The Vegan-Friendly Shoes I Wear for Almost Every Run

2015-shoes

When it comes to running shoes, there’s no shortage of opportunity for geekery.

Minimal, maximal, stack height, heel-toe offset, arch structure, weight … to some people, it’s borderline obsession-worthy.

As a blogger who writes about running, I should be a shoe geek. But, alas, I just can’t get into it. I run for the simplicity of the sport — there’s a reason you don’t see me on a bike — and as long as my running shoes feel so good I forget I’m wearing them, I’m pretty happy.

My approach is a simple one, and questions I ask myself before buying a particular running shoe are few, but important:

  • Does it feel good?
  • Is it neutral and relatively low-drop?
  • Is it vegan?

(For those even less geeky than I am, “neutral” in running-shoe lingo means that there’s no extra support built into the inside sole to prevent overpronation; a neutral shoe lets your foot move where it wants to. More on low- and zero-drop in a bit.)

I don’t write about running shoes often. I raved about the Brooks PureDrift and the Hoka One One back in 2013, but in the past few years, that’s really it. Most shoes that I try just aren’t remarkable enough to write about.

Today, though, it’s time to break a two-year shoe drought and tell you about a brand I’m absolutely loving.

I was introduced to Altra at the Runner’s World Half and Festival last year, and since then, they’ve been just about all I wear. Well, as far as shoes go.

I own two pairs — the minimally cushioned One-Squared (since upgraded to the One 2.5), and the maximally cushioned Paradigm — and on 95 percent of my runs, one of these is what I’m wearing.

Before I proceed with the gushing, I should let you know that I have no affiliation with Altra other than receiving these two free pairs for review last year.

3 Things I Love about Altras

So here’s why I’ve fallen in love with Altra. All of their shoes, walking models excepted, are:

  1. Foot-shaped.
  2. Zero-drop.
  3. Vegan-friendly.

And here’s what all that means:

“Foot-shaped” means there’s room for your toes to spread out, the way they would if you ran without shoes. According to Altra founder Golden Harper in his NMA Radio interview, foot problems (like bunions, neuromas, and plantar fasciosis) problems happen at a 73 percent rate in the United States, but at only a 3 percent rate (!) in cultures where people primarily wear sandals or open-toed shoes.

“Zero-drop,” of course, means that regardless of how much cushioning the shoe has (and Altra offers several levels of cushioning) the heel and toe are the same height. Zero-drop was one of the hallmarks of the minimalist movement: many modern running shoes have heels that are 8mm higher, 12mm higher, or more, and this drop in height from heel to toe is (rightfully, I think) blamed for a lot of injuries.

Finally, there’s “vegan-friendly.” Leather isn’t commonly used in running shoes because of its weight, but often the glue that attaches the sole of the shoe to the upper is animal-derived. I’ve found it really tricky to know for certain which shoes are and aren’t vegan-friendly: my understanding is that often a shoe company will have several factories making the same shoe, some of which use synthetic glues and others that use animal-derived glues, so even the manufacturers themselves don’t know which are vegan and which aren’t. But Golden personally told me that all of Altra’s running shoes are 100 percent vegan (not necessarily their walking shoes, though).

Minimal or Maximal … Why Not Both?

I’m often asked which type of shoe is best, and my answer is one that I learned from Jason Fitzgerald at Strength Running: there’s no need to choose. Train in different shoes, and treat the different styles as tools for different purposes.

For example: Even if you can’t run all your miles in minimalist shoes — and I’ve learned that I can’t — this doesn’t mean you should never run in minimalist shoes. How about just on your easy days? Maybe just when you run trails? It’s a different experience, a more sensory one, and the lack of support will work muscles that are neglected by bulkier shoes.

But I’m by no means anti-cushioning: I love the Brooks PureDrift, but found when I was training for my 100 that I couldn’t wear them for more than about three runs or 20 miles per week without developing tightness in my calves. With the Altra One-Squared, which is still minimal but certainly more cushioned than the PureDrift, I can handle more than that much mileage without tightness, so it’s become my almost-everyday shoe. Still, now and then I’ll wear the PureDrift or a very minimal Skora shoe for an easy run when I really want to feel the ground and give my feet a workout.

