Wow, what can I say about the Altra Lone Peak? Simply put, these are a straightforward, no-nonsense, sturdily built, serious trail shoe with a zero heel-to-toe differential. Out of the box you can tell right away these are something different. Kind of retro in appearance with a really wide forefoot and low to the ground with the evenly spaced midsole. Slip them on and you just want to go hit some trail. Gnarly trail. The Lone Peaks are built tough to take on the rough stuff. But beware, these are a true ‘zero-drop’ shoe so demand respect and a realistic transition period (unless you are already running zero-drop). If you’re not these will convert you. And good luck restraining yourself. These puppies scream for trail. The rougher the better.

As a relatively new player on the scene, Altra has embraced the zero drop/minimalist principles and created a genuine trail shoe. ‘Zero drop’ means just that: the forefoot and heel thickness are the same. The idea is to promote a more natural mid-forefoot strike. Built on gender specific anatomical lasts, they have a wide spacey forefoot designed to allow your toes to spread and work more naturally. The heel is narrow enough for a snug and supportive fit but the curved last follows the shape of your foot and then opens into one of the most spacious toe-boxes you will find. For those used to a regular snug shoe this can make them feel too big at first. But the space lets your feet function as they were meant to and as an added bonus provides much needed room to accommodate any swelling late in a race.

The overall feel is low and flat. Coming from a conventional raised shoe you almost feel like your heel is sinking below the horizontal. But in fact your toes and heel are at the same height. The thin midsole and absence of raised heel puts you much closer to the ground and you get a better feel for the trail than with traditional runners. With the insole in place your foot is only 22.5mm off the ground, which sounds like a lot until you compare with the traditional height of up to 35mm. There are no stabilising devices but the broad base and low profile keep you very stable. They are relatively light at a listed weight of 280gm for size 9 but not minimalist light by any means.

On the outsole well spread lugs provide great traction on all but the slickest mud. The wide spacing of the mini-cleats avoids trapping debris and helps shed mud yet still provides a smooth enough ride to cope with some time on sealed surfaces. There is a peculiar little rubber flap hanging off the back called the ‘rudder’, which doesn’t seem to actually serve any purpose but it also doesn’t seem to cause any harm.

Despite being zero-drop the Lone Peak can’t really be called minimal as it is actually quite beefy. The solid rubber toe bumper and the leather look overlays, shaped like a mountain range silhouette add to foot protection but also increase weight. The uniform midsole provides just enough cushioning to make these a contender for the really long stuff but is thin enough to give you excellent trail feedback. With a full-length protection plate called the Stoneguard you get good defence against any stone bruising. This plate is welded between the midsole and the shoe body, which is unusual but definitely effective as the midsole soaks up the impact of sharp objects before they hit the plate. The whole package screams durability and they claim to be built to last well over 1000km per pair. After 100km mine still look like new so I have no doubt this will be true.

These shoes fill that niche of a zero heel-to-toe drop while still being solid, mildly cushioned and very protective, making them a serious contender for a trail 100 miler. They perform well on any trail, the rougher the better and the refreshingly roomy toe-box coupled with the zero-drop makes them attractive to the barefoot brigade looking for a shoe to wear in ultras. I just love the extra feel for the trail, the great traction, the responsiveness and performance of the zero-drop platform. Just remember to transition slowly or risk calf and Achilles strains under the extra loading.

There is no doubt that low heel-to-toe drop shoes are here to stay. Enter the Lone Peak by Altra. These are a serious contender in an already hot trail shoe market. Expect to see more of them at trail races long and short.