Gear Review: Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mid
Last year Altra debuted the Lone Peak 3.0 and Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell. These new designs improve upon their predecessors while retaining everything that’s made the Lone Peak series a crowd favorite. However, in addition to the 3.0 upgrade Altra also released something more unique, the Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mid. While the traditional Lone Peak designs are geared primarily towards trail runners (a style recently co-opted by long-distance hikers), the Mid was designed for all the hikers in the crowd. This new hiking shoe offers everything we love about the Lone Peak design with the added support of a boot.
Disclosure: Altra donated these items for review, but this article presents an honest representation of my experience using the gear.
ABOUT THE COMPANY
Altra is quickly becoming a household name in the outdoor community. Their signature Zero-Drop platform and incredibly spacious toe boxes have gained increasing popularity in both running and hiking communities alike. Based on The Trek’s own “By the Numbers” series, in 2014 on the Appalachian Trail Altra boots made up only 4% of all shoes hikers used. They were dwarfed by competing brands such as Brooks, Merrel, and Salomon. However, in 2016 their popularity skyrocketed with Altra making up over 12% of all brands found on the trail. Now with the Lone Peak 3.0’s on the market I expect this trend is likely to continue.
SPECS: LONE PEAK 3.0 NEOSHELL MID
WEIGHT (size 12.5): 15.5 oz per shoe.
AVAILABLE SIZES: 7, 8-13, 14, 15
IDEAL USES: Trail Running, Hiking, Fastpacking, Trail Racing, Cold Weather, Wet Conditions
PLATFORM: Natural Foot Positioning: FootShape Toe Box with Fully Cushioned Zero Drop Platform
INSOLE: 5 mm Contour Footbed
LAST: SD6-M / SD5-W
OTHER FEATURES: StoneGuard Sandwiched Rock Protection, Natural Ride System, GaiterTrap Technology
MIDSOLE: EVA with A-Bound Top Layer
OUTSOLE: Altra MaxTrac Sticky Rubber with TrailClaw
UPPER: Abrasion-Resistant Mesh with Minimal Seams, Polartec®
This was a longer term review spanning the better part of a year. I was able to take the Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mids into a wide variety of conditions logging nearly 200 miles in the shoes. They endured miles on sandy beaches, snow-capped mountains, and arid foothills in southern California as well as the damp, rainy October weather surrounding Scotland’s 96 mile West Highland Way (WHW).
Some companies like to offer different choices for men and women when it comes to shoes and apparel. Sometimes models that are available to men are not available to women and vice versa with each sex being offered their own special load outs with different styles and names. However, the Lone Peak 3.0 Neoshell Mid is available in both men’s and women’s sizes with minimal design aspects tailored to properly fit our differing body types. So I’m happy I can say this shoe is available to everyone!
The NeoShell is a “breathable” waterproof material developed by Polartec. However, rather than lining the interior of the shoe like other waterproof designs the NeoShell is wrapped around the exterior of the shoe. In doing so the lining attempts to stop water from the onset before it even has a chance of getting to the interior fabrics. In my experience, it would seem this design choice paid off.
During my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail I inevitably switched from wearing waterproof shoes as, like many, I found that given enough rain water inevitably seeped its way into the interior of my shoes. And once the inside of a waterproof shoe is wet, the same system that’s supposed to keep water from getting in keeps water from getting out, making them harder to dry.
Similar to the Appalachian Trail, along the WHW there were days where the cold rain felt near constant. However, these shoes remarkably kept my feet warm, and more importantly dry. The same cannot be said for my hiking partner, who was sporting the older women’s Lone Peak 2.0 NeoShell lows. She suffered the soggy fate of having water find its way down her ankles and into her shoes. This leads me to believe that if you’re going to bother getting an Altra NeoShell shoe at all you’re probably better off getting a Mid-sized shoe to begin with.
I was also pleasantly surprised at how effective the NeoShell was at keeping smaller debris out of the shoe, such as dust and sand. Wearing my regular mesh Altra Lone Peak 3.0 lows around the trails in southern California it’s fairly standard to come home to find my socks and feet covered in a fine coating of dust. However, the NeoShell blocked these particulates as effectively as it did water. I even took them for a stroll along the sandy beaches of Crystal Cove Sate Park and was pleased to find not a single grain of sand had found its way into my shoes.
Unfortunately, as of this writing, if you are interested in the Lone Peak 3.0 Mids sans the NeoShell you’re out of luck.
If cramped toes are a continual problem when searching for the right hiking shoe than look no further. One of Altra’s shining features is a generously-sized toe box, and the Lone Peak 3.0 Mid is no exception. Rather than tapering sharply at the front, the NeoShell Mid stays nice and wide giving ample room to stretch and wiggle your toes to your heart’s content.
A repeated issue I’ve faced on long-distance hikes is ingrown toenails on both of my big toes. This is the result of the constant impact and confined rubbing causing the side of my toenails to cut into skin causing pain and eventually infection. I’ve struggled to find a shoe that did not exacerbate this issue trying several models from Keen, Salomon, and Oboz brands. However, I’ve have finally found the right fit in Altra’s design. This feature alone is likely to keep me coming back to Altra for more shoes in the future.
Secure Ankle Fit
I have used Mid boots in the past on a number of long and short hikes, but I must admit I’ve never felt as comfortable in a mid-sized shoe as I have in the Lone Peak 3.0. This is in part due to my ability to achieve a nice, snug fit around the ankles more easily than with other boots I’ve used in the past. I attribute this to the NeoShell Mid’s lacing design. Many boots utilize hooks along the ankle to provide secure lacing. However, rather than hooks the NeoShell Mid sports two pairs of metal eyelets along the ankle through which the laces are thread. This small change allows you to adjust the ankle fit effortlessly. As a result it was actually more of an issue making sure the laces weren’t too tight as opposed to too loose.
