What I look for in a rugged trail shoe is a secure fit yet space for my toes, zero or low drop, deep lugs, plenty of ground feel, robust, and preferably lightweight. According to Altra, their King MT promises to deliver on most of that.
In 2019, Altra released version 2.0 of the King MT. Because I was on the lookout for a replacement for my ageing Inov-8 X-talon 212 standard fit (which is no longer available), I decided it was time to check out the King MT.
My pair of King MT has now carried my weight and sheltered my feet for some 100+ km in a wide range of conditions. In this review, I will try to relay my experiences so far.
The King MT 2.0 outsole has 6 mm deep chevron-shaped lugs made of the well-tested rubber compound Vibram Megagrip (fans of Fivefingers will be familiar with its grippiness).
6 mm Chevron shaped lugs in Vibram megagrip, and your grip is sorted
In combination, the lugs and material provide a solid and trustworthy grip in pretty much all conditions I have tried.
The only situations the outsole has come up short are wet algae-covered boardwalk/bridges and solid ice. In their defence, I have never tried an unstudded shoe that provided grip in those conditions.
A rather distinct King MT footprint!
Something new in this iteration of the King MT is the four oddly shaped holes straight through the shoe right underneath the arch: Drainage holes!
These four triangular holes provide unrivalled drainage!
I was rather sceptical at first. Became even more sceptical on my first run when I felt (cold!) water seep in from underneath shortly after I ventured onto a moss-covered forest track.
I was openly swearing for the next half hour of my run as the water kept leaking into the shoe, and I vowed to never ever again buy an Altra shoe.
That was until I had multiple river-crossings soaking my feet/lower legs completely, and I understood that those pesky holes provide unrivalled drainage.
Just a few steps away from the creek and most of the water had left my shoes. No sloshing! No squidgy noises! Just comfortably damp socks.
Okay, perhaps I exaggerate a bit in the comfy-department. I was after all wearing woolly Injinji's, so comfy was imperative. Anyway, you get the drift.
Running in damp conditions you have two options: Either a) you try to keep your feet dry for as long as possible, or b) you accept that your feet will be wet no matter what you wear or do.
For option a) the King MT is useless, for option b) the King MT excels!
Sometimes getting your shoes soaked is just unavoidable
Yes, water will seep in with every single puddle. It is, however, a minuscule price to pay for shoes that drain really fast when you need it the most!
The King MT is simply the best and fastest draining shoe (and tramping boot for that matter) that I have ever tried in my entire 25 years of running/tramping.
From my understanding, the midsole is made of the same material (EGO) as the Altra Escalante.
Before actually getting my hands on (and feet in) the King MT, I was childishly toying with the idea that I would get an Escalante-like feel in a trail shoe (I really like the Escalante for roads and easy trails).
I will not say I was disappointed, but the King MT is an entirely different beast. So, if you happen to make the same deduction I did based on the mention of the EGO material, think again!
The midsole of the King MT is made for rugged trails. Hence, you'll need better protection than in the Escalante (Stoneguard!).
Furthermore, the King MT has the lowest stack of any trail shoe in the Altra line-out (except for the Vanish XC), so of course, you'll get something a bit stiffer and more responsive. The surprise was that they felt so stiff.
At first, it felt a bit like running with pieces of plywood stuck under my feet (not that I have ever tried that, but I'm trying to paint a picture here). Responsive, yes! Ground feel, no!
As I broke them in, they became softer in their expression, but they are after 100+ km still very unforgiving and somewhat plank-like.
That is my personal opinion. You may think otherwise. Just don't go expecting Fivefinger-like tactile feedback!
The upper is made of some sort of synthetic material that is good at repelling water and other bits of geology, and it seems very robust.
The King MT! Not only is it robust, but it also looks it
I haven't seen any damage to the upper despite giving it plenty of abuse. Running off-track through forests and bush, with sharp rocks, branches, creeks, puddles, thorns, blackberry etc. No harm done—other than to my legs.
