kind of ugly. The shoes aren’t sleek and pointed. They are basically shaped like feet, which is a good thing even if it means they are not pretty.
The other thing the Instinct and the One have in common is that they are both neutral shoes. They have cushioning, but arch support is fairly minimal, which is right for most runners out there.
Altra has several cushioning levels: light, moderate, high and max. The Instinct has moderate cushioning, and the One has light cushioning. The difference is enough that you notice it, but my legs and feet typically don’t feel any different after running with these shoes. I’ve run a half marathon in the Ones and wouldn’t be afraid to run a full marathon in them.
The first things you’ll notice about the Ones is that they are very light. They weigh in at 6.6 ounces, where the Instincts come in at 8.1 ounces. The fabric on the top of Ones is also very thin – there is no insulation whatsoever, in case that matters to you.
The One has a wider toe box than the Instinct. My Instincts felt roomy until I starting use the Ones. Now the Instincts feel a bit cramp. The One is also a more flexible shoe than Instinct, giving you a better feel for the ground. I like that feeling on the road, but if I’m on a trail where there might be some large pebbles, I’d rather be running in Instincts. Of course, for trail running, neither of these shoes are the best choice because neither have a large amount of tread. One of Altra’s Trail running shoes would be a better choice for that.
The One has one design flaw: the grooves in the sole pick up pebbles. This happens in almost every run I do with them. This really doesn’t cause any issues at all when I’m running. But I always be careful when I’m finished to make sure there are not stuck pebbles before I go indoors. I don’t like to leave pebbles laying around in the house or scratch the floor.
I like both pairs of shoes, but if I had to chose one or the other, I would pick the Ones. They are the most comfortable shoe I’ve every put my foot into. They are my favorite shoe for road running and my favorite for everyday use and walking. But I like to change things up so I don’t run in the same shoe every day. I still wear my Instincts from time to time, especially if my feet are feeling a bit sore from the previous one.
Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll be getting Altra’s zero drop, wide toe box goodness; both of which I find it very uncomfortable to do without.