Entering the trail running scene, you will quickly notice the companies that are dominating the trail running shoe market. Many participants of the sport will be wearing Altra or Hoka shoes out on the trails. With so many options, it can be hard for someone new to trail running to pick out the right shoes.
When I first started out, I made the mistake of buying the cheapest pair I could find online. As I became a part of the trail running community, the brand Hoka and Altra were suggested by their dedicated fans.
When deciding between the brands, people will notice that Altra and Hoka are very different. Hoka One One came up with the “maximal” concept in 2010, where shoes are extremely soft and have oversized midsoles. While Altra took a more “barefoot minimalist” approach. The balanced cushioning, positions the heel and forefoot at an equal distance from the ground, better known as zero drop.
Popularity of Hoka and Altra in the Trail Running Scene
Both brands are huge in the trail running scene, as they were developed by people who run trails and ultramarathons. Due to that fact, many trail runners invested in these shoes right at the start of these companies. Elite names come to mind when thinking about either brands.
Karl Meltzer is a world class ultrarunner, and has been supportive of the Hoka brand since the beginning. The maximal cushioned shoes were essential for his fastest known time on the Appalachian Trail. There are many other names like Jim Wamsley, Kaci Lickteig, and Mike Wardien that rep the Hoka One One brand. The list goes on when it comes to athletes sponsored and dedicated to Hoka.
Altra also attracts elite trail runners like Kara Goucher, Candice Burt, Amanda Basham, Michael McKnight, and Dave Mackey. All of whom are sponsored by the brand. With this type of following, of course this brand attracts from the front, mid and back of the pack.
Altra Vs. Hoka Trail Running Shoes
When looking at Altra versus Hoka, many will notice that they sit on different sides of the trail running shoe spectrum. Hoka is known for the “maximal” cushioning concept, while every pair of Altra shoes are zero drop, which positions the heel and forefoot at equal distance from the ground. Both have their benefits, and below are the key features that make these brands stand out:
Hoka One One
The Hoka shoe was first invented with long races in mind. One of the original creators wanted a shoe specific for later parts of long ultramarathon races. With this focus, Hoka shoes decided to go with the concept “oversized.” They produced a maximal cushioning in the midsole.
Some refer to the shoe as, “marshmallow-soft with speed.” The cushioning provides shock absorption, superior comfort, and designed for all distances. That then leads to the questions, “Can overly cushioned shoes lead to bad form?” Hoka tested different geometries by carving the midsole when first creating this “oversized” shoes.
The idea was to make the shoe more natural with angles and geometry. Therefore, the geometric stability has allowed the overly cushioned shoe to not have a negative effect on the form. Part of the geometry was to leave the inside of the shoe relatively flat. The drop of Hoka shoes are usually between 2 and 6.5mm.
Another big key feature of Hoka One One shoes is the meta rocker, the wheels for your feet. The true rocker drives the runner forward and allows people to run at a normal gait cycle. This smooth roll also increases running efficiency.
Pros and Cons
First glancing at Hoka shoes, some might think that the high heel and oversized cushion might cause issues with stability. What most do not realize is that the geometry of the shoes provides stability. Also, the foot actually sits down inside the midsole and is cradled by the foam. The maximum cushion takes a lot of pressure off the forefoot.
One con of Hoka trail running shoes are the very foam itself. The foam is likely to deform over time with rugged terrain like rocks and tree roots. Many people have also reported that the new models seem to be more narrow causing injury to the feet.
Hearing the name Altra, most runners think about a wide toe box and zero drop. The barefoot minimalist shoe has balanced cushioning, which aids optimal alignment and allows for better form. The brand Altra not only focuses on the shoes they provide, but believe that it is vital for runners to have proper form. Their zero drop shoes help cultivate better running forms.
Another aspect about Altra that stands out from other brands is their Fit4her technology. Their shoes cater to the specific form of the female foot, which is completely different than the concept of “pink and shrink.” Their shoes for women have a narrower heel and mid-foot, higher and longer arch, and unique metatarsal spacing.
When trying on the shoes, most people first notice the foot shape toe box. The wide toe box allows for the toes to relax and sit naturally, which is very important in stability on the trail. The big toe is allowed to remain straight that can ultimately add to maximum power.
Pros and Cons
The major pro that people report in the shoe, is the cushioning and zero drop. Even though the shoes are more minimalist and have a zero drop, many customers rave about the comfortability. Running in more minimalist shoes allows the heel to sit farther from the ground and avoid heel striking, which can put a lot of pressure on the body.
Many people with past injuries have had success switching over to a shoe with a zero drop and wide toe box. The only major con with their shoes, is runners have to also improve their form. The shoes do force runners to strike in the mid-foot, but adopting the correct running from is important to avoid injury. Buying these shoes requires some research and practice if you are a runner that heel strikes.
Even though improving form can take some time, the overall process can have a positive impact. With better form ultimately athletes reduce their risk to injury because of the low impact landing.
Why I wear Altra and what I love about them!
