Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Altra King MT Review

Altra as a brand is known for two things—all their shoes have a wide toe box and a zero-drop platform. Their newest trail model, the King MT, is no different. It's a shoe designed for wet, muddy, and gnarly terrain. Weighing in at 10.2 oz and with a 19 mm stack height, the King is Altra's lowest profile trail shoe and best compares with their Superior. It retails at $140. 

A few months ago I received a pair of King MTs to try out, with no expectations of a favorable review—or for that matter, any review at all. I've put about 100 miles on the pair so far, over various types of terrain, and here are my thoughts.

When I first slipped the shoes on, I was pleased to see that the King MT fits true to size. Previous Altras I've owned ran a half size small, but the King doesn't have this issue. Altra's new EGO cushion, which runs the entire length of the shoe, felt much softer and more comfortable that the brand's traditional EVA cushion. The roomy toe box allows the toes to splay—something I've really grown accustomed to since I first began wearing Altras a few years ago. 

The main attraction is the traction. With deep, 6 mm lugs and a sticky Vibram outsole, the shoe handles very well on muddy, slushy, and snowy singletrack. The aggressive outsole does well to prevent slipping and sliding on hilly singletrack,
and the grip provides ample braking ability even on some pretty wet downhills. They also drain water quickly—a must-have on the wet terrain this shoe is intended for. 

The King MT's Vibram outsole.

As with other minimalist shoes, the thinness of the King MT allows the user to feel the ground fairly well, and provides enough flexibility to navigate moderately technical trails. On the more technical terrain, my feet felt well protected by the built in rock plate and toe bumper. With the moderate weight of 10.2 oz, the shoe is noticeably heavier and bulkier than some minimalist trail shoes, while lighter than many others. 

Some of the weight is a result of the design in the upper. Personally, I think the extra ounce or two is worth it for the amount of protection and support the upper provides. An overlay matrix helps to protect your foot from rocks during lateral movement acts as a frame for the polyester fabric that makes up the rest of the upper. In short, the upper appears pretty durable and able to take plenty of abuse. 

Lateral upper.

Medial upper.

Unlike Altra's Lone Peak, the King MT is not excessively stiff or clunky on flatter, smoother surfaces like rail trails, dirt roads, and asphalt. While not ideal for these harder surfaces, the EGO cushion does make for a comfortable ride while running between trailheads. 

So is there anything I disliked about this shoe?

Well for one thing, the Velcro strap looks plain goofy, so if you care about aesthetics this probably isn't the shoe for you. Altra claims the strap is designed to "lock your foot in the shoe on steep ascents and descents," but I've never had a problem with my foot sliding around like that in any other shoe. The only use I found for the strap is to prevent the lace ends from flopping around, which brings me to my next point. It was difficult to keep the laces tight. As I moved across the trail, the laces would gradually loosen up and I found myself frequently stopping to retie. Ultimately, the heel lock lace method solved that problem for good, but it's not something a runner should have to deal with. 

Overall, I think the King MT is a very solid trail shoe for anyone running in wet and muddy conditions, such as Upstate New York singletrack during the springtime. Although I haven't put enough miles on them yet to comment on the durability, I expect the shoes to hold up somewhere between 300-500 miles, which is about average. The $140 MSRP is reasonable for what you get out of the shoe. 

Shop Local

Wherever you live, support the small, local stores that support your community. The King MT will be available soon at Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Co in the Ithaca Commons. If your local shop does not carry this or your preferred shoe, they may be able to order it. It never hurts to ask!

For those of you familiar with the trails around Ithaca, NY, here's a list of trails where I tested the shoe and found it to handle well:
  • Monkey Run: 1-3 inches of snow and slush, with some mud. 
  • Danby State Forest (Abbott Loop): Mostly dry, but with lots of mud and standing water in the bottom of the ravine.
  • Hammond Hill (Thom B Loop): Half ice and packed snow, half dry.
  • Ithaca College Natural Area: 4-6 inches of snow, and again in heavy slush/mud.
  • South Hill Recway: Ran once on the muddy and wet recway, and another time on mostly solid ice with a layer of wet snow on top. 

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