Altra Instinct/Intuition 3.5 Review

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The Altra Instinct 2 was a favorite shoe because of its comfortable and design, but the updates since then have been a gradual decline. Each iteration has become slightly firmer, resulting in a shoe that's too heavy for the cushioning it provides. I still like it for being designed to fit the human foot, but I'd far rather cutting open the toe box of a Hoka Clifton or an Asics Gel Hyper Speed. That said, the Instinct 3.5 has no flaws or reasons why you wouldn't want to run in it; it's just that there are better options available. I've rated the Instinct 3.5 as "worth considering", and the Instinct 2 as I've rated it as "Highly Recommended." For reasons known only to marketing people, the Women's version of the Instinct is called the Intuition. (I use The Science of Running Shoes as the basis of how I test running shoes and what you should look for in a running shoe.)

Altra Instinct 3.5 top
Altra Instinct 3.5 bottom
Altra Instinct 3.5 inside
Altra Instinct 3.5 outside

1 Characteristics

  • Cushioning . The Instinct is too firmly cushioned for its weight, with similar levels of cushioning to shoes that are much lighter. The cushioning it provides is smooth, even, and has reasonable spring, so don't think this is a rock.
  • Drop. Like all Altra shoes, the Instinct is zero drop, which is great.
  • Structure. The Instinct uses just one density of foam, and doesn't attempt to manipulate or interfere with your natural biomechanics. The midsole is not flat however, with some rise under the midfoot.
  • Flexibility. The Instinct has more flexibility than I expected, and it's similar to the Hoka Clifton, but far more than the other Hoka shoes.
  • Outsole. There's a good layer of harder rubber outsole over nearly the entire sole of the shoe. There's a gap in the outsole near the smaller toes, which is an odd choice, but doesn't cause a problem. (I have no signs of wear on my Instinct 2's after many, many miles.) The sole of the Instinct does not conform to stony trails in quite the same way that many of the Hoka shoes do, so it's best kept for road running.
  • Shape. The Altra Instinct is one of the few shoes truly designed to fit the human foot. Even some other Altra shoes have a toe box that lacks sufficient height, but the Instinct is remarkable in its fit. However, this is another area where the Instinct 2 was better, as the toe box height seems to be reduced with each version. (I recommend cutting open the toe box of virtually all running shoes, with the exception of a few shoes like some Altra shoes. When you have some worn out shoes, you should try cutting open the toe box. I've found that it's a big improvement, allowing my toes to move naturally and engage for toe off, as well as reducing the possibility of blisters.)
  • Upper. The upper it has a thick overlay that goes over the big toe which I didn't like. It's not enough to cause me problems, but I could see it being an issue for some runners. The forefoot area is unpadded, but generously padded in the rear. It's not like the second version that reminded me somewhat of a skateboarding shoe but it's still pretty good.
  • Tongue. The Instinct has a traditional tongue that is sown in on one side, which I think is the ideal approach for a tongue. This is the only improvement I noticed over earlier versions of the shoe. Like much of the upper, the tongue is softly padded.
  • Lacing. The traditional flat laces stayed tied.
  • Heel Counter. The Instinct has a far more ridged, exoskeleton heel counter than I'd like, but the thick padding isolates it from your foot.
helping-hand.jpg

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2 Cushioning and Shoes

It's intuitively obvious that the cushioning in a shoe will reduce the impact on your body when running. However, The Science of Running Shoes indicates that the reality is rather more complex. While slight cushioning may reduce the effort needed to run by improving your Running Economy, most scientific research indicates that more cushioning does further improve Running Economy. In addition, cushioning does not generally reduce impact and may actually increase it. This is counterintuitive, but is likely to be due to the way a runners mind and body adapts to softer cushioning. Unfortunately, the scientific evidence is far from complete and it's hard to give clear recommendations. I believe that some runners will prefer more cushioning, while others prefer less, and typically those running further have a fondness for greater cushioning. I also believe that a shoe should be as light as possible, and a shoe should justify its weight with the cushioning it provides. My advice is to decide what level of cushioning you're looking for, and then find the lightest shoes that also fit well and are comfortable.