The material and enforced toe-bumper at the front is rather stiff and offers physical protection for your toes. Don't go kicking any tree-stumps, but should you happen to accidentally bump into something your feet will not be instantly bloodied.
On the inwards side is an extra layer of the stitched overlay. Supposedly, these are there to help OCR racers climb ropes. I'm not an OCR racer, so I can't tell the difference.
Stitched overlay for extra grip when climbing ropes (OCR)
On the other hand, I haven't felt nor been hindered by the overlay, so to me, it is a bit moot. Perhaps a bit of extra unnecessary weight, which brings me to the issue of weight.
Despite its overall minimalist expression, the King MT is not the lightest of running shoes. Mine, a size 7 UK, weighed in at 263 grams right out of the box.
Two hundred sixty-three grams is not extremely heavy for a trail shoe. On the other hand, it is still some 35 grams heavier than my beloved Inov-8 X-talon 212 (standard fit) - size UK 7.5. The new King MT is also slightly heavier than my trusty old Altra Superior 3.5 without the StoneGuard.
A few grams more or less is not what killed the rabbit. In my opinion, the main issue is that a lot of the weight seems located underneath the shoe, which makes the entire shoe feel heavy and clunky.
Perhaps it's because I have run a lot in barefoot shoes recently, I don't know. Heck, they don't even feel as nimble as my other trail shoes—for example, Altra Superior 3.5.
The King MT is certainly not anywhere near as nimble as the Inov-8 X-talon 212s or the Altra Vanish XC. The latter is not really a shoe for rough and muddy trails though, so that comparison is perhaps a bit unfair.
Most of Altras trail shoes sport their signature four-point gaiter attachment system, i.e. loop at the front, velcro at the back and eyelets on either side. The King MT only have the loop at the front and the velcro at the back.
Velcro gaiter trap at the back of the King MT - one of two gaiter connectors
This is curious as one would expect gaiter performance to be more crucial and the physical abuse more significant in the King MT, which is made for extreme conditions.
On the redeeming side - contrary to other Altra shoes—the King MT has room between the lugs for the more widely available "strap-underneath"-type gaiters.
I have tried three different non-Altra gaiters with the King MT. All of them—two with strap underneath, one with velcro at the back—performed fine!
Hence, I haven't really missed the eyelets on the sides, but that is more a testament to the quality of my gaiters than to the eyelets missing on the King MT.
If I had forked out the $ for Altras four-point gaiter, I would still feel a bit disappointed that I can't use all four attachment options with the King MT.
The velcro strap
You don't see many running shoes with a velcro strap. So, why is Altra keeping "the strap" despite all the ridicule from shoe reviewers? Is it really worth the while
The infamous King MT velcro strap - brilliant or ridiculous?
To be honest, I'm a bit undecided. It sure rounds off the fit nicely. And, no matter the suction capacity of the mud, you will not lose your King MTs to Bunyips.
Furthermore, it is also nice to have somewhere safe to tuck away the laces—no untimely lace-loosening.
On the downside, I find that the velcro strap—mainly due to its new higher position—gets in my way when tying the laces. To be brutally honest, I find the whole "putting on your shoes" a bit of a job with the King MT.
It may be my crooked old arthritic fingers in combination with tiny fiddly laces. Nonetheless, I find it overly cumbersome and time-consuming. Add gaiters to the equation, and you'll need to run for at least an hour to justify putting on your shoes :)
The King MT 2.0 runs a bit small in my experience. The wideness of the toe box is not as pronounced as in other Altra shoes (of same nominal size), and it also seems shorter. The King MT is the first Altra shoe where my toes actually reached the front of the shoe.
Despite the above, I find the fit of the King MT quite nice. It is of course not as soft and cushy as the superb comfort of the Escalante, but still very decent for a protected trail shoe. The main difference is that the upper is not stretchy and not as wide.
With the velcro strap, you are able to tie your shoes very tight. Don't go there! You'll lose circulation to your feet in no time.
