Monday, March 18, 2013

Flat White, and make mine Tall please!

The Flat White coffee has been growing in popularity as an alternative to café latte, the former having more coffee than the very milky latte. Wikipedia describes the Flat White as a beverage which is "more velvety in consistency."

"Consistently Velvety," just the two words I was looking for, to describe my initial impression of the Altra Torin.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, here's the brief review:

The Altra Torin caught my eye, as the first "towering" stack-height (28 mm) zero drop shoes. The HOKA Stinson Evo Tarmac (SET), at 35 mm stack height, puts the Torin to shame, BUT the Torin has the honor of being the first tall zero-drop shoes (how about that for an oxymoron?).

Who's taller, you or me? (Altra Torin left; Hoka Stinson Evo Tarmac right)

It took some doing to get the Torins to Indonesia, and I would like to especially thank a family friend, and +John Shepard of Take It On The Run, for making it happen.

This review will focus mainly on the Altra Torin, with brief (and inevitable) comparison to another shoe in its "category," the Hoka SET.

FIT, BUILD, and APPEARANCE: Ordering shoes online is always a risky bet, particularly from a relatively unknown brand such as Altra. Would they fit right? Will the build quality be commensurate with the price? Et cetera etc.

When I first put them on, I was ecstatic that the Torins fit well (there's no return shipment from Indonesia to USA), both in terms of width (I have wide feet) and length (I was offered to go 1/2 size up on the Torins, which I opted not to). 

The shoe's shape is rather "odd," as its generous forefoot area directly translates to an almost "boat-like" (similar to Crocs shoe-sandals) appearance. 

I also notice the seventh eyelet (which I believe is a recent modification, due to complaints about its absence in early production batches) to secure the heel if necessary. I did not use the seventh eyelet in my first run, but did try them on my second outing in the Torins (and yes, they do help secure my feet better). Big kudos to Altra for responding to consumers, and reacting swiftly.

The "boat look" and colorways of this Torin variant translate to a rather unique-yet-pedestrian appearance.

In terms of build quality, the Altra scores a passing grade. The shoes neither ooze high-quality nor feel cheap.

The summary (first number is the Altra Torin, the number in brackets is the Hoka SET):
  • FIT = 9 / 10  vs. (9 / 10)
  • BUILD QUALITY = 7.5 / 10  vs. (9 / 10)
  • APPEARANCE = 7,5 / 10  vs. (8,5 / 10)

The Torin with my (wide) foot in it. 
Great fit and generous toebox. Notice the 7th eyelet (recent addition)!

Comparing the Torin to the Hoka SET, the latter has the better build quality, with both being great in terms of fit. Each of the two looks "unique" in their own way (feel free to translate, as beauty is in the eye of the beholder). It's worth noting that the Hoka is about 45% more in terms of price.

Same size (!) Very different appearance, yet both fit great.

TOEBOX: I like to feel my toes having the freedom to "splash and splay" within the confines of the shoes. I truly believe an adequate toebox helps allow a more natural running motion, especially when one runs sockless, or use 5-finger socks (I always wear the latter for running). The TORIN is simply excellent in this department (the Hoka is just a tad less generous in terms of toebox, but it's still a winner for sure).

RIDE and COMFORT: I like running shoes that are light (nothing over 400 grams / 14 oz, the lighter the better), and preferably with heel-to-toe differential of 6 mm or less.

In both weight and (zero) drop, the Torin is top notch. Considering the amount of ample cushioning, I was pleasantly surprised to see it weighs in at a paltry 270 gr / 9,5 oz, for my size US 11 (!)

Altra provides two insoles for the Torin (as pictured below), one contoured and the other flat. My review is based on using the contoured insole.

The hundred dollar question is, what does 28 mm stack height front-to-back give you, in terms of ride?

Altra names its midsole compound "Abound," comprising of dual-layer EVA to enhance effective cushioning. The outsole is "mapped" like the metatarsal bone-structure of the human foot (in reality, it ends up looking a bit like a ping pong paddle).

The sole of the Torin is neither stiff nor flexible. I usually prefer flexible outsole to facilitate a more natural ride, and I was worried about the Torin's sole.

What, then, does "all of the above" do?

After taking the Torins out for a couple of runs (5km and 10km), I am happy to report that "all of the above" results in a wonderful ride.

IMHO the litmus test of any shoe is how comfortable you are running in them, how you feel "they are not there," yet they are able to provide confidence through effective cushioning (note I'm not using the term 'ample cushioning'), for moments where you want to pick up a bit of pace, or go up and downhill. 

The Torin gives you a "consistently velvety" ride, which is neither soft nor harsh. And the combination of its 'abound' midsole and the metatarsal-mapped outsole gives great rebound, similar if not better than Adidas' boost marble-bouncing midsole.

Adidas Boost (22mm heel to 12mm toe drop),
compared to the Torin's zero drop (28mm front to back).

