Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Altra Running Duo 1.5 Multi Tester Review

Article by Jacob Brady, Derek Li, and Sam Winebaum

Altra Running Duo 1.5 ($130)
Jacob: The Altra Duo 1.5 is the second generation in the Duo line, Altra's max cushion racer. It has a monstrous 33mm/33mm (heel/forefoot) stack height at an impressively light weight. Lightweight but heavily cushioned shoes are quite popular these days, and very soon before receiving the Duo 1.5, I had the opportunity to test run the Hoka ONE ONE Rincon and Clifton 6; two shoes in a fairly similar class. I have also been running in another Hoka shoe, the Speedgoat 3 (on trails), and have been using the Nike Zoom Fly Flyknit (33mm heel) for weekly workouts, so I've had a lot of recent experience with high-stack, high-cushion shoes. I even raced the Speedgoat 3 for a very tame dirt 5k, just as a comparison point, when a typical ideal 5k race shoe would be less than half that stack.

Derek: Having had experience with Duo 1 (RTR Review), I will just say that the Duo 1.5 is mainly an upper update. There is officially nothing changed in the midsole and outsole, but there are some subtle changes not just in the fit, but the ride as well. Read on to find out. 

Sam: I tested the Duo 1, unfortunately in some ways in a sample half size up from my normal and its super light breathable upper didn't provide as much support as I could hope for on top of the giant 33 mm zero drop stack. I liked the light weight and firmer and responsive Max LLT midsole ride. I was eager to test the Duo 1.5 and its new very thin engineered knit upper in my correct size over the same platform and weighing a very light 8.7 oz / 246 g.

  • Lightweight considering the massive stack height and high cushion
  • Zero-drop doesn’t feel extreme
  • Solid grip
  • Very well cushioned with decent response, admirably flexible for such a big stack
  • Get liviler with little to no sense of zero drop as pace picks up to tempo.

  • High cushioning to weight ratio, good overall weight balance across the shoe, decent forefoot flex. 

  • Relatively insecure fit
  • No tongue padding can cause discomfort
  • Limited use; not a good daily trainer or racer
  • Lace them tight and secure and there is a touch of discomfort from tongue, lace them looser and fit gets less secure around the upper heel as the collars are low.
  • zero drop, low heel, noticed at slow paces limiting utility somewhat to faster days,

  • Difficult to get a good balance of heel lock down and lace tension. New upper is not as breathable as the original Duo. 

Tester Profiles
Jacob runs a mix of roads and trails in the Portland, Maine area. He runs every day and averages 50 miles per week. Jacob recently ran a 2:54 marathon and completed his first ultra, a 50km trail race.
Derek is in his 30’s and trains 70-80 miles per week at 7 to 8 minute pace in mostly tropical conditions in Singapore. He has a 2:41 marathon PR.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 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 on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.

Estimated Weight: men’s size 9: 8.7 oz / 246 g
Samples: men’s size 12: 10oz / 282g, men’s size 8.5: 8.5 oz / 241g 
Duo 1.0 review & weight men’s size 9: 8.46 oz./240 g
Stack Height: men’s  33mm heel /33mm forefoot : women’s 31mm heel /31mm forefoot Available now including Running Warehouse here

First Impressions and Fit
Jacob: Although the Duo 1.5 certainly looks big, the upper is thin and sleek and the shoe doesn’t look or feel bulky. The material beneath the tongue and around the heel collar is sticky which makes the shoe hard to slide on, I had to really loosen the laces. I spent some time with lace tightness, as the tongue is very thin so the laces were uncomfortably pressing into the top of my foot. I also kept having to pull the tongue across my foot from the bottom as the tongue material would stay with my sock when I slid my foot in and move out of place. In the end, I didn’t feel like I could get a comfortable fit as part of bottom of the tongue felt sharp no matter how I moved it and there was always a bit more lace pressure than ideal. Not a great start, but fortunately, all this was a non-issue when on the run. The sizing overall was good; true to size.

Even just standing in the shoes, my feet really sunk into the midsole. This softness felt similar to the Clifton (airy and marshmallow soft without being springy). The Duo midsole didn’t feel at all close to bottoming out though, more like I just compressed the top third of midsole. Interesting, let’s dive in.

