Altra Provision Running Shoe Review
Modeled after The Instinct™ platform, The Provision™ adds a firmer midsole and a removable varus stability wedge to assist men with fallen arches, excessive overpronation and knock knees. Built for moderate and high overpronation, the Zero Drop™ platform, foot-shaped design and stability wedge combine to provide a high level of stability without the excessive bulk and weight of traditional stability shoes. Simply remove the stability wedge to convert this shoe to work for neutral and mild overpronation.
The Altra Provision (like the Altra Instinct) skirts the boundary of the minimalist running shoe category. The Provision is definitely minimal because of its zero heel-to-toe drop and anatomically correct shape (custom for women and men) resulting in a nice wide toe box for proper toe splay and the weight is a bit more than the Instinct, 9.1 oz (258 gr) without the stability wedge, 9.9 oz (281 gr) with it compared to the Instinct which is 8.8 oz (249 gr). The stack height is 20mm which includes the outsole, midsole and removable foam insole (5mm thick). The thickness does limit the amount of ground feel or prioproception however the relatively firm A-Bound™ midsole does still allow some ground feedback.
Just like my previous reviews of the Altra Instinct and Altra Lone Peak, the first thing most people notice about any of the shoes in the Altra line is the foot shaped design. This feature alone sets the Altra shoe line apart from most of their peers. The distinctive toe box follows the shape of the foot and allows plenty of room for your toes to splay naturally.
As can be seen in these photographs the Provision upper materials are a bit more substantial than the Instinct. However, I still found the upper to be extremely breathable and comfortable. Like the Instinct, the Provision has a “Sockless-Friendly Premium Liner” which basically means there are very few visible seams inside the shoe and while I can’t evaluate how these shoes would handle running sockless, I’ve encountered no foot discomfort: abrasions, blisters, etc… even with the thin socks I wear.
In addition to the asymmetric lacing, the Provision utilizes what Altra calls the ‘A’-Wrap (the gray strips at the midfoot) and the HeelClaw™ (gray strips in the heel) to lock your heel and midfoot into the shoe while still allowing ample toe room.
All the Altra line comes with removable, thin foam footbeds. There is absolutely no arch support in the Instinct, the foot bed of the shoe is completely flat and shaped like your foot. So w/o an insole there will be a void between the top of your arch and the food bed. So if you want to “fill that void” use one of the provided foam insoles. The Provision, along with all the other Altra models, is designed gender specific to accommodate the unique female and male foot forms. In general this means that the female version, called the Provisioness, runs narrower in the heel than the male version and the toe box of the female is a bit narrower than the mens. What makes the Provision a bit more unique is that it comes with a stability wedge insole that is made of rubber. It is NOT an arch support, rather it literally is a wedge shaped insole in that the inner side of the insole is thicker than the outer side. The idea is to provide a bit of a wedge to counter act those runners who have moderate to high overpronation issues. As I’m a fairly neutral runner I never ran in the Provision with the wedge insole so I can’t speak for how well the wedge might perform.
Overall my first impressions were very positive. As expected they felt pretty much like lacing up a pair of Instincts. Like the putting on the Instincts for the first time you’ll notice the amazing amount of toe room in the Provision, also how your heel is locked firmly in place and doesn’t slip. Although the Provision upper doesn’t have the large open weave of the Instinct I still think “Quick-Dry Mesh” will help keep my feet cool during the swelteringly humid summers where I live (more on that in a minute!). I’ll also add that I felt my foot better supported in this shoe than the Instinct when running on trails or other off camber surfaces. There is just a bit more material in the Provision uppers that help lock your foot in place; definitely noticeable compared to the Instinct.
Admittedly the Instinct looked a bit “one off” or “old fashioned” but the Provision, at least to me, looks a lot more sporty and polished; after all it is a second generation shoe for Altra. While the looks still may not please everybody (there are few shoes that do) I still think most folks would agree that this a much better looking shoe than the Instinct.
The midsole of the Provision, like the Instinct, consists of two sandwiched layers. The first layer, immediately below the footbed is what Altra calls A-Bound™ which they describe as an:
Environmentally friendly, this energy-return compound is made of recycled materials. Offering extra protection, this unique layer sits directly under the foot to return energy back into each stride. It reduces the impact of hard surfaces while still maintaining ground feedback. Traditional running shoe foam compresses 70-90% while A-Bound™ compresses 2-3x less so it won't deform over time.
