Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Altra Running King MT 2 Multi Tester Review: A Now Lighter Specialized Trail/OCR Beast!

Article by Canice Harte, Dom Layfield, and Jeff Valliere


Altra Running King MT 2.0 ($140)


Introduction

Canice: The King MT 2 has better grip, drainage, and durability. The upper is made of a hand tailored mesh and dynamically cut eye stays for flexibility and comfort. The new Vibram® MegaGrip™ Litebase outsole has a 40%+ reduction in thickness and 25%+ reduction in weight.
Pros:
Canice, Dom: Traction, ground feel and a no slip heel.
Jeff, Dom:  Traction, durability
One ounce lighter than predecessor.


Cons:
Jeff:  Security on steep, technical terrain, lack of versatility
Canice: Limited terrain appeal/use. The shoe is great for its intended use but as an all round trail shoe, Altra has better options. So the question becomes, do I want to spend $140 for a shoe that’s really meant for running up hills?
Dom:  Velcro forefoot strap of dubious utility.
(Tester profiles at end of article)

Stats
Weight:: men's  9.9 oz / 281g (US9) women’s 8.6 oz / 244g (US8)
Samples: US Men’s 10:  10.4 oz / 295 g
US Men’s 10:  10.3 oz / 292 g
Stack Height: 17mm, zero drop
Available now.  $140


First Impressions and Fit

Canice: The King MT 2 is a lightweight minimal shoe with a surprisingly snug fit. The King MT 2 still has the classic Altra wide toe box but everytime I put the shoes on I’m struck by how low volume the upper is. With that said, the shoe fits great and your midfoot and heel are completely locked in.
Jeff:  The King MT 2 feels light with a minimal look and the signature velcro strap over the top for added security.  The aggressive lugs enhance the look of the shoe and confirm its intent/design to be used on rough, loose, mountainous terrain.  Fit for me is better than most Altra, as I am able to achieve a higher level of foothold and the velcro strap does a nice job snugging up the midfoot without feeling uncomfortable or constricting.


Dom:  I reviewed the previous King MT 1.5, and liked it.  The updated King MT 2 is very similar in character, but is significantly lighter (by a full ounce per shoe).  I remarked that the previous version felt “like a Trail Glove on steroids”, and my first thought when running in the King MT 2.0 was exactly the same.  Like its predecessor, It has a similar foot-conforming shape, is firm but flexible, and low to the ground, while still providing good rock protection.


Upper

Canice: In general the upper feels great and my pair has held up very well. What does feel a bit weird to me, but works, is the fabric in the heel pocket. When you pick the shoe up and place your fingers inside the heel pocket you feel the material grip you fingers and when you rub the fabric in the other direction it is smooth to the touch. Once you have your foot in the shoe you do not notice this, and the directional material helps keep your heel from popping out of the heel pocket. But it’s definitely something you notice every time you put your shoes on.

Canice: A key feature is the velcro strap that helps lock your foot into the shoe. For me this is not something I want in an all round trail shoe, but in the context of a “King of the Mountain”, or in obstacle course racing, this feature makes perfect sense. Altra has clearly focused on midfoot security and keeping your heel locked down.

Jeff:  The upper is durable and strikes a great balance of keeping out dust/debris, while maintaining flexibility and breathability.  The velcro strap is a unique feature to the King MT 2 and does a nice job adding to midfoot security. While I find that it works well, is comfortable and not restrictive/constricting, I don’t find it to be entirely necessary either, as the majority of shoes that I run in secure around my foot well without one.  I do appreciate the innovation though and it works well in this application.


The interior of the heel collar/counter is covered in a non slip cloth material, where your heel slides in easily, yet like fish scales or shark skin, slides easily one way, but not the other to reduce heel slippage.  While I find that this works well in this application, I have observed over time that if the heel counter is shaped to fit most feet securely, then this material is usually not necessary. I would say generally not an issue, but have worn several pairs of shoes in the past from other brands that have this non slip heel material, which has accelerated the wear of the heel of my socks.  I have yet to experience that with the King MT 2 however.
Overall, I find fit to be more secure and precise than I do any other Altra I have worn to date and good by most standards, however I find that with the signature wider toe box, I still feel a bit of movement when running on steep, technical terrain and this movement increases with higher speed.  Not necessarily a deal breaker, but definitely causes me some trepidation. 
Water drainage is excellent, as is traction when crossing creeks (I was in this creek not specifically to test drainage or traction, but to retrieve my daughters stuck fishing line on the opposite bank, so an added bonus!).