Sam: I tested the Duo 1.0 with my sample half size up from my normal and I sure felt the extra room and shaky upper security. The Duo 1.5 at true to size fits me far better with excellent secure front to mid foot lock down. The heel felt a bit loose but not exceptionally so as the foot is embedded down in the midsole with the  heel area upper ankle collars low and quite minimal. I cranked down on the laces which through the thin tongue produced some bite. During my first run I loosened a bit and had a more comfortable fit and while not quite as locked down at the rear as I would like despite the fact the heel is embedded deep into the midsole kept me stable. 

I agree with Jacob that walking around and at slow paces the heel feels low. I often find this to be the case in softer more maximal zero drop shoes such as the Torin and Torin Plush but less so in lower stack height Altra, for example the Kayenta which has the same Max LT midsole foam. I think this is a function of the thickness of foam which in a higher stack will need to compress before leveling out with the front as a lower stack will  when walking or at slower paces. I had less of the sensation in the Duo with its firmer yet still quite soft Max LT midsole foam than in the Torin 4 or 4 Plush. Once underway at slower tempo paces (faster than 9:20/mle or so) the shoe ran with more even front rear balance with not much sensation that the drop was zero. My advice, and what I have often done with the Torin, is to cut a 2” wedge of old dense sockliner and place at the heel under the supplied one for a touch of lift making the first run shorter to make sure no irritations occur at the ankle and achilles collar.

Derek: There is a noticeably softer underfoot feel in this shoe than the original Duo on first step in. The fit is true to size and even though the last is unchanged, the new upper seems to provide a slightly lower volume fit overall which is most noticeable at the toe box. I was a bit concerned with the stiff fabric of the very minimal heel collar but fortunately it ended up being a non-issue with socks on. 


Jacob: The Duo 1.5 upper is composed of a very thin and largely unpadded lightweight engineered knit. The tongue is thin and free, so it moves around easily and has a tendency to fold when putting on the shoe. The interior of the material around the heel, heel collar, and tongue is fuzzy matte and “grabs” both sock and skin quite well. This makes the shoe a bit difficult to put on but helps prevent the foot from moving around on the run. 

The heel collar has a ring of foam padding just below the top and well as full coating of the soft, resistant material down to the insole, which gives a bit more structure to the minimal mesh upper. There is no heel counter, but midsole comes up around the back of the heel, cradling it in place—bucket-seat style. The collar fits loosely though.
The upper is very lightweight and breathable, though these weight-savings come at the expense of comfort and security. The overall lock-in is alright, but I couldn’t lace up tight enough to prevent the foot from all-around—forefoot, heel, and front to back—sliding around in the shoe on corners taken at speed. 

Part of this is that the toebox is very wide, which is also good; I don’t can’t feel the material touching my foot at all. The foot doesn’t slide out of the shoe, just around inside it. Straight sections and gradual corners are fine though so this isn’t as big an issue as it may sound.

Additionally, finding the right lace tightness is difficult as there is no tongue padding—it’s really easy to go slightly too tight and feel the lace pressure. Midfoot lock is generally good in this shoe though and for my foot shape there’s no way I would lace up tight enough to get rid of the lateral forefoot and heel sliding. I didn’t try a heel lock lace though; it wasn’t bad enough to necessitate that.

I did not run in the Duo 1, and though the upper of the 1.5 is totally redesigned, it keeps the characteristics of the first generation: very thin, breathable, and roomy. 

Sam: The Duo 1.5 has the thinnest engineered knit I have ever seen. This said it is knit and not the airy mesh of the 1.0. It is certainly more breathable than any other engineered knit and many engineered mesh I have run. 

There are more open areas of mesh over the toes and unlike the Duo 1.0 there are no overlays up front, just some stiffeners around the front, higher and more substantial on the medial side than lateral. The Duo 1 was called out by Altra as having their highest volume toe box in large part due to the front overlays which raised the mesh way up high. 

Here we have nearly the same volume as far as I can tell but it is more foot conforming and more secure.

I notice some white underlays up front which surely assist in what is a great roomy front foot hold.

The midfoot is secure and comfortable. I do question the paper thin engineered knit tongue with zero padding and a thin top of tongue pliable overlay. Lacing is tricky as said in the fit section above. To tight and the laces bite, to loose and foot hold at the rear suffers. I did find a happy medium realizing that while the rear collars are low the foot sits way down in the midsole.

