Here's an oft-heard frustration from would-be Vibram FiveFingers fans:
"I want to get the 'barefoot feel' of the FiveFingers, but my toes are [too long/too short/too crooked/downright uncooperative]. What other minimalist shoes could I wear that would feel the same?"
Unfortunately, the answer to this query has usually been, "You're outta luck." Of course, while there's always the option of going actually barefoot (something we tend to forget!), if you couldn't do toe shoes, your next option was going to be something a lot stiffer-soled than what you get with a pair of Vibrams.
That is, pretty much, until the Altra Adam (or Eve for women) came out. I can't go so far as to say that Altra Adam has replicated the benefits of toe shoes in a traditional, mitten-like shoe, but the Altra Adam probably gets about as close as possible — surely as close as anyone to date.
And that's what I'm reviewing today. Now that you've seen Joey's first look at the Altra Adam, it's time for a full review. Read on!
Meet the Zero-Dropped Altra Adam
The Altra Adam simultaneously reminds me of a non-five-toed pair of KSO FiveFingers, a pair of aqua shoes, and a pair of Chacos worn with socks. In short, it's an odd looking shoe (and I'll go into the aesthetic briefly later).
Before I dive into the design, take a look at what comes in the box — shoes, two different insoles to customize the cushioning/ground-feel/support, and a whole lot of instructions:
But lest you think the instructions are limited to the box itself, rest assured that there's even more information in a booklet that comes with the Altra Adams. The short of it is that Altra really wants to get people off to the right start when it comes to moving naturally, and they realize that the temptation for most barefoot-style newbies (Into walking, running, or whatever) is to hit the ground running — when they should take it slowly. Shoes aren't magic, after all, and if you've spent a few years or decades learning to move in shoes with elevated heels and a heap of cushioning, you're assuredly going to have to rehabilitate your feet, your legs, and you nervous system (No joke). It takes time. Be patient.
Anyway, just check out all the literature you get in the box (some of it marketing material, of course):
Pretty impressive, no?
As far as those insoles are concerned, with the Altra Adam, there are three basic configurations:
- No insole at all (Looks like this on the inside).
- A thin foam insole that is floopy and structureless, but adds just a smidgeon of cushioning. Here's a picture of it laying flat.
- A slightly thicker, more structured insole.
While I applaud the customize-ability of these options, I can't help but think that it's a little overkill to include two insole options. For me, I opted for the thin foam sole in most of my testing (more on this later in function/feel).
Upper and straps — I mentioend that the Adams reminded of wearing Chacos with socks because the straps, which are velcro and work to secure the fit, are in two places — one over the top of the foot and another that crisscrosses over the instep. Underneath these straps is a stretchy fabric and mesh that is incredibly reminiscent of the FiveFingers KSO: just contrast the KSOs pictured here with the picture at the right. See?
Meanwhile, Altra has placed bits of sturdier, structure-giving fabric at key locations on the shoe: as a sling around the heel (also note the upper that wraps the heel has some padding to it to make it comfortable against your Achilles tendon), to bolster the upper strap, and in two pieces as a toe guard at the front of the shoe.
Sole — The Altra Adam's sole features a five-toed pattern at the end and is, once again, reminiscent of the original FiveFingers sole (that's a pic of a pair of women's KSOs). The sole of the Adam is basically smooth and comprised of a thin rubber with just a 1mm bit of EVA (With no footbeds the Adam is 4.4mm thick). The rubber sole part is just 3.4mm, which is .1 mm thinner than the most basic FiveFingers sole. The sole has no arch support and is neutral from heel to toe (It's "Zero-drop". As noted above, comes with various options for cushioning (essentially, zero, a little, and a little more).
Take a stroll around the Altra Adam via these photos:
Function and Barefoot Feel
I tested the Adams by walking around and doing "normal" stuff in them, including a few workouts (squats/dead lifts). You can learn a lot about a shoe by simply walking around in it — particularly if you've (re-)learned to walk more naturally. The Altra Adam's are great in that they are lightweight, neutral, and very flexible. This means that I don't ever feel like my heel is "catching" the ground too soon in my stride; it also means that I feel extremely grounded with 250 lbs. on my back.
My most exacting testing of the Altra Adam came from a hike up Kennesaw Mountain outside of Atlanta, completed with a 25 lb. two-year-old strapped to my back via a Kelty 2.0 Child Carrier*. This is a somewhat rocky, fairly quick mile-long trail up the mountain — you ascend about 660 ft. over the mile up. Despite having a sometimes flailing two-year old on my back, the Altra Adams kept me sure-footed; it's often heard, "Don't you need ankle support for hiking? You could twist your ankle in those." Well, not in my experience — it seems that being close to the ground allows you to sense when your footing is shifting and adjust fast enough to avoid rolling an ankle. I'd say most hiking shoes need ankle support because they are built to bomb over any obstacle without any thought.
Anyway, I was able to even do a few short bursts (say 25 yards at a time) of running down the mountain with the toddler/pack on my back and I had zero issues and never felt unsafe. Mind, the Adams don't have a very aggressive tread, so that is certainly something to consider if you plan on running trails in them, but overall, I was very pleased with my hiking experience in the Adam.
