Friday, February 15, 2019

Altra Running Kayenta Review: Light, Smooth and Soft Fitting, Easy Running Zero Drop

Article by Dave Ames and Sam Winebaum

Altra Running Kayenta ($110)
The Kayenta is a brand new approximately 7.1 oz /202 g light performance trainer. I has, despite its light weight, a substantial 23mm Zero Drop stack Max LT midsole with minimal yet strategic outsole rubber coverage and great flexibility.  

Essentially, the Kayenta was said by Altra to slot in between the Vanish-R and Duo for those wanting a firmer, more responsive lightweight training ride and as a long race, tri, and tempo option  Its Max-LT midsole, shared with the Duo has firmer responsive characteristics with some of EGO's bounce. It is about an ounce lighter than the bouncier EGO midsole similar stack Escalante 1.5 and is about an half an ounce lighter than the lower stack Escalante Racer. For 10K and shorter races the Vanish-R is the choice in the line and continues. The One does not continue.

Kayenta features an adaptive two layer upper. First there is an inner and quite substantial stretch sock/slipper like inner (other socks clearly optional here), then four A straps (blue tabs seen above) at midfoot each acting as  lace loops and then running down to the midsole and finally an outer very ventilated non stretch thin mesh layer with pliable no sew overlays. It should fit a variety of foot types.

Somehow this very deconstructed yet layered approach works very well. The foot hold is comfortable , very soft everywhere and secure.

Truly slipper meets running shoe with a foot form fitting upper which should work for a wide range of foot shapes.
Well balanced shoe for zero drop, pick up the pace to slow tempo and heel is not missed at all.
Very flexible, foot bones molding, well cushioned, soft and easy to move along

Dave:  Runs small
Dave: Did not wow me after 8 or so miles (ends up being limited in my rotation, due to not enough underfoot) - - Not necessarily raceable, rather trainer for me.
Sam: While wonderful in feel. the flexible softer, forefoot lacks a touch of racing/fast snap and response.

Tester Profiles
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 61 with a recent 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR.  These days he runs halves in the 1:35-1:41 range and trains 40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces in the 9 minute range. He is 5'10" and weighs about 165 lbs.
Dave Ames is 37 and keeps in sub 3 shape in Southern California while transitioning to Ultras. He is a professional running coach and trains a mix of at least one quality workout, one long run and aerobic miles on both roads and trails.
Sample US M 9:  7.3oz/209g with liner / / 6.1oz/173g w/out liner
Sample US M8.5 6.94 oz /197 g
Stack Height: 23mm/23mm, Zero Drop
$110. Available Early to Mid March 2019.

First Impressions and Fit
Dave:  Wow, what a comfortable shoe.  A slipper have you. You know, it kinda feels like slipping into a comfy water shoe as you are about to take the Kayak out on the lake for a summer morning cruise.  It molds the foot that well. My size 9 however is a bit short, even barefoot, so I’d recommend going up a half size.
Sam: Totally agree with Dave. Somehow it seems such an upper just can’t work when actually running but it does! I was true to size and had no issues with length with various socks but given the nature of the upper some slip forward is possible depending on your foot shape. The last is Altra's more performance oriented fit but there is plenty of trademark Foot Shaped foot splay room up front. The colors combine outer class with inner pop, the outer mesh being the formal overcoat for the racy inner sock.
Dave:  It’s sleek, it’s soft and it molds very well.  Very slipper like. The Kayenta remembers your foot each and every time to lace it up for a run, and I like that a lot!  The constructed, almost “full tongue” cage or bootie, on the inside is very soft on the foot and adds a layer of support and protection before then lacing the shoe up and allowing the rest of the upper on the outside to nicely layer over the top and continue to take shape of your foot.  The Kayenta is wicked breathable and that is a plus for me as I have begun to use the shoe as well in the gym, trying to get the total body stuff going again for Ultra.
Sam: Kayenta features an adaptive two layer upper. First there is an inner and quite substantial stretch sock/slipper like inner (other socks clearly optional here), then four A straps (blue tabs seen above) at midfoot each acting as  lace loops and then running down to the midsol,e and finally an outer very ventilated very thin and soft non stretch mesh layer with pliable no sew overlays. The only place the outer upper is attached to the inner sock at the 3d lace with a short stitch tack and only on the lateral side and via a short tack stitch on either side of the beginning of the achilles collar

The inner stretch sock has a soft grid spacer structure between 2 layers of outer stretch fabric. I did not test in warm conditions but it likely won’t be the most breathable upper out there. This said there should be no need for socks here in warm conditions.
There is no heel counter and I did not miss it much but think the rear hold could be improved by a touch more structure back there.