As with many recent Altra I really question the low angled ankle collars especially with such a pliable rear of the shoe. 
I think somewhat higher collars would draw the foot forward to lace up better.  All this said the rear fit is secure if a bit loose feeling higher up at the edges above where the foot sits embedded in the midsole. 

Derek: The upper doesn’t feel like a knit fabric at all actually as it has a sort of laminated feel to it. The closest existing comparison I can think of is perhaps the Skechers Razor 3. The materials may be different but they both give a feeling of being very thin, with a bit of stiffness to the material to get that supportive feel when you lace it up. This sort of feel is not that of a plush high mileage trainer, but more what you would expect in a lightweight tempo shoe. Overall compared to Duo 1, the fit is slightly looser in the heel because of less padding with the new upper material, about the same in the midfoot, and slightly snugger in the forefoot. I point out the forefoot because there were comments that the forefoot of the original Duo was a little too wide, even by Altra standards. 

Jacob: The midsole is soft and “sinky” but not pillowy soft. It’s almost uncomfortably soft, not the kind of soft you want for a chilling shoe, but that’s not what it’s built for.

The midsole wraps up around the foot which helps with lock-in. I never had the foot slide out of the shoe/into the upper on sharp corners, only within the wide platform.

Although I believe the midsole is a single density, it feels like it compresses more easily for the first third and then gets a bit denser. The forefoot also feels softer than the heel. Both these are likely due to the carved out pockets on the bottom of the shoe.

Derek: The midsole foam is unchanged from v1. Some people may find that the feel is different, mainly because v1 was released with an EVA insole while v1.5 comes with an Ortholite insole. Ortholite insoles tend to produce a mushier underfoot feel in the initial break in phase and then settling once it molds to your foot pressure patterns. Conversely, EVA insoles do not change as much throughout the lifespan of the shoe, but tend to give a firmer underfoot feel. 

Sam: I do find the midsole heel low when walking or at slow paces but once the pace picks up the feel levels out. The 33 mm of stack and sockliner has to compress under weight and back on the heels it compresses more than upfront. The longer weight is applied out back the further it will compress. The lower stack 23mm Kayenta has less of such a sensation but is a considerably firmer ride. The Max LT foam is of the firmer responsive sort in contrast to the plusher squishier Quantic foam in the Torin 4 and Torin 4 Plush (RTR Review).   I prefer the slightly firmer more responsive and dynamic feet here to the Torin 4 and there is plenty of stack to cushion. The Duo despitethe massive front stack is also commendably flexible due to the combination of Inner Flex grooves in the top of the midsole and the Foot Pod outsole design. Many max stack shoes are stiff relying on a rocker for toe off, not so here.

Jacob: With the Duo 1.5, Altra employed several techniques to save weight and create a fairly lightweight shoe with a huge stack-such as the thin and unpadded upper. The outsole continues the innovation. It is a mix of rubber and exposed midsole, though the ground contact area is very small as it’s composed of over a dozen rectangular rings with cut-out channels in between. This unique design both cuts weight and gives the thick slab of foam a lot more flexibility. The highly modular design gives the shoe it’s unique feeling ride and midsole compression as well. Unfortunately, the cutouts also capture rocks easily—I have to clear them out after nearly every run.
Though the amount of rubber on the ground is small, traction is notably great on all surfaces. The upper is weak when cornering, but the outsole keeps that from being disastrous.

The grip is solid on everything I’ve thrown at it: asphalt, brick and other smooth stone, and dirt. I like the feel of the Duo 1.5 on dirt since the first time I took it off-road, though the rest of the shoe/fit takes away from it’s utility as a trail shoe—I definitely would not want to do any significant descent in them.

Derek: Outsole is unchanged. There are still the same flex grooves and outsole coverage from before. Not an issue for me. Don’t fix what isn’t broken!
Sam: No issues with the outsole for me. This outsole is a great example of how midsole and outsole need to work together as a system and particularly so in very high stack front stack shoes. It has very fine grip and a welcome contribution to flexibility, but the deep grooves do pick up pebbles.

