Trail running is certainly not new and yet based on the emphasis towards trail running clothing and shoes in the just the past 3 years, you might think that dirt was just invented. Everywhere you turn, more and more attention is being focused on running off-road and having the right gear to take you there.
As someone who discovered the joy of trail running a little more than 5 years ago, I have had the great fortune of trying many different trail shoes. Some have been decent while others have been nothing more than a poor pair of road shoes with slightly deeper treads. So many times I have been asked if it makes a difference to own a pair of trail shoes instead of running trails with road shoes. To this I typically answer the same way, which is to ask why someone would choose to take their fancy sports car over muddy, rocky, steep terrain. The truth is, trail shoes exist for a reason and the good ones will make your hard-core trail runs that much sweeter.
When it comes to well-built shoes, the name Altra is synonymous. Altra is well-known for its open toe box design, zero-drop platform and overall good looks. What has set them apart recently has been their commitment to dirt. More specifically, their commitment to shoes that conquer the dirt. Running on trails where I live means there are going to be major rocks and boulders, large roots and obstacles, rolling courses with massive elevation gain and loss and ample amounts of mud, snow, water and even sand. Here in Oregon, we have it all and a solid trail shoe must meet some fairly tough demands that no road shoe is capable of. For this, Altra gives us the King MT trail shoe.
My first run in these shoes (size 9.5) came just one day after getting them. I grabbed a buddy and we headed up near Mt Bachelor to run the Meadow Camp trail. 10 miles later, following some fairly rocky and wet terrain (we got dumped on), the shoes handled admirably. What makes this pair a little different is the StoneGuard™ rock plate that acts as a defense for your feet when the trail gets nasty. Another cool feature is the Foot Lock Strap (that doubles as a lace keeper!) to lock your foot into the shoe on steep ascents and descents. This first run only had 400 feet of gain followed by 400 feet of loss, so the strap didn’t seem to make a difference. That test was coming.
After a couple of local runs, I was nearing 40 miles and knew it was time to really test this pair out. I travelled to the southern Oregon coast for Spring Break and had the pleasure of finding myself face to face with Sugarloaf Mountain in Myrtle Point. I started the run at 90 feet above sea level. A little less than 4 miles in, I reached my high point of 1,276 feet. The trail was wet, muddy, washed out in parts, loose rocks everywhere, tree limbs scattered with gravel in parts. And that was just the ascent! As fast as I went up, the King MT shoes held my feet without slipping or sloppiness of any sort. Regardless of the conditions underfoot, I never had an issue with traction, even after I started down the other side, very quickly I might add. As I approached mile 17, the off-road portion of my run ended and I had a little more than 4 miles of road to finish. Without skipping a beat, the King MT shoes maintained their comfort even on pavement.
Beyond my own notes, here are the specs, per Altra’s website:
- Ideal Uses: Off-Road Running, rocky terrain, hilly trail runs, muddy or wet trails.
- Cushioning: Light (for more experienced athletes or runners who want a fast, lightweight performance shoe)
- Stack Height: 19 mm
- Weight: 10.2 oz. / 289 g (fairly lightweight for trail shoes)
- Designed To Improve: Natural Foot Positioning, Walking Form, Toe Splay, Comfort
- Platform: Fully-Cushioned Zero Drop™ platform and FootShape™ toe box
- Midsole: Altra EGO™ Compound, Stoneguard
- Outsole: Vibram® MegaGrip Rubber Outsole
- Insole: 4 mm Contour Footbed
- Upper: Protective Upper
- Other Features: Foot Lock Strap, 6 mm Outsole Lugs
Since that epic 21 mile run, I have worn them a few more times and continue to come to the same conclusion. These are the best trail shoes I have ever run in. As I near 100 miles, the shoes look hardly worn and are maintaining shape nicely. I recently pushed them through an 11 mile mud run and after a quick bath, they still look great!