Why didn’t I really miss a heel counter?
Well I think it is because, unlike many such heel counter less and stretch sock/knit designs, Altra wisely beefed up the rear facing outer layer overlays at lace up. So few get this right but it is key to pulling the heel forward and supporting the midfoot. Of course the 4 A straps lock down the mid foot but are not noticed at all. The tongue is part of the inner slipper but does have bumped out area of padding at lace up as shown above.
The well ventilated sockliner is I believe made of a denser than a normal EVA rubbery feeling material. It weighs 28 g / 1.0 oz. A typical sockliner weighs around 18 g /0.6 oz so while clearly functional, it adds weight. I think this sockliner goes a long way to providing the relatively shock free and soft ride to the shoe and even adds some bounce. Those wanting a firmer more responsive feel, and lighter weight might try substituting a lighter sockliner.

Sam: The Max Lt midsole is quite soft and forgiving with some nice bounce (in part from the sockliner I believe) but not the rubber ball bounce of heavier EGO foam as found in the Escalante. The forefoot cushioning is substantial, decently soft and flexible due to anatomically considered grooves. There is great foot doing what they were designed to do ground contact and toe off up front reminding me of the new Salomon Predict RA , also with a design considering the natural motion and flex of the foot bones.
Despite the zero drop and aided by the substantial heel rubber pod thickness there is only the slight sense this is a zero drop shoe, felt more at slower paces and for all intents and purposes disappearing for me as the pace picks up. This said you need to stay off the heels and doing so was easy to do, at least for the shorter runs (max 7 miles) I did in the Kayenta. The platform geometry, midsole and foam feel very balanced  Interestingly I also found the Duo to also be not to feel “low”. It to has a Max LT midsole but is considerably higher stack at 31mm, or 8mm more than here. In fact the drop “felt” here is not much different than the 4mm drop Fresh Foam Beacon. This is a lively midsole but it is not particularly responsive, likely due to the minimal forefoot rubber coverage and flexibility.
Dave:  The Max LT midsole is quality.  You really won’t notice that the Kayenta is zero drop at all and honestly at all paces, this is a shoe that is really a pleasurable experience to run in.  As Sam stated above, the forefoot really packs a punch, and through the use of this explosive midsole in Max LT, you get there quickly, to nicely pop off the forefoot.  It’s snappy and quick. I am really digging it. Slow miles, quicker steady state stuff and even Tempo’s feel at ease. I am not feeling beat up post run from the Zero drop, and I was a bit skeptical about that from the get go with Kayenta.  

The The outsole coverage is minimal but well designed, especially at the heel where the pod is thick to stabilize landings. The rubber is firm but I certainly have seen firmer. As such it matches the heel firmness of the midsole very well. There is no hard thunk on landing and I find I am not sinking at the heel for long at all. The long decoupling groove down the middle from heel to toe certainly contributes to the smooth transition.
I have seen no wear on the rubber but do see some scuffing up front of the white exposed midsole on the lateral side.

Deep grooves between the forward rubber pods as well a center of forefoot cavity all the way through to the so sockliner give the shoe a long easy flex all the way to the end of the front rubber. Maybe a touch too flexible for fast paces. I prefer a firmer platform with a more distinct single flex point. There are two cavities through to the sock liner which help with flex and should provide some drainage.

Dave:  The Kayenta won’t be a shoe you’ll pound 500 out of.  But that’s really not the point of this shoe. Much of the outsole is exposed, though the rubberized podding will add some life.  It grips well in all conditions on the roads and even on some cinder and on rail trail, providing quite the nice run experience! It’s aggressive enough for that despite being quite the lightweight shoe.

Sam: Everytime I ran the Kayenta I thought what a great balanced and forgiving ride for the runner wanting to try Altra Zero Drop. I like to mix drops from 10mm to 0mm to work the legs differently. While I would not train daily in them, I for sure am reaching for them regularly to practice form without going minimal, firm and rough.  As always, when transitioning to a zero drop from higher drops, take your time to adapt. Generally my Kayenta runs were at moderate to slow paces and most of my testing was on an indoor track in Park City and in cold weather outside in New Hampshire.

While not a particularly snappy ride, it was easy on the legs and toes and I never had the sense of missing the heel height or of a rough ride and when I did find I was leaning back to far on the heels I was able to easily find a more mid foot landing groove by focusing on my upper body and arm carriage. The light weight, under 7 oz in my size 8.5 was super notable and welcome for the very decent cushion, particularly at the forefoot, its decent stability and comfortable secure if slipper like upper.