Dom:  Unlike Jeff, I generally enjoy the wider toebox of Altra shoes, and the shape of the King MT is a really pleasing experience for me.  As with the previous version 1.5, the rounded last is a great match for my feet. I didn’t notice any foot slippage, even in technical terrain.  The low, flexible heel is also very much to my taste: for me, low heel collars make a shoe feel nimble and fast, and -- critically -- stable and predictable when off-camber.  (I don’t want a shoe trying to “straighten” my ankle!). The downside of a lower heel can sometimes be that heel retention is reduced, but I found no such problem here, perhaps due to Altra’s innovative sharkskin fabric lining the heel.


Dom:  Pretty much everything about the upper was to my liking with the exception of the forefoot strap.  
As with version 1.5 of the shoe, the strap seemed overkill for everyday trail running (and 
slightly cumbersome).   Perhaps this is a must-have feature if you regularly encounter shoe-sucking mud.  I tried running with the strap disconnected and didn’t notice much difference.  
Similarly, there is a stout overlay (yellow fabric) on the medial side of the forefoot that also seems excessive.  I assume this is to provide grip when rope-climbing in obstacle course races.  





Midsole
Canice: The Altra EGO midsole is a feature Altra calls out for having a “responsive feel underfoot”. For my part, I find the midsole has enough foam to protect my feet but feels dense. So combine that with the built in stone guard and the midsole delivers good protection.

Jeff:  I find the EGO midsole and stone guard to be adequately protective for a few hours over rough terrain and rocky ground, but has a bit of a flat feel and is not particularly responsive.  

Descents of several miles on technical terrain are reasonable, but on harder surfaces, smoother terrain and higher speeds, the thin stack and relative firm, minimal cushion become quite apparent and feels a bit harsh.


Dom:  The relatively thin midsole is appropriate for the character of the shoe, namely low-to-the ground, with a barefoot-like feel.  If you’re used to a thicker midsole, you might describe the transparent trail feel as unforgiving, but I felt it was just right.  This is not a shoe that I would personally use for high-volume training (nor when you are dealing with an injury), but I enjoyed the sensation during shorter runs.  
I expected that the rock plate -- unusually located under the midfoot -- would annoy me, as many plates do, but in practice I found it almost unnoticeable. I was occasionally aware of it when stomping on a rock (or stepping over a log) and actually appreciated its presence.  It does stiffen the shoe torsionally, but not so much as to make the shoe feel stiff.
Caption: Water drainage in the King MT 2.0 is outstanding thanks to four holes in the sole, and a mesh window sewn into the top sheet of the sole.  (Photo above is with footbed removed.)


Dom:  I also appreciated the outstanding drainage capacity provided by four holes that penetrate right thought the mid- and outsole.  I can imagine that this “feature” might perhaps be counterproductive if you’re tiptoeing through puddles, trying to keep your feet dry.  But on trails when you get your feet properly soaked the rapid drainage is nothing short of fantastic. I went for a test run with the King MT 1.5 on one foot and version 2.0 on the other; shortly after crossing a creek there was a steep downhill.  The MT 1.5 was sloshy and slippery, with my foot sliding forward in the shoe; the MT 2.0 had already drained and felt as secure as ever. 

Outsole
Canice: Traction for days. The Vibram Megagrip with deep lugs delivers all the traction one will need and more. Here in Utah, it is overkill but in soft terrain you’ll love the grip.


Jeff:  By far, my favorite aspect of the King MT 2 is the aggressive Vibram Megagrip outsole.  Both the rubber compound, lug shape/configuration/depth coalesce nicely to provide a well rounded level of traction on just about any surface, wet or dry.  I have not had a single slip and have used them on every conceivable surface, but would say that given the overall lug depth/sharpness and thus lack of surface area on the ground, may not be ideal for slabs/wet slabs, so I would look for an outsole with more ground contact if that were my preferred terrain.  In loose dirt, snow and mud however, this outsole shines. Outsole durability has thus far proven to be excellent, with hardly any signs of wear after ~30 miles of rocky, technical terrain.


For slabs and scrambling, while I would typically prefer less pronounced lugs, I found grip, at least on somewhat textured sandstone to be surprisingly good.

