Altra King MT Shoe Review

Altra King MT
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King MT

Altra are famous for creating long distance running shoes with a zero drop profile, generous cushioning and a wider ‘foot-shaped’ toe-box designed to accommodate natural toe splay. With the King MT, Altra applies those principles into a more minimalist format, alongside great drainage and a rugged build making the Altra King MT the first shoe from Altra that would work well for obstacle course racing. Altra kindly provided this shoe for review and testing. Should this be your next OCR shoe? Read on to find out!

Altra King MT Features

Altra King MT Out-sole – Altra have chosen to use the Vibram Megagrip compound for the outsole of the King MT. The tread design is extremely aggressive, with row upon row of chevron shaped lugs, designed specifically for gripping in mud, snow, and wet conditions. I’ve been impressed with other shoes using this compound and I am pleased to see it used here.

Grip King MT Clean

Altra King MT Mid-sole – Altra’s Ego™ compound is used for the mid-sole on this shoe which is meant to be lightweight and consistent at providing cushioning in a wide range of temperatures. So, yeah… they work well in the cold. Trust me; Alberta Canada doesn’t hold back during the winter! The mid foot also has a rock plate, which is not always a feature of OCR shoes. The rock plate stops somewhere towards the forefoot, so you do get some mechanical dividends on the toe off and thoughtful protection where it is most required.

ALtra King MT 3

Altra King MT foot-bed – The foot-bed is really quite comfortable and I didn’t feel the need to exchange it for anything else. It is removable and can be exchanged for whatever kind of extra cushioning is desired. Critically for OCR it didn’t seem to shift or slop around even when it got extremely wet and muddy.

Altra King MT upper – The upper of the shoe is made from a rip-stop material, paired with a TPU overlay to keep the weight down without sacrificing durability. Altra have surrounded your heel with a weird kind of grippy one-way fabric that helps the shoe stay on when the mud wants to steal them. There doesn’t seem to be a rigid heel cup structure in this shoe and King MT will need to be locked down quite tightly to prevent lateral shearing of the upper and to take advantage of that sharkskin heel lock.

King MT close

The toe area features a rubber bumper to prevent toe stubs and the same protective material reaches up to the arch area also to protect from sharp twigs and rocks. The toe box itself has plenty of promised room laterally, but I felt like the ceiling was a little low for my fat big toe. Maybe I’m a freak in that department, but it was touching the uppers most of the time when running and I am concerned that my toe could start to wear a hole through here one day. No problems yet though.

King MT foot shaped

Altra King MT lacing – The laces on the King MT are fine. The extra eyelet is required and welcome to keep that heel locked in when the going gets muddy. The elephant in the room is the Velcro tie down, which has been quite polarizing for others who have reviewed the King MT. The idea is that you can lock down the mid-foot on hard descents and then loosen the fit slightly to provide a little more mid-foot volume for climbs. It is also a tie down for the laces. It works for the most part, except for my foot volume the upper strap is a touch too long at times.

Altra King MT lacing

The heel of each shoe features Altra’s Gaiter trap, and a gaiter loop at the end of the lace run. For those who want to use these shoes in snow, loose scree or talus, this is a welcome feature.

Grip King MT Gaiter

Altra King MT weight – At 289 g per shoe for a men’s 9.5, the King MT sits right in the mid-weight range for an OCR shoe.They are 70 g heavier per shoe than the Reebok All Terrain Super 3.0, and the similarly priced and very popular Salomon S/Lab Sense 6 SG but it remains 30 g lighter than the even more popular Salomon Speedcross 4.

King MT foot shaped weight 3

Altra King MT Usage

When you actually put them on, it makes sense. The shoes are designed to fit feet- not one particular sport modality. Altra seem to be letting your feet do what they naturally want to do, without getting in the way. The fit is comfortable and my toes have had plenty of room to move without forming hot spots! It might just take you some time to get used to the geometry of the Altra running style after running in conventional shoes. I would advise you to break them in well before racing in them.

