Altra Kayenta Review – Zero Drop Road Running Shoes

Most of Altra’s range of shoes are unique. So, to say that the Altra Kayenta is a unique shoe is nothing unusual. Like all Altra shoes the Kayenta has a foot shaped , rounded toe box too allow the feet to function inside the shoe. The shoe is zero drop, which means that the height of the foot inside the shoe is the same at the heel as it is at the forefoot. This promotes a more natural mid foot landing and allows the runner to run with a better more upright posture.

The shoes upper is very soft. There is no plastic heel counter or stiff overlays to give the shoe any shape. So, the upper is free to mould to the shape of your feet. The upper consists of a slightly elasticated inner sock with a mesh cage surrounding it. When the shoes are laced up the tapes that the laces are threaded through pull the upper around the foot. This gives a snug but, not a tight fit. You hardly notice that the shoe is on your foot. Yet there is no movement. Even when running down steep hills, or cornering at speed I always felt that the Kayenta’s where securely on my feet. The heel section of the upper has some light padding, as does the tongue but, neither is excessive. The upper also feels very breathable and isn’t at all hot even in the hot and humid weather we have been experiencing recently.

The rounded foot shape of Altra shoes is designed to allow the foot to spread on impact. This is the way your foot cushions and stabilises. It’s also the way your foot springs you forward. The Kayenta’s midsole is so flexible that your foot can bend where ever it likes in all directions. So, no matter what your foot shape, whether you have long toes or short toes, a long arch or short arch, the flex point of the shoe will always be in the right place.
As you would expect from such a flexible shoe the Kayenta only has durable rubber on the points of the midsole that are most likely to get worn. That is the midfoot and the toe off. There is a little on the heel but, this isn’t a shoe designed for heel strikers so this area shouldn’t get a lot of wear. To reduce weight there are a few cut aways where the midsole has been removed and covered with a mesh. So, you will get water coming through the bottom of the shoe if you step in a puddle. However, if you get water in the shoe it will drain quickly too.

The initial feel of the shoes on impact is a very soft cushioned one. Like you are running on pillows. However, the flexibility of the shoe does make the shoe strangely responsive. When I first ran in them I thought these are a slow, recovery running shoe. They where very comfortable and I could feel that my foot was being allowed to function a lot more than in stiffer less flexible shoes.

I usually find with shoes as soft as these that I can’t run fast in them. I feel like I am sinking into deep sand and not getting anywhere. The sensation I got in the Kayenta is similar but, not quite as extreme. The flexibility of the shoe allowed my cadence to increase without too much effort and I felt much taller. The times of intervals where no slower and my legs felt a lot less beat up the day after.

On my hour long steady runs I have a couple of long up hill sections that are quite steep and take 10 minutes plus to run up. Usually as I come over the top of the climb my legs are fatigued and stiff. In the Kayenta there was no fatigue or stiffness and I felt my cadence naturally quicken up as the hill levelled out.
I have also used the Kayenta’s for long runs up to two and a half hours and happily trotted a long. So, despite the shoe being so light the cushioning is good enough to function well on long runs and not flatten out or loose structure towards the end of the run.

The midsole of the Kayenta is the soft cushion. The insole is the same one used in the Altra Torin 4. This is a firm durable insole. This allows your foot to feel that it has hit the floor and therefore get the message to spread out to absorb shock and function inside the shoe.

In a stiffer shoe you can run at a medium pace easily. Switching off mentally and ticking a long. This is not the case with the Kayenta. You have to work to run quickly. I think this is an advantage. I found that I ran my easy runs slower and therefore recovered better to run fast on interval or steady run days. The increased cadence has made my hamstrings and glutes work a bit harder than normal too. These are muscles that are needed to run with good form but, in high heeled or stiffer shoes often do very little work. This causes the runner to run with a less tall more squat posture. The leads to the foot landing in front of the centre of gravity causing a breaking force with every stride. The flexibility of the Kayenta seems to stop this from happening making it easier to run with better posture.

Shoes that are as soft and flexible as the Kayenta often don’t do as many miles before their cushioning starts to flatten out. The Hoka Clifton One suffered from this problem and Hoka has been trying to get that balance between a really soft cushioning system and a shoe that lasts for a reasonable number of miles. Off course how many miles you get out of your shoes varies from runner to runner. Due to how light they are on their feet, whether they alternate their shoes and what surface they run on. Because the Kayenta is so soft and flexible and so there would be doubts about the durability of the shoe we have given them an extended review.

I have run in them for 30 hours which is about 250 miles over varied terrain and varying speeds. A lot of the back road in County Durham are quite rough which wears outsoles that don’t have any rubber on them as does disused railway lines. I also used the Kayenta on tracks and trails as everything is so dry at the moment and the way that the shoe bends to the grounds give a really nice ride even on quite rough tracks.
The cushioning isn’t quite as soft and plush as it was at the start and there is wear on the outsole (see the pictures). I have long big toes so the flex point is behind the rubber pods on the outsole. If you don’t have really long big toes then you probably wouldn’t get this level of wear.

Most Altra shoes for most runners will do more than the 500 miles that most manufactuers quote as the amount of stress their midsoles can cope with before they loose their structure and cushion. My feeling is that the Kayenta will do less than that for most runners. However, despite this I think that the way the midsole flexes allowing the foot to function more and help improve posture makes then an ideal shoe for most runners to put in their rotation.

If you are new to zero drop then I think you could use the Kayenta as your first zero drop shoe. The cushioning is very soft and the flexibility makes it easier to run with really good form. However, you would need to build up the time spent in the Kayenta’s slower than you would a more cushioned zero drop shoe like the Torin or Paradigm.

Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle

Other Considerations
As mentioned the Altra Kayenta is pretty unique. So, there isn’t any shoes that are exactly like them. However, there are a few lightweight minimal shoes that you might want to consider before opting for the Kayenta:

Topo ST-3: This is another zero drop shoe with a very soft upper. There are no plastic heel cups and the upper moulds nicely to your foot. Topo’s also have a foot shaped toe box. The midsole is firmer and not quite as flexible (although they are more flexible than most other shoes). If you want soft cushion then the Kayenta would be a better option. The Topo ST-3 has a more responsive feel:

On Cloudflow: On shoes have a narrower fit and the classic pointed toe. So, if you don’t like the spacious feel of the more rounded toe boxes then this would be a good option. The shoes is flexible with an initial soft feel. The upper has more structure to it with a plastic heel cup:

Here is our review of the Cloudflow:

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