Dom:  Just as with car or bike tires, no one tread pattern/rubber composition is ideal for all surfaces.   However, the King MT 2.0 outsole is pretty damned good. As Jeff remarks, there are circumstances where the aggressive lugs are a drawback, limiting rubber surface contact.  Everywhere I tested, the Megagrip rubber and wide-spaced toothy lugs made traction excellent, consistent, predictable and reliable. Even on road, the shoe was surprisingly well-mannered and I was only distantly aware of the prominent lugs.   I wasn’t able to test the King MT 2.0 in the snow, but version 1.5 was outstanding in the snow, and I assume 2.0 will be equally good.
Altra King MT 1.5 outsole (top) compared to the new 2.0 version (below)
Dom:  The King MT 2.0 uses Vibram’s new “Litebase” outsole, from which I assume most of the weight savings come compared to the prior 1.5 release.  I was interested to see if I noticed any compromise because of this. I did a test run with with a 2.0 shoe on one foot and 1.5 on the other, and spent a good amount of time sliding around in mud and on wet rock.  Grip was indistinguishable. Another concern of mine was whether the thinner base would translate to diminished rock protection, and the new shoe did feel perhaps a hair softer underfoot, but any difference was very slight.


Ride
Canice: With zero drop and a dense midsole the shoe runs flat and does not have any pop or spring when lifting off. The ride reminds me of my Lone Peak 1.5’s from way back in the day.


Jeff:  I find the ride to also be very flat, non responsive and not particularly inspiring, but reasonable for its intended purpose.  This is by no means a fast shoe, nor made for endless trail cruising.


Dom:   The King MT 2.0 is a specialized beast that will not be to everyone’s taste.   Because of the low stack height and firm ride, you are acutely aware that this is a zero-drop shoe.  Whereas some higher, softer Altra shoes are more friendly to heel-strikers, the King MT… not so much.  I’m fully bisexual when it comes to landing on my forefoot or heel, and found that the King essentially forced me to toe-strike.  Landing on the heel made the shoe feel flat and harsh. Landing on the forefoot, on the other hand, was a pleasurable experience, with great ground sensation and just-right protection against rock strikes.  However, given the barefoot-like feel, this is not a shoe that I personally would select for runs longer than a couple of hours.  


Conclusions and Recommendations


Jeff:  I find the King MT 2 to be aimed at the Altra fan looking for a shoe that is a bit more secure, minimal and has maximum traction for rougher terrain, yet still retains the zero drop and wider toe box that attracts them to Altra in the first place.  As one who does not prefer a zero drop and has a foot that is narrow/low volume, I have traditionally struggled with Altra fit when running on technical trails, finding that my foot moves around on the inside of the shoe way too much to feel confident and in control.  The King MT 2 however is secure enough to get me most of the way there, but I do still find that I am not quite locked in enough to feel 100% confident and agile on steep gradients, at speed and when rock hopping and sidehilling. That said, I suspect the King MT 2 will provide all that the Altra fan expects.
Jeff’s Score: 7.5 /10 Ride: 6 (30%) Fit: 7.5 (30%) Value: 7.5 (10%) Style: 8.5 (5%) Traction: 9.5 (15%) Rock Protection: 8 (10%) Factoring in flat and non responsive ride, limited range of use


Canice: As I mentioned in the ride section, the King MT 2 has a flat and uninspiring feel.  While that may not be a limiting factor in rough, technical terrain, it does contribute to its limitations and makes it somewhat of a niche shoe.  I find that with the zero drop and relative low stack/minimal cushion, 1-2 hours of moderate paced running over technical terrain seems to be the sweet spot.  For faster paced running, especially on less technical terrain, harder surfaces or any appreciable downhilling, I would for sure lean toward the Superior or the Timp.  I wore the King MT 2 on a semi technical and often rocky 5 hour hike/run, which proved to be way too much, at least for my preference/tolerance, leaving my feet somewhat sore and legs surprisingly fatigued.
Canice:. The most likely use of the King MT 2 is obstacle course racing, and in that use, it is great. For a minimal trail runner look to the Superior 4.
Canice’s Score 9.7 / 10


Dom:  The King MT 2.0 retains the character of its predecessor, the King MT 1.5, providing amazing grip and a low-to-the-ground barefoot-like running experience.  I really enjoyed the shape of the upper and the terrific ground feel, while appreciating that the shoe provided enough rock protection. The water drainage through the new perforated sole is brilliant.  However, there are some OCR-focused features of the shoe that are superfluous for everyday running: the forefoot strap is overkill unless you are really wallowing in deep mud, and the substantial overlay on the medial forefoot is (I assume) only there to help climb wet ropes.


