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Product Review - Altra Samson Minimalist Shoes

  • Monday, December 31 2012 @ 08:00 PM UTC
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Running and Fitness

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Earlier this year I received a pair of Samsons from Altra Zero Drop Footwear to review. I never managed to put together a formal review until now, although I did share my feedback in various places around the Net such as Barefoot Ted's Minimalist Runner Google Group, my twitter feed, and the social running site dailymile. Over the last year I have been too busy running to spend very much time blogging. A few weeks ago I had logged over 200 miles in my Samsons so I figured it was time to sit down and write the review.

Here is what my Samsons looked like fresh out of the box:



I had very high expectations for the Samsons. They were going to be the perfect minimalist shoe, similar to Vibram FiveFingers, but without the VFF toe pockets.

Here is what my Samsons look like after 200 miles of running:


They are still in great shape with barely any visible wear on the sole.

The Samsons have no foam cushion to speak of, so there is no worry about EVA compression or breakdown. As with most of my shoes, if they have a removable insert I usually take it out. I find that a soft insert is not needed and is actually detrimental as my foot tries to drive through the padding to find a firm landing. Removing the insert of the Samsons leaves only Altra's BareSole built-in layer and allows more ground feel than the shoe provides when the insert is included.

The lack of squishy cushion is perfect for activities requiring a solid grounding and balance... such as box jumps and other cross training activities. The wide flat bottoms make them great for slacklining (I picked up a Gibbon Slackline from The Clymb for a great price). I really like the Samsons for running stadium stairs and for track workouts. I have not enjoyed the Samsons as much as I expected for road running, but I do wear them while running to-and-from the stadium and track (3-5 miles round-trip) and occasionally choose them for light trails / greenway runs.

I think my particular pair of Samsons is a size too small and this has affected the comfort. I went down a full size from my Instincts but should have only gone down a half size (or not at all?). If my Samsons wear out I will need to try a few different sizes to get the proper fit. In order to give myself a little extra room in the shoe I tried running sockless. The experience was generally favorable, with the exception of one spot on the heel collar that would rub my foot raw. So... I wear thin socks, not big deal.

Compared to my moccasins, I like that the Samsons lock onto the foot well and have zero slippage around the heel and mid-foot area. With the back part of the shoe secured to the foot, the toes stay right where they should in the center of the toebox. The toebox is nice and wide with plenty of room for the toes to splay. This balance between "secure to the foot" and "room for the toes" is one that Altra does well, possibly better than any other company out there. VivoBarefoot for example seems to have an opening around the ankle that is too low and large, making it hard to secure the shoe to the foot (which is why I have sent back all of the VivoBarefoot shoes that I have tried).

For a while I was doing track workouts in my Inov-8 Bare-X Lite 150 shoes (which are still my favorite shoe for road racing because of their weight). However, the Bare-X 150 sole is not particularly durable so I prefer to save them for race day. The Samsons have a much more durable outsole than the Bare-X 150s and I'm happy that I have been able to use the Samson as a training shoe. I'm pleased that Altra continues to strive for lighter-weight shoes and I am looking forward to trying "The One" which will be released in 2013.

In general I think the Samson / Delilah would make a good general running / fitness / gym / cross training shoe. As I mentioned above, they are great option for a durable minimalist track shoe (I'm thinking especially for indoor track season where spikes are sometimes not allowed) and will definitely get your calves in shape for any race day shoe choice. They would also make a great choice for people interested in VFF but whose feet are not the right shape to fit into the toe pockets.

If you are interested in Altra Zero Drop shoes, please click the ad in the right column of this page to receive 10% off and free shipping.

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