Altra Footwear made a splash in 2011 as they brought to market a handful of shoes designed to accommodate a natural running style — shoes that were neutral from heel-to-toe—zero-drop—with an anatomically correct design and a foot friendly toe box (Fun-fact: Altra’s founders coined the term “zero-drop”). This included offerings like the Altra Instinct (just reviewed) and the beefed up, trail-ready (ultra-ready) Altra Lone Peak. And while the Instinct and Lone Peak have a decent amount of cushion to their soles, not all of Altra’s line is so plush: a few weeks back I reviewed Altra Footwear’s Adam, a super minimalist shoe that is almost like a pair of KSO FiveFingers without the individual toe pockets. Fast forward to today and we see Altra Footwear is expanding their more minimal line-up further with the release of the Altra Samson. If I had to characterize the Samson in rapid fashion, I’d say it’s almost like a cross between the Altra Instinct and the Altra Adam. The Samson has traditional shoe features like laces and it also has a sewn-in-place midsole with the 3.4 mm rubber outsole of the Adam. It’s styled more traditionally (and a bit retro, which is in step with the overarching look of the Instinct and Lone Peak). Let’s dive into a bit more detailed overview and full-on actual comparison to the Adam, including a little video goodness after the jump!
Here’s the deal. Altra has agreed to give away a free pair of Samsons in support of their release! How can you score a pair? You gotta share this post somehow — you can hop over to the BirthdayShoes Facebook page and share this review via the post on the BirthdayShoes facebook wall (it might take a couple hours to show up there for you to share; be patient!) — just make sure you share it publicly (Note a “share” is not a “like”) or I won’t see that you did it at all; alternatively, tweet a link to this post with the hashtag #Altra and a mention of @bdayshoes; option three: blog about this post (just comment below with your blogpost link so I know you did it). You can do all three and get three chances to win (max). All who do one of the three above (or all three or two) by Monday, March 12 at 5PM EST will be entered to win; one person will be randomly selected to win a pair of the Samson (or the women’s version, the Delilah). Good luck!
As previously noted, the Altra Samson is almost like a hybrid between the ultra-minimal Altra Adam and the less minimal Altra Instinct. The Samson has laces and a more traditional shoe upper; however, it’s sole is built on the 3.4 mm rubber sole — the same sole used with the Altra Adam — with a little extra. The Samson also has a 3.5 mm EVA (foam) midsole that is sewn-in place. One of the features of Altra’s shoes is they come with different removable insoles to customize the feel and fit to your foot’s needs (more or less support, basically). Assuming you’re down to the most minimal removable insole a.k.a. the “Strengthen Footbed,” you’re basically looking at about 10mm total stack height. I’ll save a few thousand words with a few pictures:
The Altra Samson features a super thin 3.4mm rubber sole and a 3.5mm EVA midsole with a traditional laced upper.
The sole of the Altra Samson is comprised of two non-negotiabe parts as well as a removable insole. I mentioned these above, but to save you from scrolling, the outsole is a razor-siped 3.4 mm rubber (that’s .1 mm less than the original FiveFingers sole) and there’s a sewn-in 3.5 mm EVA foam midsole. The “strengthen” footbed, while sounding sorta orthotic-ish, is just more foam. Add all this up and you get about 10mm of thickness as measured by my (somewhat) trusty skinfold calipers. The sole is “zero-drop,” meaning that it’s the same thickness at the heel as at the forefoot; a critical feature of any foot friendly shoe as high differentials between the heel and forefoot degrade your natural biomechanics for walking, running, or whatever. All the Altra shoes are “zero-drop,” as this is a defining aspect of their brand. You can wear the Samson with or without that insole; I’m not sure which I liked better, but I could see keeping it in there if you were going to hit the trails and didn’t want quite as much ground feel. Since the insole adds 3mm or so to the total stack height, it ends up diminishing ground feel substantially. More on this in a minute. The addition of the insole also reduces the amount of vertical space within the shoe, so I found my toes ever so much more often “rubbing” the upper fabric of the Samson, which is a little coarse. Without the insole, I found my foot didn’t breath quite as well, feeling a little sweaty against the more “raw” sole (seen in this picture here). So in short, insole in made for a bit more breath-ability for my foot but less ground feel and less room inside the shoes; insole out I got a little more ground feel but less breath-ability. Capiche?
A look at the 3.4mm rubber “BareSole” outsole of the Altra Samson – this is the same outsole as used by the Altra Adam though the Samson additionally has a 3.5mm EVA midsole.
Ground feel. The Samson provides decent ground feel — better than the more foam-reliant but similarly thick NB Minimus Zeros or Merrell Barefoot Bare Access shoes. That said, I found ground feel to be fairly muted as compared to its closest cousin, the Altra Adam. I’ll speak to this specifically below. The Samson’s sole is quite flexible. Rolling the shoes up you can tuck the front into the back and they won’t fly back open (as per the picture at the right). One interesting thing about the Samson sole is that, while it’s evocative of a foot when looked at from above, where the sole starts to go upward on the sides, it does so at a fairly hard angle. The result is that the edges of your foot — say at your forefoot — can feel a rubber “wall” on either side. Contrast this with the more rounded out sole of a pair of FiveFingers and you can start to imagine how this might change the feel and function of the soles. Basically, if your foot is so wide as to push on these walls, you start noting pressure. It’s nothing too annoying, but it’s noticeable and actually makes you realize how what seems like a little thing, having a flexible, rubber sole that gradually wraps the edges of your foot as you get with a pair of KSO FiveFingers, better accommodates the variable width of feet than having a similarly thick rubber sole that uses harder angles at the edges. I’d like to see Altra’s Adam/Samson sole reloaded here. Laces work as expected to lock on the shoes. There’s not a ton more to say than that; the Samson has laces and they do a good job of providing a customized fit that keeps your foot in place. Function. I’ve done my typical workouts in the Samsons and walked in them aplenty; they’re great for these purposes as they ground you and don’t interfere with your natural biomechanics.
The Altra Samson’s are quite comfortable and have a more traditional look to them thanks to the traditional materials and laced upper.
this is a placeholder