The second layer is rather stiff EVA foam, more of the A-Bound™ material but slightly firmer than the first thin layer.
If you’re thinking this is a “cushy” road shoe you’d be surprised to learn that the Provision midsole is far from it. In fact the overall feel is very firm and ground feel, while much reduced, isn’t completely eliminated. I could still notice gravel and road inconsistencies underfoot but the relative thickness of the midsole definitely was doing its job to protect my feet. The overall feel is a bit more firm than the Instinct but otherwise not majorly different.
Altra calls it the FootPod™ Outsole and it is indeed one of the most unique road sole designs I’ve ever encountered. The skeleton looking sole is also another conversation starter. This outsole was designed:
For maximum flex and responsiveness, this outsole maps the bones and tendons of the human foot. With canted lugs mapping your foot, this unique outsole provides a natural, all-purpose traction system for a variety of surfaces from road to treadmill to dirt paths.
I can definitely attest that the outsole is definitely adequate for running on most dry surfaces even on some buffer trails I felt comfortable and in control with the simple tread pattern. Now wet and muddy trails would be a different story, but as this is primarily a road running shoe it’s no big deal. I had more than a few wet pavement runs with these shoes and they definitely don’t slip!
As of this review I have tested the Altra Provision by running on paved and gravel road; basically on the surfaces it was intended for. At the time of this review I’ve logged over 50 miles in the shoe. I’m pretty much reiterating my comments from my Instinct review as I felt the Provision performed pretty much just like the Instinct. Here are my impressions:
Pavement — Simply superb; what this shoe is designed for. Plenty of traction and the firm cushioning is neither too squishy or bricklike. Most of my mileage in the Instinct has been on pavement or concrete and I can say they’ve performed very effectively. I recently ran the Strolling Jim 40 Mile Road Race (actually 41.2 miles). The entire course consisted of asphalt roads of various quality and age. Had no issues with my feet whatsoever; in fact even though my feet got drenched just a couple miles in from a sudden severe rain storm, they ended up drying out in no time. I finished with no blisters and my feet felt pretty good; not sore or stiff like I’ve experienced in the past by wearing other shoes. In the past I’d always have a blister or two between or on top of my toes caused by running in shoes with too narrow of a toe box which resulted in a lot of friction between the toes because they couldn’t naturally splay.
Gravel — Very effective. While I could notice larger chunks of gravel I stepped on (sometimes purposefully just to see) it definitely was muted and not painful. For normal gravel I still could sense the ground so there is some ground feel transmitted due to the hard rubber sole and firm midsole. One very slightly annoying thing about running on gravel is the possibility of getting a small rock embedded in one of the grooves on the bottom of the shoe. Didn’t happen super often, but it happened enough to mention.
In short this is probably the most comfortable road shoe I’ve ever worn in my 20+ years of running; even better than my previous favorite the Altra Instinct! For an ultra-shuffler like me this was enough shoe to get through 41.2 hilly, hot asphalt miles but not too much shoe. If I had to choose between the Provision and Instinct I’d lean a bit towards the Provision because the upper is a bit more secure for off-road running and I really like the slightly firmer midsole. But you can’t really go wrong either way.
Although I don’t have a ton of miles in the Provision, I do have a lot of miles between this shoe and my two pair of Instincts. I can attest to the fact that these Altra road shoes (Instinct and Provision) will take a long time to wear out. The Provision overall fit is superb and my toes have never been happier having plenty of room to splay!
As I mentioned in my Instinct review I’ll reiterate that it would be nice if the Provision (and Instinct for that matter) was a bit more flexible in the forefoot and a bit lighter. I by reducing the stack height slightly and making some informed cosmetic and material changes the shoe could be made significantly lighter.
Who is this shoe for?
If you’re an avid runner who is dabbling in (or thought about it) minimalism but doesn’t want to sacrifice ample underfoot cushioning or protection this is the shoe for you. Or even if you’re not into running but want a shoe with ample toe room that fits well, this is the shoe for you.
The fact that it’s zero drop, has enough firm cushioning without going over board and has an ample toe box that allows natural toe splay should be enough! Try it out, you’ll like it!
Where to get it
If you're looking for the Provision, you can pick it up at AltraZeroDrop.com for about $105 with free shipping (and exchanges). Or tap your local specialty running store and see if they're carrying the Altra line.