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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 less lateral 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.
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
- Versatile for OCR and beyond
- Deep lugs with outstanding grip
- Great fit and comfort
- 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.
- 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.