King MT heel

On a long wintry trail run, these clung on about as well as other deep lugged shoes could. Biting the ground with each step, they work really well in everything I could throw at them (including a test on a sledding hill), chomping through muddy, root covered trails, snow, wet rock, muddy plywood, grass with no problems. When I needed grip or support, they generally offered plenty. I liked the zero heel to toe drop. It feels fast, as if the heel isn’t striking too early. 

King MT Altra running

While traction was great in the sagittal plane (e.g. running forwards and braking), lateral movements weren’t as sure. Look at the lug pattern and you will see the reason for this. There is a little less lateral direction grip than forward/backward directional grips. Creating some more offset between lugs could improve this. I would hate to slide out on a muddy bucket carry. It’s not a major flaw, but it could probably use some improvement.

King MT Grip2

The mid sole is protective and responsive. I ran on some pretty rocky trails with these and found them comfortable enough to not worry about where I was placing my feet. The real stress test for these was crossing a Lego-strewn floor without a trip to the E.R. The point is, they inspire a fast and aggressive running style across tough terrain, which is the kind of confidence you need to perform in OCR. 

If you’ve ran in Altra before, expect a firmer ride than you’d be used to. Altra classify this as a minimal cushioning shoe, yet I would say that the ride of the King MT is still comfortable enough for most of the distances you might find in OCR. It’s a lively shoe with plenty of energy return.

On the topic of drainage, these shoes have plenty of areas of open mesh and after a full submersion, they drained to feel just damp within about 200m of running. The water retention wasn’t significant.

Altra King MT Durability

You’ll have to dig around the interwebs for more details on extended use and durability. I’ve tested them on about 30 miles of some pretty unpleasant conditions in Alberta this November and they have held up well. No toes bursting forth (toes and fingers crossed). No loose seams. No cut eyelets. The strap has managed to avoid the scissors and the sole has barely shown any wear. The megagrip compound used for the outsole is the best in the industry and I have found that it wears extremely well – especially when compared to the compounds used by Salomon on the Speedcross line.

Altra King MT Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Versatile for OCR and beyond
  • Deep lugs with outstanding grip
  • Great fit and comfort with
  • Durable outsole
  • Rock plate is very protective
  • Shoes are springy and responsive
  • The Zero Drop profile encourages good running form
  • Nice wide toe box to avoid crowding and blisters.

Cons

  • The midfoot strap may not work as planned for smaller feet
  • The shoes can lose grip slightly when moving or pushing laterally in mud
  • Can be quite expensive

Altra King MT Conclusion

Even as is, the Altra King MT strikes a nice balance between weight, grip and protection, but if I had to suggest one improvement it would be just to make a few adjustments to the lug arrangement for the next version. I love the extra thought and innovation in this shoe (mid-foot strap and the shark-skin grip in the heel) and I love how it comes to life in the muddiest, ugliest conditions. The result is a racing product that will work nicely for the obstacle course and many other off trail adventures. It’s fast, minimal and aggressive enough that elite racers should be considering it as a real contender for this race season.


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Glenn Hole

Obstacle racer, trail runner, fitness addict and a pizza addict (currently in remission). I have three children and I work as an Audiologist/HAP. I grew up in Wales and now I live in Canada! Insta: @theocrguy Snapchat: Spartanupguy- Search the hashtag #ocrguychallenge
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It’s Not Making You Faster

Huarache sandals

©2013 Scott Smuin

Who do we blame?

Born to Run?

Vibram?

Luna?

Barefoot Ted?

Beyond The Minimalist Movement

I’m going to piss-off a lot of my friends with this semantic exploration into the current trends in racing footwear, but, well, c’est la vie, because Cranky believes it’s getting waaaay out of hand.

Footwear, or the lack thereof, has been rapidly changing in athletics over the last five years. What was old, like “Nike Waffle Racer in 1973, old”, became new again, and minimalist footwear hit the athletic shoe world with tremendous force.

Nike Waffle Racer shoe

photo: This looks like like it would be an excellent OCR shoe, yes?

First, it was the minimalist models that began trickling in, most notably models from New Balance, Inov-8, and pretty much anything supporting a neutral gait, with low profile, 4mm or less heel-to-toe drop, and weighing in at lighter than 8 ounces.

