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October 20, 2011

Altra Intuition Women's Running Shoe Review and Discount Code

Quick reminder before today's post: you've got one more day to enter my Barefoot Running book giveaway. Winner to be announced tomorrow night.

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There’s been a fair amount of buzz this year about Altra entering the market as a revolutionary new shoe company … but I don’t really believe it.


After all, they’re not doing anything that other companies haven’t done before. The barefoot-inspired natural running revolution is well into its third year now, and by this point just about every variation of natural footwear has been tried. The key to success today is to work with the base of knowledge that’s out there, and develop products that deliver high performance while maintaining the pure biomechanics that naturalists have come to demand.

On that basis, Altra scores very high marks. They’re a company that’s a little bit late to the party, but one who has clearly done its homework on what natural runners are looking for. Over the past few months they’ve debuted a variety of models aimed at specific types of runners: the Adam and Eve for pure minimalists like me, and the Instinct and Intuition for zero-drop midsole fans like my wife. (They also have a trail-specific zero-drop model, the Lone Peak, scheduled for release very soon.)


Altra Women's Intuition

I’m lining up an Adam review for the near future, but in the meantime my wife got first dibs on evaluating the Altra company by testing their zero-drop women’s model, the Intuition. (Get it? Women’s Intuition? It’s a lot better than naming it “She Knows When You’re Lying”, I guess.) Truthfully, she’s an ideal person to test the shoe, because as I’ve mentioned in the past, she’s not onboard the pure minimalist bandwagon yet, but she really likes wearing flat-platformed athletic footwear.

That’s also the reason why I don’t consider Altra to be particularly ground-breaking, because the Intuition is at least the 4th zero-drop running shoe my wife has tested for me over the past year or so. It’s also not the first female-specific running shoe in this category she’s worn – I’ll throw in some comparisons as we go along - and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the construction. However, the Intuition has rapidly become her favorite running shoe, to the point where she’s already shopping for a second pair – which is also reason enough for us to take a closer look.



From the top, the Intuition looks pretty much like your standard trainer, with a breatheable mesh upper that provides good ventilation in hot weather. The upper has asymmetrical lacing that is designed to be open in the foot’s natural flex zones, providing a secure fit with fewer pressure points. The upper is also shaped in what Altra refers to as an A-Wrap, which makes the midfoot area snug while leaving the toe box area more roomy.



Merrell employs this same concept with its Barefoot shoe line, but the midfoot of the Altra isn’t nearly as snug as Merrell’s models. To many runners, that will be a point in Altra’s favor, as one common criticism of Merrell’s shoes is that they are too narrow in the forefoot, making them difficult to put on or uncomfortable to wear for long durations. From heel to toe, the shape of the Intuition’s female-specific last is wider than Merrell’s Pace Glove, which is a strength or a drawback depending on your preference. One of the things my wife really likes about the Intuition is the width of the toe box, which gives her feet plenty of room to splay upon impact.



All Altra shoes come with two insoles, one of which helps accommodate zero-drop newbies. The “support” insert has a molded arch and heel wrap like traditional insoles, which helps ease the transition to flat platform shoes. The “strengthen” insole is completely flat with no arch support, which is the recommended choice for truly natural mechanics.



As for that zero-drop platform: it’s approximately 10mm high, but the shoe has a total "stack height" of 21mm, providing plenty of cushioning for a smooth ride. My wife feels that the Intuition diminishes impact much more effectively than the GoLite Micro Lite or Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove. She feels the ground impact much less with Altras; from my minimalist perspective, this was disappointing, but from her “I just want natural biomechanics with the comfort of a regular running shoe” standpoint, this is her favorite aspect of the Intuition.

Part of the explanation for the comfortable ride is a midsole material called A-Bound, a proprietary compound which Altra claims returns energy back to the foot with each step. There’s also something called a Natural Ride System, but I’m not quite certain how it works. Here’s how the website describes it: A combination of unique design elements and materials, working together to let the foot do its thing. Components include outsole and midsole componentry with proper metatarsal parabola, Zero Drop, and foot shaped lasts working together to allow you to run as nature intended. No artificial flavors!  If you can make sense of that, you’re doing better than me. Whatever they’ve got going on in there, it certainly makes for a comfortable platform.



One drawback of the midsole is its relative stiffness, as you can see in the above photo where I’m really pushing hard to curl up the shoe. I’d like to see slightly more flexibility here, but newcomers to zero-drop shoes may appreciate the similarity to traditional trainers. Weight of the Intuition is 8.1oz, which is comparable to regular running shoes (as well as the 9.0-oz Micro Lite), but significantly heavier than the 4.7-oz Pace Glove which is also a lot more flexible.



Altra uses different outsoles on its minimalist and zero-drop shoes, and the Intuition features a FootPod design which mirrors the bones and tendons of a naked foot. This is intended to allow maximum flexibility at all the points where your foot wants to flex, but I suspect that some of the effectiveness of this outsole is hampered by the stiff midsole. Otherwise, it’s a very durable rubber material that’s ideal for roads and grippy enough for fire roads or mellow trails.



Obviously from a spec standpoint, there’s nothing about the Intuition that jumps off the page to make it clearly superior to the other models my wife has tested. So when construction features are a toss-up, you go with how the shoe feels – and by that standard, the Intuition has clearly been the running shoe of choice for my wife this summer and fall. It offers an ideal combination of natural biomechanics with the protection and comfort of traditional running shoes. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it’s pretty darn good – and that’s probably the best you can hope for from any new company.

The Altra Intuition retails for $100 from the company website, but if you use this link for your shopping, 10% of the purchase price will be deducted at checkout.

*Product provided by Altra
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.



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5 comments:

Eric 10/21/11, 11:03 AM  

I'm thinking about getting a pair of these for my wife, but I want to be certain about how it sizes. What size shoe does your wife normally wear and did it change with the Intuitions? I've heard to go up a half size and she wears a 9.5 in her favorite Addidas Supernova Classics so would it be best to order a 10 in the Altra's? Thanks!

Blair 10/21/11, 4:49 PM  

I lack a diverse shoe choice but I have run in a number of shoes and while I recognize the limitations you mention for whatever reason the Altra Instinct has become my favorite shoe. Now I just need to find out why. hah hah.

Donald 10/21/11, 6:13 PM  

Eric: Yes, the sizing on Altra's first run of Intuition is off a bit. My wife had to size up 1/2 size. There are guidelines on the website as well.

Blair: Hopefully this helped shed some light on it for you!

Leslie 10/23/11, 7:48 PM  

Glad to hear your wife likes the shoes so much! Can't really dispute a new favorite shoe and man I've heard that a lot about Altra's line. I personally think the rounded toe box of Altra is unique to the running world and you would be hard pressed to find something that round meant for running elsewhere. Truly cushioned zero-drop (not a minimal 4mm, the Instinct/Intuition were never intended as minimal shoes) is also 'revolutionary'. Seems the world was minimal VFF style or cushioned but elevated heel. Glad there's a lovely meeting in the middle now.

mweston 10/24/11, 4:37 PM  

I thought I had posted a comment here, but I guess not...

I'm really looking forward to the Lone Peak. When you say there are several zero-drop shoes out there, are there any other zero-drop trail shoes with padding out there yet, that I should be considering along with the Lone Peak? Thanks!

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