Lone Ranger: hi-ho Silver, and away….
For those of you old enough: remember the Lone Ranger? Do-gooder Texas Ranger cowboy dude sporting a black eyemask (that never really did conceal his identity) and an eye-brow-raising, rather tight for the times, all-lilac-blue outfit replete with a dainty red neckerchief. I mean, seriously, who wears lilac blue when barrelling along on a trusty steed pursuing dastardly outlaws in the badlands of the Wild West? All that dust shows up terribly on lilac blue…
No matter what the Lone Ranger’s fashion choices, he and his native American Indian partner, Tonto, always got their (bad) man, and always coped with whatever the rough Wild West terrain threw at them as they bolted through it.
So, too, the latest Altra Lone Peak 3.5 strides out in an all-blue colourway, albeit a much more appropriate deep navy shade that hides the dirt much better. It also eats up whatever the wilderness throws at it. That’s this shoe’s strength – gobbling up technical singletrack, gripping like it has wolf teeth, yet still riding cloud-like over the grit, like the Ranger and Tonto hoofing it across the western plains.
Those two lawmen were expert horsemen, however, whereas with these trail running steeds, there’s a bit of breaking in required. Not so much of the shoe, but of you.
Most in trail run land will by now know Altra sits in a very specific space in the shoe-style heirachy, it’s core pillars being zero-drop (the company coined the term) – so your foot sits as it would on the ground, flat – and a wide toe-box that lets your toes splay naturally rather than confining them to an un-natural shape. The result is not just a shoe that looks a little – well, boxy – but also a shoe that if your Achilles and calves are not trained up for the zero drop, you are going to take some time conditioning yourself to them. You’ll feel it if you are used to having a wedge under your heel.
So ease in gently remembering this isn’t just a lower drop of 6 or 4mm, its ZERO-drop. Things is, once you are habituated to it, your muscles and tendons conditioned, the result is indeed less fatigue, rather than more. But we’ve covered the Altra points of difference here before (check previous editions). So what’s different about this particular pair, the 3.5? (I’m unsure if the half scale designation 0.5 means it’s only a half-revised model? I mean, why not just jump to the V4.0?).
The main upgrades are a quick dry mesh, enhanced drainage features, and a refined midfoot / heel fit. Along with these three upgrades you get a new four-point gaiter hold, which highlights that these shoes are set up to cope with seriously rough stuff.
When it comes to the midsole the story is cushy, cushy but not too mushy. It’s a beefy 25mm stack height, is indeed comparable with some of the Hoka range, specifically the Clifton 4 with a 23mm forefoot stack height.
In the midsole, designers have squeezed a slim rock plate adding to what is a super-protective ride. You can roll over pretty much anything in these and barely feel a thing, making them excellent for super knarly and technical terrain. The sole material is made out of a combination standard EVA foam and proprietary ‘A-Bound’ foam, which sits directly below the foot and compresses 2–3-times less than traditional foam. In the forefoot zone this translates into a better trail feel than you would expect in such a cushioned shoe. In essence, it delivers a desirable balance between a softer ride, with good feedback from the mid-forefoot strike you should be putting in to play.
The midsole has a decidedly rocking curvature, the heel and forefoot tipping up slightly either end. But the shoe is not exactly stiff, so all that does is give a subtle (if noticeable at all) spring effect when you rock through your step.
Durability has been a bone of contention for Altra-wearers in the past, and while we haven’t tested these beyond the 50km mark yet, the new upper does seem to be more robust that past editions. We’ll take a watching brief on these as we poke them around the trails further.
Looking more closely at the upper mesh we see that Altra put in extra threads around high stress areas.
One feature most other trail shoes lack is the 4-point gaiter system found on these. A velcro clasp at the back combines with a metal loop at the front and side openings in the overlay to hold a gaiter as firm as you could hope.
The shoe is not for those with small, thin feet, nor those looking for a nimble, short-fast-run racer feel. But if mountains and beefy terrain is your go, and you like the splay of toes giving you extra stability, and you’re conditioned to Zero Drop, these are definitely an on-radar choice.
The 0.5 designation seems to indicate that these are a mild upgrade from the previous incarnation, rather than a full-blown redesign. As with most upgrades, the upsides are good and there are few downsides. There’s enough change to warrant your new investment, and the changes all address small weaknesses to make the shoe overall a much stronger contender.
Tonto used to call the Lone Ranger ‘Kemosabe’ – which loosely translates to ‘trusted scout’. Just like the Lone Ranger, these Altra Lone Peak 3.5 can easily be trusted to scout you through any single track in the wild west. Or wild east, north or south. Anywhere really. They are that good. Even if they are, like the Lone Ranger, a little lacking in the fashion stakes.
NOTE: there are other, better, colourways!
The Low Down
Great for: slab feet runners, ultra distances, strong calves, comfort, technical running, grip
Not-so-great for: fashion (subjective), thin feet, minimalists
Test Conditions: last minute test, so only 45km of local singeltrack, mixed technical and groomed MTB trails, rocky, rooty sections.
Tester: Chris Ord, TRM Editor,
Tester Mechanics: midfoot striker, prefers technical, perennially undertrained
Conditions: shoes were provided for wear test by Altra Australia