Altra shoes were first developed and created by Golden Harper. The founder still remains involved in the ownership of the company. His ideals of the company is to create a shoe that supports proper form, which in turn could prevent people from common running injuries. Since starting, they have developed their shoes with their customers in mind.
When I first started out in trail running I wore the cheapest shoes I could find. With a year full of knee issues, I started to research what could be the real cause of my pain. I quickly found out that all my issues were probably due to my shoes and running form.
Altra not only sells shoes but believes in good running form being just as important. With zero drop and a wide toe box, the shoe promotes proper form. Running with improper form is difficult with a shoe designed like this. Since wearing Altra’s trail running shoes, I have not had any issues with my knees.
Altra vs Hoka for Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar Fasciitis occurs commonly in runners, and happens when a thick band of tissue from the heel to toes become inflamed. When this happens, people get pain in their heel. A standard shoe with a raised heel and tapered toe box can add stress onto the foot causing this specific injury. (running/injuries study – ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
Shoes like Altra, that have a wide toe box, can help strengthen the foot. By allowing them to function naturally, wearing a pair of Altra shoes can be preventative for plantar fasciitis. By fixing your form and strengthening your feet, you can avoid the issue.
If an athlete does have plantar fasciitis, a cushioned sole can help relieve the pain and injury. Hoka’s maximal cushioned shoes can provide relief with the Ortholite molded footbeds. Also the thick sole provides shock absorption which can limit the stress on the body. Therefore, Hoka’s maximal cushioning is better if the runner has plantar fasciitis.
Switching from Hoka to Altra Shoes
Making the move from a cushioned or high heel shoe requires a transition period to a more minimal barefoot shoe. When wearing a standard shoe with a high heel, your achilles tendon and lower calf muscles are much more weak. Many runners do have lower calf pain and stiffness in the first couple of days to weeks of using a zero drop shoe.
Altra shoes do have different types of cushioning. The lesser cushioned shoes will require a longer transition time, compared to greater cushioned shoes like the Timp 2 or Olympus 3.5. The Lone Peak 4.5 has less cushioning and is an example of a trail running shoe with a longer transition time. This will require wearing both your old shoes and new pair of Altra shoes.
For the first week, runners should only wear the Altra shoes for easier and shorter workouts. The second and third week, athletes can begin wearing their Altra shoes in more moderate workouts. By week four, most runners should be able to wear their zero drop shoes for harder and longer workouts. The big thing is listen to your body. Wearing minimalist shoes will take time for your body to adapt.
If soreness is frequent, try watching videos about running form. These can help you better your technique and prevent injuries. Again, listen to your body and allow your legs time to adjust to Altra or any minimalist barefoot shoes.
Most Popular Hoka Trail Running Shoe?
The most common trail running shoe by Hoka One One is the Speedgoat 4. The recent model had a change in the underfoot, where the outsole has a Vibram Megakrip with deeper lugs. The change has added more traction to the heel and the toe. Also, the Speedgoat 4 now has a wider forefoot for a more accommodating fit. This is actually the first Speedgoat model that comes with a wide option.
Most trail runners love the shoe because of the softness and the midsole is comfortable. The geometric shape adds stability and makes running distances over a 50k a lot easier on the feet.
Best Altra Trail Running Shoe?
In my years of trail and ultra running, I have tried almost all trail running models by Altra. Each one I have tried differs slightly in cushioning and slightly in use (how much mileage you plan to run). The most popular ones seem to be the Superiors, Lone Peaks, and Timp models in the trail running community.
From my experience, I believe that the Lone Peak 4.5 are one of the more popular and personally my favorite. The shoes of course provide the zero drop and wide toe box. The biggest change recently is the foam in the midsole, which has allowed the shoe to be more protective and durable for a more long lasting cushion on the trail.
The reason I prefer the Lone Peak 4.5 is that it still has a comfortable cushioned fit, but a little less cushion than the Timp 2. They are lightweight, grippy, and durable. I can use the shoes on any type of trail and have no issue. Even though I am a big fan of all the shoes, the Lone Peaks are a good in-between to the Superior and Timp models.
Are Hoka shoes good for Overpronators?
Hoka shoes are good for for overpronators because they have a firm arch support. This arch support prevents the foot from leaning inwards. Stability shoes like Hoka, help distribute the impact of running on the feet.
Are Hoka shoes zero drop?
Hoka shoes are not zero drop and usually fall around 4mm. Although 4mm is not zero drop, it still falls under the category of a low drop shoe.
How long do Altra shoes last?
For most running shoes, shoes lasts between 300-500 miles. With newer technology, they have begun to last longer. Usually my pair of Altra shoes last around 550 miles before they start to wear down and I retire them.
Does Altra make a stability shoe?
Altra does make a stability shoe called Provision 4. The Innovarch feature encourages natural foot placement and the Guiderail feature provides guidance for your foot when necessary.
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Maddie is an avid backpacker, climber, and trail runner. When she is not out on the trails training for ultramarathons, she is exploring with her husband and son in their 1996 F350 and camper. If you cannot find her outdoors she is probably at a brewery drinking a sour.