These two zero-droppers (Pure Drift on the left) look similar in profile, 
yet the Torin has much more cushion.

Two different zero-droppers (GoBionic on the left), 
with the Torin looking much more "beefy."

With the Hokas, you almost feel like your foot is "sitting" IN a plush sofa set, where all shocks are absorbed and their primary purpose is to ensure your comfort. There are certainly days when you want to pamper your feet like this. 

Going back to the coffee analogy, I would prefer more beans in my beverage, i.e. the Torin's Tall Flat White "consistently velvety" characteristic. I also enjoy the Grande Cafe Latte (a.k.a. the Hoka SET) for its "milkiness," but can't help wonder if too much dairy may have unintended consequences in the long run.

If I have to choose between the Hoka and the Altra (in terms of effective ride comfort) for the long haul, it would be the Torin.

Having said the above, I must note that road feedback is not so good with the Torin (likewise the Hokas), which is perhaps as expected (with 28 mm of material between your feet and the ground).

The Hoka SET weighs in at a relatively heavy 380 gr (13,5 oz), yet it somehow compensate for this by its more luxurious ride. I haven't done any long runs in the Torins, but I believe their more consistent (less soft, and effectively bouncy) ride would serve my feet and legs better for the long haul.

In summary, I'd give the Altra Torin a score of 9 out of 10 in terms of Ride and Comfort. The Hoka SET is not far behind at 8,5 / 10.

CONCLUSION: I believe this relatively new category of TLD (Tall-Low-Drop) shoes will only grow, as many runners want to get that "natural" feeling (via minimal heel lift), but still want to feel protected (via maximum cushioning material).

Before we conclude, a couple of (perhaps) important questions to consider:
  • Is the TLD shoe good for runners in general? 
  • Would their tall stack height, and subsequently inferior road/impact feedback, cause improper form in the long run (as opposed to running in thin-soled minimalist shoes, where one has to keep some semblance of proper form to remain injury-free)? 

Time will tell (if there are studies related to these questions, I would be very interested to know more).

In the meantime, I like to keep running in my Hokas, with the Torin certainly getting LOTS of playtime in my shoe rotation.

As mentioned somewhere in this post, I would pick the Torin if I can only choose either the Altra or the Hoka (mostly attributed to its "consistently velvety" ride).

In terms of VALUE, here is a list of five shoes that have made some splash in the running community, and how much I think each shoe's "Good Value" price-point (in US$) should be (purely my subjective opinion):

..and last but certainly not least..

    • The Altra Torin, good value at $ 105 (retail $ 115. You can get it at $ 105 with diligent searching)

    Thoughts and/or Comments?

    NOTE: I receive neither compensation nor free shoe samples for this post. Just sharing my thoughts as a shoe-addict.


    1. THANK YOU!!! This is the review I was looking for - I have been curious about Altra Torin since my husband got inducted into the Altra line a month ago. He is wearing the Superior for his Trail Runs and he loves them. Maybe I should have him write a review or something!

      Anyway, as you may know, I had a pair of Hoka SET and while I love the protection they provide, I nearly rolled my ankles on them, and this happened quite a few times. Despite of sitting deep in the midsole and appearing stable on the outset, when running you get very little ground feedback and unevenness in the surface can catch you unawares! Also the toe box definitely doesn't work for me - if I had to size up, I sould end up with clown shoes because, as it is, my feet are already too big for my body frame (super flat feet, long toes, wide forefoot and narrow heels).

      I slipped into the Altra Intuition 1.5 in the running store and found the fit to be really good - except for the heel being tad loose but that can be addressed by some lock lacing trick! I am now weighing between the Intuition 1.5 and the Torin for my next purchase. Your review certainly helped me in this decision making process :)


      PS: You certainly ARE a shoe addict!

      1. Thanks Dhitri. The Hokas does mute road feedback significantly; sorry to hear you almost rolled your ankles in them. Given your description, and your mostly positive experience with the brooks Pures, it seems (I am guessing) the Altra Intuition 1,5 may serve you better (it still has plenty of cushioning, without the Torin's tall stack height, which is almost like the Hokas). Can't wait to read your husband's review of his Altra. Cheers!

    2. Curious though can you share which online shop that allows you to purchase Altra and able to ship them to Indonesia? :) thanks a lot and thank you for reviewing the shoes as well :D

      1. Ridzki thanks. Cara pesan sepatu nya dgn metode "titip teman," kebetulan ada teman" yg sedang kembali ke Indonesia dan tidak keberatan dititipin sepatu :) Order nya melalui website biasa, dan minta dikirim ke alamat teman yg di Amrik. Di saat order, biasanya web Amrik nolak kartu kredit dgn billing address yg non Amrik. Di sini kegunaan punya blog comes into play, saya bilang saya ada blog ini, dan mau pesan sepatu dan sy legitimate buyer, dan mereka bisa contact saya melalui blog ini. So far, so good :)