If you’re a forefoot-striker looking for a shoe that provides a natural barefoot-like running experience, but with sound rock protection and excellent grip, then the King MT 2.0 may be a great choice.   For obligate heel-strikers, the shoe will likely feel rather flat and unforgiving, particularly when running on hard surfaces.
Dom’s score: 9/10   
Ride 8, Fit 10, Value 7, Style 9, Traction 10, Rock protection 9, Weight 8


Comparisons Index to all RTR reviews: here
Altra King MT 1.5 (RTR Review)
Side-by-side testing of King MT 1.5 (left) compared to new King MT 2.0 (right)
Jeff:  King MT 2 has an  improved, more secure fit
King MT 2.0 (left) compared to version 1.5 (right).  In new shoe the laces extend further forward, and the velcro strap has moved further back
Dom:  In terms of overall feel, not much has changed: With the 1.5 on one foot, and the 2.0 on the other, I was hard-pressed to tell the difference.  If you liked the previous version, the 2.0 will make you happy; if you didn’t, chances are that the new shoe won’t either. The headline news is that the new shoe is an ounce per shoe lighter (down from 11.3 to 10.3 oz in US M10 size).  That’s a big win. Next up, version 2.0 drains better -- amazingly well, in fact. Otherwise, we see minor tweaks: the forefoot strap has been shifted further back; the top surface of the sole curves up a little around the periphery (version 1.5 was notably flat); the new heel collar is lower, and now incorporates a soft, barely-there heel counter.
The heel collar is lower in the King MT 2.0 (left) and has a heel counter, albeit a very soft one.
Altra Superior 4.0 (RTR Review)
Jeff:  The Superior is more responsive, flexible (without optional stone guard) and fast feeling, but not as adept in technical terrain due to traction and fit.


Dom:  This is an intriguing comparison, as both are low-stack, zero-drop, minimal shoes -- but with very different characters.  Both have an excellent glove-like fit that really works for my foot, while others (like Jeff) may not be so enamored. The Superior 4 has a squishier midsole, which I found more forgiving; the King MT has a firmer ride.  Superior 4 is more flexible. Grip is unquestionably better in the King MT. King MT also has the velcro forefoot strap that is overkill for everyday trail running, but presumably useful for obstacle course racing, and/or shoe-sucking mud.  Another OCR feature on the King MT is the beefy overlay on the medial side, which I assume is to facilitate grip during rope climbs. I enjoyed the King MT 2.0, but the Superior 4.0 is a better match for my daily runs.


Salomon Speedcross 4 or 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Speedcross 5 is heavier, but with much more cushion, protection and all day usability/versatility.  Neither shoe is fast or responsive. I find the King MT 2 to be more stable with lower to the ground stance/stack and has overall superior wet traction.  SC 5 however has a far superior fit, at least for those with lower volume feet and not looking for Altra width.


S/Lab Sense SG 7 (RTR Review)
Jeff:  SG7 overall far superior fit, response, lower weight, agility, though the King MT 2 is a much more durable shoe, particularly the outsole and has overall more versatile traction (and is $40 cheaper than the SG7).


Hoka Torrent (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Torrent cleans house in all categories for me, fit, response, speed, agility, traction, protection, cushion, comfort, versatility.


Dom:  Since Jeff called a sweep for the Torrent, I feel obliged to stick up for the King MT 2.0.  For a start, the running experience is completely different. King MT offers a barefoot-like feel that is light years away from the Torrent.  Secondly, drainage of the King is far superior. Thirdly, if you’re in shoe-sucking mud, the Torrent is going to slide right off and disappear whereas the King will stay glued to your foot.  Deciding which shoe has the better fit will depend on your foot anatomy and individual taste. Personally I much prefer the shape of the King MT. I also prefer the low, flexible heel of the King MT, which makes the shoe feel more nimble.  I’ve long complained that the Torrent heel is too high and stiff. That said, the Torrent is definitely a more mainstream choice, particularly if you’re a heel-striker, and is better suited to longer runs.


Saucony Switchback ISO (RTR Review)
Jeff:  Switchback ISO is more secure and civilized for less technical terrain and casual use.  I find cushioning/protection of the Switchback to be good, but a bit less protective than the King MT 2, particularly in rocky terrain.  King MT 2 outsole is superior for loose dirt, snow, mud and has overall better grip. Switchback is lighter and more responsive, great for cruising buffed out singletrack, but struggles a bit in technical stuff.

Tester Profiles
Dom 47, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.
Canice is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100 and Western States 100 as well as many other Ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as traditional road races and triathlons.
Jeff  runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 
  
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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