Our verdict

The Altra Kayenta feels amazing when running fast. It has a unique zero mm heel-toe drop and a wide, foot-shaped toe box that liberates my toes and helps me run naturally and efficiently. It’s super lightweight at 5.9 oz, making it one of the lightest speed-oriented road shoes on the market. However, I think it sits in an odd position between a true racing flat and a high-mileage daily trainer.

Pros

  • Nice fit
  • Light
  • Super comfy
  • Responsive
  • Plenty of ground feel
  • Fast
  • Reasonable price

Cons

  • Runs small

Audience verdict

88
Great!

Altra Kayenta: who is it for

The Altra Kayenta is an excellent up-tempo road shoe for the minimalist crowd that’s light, form-fitting, and will liberate your toes to move freely, unlike other speed-oriented road shoes.

Go-fast road running shoes are dime a dozen. Virtually every brand offers a nearly identical lightweight road shoe for speed work or races, from the Saucony Type A9 to the ASICS Tenga to the Brooks Hyperion.

What sets the Altra Kayenta apart from the rest of the crowd is its wide “foot-shaped” toe box and its zero mm heel-toe drop.

Most speed-oriented running shoes have tight-fitting toe boxes almost like race spikes, aimed at minimizing slippage during rapid turnover.

However, tight toe boxes constrict metatarsals, pinch toes, and prevent feet from moving naturally. Speed-oriented running shoes also tend to have elevated heels, which can limit the range of motion in the lower leg while running.

The Altra Kayenta’s “foot shape” last and zero-drop fixes those two problems, and the difference is notable.

Switching from the Saucony Fastwitch to the Kayenta, I felt like my toes had been liberated, and I could fully power through every toe off. At the same it, in the Kayenta, I could feel my metatarsals splaying to absorb shock more efficiently.

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The innovation works so well. After wearing them, I’m shocked more shoe brands haven’t given up pointy toe boxes too (although some have, witness Topo and Vivobarefoot, among others).

Light and super comfy

Beyond that, the Kayenta is one of the lightest road shoes out there at 5.9 oz for a men’s size 9. Plus, the Kayenta has a super comfy form-fitting upper. In sum, it’s a terrific shoe from top to bottom.

Despite all those positives, the Kayenta is positioned in a strange category between a racing flat and a daily trainer. It is an ounce or so too heavy to be considered a true racing flat, but it has a few mm too short a stack height to work well as a distance training shoe.

For those looking to go fast on race day, a lighter weight option like the Altra Vanish-R will probably be a better choice. In contrast, for most training runs, a slightly heavier option with a bit more cushion and durability like the Altra Escalante Racer will likely work better.

There are rare runs —like tempo work roughly from the 5K to the half marathon distance— where the Kayenta will fill demand, but other than that, it feels either a bit too heavy or a bit too light.

So, if you’re looking for a lightweight road shoe for the occasional tempo run, race, or track work out, then the Altra Kayenta is an outstanding choice.

Go full size up!

Unless you need extra arch support or have lower leg mobility limitations, it is certainly worth a try. If the Kayenta sounds like a good fit for you, I suggest ordering a half to a full size larger than usual: it runs short.

However, for most runs, you’ll probably want either a bit more or a bit less midsole foam. That might be why it appears that Altra has not updated the Kayenta in 2020, while the Escalante Racer did get a fresh set of colorways.

You can read my evaluation of how the Kayenta compares to similar shoes in “The Competition” section at the bottom.

Upper of the Altra Kayenta

The upper on the Kayenta is fantastic. I hope Altra takes lessons from the Kayenta upper’s design and applies it to other shoes in their lineup.

Essentially, it’s one stretchy form-fitting layer surrounded by a thin, slightly firmer layer that locks the foot in place.

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This double layering works great. It has all the form-fitting comfort of a knit upper coupled with the secure lockdown of an upper with overlays.

The result is far better than Altra’s other road shoes like the Escalante with fully knit uppers, which are comfy but suffer from slippery heels and tend to stretch out after logging some miles.

The Kayenta’s upper can handle quick and easy lace-ups. While I haven’t raced a triathlon in the Kayenta, I have done my fair share of tris and can easily see that the upper would provide quick and easy transitions when given elastic laces.

This is a combination of the sock-like stretchy layer of the upper and the pull tab on the heel (not found on the Vanish-R or the Escalante Racer) that will allow you to pull it on in T2 rapidly.

Midsole

The midsole on the Kayenta is terrific. It’s just enough cushioning to keep roads from feeling jarring—up to around a half marathon distance—without anything extra to weigh you down.

The 23mm stack height is low enough that you have plenty of ground feel and pliability. Its Max LT foam is phenomenal: it feels soft on landing but responsive on toe-off.

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The midsole’s zero mm heel-toe drop is what separates the Kayenta from competitors. This design feature allows the lower leg to move more freely through its full range of motion and makes it easier to land on the midfoot as opposed to the heel.

Compared to other road shoes with more traditional heel-toe ratios, I feel much more efficient running in the Kayenta. The zero-drop might take a little getting used to, but if it helped Zach Bitter set a 100-mile world record on the track, then it just might help you with speed work too.

Outsole

The outsole on the Kayenta is fine, but nothing exceptional. It works perfectly adequately on roads and tracks, as it was intended.

There is only a minimal amount of outsole rubber right at the heel and the ball of the foot to provide grip during landing and toe-off.

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I understand the design choice: Altra is trying to cut weight in the shoe by only putting outsole rubber at a few critical points.

However, the lack of outsole rubber leads to quickly wearing down the shoe due to the midsole foam’s direct contact with the ground.

Since the Kayenta is intended as a training shoe (as opposed to a racing flat), I’d rather have a bit more rubber across the entire outsole to increase the durability. Even after just 20 miles of use, the outsole is already starting to get sandpapered down by the road.

The competition

The Kayenta is a terrific go-fast road shoe. At 5.9 oz, it is lighter than competitors like the Brooks Hyperion (6.4 oz) and the Saucony Type A9 (6oz).

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Plus, unlike virtually every other competitor in the category, it has a more natural heel position and toe box that will noticeably improve efficiency for many runners. However, the Kayenta is positioned in a weird niche between a racing flat and a true daily training shoe.

For those looking for a race day shoe, you might opt for a slightly lighter option. Consider the Altra Vanish-R, which has a slightly lower stack height at 14mm (vice the 23mm of the Kayenta) but is noticeably lighter at 3.9 oz.

If you’re not concerned with toes getting pinched or having high heels, then the ASICS Tenka is another option with a 10mm heel-toe drop and weighing in at a super-light 4.9 oz.

One category of racers that might prefer the Kayenta over slightly lighter options are triathletes. The Kayenta has a better upper than the Vanish-R, and it includes a pull tab on the heel that might save a few seconds in Transition 2 and be worth the extra couple ounces of weight.

On the other end of the spectrum, those looking for a durable yet light daily trainer might consider the Altra Escalante. Compared to the Kayenta, the Escalante is a couple of ounces heavier, but it has an extra mm of foam and outsole rubber all the way from heel to toe that’ll add comfort on long runs and a better lifespan.