I have big clown feet - size 13. Many manufacturers stop making half sizes after 12, so it ends up being hit or miss just in terms of length - usually 13s are too short, 14s too long, in any given model. I also have large toes - particularly the Captain, and most toe boxes are either too narrow or not high enough.
As a result, I've developed sporadic foot pain that comes from wearing shoes that are too tight. I've had shoes where I've really loved the ride - a number of Adidas models come to mind -- but they weren't good for me.
The first model of shoe I felt comfortable in was the Sketcher GoRun Ride 3. A major issue: too much room, so much that during a 50K, my foot slid around so much that I got major blistering issue. But no pain otherwise. So I accelerated the search, knowing that I needed less structure (not too much less), more room, and some upper support to keep my foot in place.
Discovering Hokas was a revelation. Shoes like the Clifton and Challenger were massive improvements in comfort and nice upper lock down, but the cushioning just didn't feel right to me.
Altras seem like they are the best out there for my needs. My first shoe was the Instinct 3.0. The Instinct is the men's - the Intuition is the women's. A cute and stereotypical naming scheme, which as a man with a strong sense of intuition I object to. Be that as it may -- I continue to run in 3s as the 3.5 comes into general release. The Instinct 3.0 toe box is great - never come close to blistering or feeling them rub at a hotspot. Not too much structure but enough to keep my foot in place. The right amount of midsole cushioning. No foot pain or discomfort. And at least for me, durability through the 300 mile mark.
(I also have the Lone Peak 2.5 which I like - more cushioned than the Instinct 3.0, but close to the general feel. I tried the Torin 2.0s, but thought there was too much cush and it hurt my foot. I'd definitely like to try The One 2.5 on of these days.)
Complaints? A few. The lacing of the 3.0 wasn't great. Sometimes you get puckering around the eyes, and once in a while it's not laced perfectly and you can get a little discomfort on a spot on the top of your foot. I also thought the upper could be beefed up - its a little too light. I would have liked a little more tread as well - although they aren't slippy in wet weather, they could use some more grip for turning corners with more comfort. But despite those minor drawbacks, I did run well in everything from a road 5K to a road marathon to a 50K on trails in those shoes with happy results.
I bought a pair of 3.5s, with some trepidation. I worried that Altra, like most shoe companies, would end up messing up a good thing with the upgrade. And the photos I saw of the shoe made it more hideous than the 3.0s. To be fair, the 3.0 was most hideous in its orange or red version, but the blacks were acceptable.
I think Altra, for the most part, did a great job on the 3.5s. The uppers are slightly beefed up, mostly I think by adding a leather strip that starts behind the heel, winds over the outside eyelets, and crosses over to the inside toe. A pretty ingenious way of doing so without decreasing the breathability or flexibility of the upper. They also use two different materials for the inside and outside of the upper - I think the inside might be a little thicker. This also ads a little more feeling of support to the upper.
The lacing is improved - narrower towards both the toe and the ankle, wider in the middle.
And the midsole is slightly firmer in a way I like - if the 3.0 was a 5 in terms of softness, this is somewhere in the 4-4.5 range. The flex seems close to the 3.0 as well.
What could be better? The looks. See for yourself, but they look like what would happen if clown shoes had sex with bowling shoes, the bowling shoes got pregnant and took acid during the gestation. I got the reds - they may actually be a bit less heinous in yellow or black, but blue is out of the question. You almost think Altra is looking for an excuse to lower sales of the shoe by making them weird looking - just doing the same shoe in solid colors would have been a massive improvement. The women's Intuition is much the same with some obligatory purple and pinks.
Also - it would have been nice to have had more grip on the outsoles - they seem identical to the 3.0s.
I would highly recommend the shoe for the fashion or vision impaired runner who is in search of pain-free, blister-free feet.
Update (58 miles): Unfortunately, I like these shoes less than after the first run.
- The outsole is just too firm. I said it was a 4 or 4.5 out of 10 - with 10 the softest, with the 3.0s at a 5. I would say these are closer to a 3 or 3.5 - significantly firmer, and on longer runs, too firm for comfort.
- The upper is a little too structured compared to the 3.0s. It is on the verge of a support shoe whereas the 3.0 was completely neutral.
I still have a pair of 3.0s that I wear, and I think I prefer them for the above reasons. Your mileage and preferences may vary.
PS: This post would suck without photos.
From the top:
Left foot, outside shot:
Right foot, inside shot:
Also see: My Year in Shoes 2016
Altra Instinct 4.0 review (2017)