And maximal shoes? Although I don’t think it’s a good idea to run all your miles in a shoe with a giant sole, I know that after any run of 20 miles or more, I’m drastically less sore if I’ve run it in maximal shoes than when I wear something else. So on long runs, I’m more likely to wear the Paradigm. (Not all the time, unless I’m planning on racing in maximal shoes.)

Of course, there are plenty of shoes that fall between the two extremes. And for some reason, I never wear those shoes. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be right for you.

Is there anything not to like about Altra?

Lest this read like an ad, I do have a few minor complaints.

One, mine don’t stay tied. Whatever the laces are made out of is so slick that even a double-knot won’t hold for the duration of a run, so I need to tuck them into the side of the shoe to avoid that.

Second, sizing has been inconsistent. My wife loves her One-Squared, but when I bought her the same size in the Paradigm as a birthday gift, the fit was totally different and we had to send them back and go a size up. (I should have anticipated this, as my One-Squared and Paradigm are different sizes and both fit me perfectly.)

Finally, the One-Squared that I own is literally the ugliest shoe I’ve ever seen outside of a bowling alley. Thankfully, they’ve improved the looks of the new model, the One 2.5.

For more …

These are minor issues, of course. I’m such a fan that in addition to the pair I bought for my wife’s birthday, I also bought my mom a pair for Mother’s day. And my wife bought her mom a pair, too. Although I don’t write about shoes often, when I started gifting Altras to the women in my life, I realized it was time to write a blog post about them.

For more — and to really be impressed by how much this guy knows about shoes — listen to our podcast episode with Altra’s founder, Golden Harper. And if you like what you hear, go ahead and subscribe: we’ve got an episode coming in the next few weeks that’s all about running form and shoes.

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Comments

  1. I love Altras too! You know what I wish? That they made more options for casual shoes. I’d wear Altras ALL the time if I could!

    I’m with you on foot-shaped feature being a huge win. That’s exactly what powered me through a distance hike (I have their trail shoes) without a single blister while so many other competitors had to stop multiple times to treat blisters and uncomfortable spots.

  2. Oh gosh! I was really hoping there would be a discount code at the end of this post! I love my Altras, too, but I am hoping to get another variety to mix up my training and NO ONE in NYC sells them! It’s a major bummer, especially considering that they do not fit consistently from shoe type to shoe type as you mentioned.

    I get severe pain in my right big toe and Altras are the only shoe that has ever alleviated it!

  3. I love Altras because of the zero drop and wide toe box also. I wish they had some more minimal cushioning options because I only wear the Altras when doing longer distances or when I recently had a sprained ankle. My problems with them are also the sizing(inconsistent) and the laces(too long). I recently got a pair of Superior 2.0 and had to up a full size.

  4. I love my Altras, yet I have the same minor complaints you do. (1) sizes are inconsistent; I had to go up a size from the Intuition 1 to the Intuition 2. (2) They are so ugly! This year they are doing an all-black men’s running shoe–I wish they would do that for the women’s shoe as well. The current color combos are hideous. I refer to them as my clown shoes. Altra needs to hire away a Nike designer or someone who can do some better colors.

  5. Gaahhhh – you let the secret out. Not only have I found these great shoes, but I always got them cheap. Now you’ll drive up demand ;0)

    As you mentioned, the toe box is critical. I’ve lost toenails in other shoes because of jamming, but not these. Also, the shape and colors my kids make fun of me, but I don’t care. They have a bright blue shoe now that isn’t bad – I’ve gotten a fair number of compliments on the color, but the shape. Once runners hear why they’re shaped funny, they are much more interested.

    I like running in minimalist, even have unshoes sandals for running, but do find I need well-cushioned shoes on long runs.

    Keep up the good work.

  6. I was so hoping to buy a pair of Altras after I listened to the podcast interview with Golden Harper awhile back, but alas, they are not sold in Europe. I ended up with a pair of Merrell Bare Access instead, which as far as I understand tick the same three boxes of being foot-shaped, zero-drop and vegan-friendly. I just ran my first trail race (and my first race as a vegan) in these shoes and was very happy with them. Still hoping to try out some Altras though!