3 Visualizing the Attributes of the Altra Instinct 3.5

How Altra Instinct 3.5 compares showing rearfoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Altra Instinct 3.5 compares showing forefoot cushioning against the performance penalty of its weight. Upper right is better.
How Altra Instinct 3.5 compares showing the price against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.
How Altra Instinct 3.5 compares showing the loaded drop against the benefit (cushioning/performance penalty). Upper left is better.

4 Comparisons

Here are some direct comparisons with its potential competition.

4.1 Altra Instinct 2, 3, and 3.5

The Instinct 2 was softly cushioned, which made it a remarkably comfortable shoe, even though it wasn't up to the cushioning-to-weight level of shoes like the Asics Gel Hyper Speed. Each subsequent iteration has made the Instinct firmer, though the change from the Instinct 3 to the 3.5 is quite small. The Instinct 3 is lighter than the 2, though the 3.5 erodes some of that advantage. The other noteworthy change is in sizing; a size 10 Instinct 2 is the same size as a size 10.5 Instinct 3, while the 3.5 returns to the original sizing.

Altra Instinct 3.5 top
Altra Instinct 3.5 bottom
Altra Instinct 3.5 inside
Altra Instinct 3.5 outside
helping-hand.jpg

This review was made possible by readers like you buying products via these links.

4.2 Altra Instinct and Asics Gel Hyper Speed

The Asics Gel Hyper Speed provides more cushioning in the heel than the Instinct and similar cushioning in the forefoot, even though the Hyper Speed only weighs about two-thirds as much as the Instinct. This makes the Hyper Speed the clear winner, over the Instinct 3.5. (The Hyper Speed is far from uncomfortable, but when my feet are tired and beaten up, the softness of the Instinct 2 was welcome, but that's not the case with the Instinct 3.)

Altra Instinct 3.5 top
Altra Instinct 3.5 bottom
Altra Instinct 3.5 inside
Altra Instinct 3.5 outside
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 top
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 bottom
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 inside
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 outside
helping-hand.jpg

This review was made possible by readers like you buying products via these links.

4.3 Altra Instinct and Hoka Clifton

The Hoka Clifton is the best Maximalist shoe by far, combining massive cushioning with light weight. The Instinct is the same weight as the Clifton, but it offers far less cushioning. What the Instinct does offer is a shoe designed for the human foot, plus a little more padding in the upper. I would choose the Clifton every time over the Instinct, except those occasions where I didn't want to cut the toe box open. This would be in ultras where I'm walking a lot and having problems with debris getting in the openings. (That said, check out the Altra One below first.)

Altra Instinct 3.5 top
Altra Instinct 3.5 bottom
Altra Instinct 3.5 inside
Altra Instinct 3.5 outside
Hoka Clifton 2 top
Hoka Clifton 2 bottom
Hoka Clifton 2 inside
Hoka Clifton 2 outside
helping-hand.jpg

This review was made possible by readers like you buying products via these links.

4.4 Altra Instinct and Asics GT 2000

I like to compare shoes against my benchmark "normal running shoe", the Asics GT 2000. The GT 2000 is heavier than the Instinct, and has slightly more cushioning, but the two shoes could not be farther apart in their use of The Science of Running Shoes. The Instinct doesn't try to interfere with your stride, or encourage a heel strike like the GT 2000. Comparing how the two shoes feel, the Instinct is like running barefoot on a well cushioned track, while the GT 2000 is like running in a wooden clog. The Instinct is a clear demonstration of what's wrong with traditional running shoes and how they should be created.

Altra Instinct 3.5 top
Altra Instinct 3.5 bottom
Altra Instinct 3.5 inside
Altra Instinct 3.5 outside
Asics GT2000 top
Asics GT2000 bottom
Asics GT2000 inside
Asics GT2000 outside

5 A Comparison with other Recommended Shoes

For a more detailed comparison of these shoes see the Recommendations for Best Running Shoes. This table lists the key attributes of What to Look for in Running Shoes. For more detailed information, on the shoes see detailed shoe comparison.