Dave:  Snappy, efficient and you don’t feel like your running in zero drop.  This creates a nice experience for the runner looking to debut in zero drop, keep it very lightweight and use the shoe for eventual (once transitioned) speedier days like Fartlek or Tempo.  You don’t need to go fast though. It was just as smooth for me on easy cruiser days on the roads.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Sam:  Although Altra has really refined and perfected its key attributes of zero drop, foot shaped toe box, and a natural ride I did not find the Kayenta to be an ideal up faster tempo shoe. They were more easy going than race or tempo ready for me. They are a super light, decently cushioned and will be a once or twice a week run form focus shoe for me at moderate tempo paces. I had no problems taking them out on easier shorter runs and recovery runs  I prefer a well cushioned heel with at least 6mm drop and a snappy single flex point forefoot for both racing and training.

Those seeking a softer, flexible, very light zero drop performance trainer with very decently cushion for weight, a balanced feel, some bounce and minimal rubber in their fast shoes will dig them, a lot. Especially Altra and New Balance Beacon fans. I sure many will like the secure, roomy sock like upper with support where it is needed.  The soft comfort is quite incredible.

Here yes, you will be in a zero drop shoe, but quite frankly I hardly noticed regardless of pace and noticed less than in some 4mm shoes such as the Skechers Razor 3 where slow paces bottom out the heel for me. The Kayenta is a shoe which provides valuable variety in my rotation: zero drop, a fine sock like upper which can be worn sockless that actually works, plenty of cushion for the light weight, and a natural easy going ride at any pace.
Sam’s Score 9.7/10
-.25 for softer not particularly dynamic toe off. Nice for easier training but...More rubber needed, and slightly, stiffer with a more distinct flex point could make them more race ready for me.
-0.5 for maybe a touch of heel counter stiffening. There is none at all and have a touch of stretch movement.
-.05 the dense, heavy sock liner which softens the ride and provides some bounce but maybe too much for speed purposes and adds weight, one can always swap though.
-.05 for concerns about the breathability and water absorption of the stretch inner upper although the two ports through the midsole should help. More if you wear socks... which quite frankly aren’t needed at all in Kayenta.
Dave:  A well executed shoe by Altra.  While it does boast about also being a workout shoe, like Sam, I found it more enjoyable to run easy miles in it.  I have a complete and full arsenal of other stuff I’ll pull for quality session days. Perfect shoe for the runner looking to experience zero drop , without a overly high stack that will cause the legs to work harder than they actually have to.
Dave’s Score:  9.5/10
-.25 for not feeling 100% smooth at higher paces
-.25 for needing a bit more power to the midsole.  I’d like it a bit stiffer

Altra Escalante 1.5   (RTR review)
Sam: I did not run the Escalante much. It is heavier by an ounce and bouncier.
Altra Torin 3.5 Mesh (RTR review)
Heavier by almost two ounces the Torin has a roomier upper and more outsole rubber.  It has 5mm more stack height front and  back so is more cushioned and somewhat stiffer. It clearly is more daily training oriented than Kayenta. For Altra fans they  make a great pairing of light and fast and more daily training oriented. I prefer the Kayenta's more streamlined fit from the performance last and overall construction. 

New Balance Fresh Foam Beacon  (RTR review)
Dave:  Different shoe.  Different day. Not really comparable in my opinion.
Sam: Got to disagree with Dave here. I find them very similar.  I will admit the Beacon is somewhat more “practical" as both a light daily trainer and up tempo shoe for me. Both have a softish midsole with very little outsole rubber, a relaxed easy upper, and a similar ride. I do find the Beacon’s 4mm drop with 3mm more heel cushion an advantage for longer runs but at the same time prefer the higher stack of the Kayenta’s forefoot with its flexibility and more natural ground feel there. Take the real heel counter of the Beacon and put it in the Kayenta and things would be ideal as while I like the rear hold of the Beacon I prefer the more secure mid and forefoot hold of the Kayenta's upper.

Nike Lunar Tempo (RTR review)
The Lunar Tempo goes back a while, has a considerably higher  8mm drop but I immediately thought of them after my first run in the Kayenta. Why? Both have a weight near 7 oz, a  roomy upper and a soft and flexible ride.

adidas adizero Adios 4  (RTR review)
Dave:  A4 all day.  It’s one of the best racer/workout shoes/uptempo trainers on the planet right now.  I wouldn’t race in Kayenta
Sam: I wouldn’t race in Kayenta much either but Altra fans will. This said I found the Adios 4 a rougher, firmer ride with far thinner firmer forefoot cushion. As the pace picks up I do prefer its snappy single flex point approach over the Kayenta's easy long flex. It is a workouts and race workhorse and a somewhat heavier one at 7.6 oz. The lighter more flexible and softer Kayenta is a more a fun easy going shoe, You will get many miles out of Adios and at fast paces but it is tough to say as in the day it was one of my all time favorites it is a bit dated in ride, weight and construction.