  7. Altra shoes rock! I have had neuroma surgery and now suffer from capsulitis in the same area of the foot. Since switching to Altras, my issues have subsided GREATLY. Almost to the point of me not noticing the issues. Look at your foot and the look at your typical running shoe…they do not fit together.

  8. jeannie says:

    Thanks for this! I’ve been running in Brooks’ Green Silence and was so sad to know they’re discontinued. When these crap out, I’ll keep these in mind!

  9. Matt, is their an Altra brand you recommend for large, huff and puff sloggers like me?

    Yeah, when I was a young buck I’d run.
    As the years accumulated, I’d jog.
    Now, I slog.
    Unless it’s stairs… those I sprint for my once weekly high intensity interval training, which incidentally, doesn’t particularly improve my running… err… I mean, my slogging.

    Anyway, your guidance for the heavy set would be appreciated.

    -Joe

  10. Deserae says:

    So, I typically wear minimalist shoes, typically new balance trail minimus, sometimes Merrell, with xero shoes mixed in on occasion. I got a pair of Brooks pure connects and they were way too much shoe for me, they felt like foot coffins. Where do altras fall compared to those as far as cushioning?

    • Sarah C says:

      Different styles of Altra have different levels of cushioning – from minimal to maximal. You’d have to try different styles to find what’s best for you. But I’ll suggest you’ll find it and love it – these are THE shoes for me.

  11. Sarah C says:

    I, too, am an Altra-only runner now, though I didn’t know they were vegan — so thanks for that info! I’ll never go back to anything that doesn’t have a foot-shaped toebox. But whoaah are these shoes UGLY! If you have Harper’s ear, please tell him that we don’t all want bright turquoise or magenta shoes. They’re already clown-shoes enough because of the shape, but these colors make that all worse. Totally worth it for the feel, but man-oh-man would I love a plain grey shoe or something. AND I’d love new laces – I always switch mine out. (And I’ve found the sizing problem too – usually I just go up a size from my regular).

  12. If the my Hokas had the toe box of my Altras, they would be perfect.

  13. Cindy Gingrich says:

    I’ve been a huge Altra fan for years, despite the fact that I call them my clown shoes (I see I’m not alone!) and the laces are awful . I didn’t know that they were vegan, thank you!

  14. Gill Ewing says:

    I recently got my first Altras – Lone Peak 2.0 – I alternate with my favourt Inov-8 shoes and they both have similar advantages, with lots of room for toes to spread etc. and perfect comfort. No lace problems so far. I also had to get a size up from my usual sizing for the Altras and passed the first pair to my daughter whose feet are just a bit smaller than mine – so we are both happy. I’m finding the Altras better and better every time it’s their turn, so I think I’ve found my brands now and both are excellent. I have a pair of Hokas as well which are good but not quite so roomy…

  15. I’ve heard good things about the Altras, so may give them a try!

    This past year I’ve mainly been wearing the Merrell Vapour Glove 2 (http://www.merrell.com/en/vapor-glove-2/17572M.html) which is also zero drop and vegan friendly.

    I love them, they’re so comfortable! They have the vibram sole as well which is nice, but sometimes a little too thin for rocky trails…

    The Merrells have just about worn through, so will have a look into the Altras!

    Cheers Matt!

  16. Deborah says:

    Ah yes, my clown shoes! I do like that the Altra is foot shaped, zero drop and comes in minimal to maximal cushion. And I don’t even mind that my Intuition 1.5 and Torins look like clown shoes. It would be nice though if Altra could be consistant with sizing!!!!!

    I had no luck with the original The One (bright green/yellow)…couldn’t find any size to fit for some reason…something about the squared off toe box (inside the shoe)???

    And I’ve heard way too many complaints about premature wear on these shoes, though I’ve had good luck with the Torin. The mesh blew out almost immediately (near the crease where toes bend) on my green Intuition 2.0 shoes.

