Altra Duo - Women's Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Altra Duo boasts a unique blend of minimalist and maximalist features, with one of the lowest weights in this review. It also has some of the highest landing comfort and has been designed for a particular type of athlete.
Judging by the Duo's average score, it's no surprise that it didn't earn one of our awards, though it does have some qualities that truly make it stand out amongst the crowd.
The first thing we wanted to know was how each model felt step after step. For our purposes, the "landing comfort" of each shoe describes the underfoot cushioning, downhill support, and ability to keep our bodies happy over long distances while pounding on pavement.
The Duo is a maximally cushioned shoe, up there in the ranks with the Hoka Bondi and Hoka Clifton; the entirety of the shoe sits much higher off the ground than your traditional running shoe. The Duo is designed to provide as much cushioning as possible to help soften the blow for athletes who fancy themselves very, very long runs or those who need to account for issues in their feet, knees, and hips. Compared to the Hoka models, the Duo is most similar to the Clifton in this way, while the Bondi is a bit more cushioned.
One feature that is found in all Altra shoes is a zero-drop midsole construction. While traditional shoes are built to elevate the heel slightly above the toe anywhere from 5-10mm, Altra's policy is to let the heel and toe rest as the same height. If you're used to a shoe with a 10mm heel drop, we recommend trying out a shoe with a smaller (5mm or less) drop before jumping into the Altras.
During our testing process, we quickly realized that some of the shoes in this review tend to pop and bounce more than others. As a general rule, the more cushioned a shoe, the less its "responsiveness," or its ability to take our kinetic energy and turn it into a kick in our step.
The Duo, as you might have imagined, is not a super responsive shoe. Compared to the likes of lightweight racers, it requires more energy to get going. We were impressed, however, with how it compared to the Hoka models. When stacked up against all the maximalist shoes in this review, it was the most responsive. Part of this could be due to the shoe's weight, which helps us feel light even with a lot of cushioning. But all things equal, our testers agreed that the underfoot cushioning of the Duo was a bit more poppy than that of the Hoka models.
After we've stepped into our shoes and taken our warmup mileage, the next thing we notice about our shoes is the upper. Many factors contribute to a shoe's "upper comfort" score, and as you might have guessed, these usually add to a shoe's weight. With that in mind, it's important to consider what type of running you're doing and what your priorities are in the trade-off between a comfy upper and a lightweight build.
The Duo needed to cut weight somewhere, and it appears to have done so in the upper. With a heavily cushioned sole, we expected this shoe to be a new go-to for long training runs. What we found was a less-than-comfortable upper that got on our nerves the longer we spent in this shoe. The tongue is minimal, with almost no cushioning at all. The back of the heel has a little bit of cushioning, but around the sides, there's very little that adds to the comfort factor. The Hoka models have more cushioning here, and we'd likely recommend the Bondi or Clifton if you'd rather have more cushioning than a lighter weight.
All that being said, the Duo is very breathable - one factor that contributes to a shoe's upper comfort without adding to its weight. The upper is almost entirely mesh, making for a great shoe on hot days. The Hoka models are heavier and less breathable.
Stability is a shoe's ability to keep our feet secure, either by supporting the runner's gait or by attempting to enhance it. While some shoes are marketed as "stability" models that aim to fix the gate of over-pronating runners, we also found that all runners need some stability. This typically comes in the form of lateral support and ankle support.
The Duo, trying to maintain its low weight, has little support when compared to many of the beefier shoes in this review. The sides are much softer and more flexible than those found on the Hoka Bondi. If you struggle with your gait and want a shoe that will guide you into a correct gait, this might not be your first pick. We did appreciate the shoe's toe, which has some good protection from rocks and other things we tend to stub our toes on. The ankle is also quite soft; it's clear that Altra was looking to maintain its minimalist stance with the Duo which has become quite popular recently, though it isn't what every runner is looking for.
Ah, weight. Usually, we recommend using weight only as a secondary metric once you've started to narrow down the competition based on other metrics. We found that weight was more important in running shoes than in some other categories, but we still wouldn't get too worked up about a decimal point of ounces. While a 7-ounce shoe and a 9-ounce shoe do have very different feels, the weight difference between a 7.3-ounce shoe and a 7.2-ounce shoe is imperceptible.
At 7.3 ounces, the Duo is an incredibly lightweight shoe. We were surprised by this at first since its maximalist cushioning put it in the same category as heavier Hoka models. Once we looked closer, however, we found that Altra took a lot of measures to reduce the weight on this shoe. The manufacturer markets the Duo as a race-day shoe, and they might be right. If you can't sacrifice the underfoot cushioning but need to stay nimble and quick, the Duo could be an interesting purchase.
Altra is marketing the Duo as a maximally cushioned race-day shoe. We agree and would not pick this shoe as our first choice for long training runs, as its minimal upper was one of the least comfortable that we tested. The breathability and light weight make it a contender for a race shoe, however; we think that the perfect home is on the half- or full-marathon race day.
The Duo rings in at $130, which is average in our fleet. Our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS is also $130, and we're not opposed to paying this much for a great shoe. We failed to find many uses for the Duo, however, so unless race day is of the utmost importance to you, we might look elsewhere for a more well-rounded product.
The Duo is a unique shoe with a unique purpose. Its blend of minimalist upper and maximalist sole makes for a great long-distance race-day shoe, but its lack of upper comfort makes us avoid it for long training runs. We appreciate its niche purpose, but if you're looking for one shoe to do it all, this probably isn't it.
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