Jacob: Altra markets the Duo 1.5 as a “race day max-cushioned rocket,” so I was expecting good response and fairly snappy transition.
My first run was an eight mile city exploration at a variety of paces (6:45-8:45min/mi). I found the upper to be notably weird and a bit uncomfortable at times but the shoe was smooth rolling and a good cruiser. The true bottomless cushion was a blaster on the downhills.
The midsole is fortunately not mushy and the response given the stack is adequate. Rebound is average—it’s not a notably springy shoe. It feels a bit dull and energy-sucking at slower paces and when my legs are already tired to start a run, but is much more fun at steady endurance up to tempo pace.

Though I like my current other zero-drop shoe, the Altra Escalante 1.5, I don’t find it to turn over as easily or smoothly as the Duo 1.5. Relatedly, the Duo 1.5 doesn’t feel like a “zero drop shoe” as I’m used to them feeling. It has the low-drop feel, but perhaps due to the outsole pockets it doesn’t have the same dramatically different ride from being zero drop as all previous zero-drop I’ve run in (Altra Impulse and Escalante). I ran in the Duo 1.5 back to back with a 10mm drop shoe though and the difference was immediately striking.

I compared the Duo 1.5 midsole softness to the Hoka Clifton earlier, but when on the run the Duo 1.5 rides nicer as it is more responsive and less mushy. 

To test the speed potential, I took the Duo for a 5k workout at 5:45min/mi pace on a pretty flat dirt path. I enjoyed the Duo on previous runs for a few miles at a bit slower paces than this, but during this run it felt like too much shoe for this pace and short distance—I was consciously wishing for less underfoot, the high stack felt in the way and unnecessary. Though the Duo 1.5 may be a more acceptable speed shoe or racer for longer races (marathon+), I would not pick it over other marathon-capable shoes (Adidas Boston, Nike Zoom Fly, Nike Vaporfly, New Balance Beacon) as I prefer all these to the Duo for the 5k to half marathon distance as well. It doesn’t comfort tired legs as well either. Though the Duo can certainly handle speed, it doesn’t feel fast or encourage a ripping pace. I think it’s most fun as a fartlek or free-run shoe. I’d use it for long runs with longer intervals in them or solid endurance paces, but not for racing.
Derek: I personally do not like how the new Ortholite insole changes the underfoot feel of the Duo. Instead, I prefer the more uniform feel provided by a traditional EVA insole. I swapped out the Ortholite insole and replaced it with the insole from the Duo 1, and the underfoot feel became indistinguishable between the 2 versions. The ride is still snappy, especially at moderate paces, and once again this shoe feels more like a 5mm drop shoe rather than a zero drop shoe as the heel compresses less than the forefoot. As with many low drop shoes for me, transitions feel a bit awkward and ponderous at easy and recovery paces but things really smooth out as you pick up the pace. 

Sam: Derek nails it for me although I have not as of yet swapped insoles. The Duo's ride shines at moderate to slower tempo paces but feels low at the heel at slow paces. It is a "firmer" more responsive ride than a Torin. The light weight for the amount of cushion provided is pleasantly noticed!

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jacob: The Duo 1.5 is a uniquely designed shoe with an interesting ride, a very accommodating though slightly insecure fit, and a super plush feel. With my large rotation of shoes, the Duo 1.5  is once a week shoe at most. I enjoy my runs in it but only choose it when my legs aren’t tired and I don’t have a workout planned, or just to mix it up.
The Duo doesn’t work for me as a daily trainer nor as a racer; it’s not easy to chill out in and has too much stack for true speed. Thus its utility for those with only one or two shoes is low. However, the ride is interesting and often enjoyable. It’s worth trying out and I could see it being a good pick for some people in the market for a wide, lightweight shoe with a lot of cushion. 

Overall Score
Feel, Energy Return, Cushion, Weight, Fun Factor
Lockdown, Comfort, Sizing
Cost, Usability, Performance, and Expected Durability


Derek: This update is a bit of a mixed bag for me. It loses the excellent ventilation of the original but also has a better fit for me in the forefoot with less lateral foot movement. Ride-wise, it’s indistinguishable from the original Duo. I think this update is worth considering for people who found the forefoot of the original Duo to be too wide for a good performance fit. 