This was good.

Barefoot Running?

Then, came the barefoot movement. Seemingly, not so good.

I mean, ok, so there have always been “barefoot runners”, but they certainly weren’t considered “hip”, nor progressive – just a little crazy. The mid-foot vs. heel-strike movement started to ramp up, people started looking towards pose running, which lead them to more minimalist footwear options, and BAM!, some of the more extremists went straight to barefeet.

Sounds good, right? I mean, Who’s going to heel-strike barefoot?

When Barefoot isn’t Really Barefoot

If you haven’t already, you will soon hear someone say, “I run barefoot…” and then follow that up with, “…in Vibrams.”

Unless I’m missing something, that’s not really “barefoot”. Barefoot means bare, feet. No shoes. But somehow, Vibram Five Finger runners have redefined the meaning of “barefoot”.

vibram

Photo: as shown at vibramfivefingers.com

Let me start by saying, I own a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. I felt like, and continue to feel like, occasional training in very minimalist footwear, like Vibrams, helps to improve my overall foot strength and flexibility. That being said, I would never race obstacles in them.

Besides looking completely ridiculous, I see absolutely no advantage for obstacle racing athletes. Because most OCR races are run on the trails, and a majority of obstacles require a lot of jumping, and landing, it seems counter-intuitive to the needs of the racer, and seems that it would promote injury, force more careful foot placement, and ultimately slow the runner down.

Huarache Sandals and Various Knock-offs

It gets better.

Sandals.

Now, there are a lot of athletes, with whom I carry a great amount of respect, that choose to race in this kind of extreme minimalist footwear; but, I simply do not understand this incessant need to run in Huarache sandals, or any other sandal, when solid athletic performance is a desired outcome.

Unlike Vibrams, they look cool and interesting enough, but I have seen countless examples of OCR athlete, sitting on the side of the trail, all sad and dejected, with their cool, new, hip sandal in their hand, completely blown-out.

Or worse, feet that that have suffered some gnarly blistering from the in-between-toe straps, the ankle straps, or the loose footbed sliding around underneath.

Why is this better than, say, an Inov-8 Bare-X model shoe with zero drop heel-to-toe, minimal upper or cushioning material, and ultra-light at about six measly ounces? or a New Balance Minimus Zero model? Both of these shoes would feel every bit as light as Vibrams or sandals, but would provide that additional protection necessary to run faster, more worry-free, and less injury-prone.

It’s Not Just the Footwear

Overzealous athletes deserve some of the blame.

Many times, athletes jump on the bandwagon without taking the appropriate time to get used to minimalist footwear. The amount of new strain added to the calves, achilles and overall foot musculature is much greater in minimalist shoes, and it takes some acclimation before one can resume the same levels of racing and training.

In Cranky’s opinion, CrossFit is the best training methodology ever invented for the masses, but many people will tell you that CrossFit is a recipe for injury; and it can be, if athletes do not first take the time to learn proper technique, scale the loads and movements, and build a foundation for which to grow.

Minimalist footwear acclimation is exactly the same thing, and when this “foundational” process is ignored, people get hurt.

But Who Cares About All That?

All grouchy commentary aside, I believe that uber-minimalist footwear like Vibrams Five Fingers and Huarache sandals makes athletes slower, more careful runners, and rarely promotes maximum performance potential.

Ask yourself this, why do none of the Kenyons, ripping through 2:05 marathons, wear Vibrams or run barefoot?

Why are none of the fastest, elite, top-finishing trail runners, from distances as short as cross country, to ultramarathon distances of 100 miles or more, wearing Huarache sandals?

Or in OCR, where’s Hobie’s Huaraches? Cody? Ella? Margaret? Oh that’s right, Margaret races for Inov-8 🙂

These athletes do not choose this extreme footwear for racing because it does not make them faster, nor perform better.

So, Cranky has to ask, for those of you that do rock the Five Fingers at races, or the {gasp} latest model of primitive sandal, why?

What are you gaining by doing this?

How are your race performances benefiting?

Are any of you getting faster by doing so?

Cranky doesn’t think so, but is open to hearing your experiences.