Gear Review — Altra Lone Peak (3.5 and 4.0)

For around 3 years I have been using the Altra Lone Peak as my “go-to” backpacking shoe; I’ve used it on 4 different continents at this point:

  • North America
    • Alaska, Southeastern United States, Colorado, California, Washington
  • Europe
    • Corsica, France — GR20 trail
  • New Zealand
    • Dusky Track, Fiordland National Park (South Island)
  • South America
    • Ecuador

So. . . what are my takeaways?

|| Background || 

I first started hiking with a bulky pair of Asolo PowerMatic boots. They were rugged and durable, but more than anything they were HEAVY.

Big, bulky, and a bit of overkill.

A friend of mine proposed that I try using trail runners. At the time I was hesitant, mostly because I had previous ankle injuries and I feared the lack of structural support in a low-cut running shoe. The idea of lighter feet, though, was too tempting to pass up.

In doing research, I came across the Altra Lone Peak. I ordered a pair, slipped them on, and immediately noticed a few things:

(1) The square toe box design by Altra, called “FootShape,” felt incredible, and left plenty of room for my toes to wiggle around. I did not feel like my foot was squished into a tapered shoe anymore. I have large-volume feet, so the extra space was much appreciated.

(2) The 25 mm stack height (def: amount of material between foot and ground) made it feel like I was walking on a cloud.

(3) The zero-drop (def: heel is at the same height as the toe) design felt like a rocker; when I took a stride, I felt like the shoe was naturally flowing through the next motion.

Lounging in my Lone Peaks on the Pfiffner Traverse in Colorado.

|| Types of Terrain|| 

I’ve taken the Lone Peaks into numerous different trail environments:

  • Desert in Utah and Arizona on the Hayduke Route
Overlooking the magnificent Grand Canyon, the finale of my Hayduke Route trip in early May 2019.
  • Rainforest in New Zealand on the Dusky Track

 

  • Snow and Ice in the Cascades, Colorado, and Ecuador
  • Packed trail in California, the Southeastern United States, and Alaska

|| Field Notes || 

— Lone Peak 3.5 — 

Specs

  • Price: Old model; Original MSRP of $120
  • Weight: 9.7 oz (Mens US Size 9)
  • Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed
  • FootShape™ Toe box
  • Stack Height: 25 mm
  • Midsole: Dual Layer EVA / A-Bound™ with StoneGuard™
  • Outsole: MaxTrac™ Rubber with TrailClaw™
  • Upper: Quick-Dry Air Mesh

Let me start with field notes on the Altra Lone Peak 3.5 model.

I’ve gone through 7 pairs of this shoe:

  • (1) pair for 95 miles in New Zealand on the Dusky Track, Fiordland National Park
  • (2) pairs for 650 mile cross-country trek in Colorado (see Colorado Crest)
  • (1) pair for 120 mile GR20 trail in Corsica, France (see GR20)
  • (1-2) pairs for miscellaneous hiking in SE US (North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina) and Alaska

Durability — Disappointing

The Altra Lone Peak 3.5 is not a long-lasting shoe. Most trail runners should last around 500 miles, depending on the trail conditions. In my experience, the Lone Peak 3.5s begin to deteriorate after the 100-150 mile mark, and by the 350 mile mark are near retirement.

Outsole Toe Attachment

Notice the toe of the outsole detaching. The adhesive used seems to wear easily.

For me, this has always been the first point of failure on the Lone Peak 3.5 model. I have noticed the toe beginning to peel as early as 75 miles into the life of the shoe; I believe the latest the toe has begun to peel for me was around the 150 mile mark.

At times, I had to field repair the toe attachment using Shoe Goo or duct tape to avoid the outsole coming off completely.

Upper Stitching

The next point of failure was always the upper stitching, especially on the inside of the foot. The seams seemed to be fragile and ripped easily when scrambling over rougher terrain, such as talus, scree, or anything other than well trodden, packed trail.

Upper Side Meshing

A pair of my Lone Peaks after around 400 miles of use.

The side mesh of the upper ripped easily when scraping through scree, lunging across talus, or hacking through bushes. The mesh is porous enough that the aerated holes act like gripping point for branches, twigs, etc.

Breathability — Impressive

The model of Lone Peak 3.5 I used was non-waterproof and highly breathable (note that Altra does make a model of the Lone Peak with PolarTec NeoShell, which is a waterproof membrane). The lightweight, air mesh upper allowed my feet to breathe and dry quickly after stepping in puddles. If completely submerged, the Lone Peaks dried to the point of being “damp” within 30-45 minutes, and be completely dry within 30 minutes of taking them off and sticking them in the sun.

Notice the bottom of my pants soaked and muddy from the Dusky Track in New Zealand. I appreciated the Lone Peak’s breathability at the end of a long day in the mud so that I could dry them out.

I deliberately chose the non-waterproof model of the Lone Peak because I was looking for a shoe that would dry out quickly. I had experienced sweaty feet with the Gore-Tex liners in my previous boots, and I opted for a quick dunk in a puddle over hours of sweaty, clammy feet, which would inevitably lead to blisters.

Traction — Acceptable

Altra’s design of “Trail Claws” works well for off-trail scrambling and gripping in mud. . . while it lasts. They provide surprising grip and traction across granite slab and otherwise difficult terrain.

When travelling across large scree and talus fields, the Trail Claws were much appreciated.

As I mentioned, the Lone Peak is certainly not the most durable shoe, and for me, the Trail Claws begin to wear down after 250 miles or so of use.