Full Review Name Rating Recommended
price
Benefit Weight
(oz)
Penalty
(sec/mile)
Forefoot
Thickness
Heel
Thickness
Loaded Drop
mm
Cushioning Flexibility
Asics 33-DFA Review 33-DFA Worth considering $90 5.7 10.6 16.5 27 27 0 6.1 6
Saucony Type A6 Review A6 Highly Recommended $100 8.2 6.1 9.5 17 21 4 5.0 8
Adidas Adios Boost 2 Review Adios Worth considering $140 4.7 8.6 13.4 17 27 11 4.0 7
Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review Bionic Highly Recommended $95 6.4 7.0 10.9 15 18 2 4.5 9
Hoka Bondi Review Bondi Highly Recommended $150 8.0 10.9 17.0 41 45 5 8.8 0
Hoka Clayton Review Clayton Best of the Best $150 8.8 8.3 12.9 26 30 3 7.3 5
Hoka Clifton 3 Review Clifton3 Best of the Best $130 9.1 9.8 15.3 34 38 3 8.9 6
On Cloudracer Review Cloudracer Worth considering $130 5.7 8.2 12.8 19 27 5 4.7 8
Hoka Conquest Review Conquest Worth considering $170 5.0 11.9 18.5 28 34 5 6.0 3
Saucony Cortana 4 Review Cortana Worth considering $150 4.4 9.9 18.7 22 28 5 4.3 5
Mizuno Wave Cruise Review Cruise Worth considering $120 6.6 5.9 12.5 17 20 7 3.9 7
Newton Distance IV Review Distance Worth considering $155 7.5 9.1 14.2 26 31 3 6.8 6
Asics Gel DS Racer 10 Review DS Racer Worth considering $110 8.2 7.0 10.9 21 26 6 5.8 6
Mizuno Wave Ekiden 8 Review Ekiden Worth considering $115 5.7 5.7 14.6 13 18 6 3.2 8
Saucony Endorphin Review Endorphin Highly Recommended $125 11.1 4.1 6.4 14 13 -1 4.5 9
Adidas Energy Boost Review Energy Worth considering $160 7.2 10.0 15.6 20 30 7 7.2 6
Puma Faas 100 R Review Faas 100 Highly Recommended $90 8.4 6.1 9.4 15 20 1 5.1 9
Saucony Fastwitch Review Fastwitch Highly Recommended $90 9.5 7.1 11.1 20 22 4 6.8 8
Topo Fli-Lyte Review Fli-Lyte Highly Recommended $100 6.0 9.4 14.6 23 24 4 5.6 6
Nike Free 4.0 Review Free Recommended $120 5.3 8.2 13.6 24 30 6 4.4 6
Saucony Freedom Review Freedom Recommended $160 5.4 10.7 16.6 11 11 3 5.8 7
Asics Gel Lyte 33 3 Review Gel Lyte Not recommended $90 8.0 7.3 11.4 17 24 4 5.8 9
Skechers GOmeb Speed 3 Review GOmeb 3 Worth considering $120 6.9 8.1 12.6 20 24 4 5.5 8
Skechers GORun 4 Review GORun Not recommended $100 6.1 7.5 11.7 15 23 3 4.5 7
Skechers GOrun Ultra 2 Review GRU Worth considering $90 7.5 10.0 15.6 28 34 8 7.5 5
Skechers GOrun Ultra Road Review GRU-R Worth considering $105 6.5 11.3 17.6 30 40 6 7.4 7
Asics GT 2000 Review GT 2000 Not recommended $120 4.8 11.2 17.4 28 35 5 5.4 4
Asics Gel Hyper Speed 7 Review Hyper Speed Highly Recommended $75 10.9 6.3 9.8 22 26 5 6.8 7
Altra Instinct 3.5 Review Instinct 3.5 Recommended $115 4.9 9.3 15.2 24 23 0 4.5 6
Asics Tarther Kainos 3 Review Kainos Worth considering $130 10.0 6.9 10.7 17 27 9 6.8 7
Saucony Kinvara 7 Review Kinvara Best of the Best $110 7.4 8.2 12.8 23 27 3 6.1 6
Nike LunaRacer 4 Review LunaRacer Recommended $90 9.9 7.0 10.9 22 30 7 6.9 6