These eyelets combined with the incredibly thick padding in the ankle cuffs made it feel like these shoes were literally hugging my ankles. The cuffs gripped to my ankles turning and pivoting with them as they contorted over rocky terrain rather than remaining too rigid and digging into my flesh. I was also pleased to find that even in the latter half of the day after miles of impact and hiking the ankle fit stayed secure, rarely needing readjustment.
I must admit that part of the reason I ended up switching to trail runners on the Appalachian Trail was due to the fact that I never really felt like the extra support of my mid boots was helping me. Whether this was due to the shoes themselves or due improper fit or lacing I can’t be sure. Though, what I can be sure of is that the Lone Peak 3.0 is the first mid-sized shoe where I actually felt the ankle support was doing its job and doing it well.
After nearly 200 miles of trudging through mud, sand, bogs, gravel, and rocky terrain these shoes have held up remarkably well. The outsole is still securely adhered to the shoe with no apparent peeling along the edges, even at the toes. Also, the treading is still defined and supplying fantastic traction. The midsole and shock absorbing layers have not yet compacted and still seem to have plenty of life left in them. Save for a little added character the shoes really aren’t that much worse for wear. I’m fairly confident that I’ll be able to get several hundreds more miles out of this pair before ever needing to consider their retirement.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a mid-sized shoe as lightweight as these. The pair I have are quite a few ounces lighter than my previous mid-sized shoes from Keen and are only marginally heavier that the Salomon trail runners I used on the Appalachian Trail. Still, compared to most trail runners these shoes will still be a great deal heavier. For example, my pair of NeoShell Mids are nearly a half pound heavier than my regular low-cut Lone Peak 3.0’s. Even so, if you’re looking for a compromise between weight and ankle support than these shoes are one’s to keep your eye on.
As mentioned before I have both a pair of the regular Lone Peak 3.0 low cut shoes as well as the NeoShell Mids. While both shoes sport very similar construction, using the exact same insole, midsole, and outsole designs, I was surprised by a noticeable difference in my footbed comfort between the two shoes. On the Lone Peak 3.0 low cut shoes the midsole and cushioning layers felt softer and more responsive. You can physically push on their exterior and feel their “squishy” texture. Similarly, when wearing the shoes I could feel them absorbing impact in each step. Even just rocking my foot back and forth from heel to toe the cushioning was very apparent.
However, on the NeoShell Mids these exact same layers felt much more stiff. The feeling of the shoes absorbing the impact of each step seemed less pronounced. I often felt like my feet began to feel sore just a little bit quicker in the NeoShell Mids when compared to my standard low cut Lone Peak 3.0’s. The reason for this difference in what amounts to nearly identical designs is unclear to me. I do not know if the NeoShell layer has anything to do with this discrepancy or if this is just an issue with the specific pair of shoes I received and not the entire line of shoes as a whole.
Let’s face it. It doesn’t matter how breathable a company says their waterproof material is. A waterproof shoe is always going to be less breathable than it’s non-waterproof counterpart. In the cold, wet October weather of Scotland the NeoShell Mids were cozy and warm. Yet, in the inherently warmer areas, such as here in Southern California, these shoes get hot and my feet unsurprisingly start to baste inside the shoe. Unfortunately, Altra does not yet make a version of this shoe without the NeoShell. So until the day that happens, unless blocking outside moisture is desired, you’re probably better off wearing a more ventilated shoe in warmer conditions.
Sometimes Tough to Put On
The same lacing design that makes it easy to achieve a secure ankle fit can make the NeoShell Mid a struggle to put on at times. Since the shoe utilizes eyelets instead of hooks for the ankle lacing the shoe laces are more or less permanently laced up the ankle. This makes it so that the tongue is not easily repositioned to make way for your foot without first taking time to loosen the laces around the ankle a great deal. While this is an admittedly minor complaint compared to the benefit this lacing design provides, I would be lying if I didn’t say it wasn’t annoying at times.
Currently retailing at $160.00 the NeoShell Mids aren’t the most expensive mid-sized waterproof shoe on the market. Of course, that doesn’t mean they’re cheap either. The price point for these shoes is comparable to similar styles from competing brands such as Salomon, Keen, and Merrell. Though, all of these brands also have a wider variety of mid-sized boots to choose from. The NeoShell Mid is currently Altra’s only mid-sized option. Regardless, while these shoes aren’t outrageously priced compared to the competition, you still have to drop 160 bucks to sport a pair. It’s not something a thrifty-minded hiker likes to hear.
The Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mid is a lightweight, durable, and overall comfortable shoe. The external NeoShell layer provides excellent waterproofing even keeping dust and other small particle debris from entering the shoe. The ankle support is effective and more importantly, comfortable. Despite using an identical design to that of it’s more breathable brethren, the NeoShell Mid’s midsole was noticeably more stiff, feeling somewhat less cushioned than its non-waterproof counterpart. Still, the midsole design, combined with the snug ankle fit and the spacious toe box, mean the NeoShell Mid keeps your feet happy for miles and miles.
Granted, as a waterproof shoe the NeoShell Mid still suffers the same general issues common to all waterproof designs. As a result, they cannot compete with the weight and breathability of non-waterproof shoes. Yet, compared to other waterproof Mid-sized shoes the Altra Lone Peak 3.0 NeoShell Mid excels. And even though this shoe may hurt your wallet, its quality construction ensures durability that will stick with you through the many miles ahead.
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