Overall ground feel — with or without the most minimal insole that is included — is excellent. It's odd**, I'd still peg it as slightly less than KSO or Classic FiveFingers, but the Adams unquestionably provide more ground feel than you get with the Bikila-, Trek-, or KomodoSport-soled Vibrams. If you're after ground feel in a pair of shoes, I'd say the Altra Adam is about as good as you can get*** — certainly the best I've tested to date in a pair of non-toe shoes.
Now if I had to pick on the Adams, I'd cite three things. First, the shoe just feels a little prototypical — as if it's not quite the final product. Mind, the ones I tested are the final product. It's just sort of an overall impression of the shoe that feels unrefined — almost like you're looking at a model built purely to test out function, with the intention of cleaning it up in the final production. Note, I'd basically make the same complaint about the KSO as compared to virtually any of the more recent FiveFingers models.
Second, the strap over the front of the foot is a bit stiff and uncomfortable. I found it irritated my feet a bit and just nags at my consciousness saying, "Hey I'm here!"
Thankfully, I think these two complaints were in no way unique to my experience and Altra is releasing a considerably more refined product with their Samson (men's) and Delilah (women's) (will be testing these soon!). I think if you take a quick peek at the Samson you'll see what I mean almost instantly.
The third nit is both a complaint and a kudos. It has to do with the toe guard, which doubles as a toe catch. One issue I've had with non-toe shoes is that when you dorisflex (point toes skyward), the shoes don't respond well. Awesomely, the Adam's toe guard/catch does a pretty awesome job of catching a dorisflexed big toe on the way up, and in turn, lifting up the sole. The only problem is that sometimes it doesn't work as well as others and my big toe doesn't get caught by the guard, and just ends up pulling against the stretchier fabric of the upper (Compare these two photos here and here and notice how in the second, my big toe is pulling at the fabric at the front of the Adams, but it doesn't in the first).
Ah one last thing about the insoles. My initial thought on the insoles was that I'd likely wear them with no insole at all. But what I found is that I actually find the Altra Adams to be considerably more comfortable with the most basic insole; for some reason, insoles removed entirely, the Adam feels incomplete and for some reason, the rubber sole curves up at the midfoot/metatarsels of my foot at an angle that annoys — but only when I don't have the insole in place. Meanwhile, wearing one foot with and one foot without the insole, the ground feel really didn't seem very different — so I just bypassed the sole angle issue entirely and kept the basic insole in.
Here are some photos of the Adams on my feet:
I'll only touch on this briefly but something about the Adam really reminds me of an aqua shoe. I suppose you could say the same about KSO FiveFingers. Well, I did sorta hint at the Adam being "KSO-Like" in the title of this review, right?
So the Adam looks a little aquatic; so what? Function over form, right? If you wear toe shoes regularly, you already adhere to this. Probably the only complaint you could make is that you'd like a shoe to look more like a shoe (Well, maybe the Samson solves that little problem, too — we'll see!)
All in all if you're after a barefoot-style function and feel in a shoe, the Altra Adam practically/protyptically nails it (and I'm excited to see the reload with the Samson!). It provides fantastic ground feel (virtually the best of any minimalist shoe out there) that will leave you surefooted and moving naturally with healthy biomechanics. It's got some design imperfections, but Altra seems to be listening and if the above-mentioned concerns bother you, maybe check out the Samson.
Pricewise, the Adam is going to set you back $80 but that's with free shipping and free exchanges from Altra, which should allay sizing concerns. Altra says to size down if you plan to wear them without insoles, but my 10.5s (my normal shoe size) seem fine either way (actually I'd be worried about the insole-less spurred sole/metatarsel rubbing being worse if I sized down a half size).
Who else has the Altra Adam? What about the women's Altra Eve? What do you think? Let's hear it in the comments!
Official Altra Adam Product Specs
Introducing the most versatile minimalist shoe ever created. Razor-siped soles grip onto nearly any surface from slick rock to a dusty trail. Included insoles, a breathable stretch fabric upper and secure-cinch strapping combine for incredible performance. And, with a foot-shaped design and the 3.4 mm BareSole™, The Adam™ is the closest anyone will ever be to barefoot while still wearing a shoe.
- Weight: 4.7 Ounces
- Foot Shaped Design: Male SD-1 Last
- 3.4mm Siped Performance Rubber BareSole Outsole
- NRS: Natural Ride System
- Breathable Stretch Upper with SecureCinch Strapping
- SeeNoSeam Stitch Free Footbed
- HeelClaw and A Wrap for Superior Fit
- A-bound Strengthen and Molded Support Insole
* Love this thing and have two.
** Odd because the math should put the Adam ahead of the Classics with insole removed (.1mm thinner soled) and the KSOs have the same Classics sole but also have a 2mm EVA midsole. Anyway, the Adam's ground feel is negligibly different than the KSO or Classic FiveFingers; my gut says I like the Classics/KSO feel slightly better (or rather, it's slightly more feel, but that's just me).
*** I'd actually peg the Soft Star Roos as being more minimal but not so great for hiking given they're almost too flexibly soled.