Nike LunarSpider R5 Review LunarSpider Recommended $125 6.9 6.7 10.4 17 21 3 4.6 7
Hoka Mafate Speed Review Mafate Best of the Best $170 7.6 11.9 18.5 39 40 4 9.0 3
Pearl Izumi EM Road N0 v2 Review N0 Highly Recommended $100 7.9 6.5 10.1 14 20 4 5.2 8
New Balance 980 Review NB 980 Worth considering $110 4.6 10.1 15.7 21 30 5 4.6 5
Hoka Odyssey Review Odyssey Highly Recommended $130 8.5 9.4 14.6 37 45 5 8.0 4
Altra Olympus Review Olympus Highly Recommended $130 5.4 11.8 18.4 27 27 3 6.4 4
Altra One 2.5 Review One Highly Recommended $100 8.5 7.1 11.1 22 25 2 6.0 8
Altra Paradigm Review Paradigm Highly Recommended $130 6.4 9.9 15.4 25 25 1 6.4 4
Asics Piranha SP 5 Review Piranha Recommended $100 10.1 4.2 6.5 11 15 3 4.2 9
Brooks PureFlow 5 Review PureFlow Worth considering $110 6.0 9.7 15.1 26 29 5 5.8 8
Salming Race Review Race Worth considering $130 6.9 6.5 10.1 16 19 4 4.5 7
New Balance RC1600 v2 Review RC1600 Highly Recommended $110 8.8 5.6 8.7 15 21 5 4.9 8
New Balance RC5000 Review RC5000 Best of the Best $125 12.2 3.4 5.3 13 17 3 4.2 8
New Balance RC5000v2 Review RC5000v2 Best of the Best $125 14.2 4.0 6.2 13 21 6 5.7 8
Skechers GoRun Ride 3 Review Ride Worth considering $85 5.9 8.5 13.2 18 28 6 5.0 9
Inov-8 RoadXTreme 220 Review RXT-220 Worth considering $120 5.2 8.0 18.2 14 17 3 4.2 9
Hoka Stinson Lite Review Stinson Highly Recommended $160 7.3 11.6 18.1 35 40 6 8.5 2
Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Review Streak LT Best of the Best $80 8.8 5.4 8.4 16 21 4 4.8 6
Adidas Takumi Sen 3 Review Takumi Sen 3 Highly Recommended $160 7.7 6.6 10.2 17 21 4 5.1 6
Altra Torin 2.0 Review Torin Worth considering $125 5.8 9.6 14.9 28 25 -1 5.5 5
Hoka Tracer Review Tracer Recommended $130 7.2 7.4 11.5 21 24 2 5.3 6
Merrell Trail Glove 3 Review Trail Glove Best of the Best $100 2.9 6.9 24.7 11 11 0 2.0 9
Brooks Transcend 2 Review Transcend Recommended $170 5.1 12.6 19.6 30 36 6 6.5 4
Topo Tribute Review Tribute Recommended $100 5.9 7.3 11.4 20 18 -1 4.3 7
Mizuno Wave Universe 5 Review Universe Highly Recommended $125 10.7 3.1 10.6 9 12 1 3.3 9
Merrell Vapor Glove 2 Review Vapor Glove Highly Recommended $85 2.1 6.1 27.6 6 5 0 1.3 10
New Balance Vazee Pace Review Vazee Pace Worth considering $110 6.0 8.6 13.4 18 24 6 5.2 6
Asics TartherZeal 3 Review Zeal Worth considering $140 10.9 6.3 9.8 17 27 9 6.8 7

It's not a running shoe, but I love the Hoka Tor Ultra hiking boot and I've tested the Altra Lone Peak Boot.
Older shoe reviews: Saucony Hattori Review, Mizuno Cursoris Review, Skechers GO Bionic 2 Review, Hoka Clifton Review, Saucony Virrata 2 Review, Brooks PureCadence 3 Review, Brooks PureConnect 3 Review, Brooks PureFlow 3 Review.
Reviews of shoes that are not worth including on the table: Hoka Huaka Review, Patagonia EVERlong Review.