Saucony Kinvara 10  (RTR review)
Dave:  K10 is far smoother and more underfoot.  Kayenta will struggle on longer runs for me over 10 miles.
Sam: K10 has denser more stable midsole cushion and a 4mm drop. It is more suitable for long runs, longer races and tempo. Kayenta is more fun and easy going for shorter stuff.
Skechers Performance Razor 3 Hyper (RTR review)
Sam: Razor's Hyper Burst midsole has more zing and a smoother yet feel on the run and is a stunning ounce lighter at just over 6 ounces with a similar stack height at the heel but lower at forefoot. This said for me it is limited to faster paces and shorter races, unlike the Kayenta which is happy at most paces, leaning towards slower and easier paces. I think Razor lacks adequate heel rubber thickness, which the Kayenta has it in spades, under its fairly soft midsole. I will admit to being a heel striker at slower paces.The Kayenta at zero drop actually effectively runs at a higher drop than Razor 3 for me at slower paces as a result and thus is more versatile by bridging over to slower runs,
New Balance 890v7 (RTR initial review)
Couldn't be more different and it comes down to runner preferences. The 890v7 is stiff and stable upfront and considerably firmer. Much more a workout shoe. Their uppers also stand in sharp contrast with a simple single layer engineered knit in the 890 with a heel counter and the elaborate multi layer construction of the Kayenta. Overall the Kayenta upper is considerably more comfortable but not quite as secure.
Kayenta will be in stores early to mid March 2019
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

Reviewer Bio
Dave Ames is the Founder and Head Coach of Ame For It Run Coaching, a nationwide run coaching business, training athletes of all ability levels from 5K to Marathon.  A formally competitive runner in high school and college, Dave focuses the majority of his time now on his athletes, but maintains the love for running and racing by keeping sub 3 Marathon fit.  His previous work in the run specialty industry consisted of managing multiple run shops across the US, then switching over to the corporate wholesale side, most recently at Newton Running and Skechers Performance. Dave can be found on Instagram @ameforitruncoaching and at his website

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60 said...

When will this hit the stores?

Sam Winebaum said...

As in the article should be soon as was originally scheduled for February but has not shown up yet.
Sam, Editor
Thanks for reading Road Trail Run! See our page with links 100’s of in depth shoe and gear reviews HERE. You can also follow RoadTrailRun on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram where we publish interesting run related content more frequently as well as links to our latest reviews.
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Mike said...

Have either of you run in the Escalante Racer? Can you compare it to these?

Thank you.

Narovly said...

Darn, I was hoping it would be a stiffer version of the escalante.

David said...


Great review and thank you. I have a generic Altra question - I have an old ankle injury. The arch support in Aetrex insoles is about perfect and pretty much takes care of the ankle issue. The problem is that they don't fit the shape of the Altras. I *think* the Altra shape is very agreeing with my running form. Any recommendations for this issue?

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi David, Thanks for kind words about review. We'll keep at it. What does work/fit with your insoles given Altra shape. I will say the Kayenta is on their "narrowest" performance last so up front for sure not as voluminous as say the Torin.
Sam, Editor

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi Mike,
Unfortunately neither of us has run Escalante Racer. The Racer has a 17mm stack so 6mm less than Kayenta and an EGO midsole vs Max LT and is about 0.5 oz. Would imagine Racer is considerably firmer (and firmer than regular Escalante) but also a touch bouncier. Racer is more...racer than Kayenta
Sam, Editor

Joe Ironman said...

Mr. Daggett...try the Escalante 1.5 it's got good heel/ankle support. They a wider shoe and fit me fine and I used to take a 4E in NB. Missed you and the family at IM!

Dave W said...

I enjoy my Altra Torin 2.5s since they accommodate my prescription orthotics, but would like to feel a bit more connected to the ground. How are the volume on these? What model would be better? I love Altra's toe box, and with my orthotics, the drop comes out to closer to 3 or 4mm (my preferred drop).

Sam Winebaum said...

Hi David,
Torin 2.5 was and is one of my favorite Altra. I can well see how the higher rear collar could accommodate an orthotic. After 2.5 the upper got less supportive in my view. The Kayenta has no heel counter and stretch to the upper so it might work. The Altra which is ideal for orthotics in my view is the Instinct 4.5. I really liked their lively ride despite being a bit heavy, The very high and wide toe box is really designed for orthotics,
See my Instinct 4.5 review here under Altra:
Sam, Editor

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