    I have to say that these are my only shoes that don’t untie even without double or triple knotting! I also used to wear New Balance Minimus, and Nike Free 3.0.

    On trails, I still prefer my Vibram Five Fingers (especially the Bikila’s)

    Thank you for your review!!

  17. I’ve been running in Newton’s for some years now and love them. Speaking of gaudy clown shoes….but I don’t really care. Does anybody know how Alta compares to Newton? Would love a somewhat cheaper option, since Newtons are getting quite pricey

  18. After reading your blog and researching Altras, I bought myself a pair of the Torin’s. The words that caught my attention were “wide toe box”. I must say that I already love these shoes after wearing them twice. I just started running again because I am 9 weeks into dealing with a broken, nearly cut off big toe. These shoes are SO comfortable. I can bandage up the naked toe bed, and even with a good sock on, I still have room to spread my toes (a habit I started a few months ago after watching the documentary on the Tarahumara people). Thank you so much for the information you provided in the blog!

  19. Michael TenBrink says:

    I, too, love my “clown shoes” Altras. I have two pairs; I’ll never go back to regular running shoes again. After being plagued with running-related foot injuries for years, I’m finally pain free, thanks to Altras (and Birkenstocks). I agree that their color options could improve, and I’d also love it if they made more casual/business casual options in black or brown. Oddly, I don’t even double-knot mine, and they virtually never come untied. Maybe I have a different style?

  20. I have VERY narrow feet, and I’m not really a runner; I prefer Insanity style plyometric workouts. That said, a great running shoe for narrow feet with great arch and heel support does the job. Do Altras fit the bill?

    I’m a 9 AAAA foot. Yes it’s a nightmare. I had to keep three pairs of old leather shoes because of my width, but I had them before i went vegan almost 8 years ago, so I just get them reconditioned. The rest of the time, I’ll wear 3-4 pairs of socks (but hey, you can’t beat $15 boots, ya know?!).

    So what’s good for someone like me?

  21. Gary Ricketts says:

    I, too, love my One 2.5s and my Paradigms. (I am a vegan who refuses to wear anything that is remotely non vegan.) I mainly wear the 2.5s; however, glute soreness and nasty trails have lead me to the Paradigms for certain off days. As a former barefoot runner, I must say I like where the company is headed: instead of abandoning the Zero Drop design, they have created a synthesis of what was once in vogue and is now celebrated. I am fast in the 2.5s but also feel like I can wear them on longer runs. For those who have trouble with the laces, I recommend lace locks–that will fix the problem immediately. My concern with Altra is that they do not offer a pure racing flat like a Saucony or a Nike(even Newton has flats). I sometimes question if I am running short races to the best of my potential. I am also troubled by the colors. Altra seemed to get it right for the 2.5s–two color schemes at least–but other models look horrendous. All in all, I must remind myself that the functionality of the shoe– and its ethical composition–matters more than the aesthetics, but I do question who makes the cosmetic decisions.

  22. Thanks so much for this article!
    I’m looking for a good pair of vegan running shoes which have to be of course very comfortable and since I’ve got a bunion problem, these ones you wrote about seem like a great choice.
    I’d really love not to have to buy some very ugly pair, and, I see some ok Altra designs. I’m very allergic to all those rainbow running shoes.
    Now, the problems are: it’s probably going to cost a lot for them to be shipped to Europe, AND, the only pair of Altra’s I like is a pair of trail shoes, but I pretty much always jog on the concrete. In that case, is it smart to even think about buying them? And, are they ok for walks, too (this might be a stupid question, but I just have to ask)?

    Thanks a lot in advance.

  23. Hi there.

    As of this posting, not all Altras are vegan. I checked with the company directly. They were good about responding. So if you want to ensure your future shoes are vegan, you might want to inquire with Altra.

  24. Rebecca McKee says:

    I’ve been researching Altra shoes because I really want to try the zero drop and these shoes have fantastic reviews. However, what about the warning to California residents:
    California Prop 65 Warning

    WARNING: This product contains one or more chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.
    Are there any vegan friendly shoes with zero drop that doesn’t have this warning?
    Thanks!

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