Yesterday, I received a pair of these.
They're the Lone Peak trail shoes from Altra. I took the on an easy 5 miler tonight on the COGGS trails at Lester. Altra is a new company out of Utah that currently makes a very small line of shoes, all of them with a Zero heel to toe drop. That means the the heel of the shoe is not elevated above the forefoot of the shoe, as it is in most traditional running shoes. Indeed, Altra builds all of their shoes to have the heel and the forefoot on the same level.
Another unique aspect of Altra shoes is the wide, very wide toe box. The folks at Altra believe that the toes should be able to splay naturally upon impact and that a healthy foot should be widest at the toes.
Altra does not like to think of these shoes as minimalist, but I think they fit many of MY definitions of minimalist footware. I personally see minimalist shoes as meeting at least three of the following requirements: One, weight. I feel that minimalist shoes should weigh less that 10 ounces (for a men's size 9), Two, heel to toe drop. I think minimalist shoes should have no more than a 6 millimeter difference between the heel and the forefoot. Three, simple upper design. I think minimalist shoes should have an upper that has very little overlays, allowing the foot to move naturally, to NOT be strapped in by "arch wraps" and "flex panels". Four, flexibility. Minimalist shoes should be relatively flexible, again to allow the foot to move naturally. Others will have their own opinions on what "minimalist" shoes should be, but those are my criteria.
So Altra does not consider the Lone Peak (or their road shoe, the Instinct [the women's shoe is called the Intuition]) a minimalist shoe, and I think it's because the Lone Peak still offers a decent amount of midsole foam, something that's often shunned by the hard core minimalists. However, the midsole in this shoe is relatively firm. What I found was that I still had really good "ground feel" without feeling like I was barefoot.
The traction on the Lone Peak seemed to work pretty well. There was little to no mud on the trail tonight but I had excellent grip on some of the steep downhills and sharp turns. The shoe has a relatively flat outsole, so there is plenty of ground contact and the lugs are aggressive but not intrusive.
Overall, the shoes performed very well. Despite being a bit wider than what I normally like for my narrow foot, they still felt agile to me, something that I find to be very important when running technical trails. I was impressed with the Lone Peaks, enough to replace my X-Talon 212s? Probably not, but I think many people would like them and they'll make for a great second pair of trail shoes for me and if there's another 100 miler in my near future, I'm sure I'll use these for most if not all of it.