Rocks, Dirt, and Sand — Disappointing

While the air mesh provides great breathability, it is a poor guard against small rocks, dirt, and sand, which easily pass through the porous air mesh membrane. While hiking along the Hayduke Route in Arches and Canyonlands NP, I had to stop numerous times and take off my shoes to dump out pools of sand and small pebbles.

With fine, powdery sand like this, the Lone Peaks quickly filled up like buckets.

— Lone Peak 4.0 — A Review In-Progress — 

Beginning in July of 2019, I updated to the Lone Peak 4.0 model.

Specs

The reported specs on the Lone Peak 4.0s are identical to the 3.5s, including the MSRP of $120.

First Impression — Renewed Upper Mesh

My first impression of the Lone Peak 4.0 was the difference in the upper construction. While Altra still describes the upper construction as the same “air mesh,” the uppers on the Lone Peak 4.0 seemed to be of a sturdier design, almost like a ripstop material. I was hopeful that this upgrade would improve the durability of the shoe and decrease the ease that dirt/sand/rock permeated through the upper mesh.

|| Field Notes ||

Durability — Improved But Still Needs Improvement

The revamped upper construction on the Lone Peak 4.0 solved the problems the Lone Peak 3.5 had with the upper air mesh tearing and ripping. However, for me the toe still began to peel from the outsole after just 100-150 miles. I took the Lone Peak 4.0s on a 30 mile trail in Alaska, as well as 80 miles of the Sierra High Route and around 100 miles of the John Muir Trail.

Notice the toe beginning to peel from the outsole, even after just 150 miles or so of use.

That said, the upper still began to tear and rip in a few places on the 4.0, but these rips were more due to punctures from sticks and roots rather than complete rips and tears from scree.

Breathability — Still Impressive

The Lone Peak 4.0s showed similar performance to the Lone Peak 3.5s in their ability to breathe and drain water. When fording creeks on the Sierra High Route, the Lone Peak 4.0s dried in direct sunlight in under one hour after being completely submerged.

After fording creeks like this, the Lone Peak 4.0s quickly dried to a point of “dampness” within 30 minutes or so.

Traction — Improved

The Lone Peak 4.0s have a more aggressive outsole design than the Lone Peak 3.5s, with more points of contact, which Altra calls “MaxTrac”.

Through 150 miles, the outsole of the Lone Peak 4.0s appeared to show less wear overall than the Lone Peak 3.5s, especially when it comes to the Trail Claws. Through 150 miles with the Lone Peak 3.5s, the Trail Claws were reducing to nubs, but with the 4.0s, the Trail Claws still retained much of their initial prominence.

Rocks, Sand, and Dirt — Improved

With the change in the upper membrane, the Lone Peak 4.0s seemed to be more impermeable to fine sand, pebbles, and dirt/mud, as opposed to the 3.5 model. The upper air mesh nylon on the 4.0s, as I previously mentioned, seems to have a finer nylon mesh than the 3.5, which improved both the durability and the impermeability in this case.

Notice the mesh on the 4.0 seems to be much finer than the 3.5 model.

|| For High Routes: Sole Stiffness and Comfort — Average ||

The outsole of the Lone Peak model is not stiff, neither for the 3.5 nor the 4.0. It is not Vibram rubber nor does it feel remotely close to the stiff rubber used in many climbing shoes and mountaineering boots.

The soft, flexible rubber used for the outsole of the Lone Peak model feels wonderfully comfortable on cushier trail; when you transition above the treeline, especially on high routes, you can begin to notice a clear difference, however. When scrambling or boulder hopping on large talus or small scree, I noticed the outsole bending and shaping to the rock, rather than remaining rigid and firm. On longer scrambles, this would tire my feet, and I would begin to “feel” the rock 20 minutes into a scramble, even through the 25 mm stack height. That said, I’ve taken the Lone Peaks on numerous high routes, including the Pfiffner Traverse and a section of the Sierra High Route.

Me and my Lone Peaks on the Colorado Crest, which included a high route called the Pfiffner Traverse. I would go long sections boulder hopping and walking across thin ridges with the Lone Peaks.

Granted, the pliable outsole works well for a trail running shoe, allowing it to conform to your stride and the trail; just understand that if you are planning on ridge running or boulder hopping for long stretches, you will not be able to “edge” well with these shoes and your feet may tire more than a rock climbing approach shoe might, or a shoe with stiffer Vibram rubber.

|| Similar Options / Alternatives ||

There are plenty of trail runners on the market, both made by Altra as well as different manufacturers. I do not have much experience with other models of trail runners, but here are some “similar” models to the Lone Peak that are commonly used by long-distance hikers, just to name a few:

|| Final Verdict: Are They Worth It? ||

The Lone Peak models, at MSRP of $120, are not inexpensive, and do show significant wear and tear starting around 200-250 miles, sometimes even earlier. Their comfort and breathability, however, are enticing, which is why they continued to be used by so many long distance hikers.

In short, if you are looking for a comfortable, breathable, and lightweight shoe, and you can accept limited durability or can afford it, then the Lone Peak is right for you. The Lone Peak models are acceptable for backpackers/hikers who hike anywhere between 200-600 miles per year. I would not recommend the Lone Peak for extended off-trail travel or travel over rugged, uneven terrain, such as long stretches over scree, talus, and other loose rocks.

I will continue to use the Lone Peak 4.0s, primarily because of my positive experiences with Altra Customer Service. After my Lone Peak 3.5 model showed the wear you are seeing in this gear review, I contacted Altra and expressed my concerns about the lack of durability in the shoe. Altra was quick to send me a new pair under their warranty of “300-500 miles.”