Derek’s Score: 9.05 / 10
Ride 40% 9.5, Fit 40% 9, Value 10% 8.5. Style 10% 8

Sam: I mostly agree with Jacob that the low feeling heel at slow paces puts the Duo into a somewhat gray area between up tempo trainer racer and daily trainer. This said if you are a zero or low drop shoe fan looking for light weight, lots of cushion and a responsive faster ride it is a great choice. If you are a more conventional drop shoe fan looking for an up tempo, highly cushioned option that is not somewhat boring mush (say Clifton..) you should also take a look at Duo as once you get moving fast you won't be missing the heel much if at all. As with all zero drop if you are coming from high drop go at it easy to adjust.
The upper takes a step forward with superb forefoot and mid foot hold and maybe a touch of step back at the heel where the combination of those low collars and deconstructed heel counter could for me use more substance and lockdown. While the very thin knit upper breathability is fine for my uses, the open mesh Duo 1 upper was exceptional in that department making the shoe a great choices for tropical type humidity and lots of rain and wet as Derek often experiences.
Sam's Score: 8.9 / 10

Ride 50% 9, Fit 30% 8.5, Value 15% 9. Style 5% 9
Deducting for: heel upper hold, unpadded tongue makes lacing tricky, no longer being a big breathability champ, and slower pace versatility as a daily trainer.


Altra Escalante 1.5 (RTR Review)
Jacob: The Escalante midsole has a considerably lower stack at 24mm vs. 33mm for Duo yet weighs slightly more. Escalante has significantly more ground feel, response, and spring. The upper is more plush, comfortable, and secure. Both true to size. The Escalante’s EGO midsole has a lot more rebound and is more flexible, but less stable with a more different/striking feel compared to non-zero-drop shoes than the Duo. I prefer the Escalante’s ride as it’s more energetic and fun at speed, but those looking for a higher stack and easier cruiser would probably like the Duo more. Escalante is my pick but they’re not the same class.

Derek: Escalante has a bouncier feel to it but is lower to the ground. I prefer the snugger fit of the Escalante upper, though it feels easier to go faster in the Duo than in the Escalante for me. 

Hoka Rincon (RTR Review)
Jacob: Rincon is firmer and feels like it’ll take you faster with less effort. Much racier with less squish than the Duo. Toebox is narrower in the Rincon but still accommodating and more comfortable overall. Both true to size. Fairly different ride/feel but I’d certainly go with the Rincon.

Hoka Clifton (RTR Review)
Sam: Clearly competitors with similar weights and heel stacks and a 5mm lower but still impressive 26mm upfront stack for Clifton. Duo is more flexible and lively as the pace picks up for me. Duo s slightly firmer and more responsive  while Clifton's advantages are its more secure upper and higher drop. Neither would be a daily trainer for me but give the lean in the match up to Duo which is more fun to run and less mushy soft. 

New Balance Beacon 1 & 2 (RTR Review)
Jacob: The Beacon may look like it has a lot of foam underfoot, but the stack is significantly lower than the Duo (26/20mm vs 33/33mm) and the cushion is very firm rather than very soft; wholly different shoes, so it depends if you’re looking for a soft, maximalist shoe (Duo) or a firm but cushioned daily trainer/racer (Beacon). Both have an open toebox and fit true to size.

New Balance FuelCell Propel (RTR Review)
Jacob: The Propel is  the only other road shoe in my weekly rotation with even close to the softness of the Duo. The Propel is lower stack, more flexible, and more bouncy. I love it for easy miles slow paces when the Duo would feel sloggy. The Propel isn’t as easy to lock in and cruise at faster paces than the Duo but is a much better daily trainer. The upper/comfortable is also exceptional while the Duo is a bit sub-par (both true to size). If you don’t specifically want a maximalist shoe (Duo) and aren’t trying race in them, go for the Propel.
Sam: I concur with Jacob's take.

Skechers Performance Max Road 4 Hyper (RTR Review)
Sam: No question the Max Road for me. A much more dynamic, springy super cushioned ride and one that doesn't penalize slower pace heel striking as much while being truly a delight at faster tempo paces. Do read our linked Max Road 4 review! Heavier runners and those with more severe front landings and supination may encounter front of foot hot spot issues as the soft and springy Hyper Burst front pylons compress quite dramatically and independently.

Derek: I prefer the ride of the Max Road 4 as it is bouncier and more dynamic, but the Duo has the better working upper for me. Overall, I think the Duo is a more versatile shoe over a wider range of paces, while the Max Road would be more suitable for slow-medium pace runs. 

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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1 comment:

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