After a month of testing, my Altra Samsons are finally ready for a more thorough review. However, these shoes are not through with their trials, as I plan to use the Samsons as my primary road running shoe during my training for (and likely running of) this year's Akron Marathon.
Considering my mileage is not high volume this time of year, the Samsons have only logged more than 20 miles, mostly on roads and sidewalks of varying types of material and varying states of decay.
My 3F criteria form the primary basis for my review, but weight, comfort and aesthetics also play a significant role in my opinion of Altra's latest zero-drop, minimal shoe.
The first F is how flat the shoe is, and all of Altra's offerings feature a zero-drop platform -- that is, no height differential between heel and toe -- which allows me to maintain a more forefoot landing with my stride.
The second F deals with flexibility. As you can see from the requisite fold-up-the-shoe photo, the Samson easily rolls into a ball. However, Altra added a layer of EVA to the sole, which makes it a bit stiffer than the Adams, the Samsons' brother shoe.
The final F concerns ground feel. Basically, how thin is the shoe? With the aforementioned layer of EVA, the stack height of the shoe is a bit higher than the Adams, which results in less ground feel. Without the insole, there is still a good amount of feedback, but not as much as I enjoyed in the Adams. The reduced ground feel means I have to be more cautious of stomping my feet -- a concern with any shoe. Stack height of the Samsons with the insole is 10 mm and 7 mm without.
The Altra website says the Samsons weigh in at 6.5 ounces, but the Minimalist Running Shoes blog has them 8.5 ounces. Obviously, the bigger the size, the more it will weigh. Considering my giant 11.5 sized feet, I'm guessing my Samsons are closer to 8.5 ounces, which will make them the heaviest shoes I've worn for the Akron Marathon in a couple years.
My only complaint about the Adams was the placement of the cinching strap near the toebox, which resulted in chaffing my pinkie toes. The Samsons eliminate that problem with a traditional lacing system. Voila! Best shoe ever, right? Well, not quite.
I prefer to run sockless most of the time, and the ground response of the Samsons is best without the insole. However, the BareSole footbed is comprised of a rubber-like material that seems to cause hotspots under my big toes. Sockless is fine with the insole, but then I lose ground feel. Basically, I'm stuck with the choice of socks vs. feel.
The upper of the Samsons is a thicker mesh than most running shoes. The material none abrasive and seems plenty breathable, but it adds a bit more structure than I'd like. The plastic strip up the side toward the heel seems a bit much. I see no reason to bulk up the shoe in this regard.
In the war between form and function, I'm a proponent for the function side. However, I can't deny my superficial response to how the Samsons look. Mrs. Viper has a euphemism for ugly babies; she says they're "going to be smart." These shoes? Yeah, smart. The design is simple, which I applaud. So many shoes these days look like somebody threw a bunch of fabric into a blender with a box of crayons and hoped for the best.
I prefer simple, but there are two aspects of the Samsons that I don't like. First is that plastic strap I mentioned. It's too thick. It would be better if it were slightly transparent and constructed of a lighter material, perhaps a Scotch-Brite fabric instead of plastic. Second is the gray toe decor, which just looks like cheap fabric paint. To me, it throws off the shape of the shoe. These are minor complaints, and they won't stop me from running in these "smart" shoes.
The Samsons are available online at the Altra website for $99.99. These shoes offer a great alternative to the Vibram FiveFingers, Merrell Trail Gloves, New Balance Minimus, and the like. The Samsons have become my primary shoe for road running, and they would be good for trails where traction is not a concern. Despite the socks vs. insole conundrum, these are among the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned. I'm looking forward to packing on the miles in them over the next several months.
[Drunkard's note: Altra provided these shoes for free in return for a review. The opinions stated here are my own.]