Once you've learned how powerful a tool the velcro strap really is, finding a proper and secure fit is not a problem. I have had no in-shoe-sliding despite the wide(ish) toe-box.
In my experience, the King MT is ready to go right out of the box. I've had no new-shoe numbness, hotspots, blisters, or anything.
On the first run, I did one re-adjustment of the tightness, and that was pretty much it. After that, it has been smooth sailing! The third run was a half marathon.
In the first 100+ km, I haven't been able to do any damage to my King MT. Sound choice of materials. Fine workmanship. No production line hiccups. Simply "solid as"!
Price: At an RRP of EUR 160, they are definitely on the steep side, especially for such a specialist shoe, which has a rather limited usage spectrum.
The King MT delivers a firm trail/fell performance. It provides plenty of protection all round. The grip is remarkable, and the mud-shedding capacity excellent.
The drainage is the best I have ever tried. In short, a quick-draining tank of a shoe, that will see you safely through the really rough stuff!
Trail, creek or both? This is the sort of situation where the qualities of the King MT really stand out!
When it comes to the actual running I find them somewhat stiff, but that is a highly personal judgement and may be redeemed with more usage.
They have softened markedly in the first 100 km, but I don't know how much more "softening up" to expect. After all, there is an integrated "Stoneguard", which will stay stiff.
Keeping in line with the sceptical notions, the clunkiness also makes for a rather slow and heavy feel. I haven't quite been able to achieve top speed (my sort of top speed that is) neither in actual numbers nor mentally—not even gunning down a smooth beach with a 20 m/s tailwind.
The heavy and lumbering feel is also the overall impression when going over technical and difficult terrain, which require many side-steps and little jumps here and there.
I have on quite a few occasion bumped my toes into something because I misjudged where my foot was/would be relative to the surroundings. The King MT feel almost clumsy at times, but hopefully, with a bit more practice, I'll get the hang of it.
In my opinion, the King MT 2.0 has its place, but you need really rough and wet conditions to justify wearing them. Otherwise something lighter and more nimble would be my recommendation.
Distance-wise, I have taken mine as far as two-hour runs. No foot-fatigue or any discomfort to mention. I wouldn't mind taking them for runs much farther.
Despite my reservations in the above I really like the King MT. It is a superb shoe for its specific purpose, which is shoe-reviewer-speak for a shoe that is not for everyone, and not for every type of run! And it certainly is far-and-away from your ordinary run-of-the-mill running shoe!
First up, it has zero drop, a wide toe-box and rather minimal cushioning. If you can see yourself past those fundamentals you'll get deep lugs, a stiff and robust feel and wicked features like drainage holes, velcro strap, and climbing reinforcements.
To use a car analogy: The King MT is a bit like an old Toyota LandCruiser. A trusty and solid vehicle that will get you safely around the backcountry no matter the depth of the mud and the steepness of the hills.
It is not fast. It is not fancy. But, it is safe and reliable when you want the job done!
To finish off the LandCruiser analogy: You don't really want to get/drive one unless you absolutely have to! And please don't take it on the highway!
Who will enjoy the King MT 2.0? Wide-footed zero-drop runners that venture into water/mud-logged shoe-eating conditions (e.g. OCR, orienteering, fells, tramping). If you do not dabble in such ventures, you won't need the King MT 2.0.
Good to know
- The Altra King MT 2 is a trail running shoe that’s constructed for those who welcome a lightweight yet aggressive partner for various types of topography. This upgrade to a relatively fresh series from the company that popularizes the zero-drop platform is meant to offer a heightened grip and improvement to the overall durability.
- The facade and platform stay true to the uncluttered designs of the series’ progenitors. A hand-tailored upper with isolated eyestays for a form-fitting and non-irritating fit graces this model. Also, the near-to-the-ground midsole is shielded by a thermoplastic polyurethane base called StoneGuard™ and a lug-laden rubber exterior.
The Altra King MT 2 was designed using the standard measurements for length. Runners are welcome to get a pair using their typical choices of size. However, if one desires the most accommodating in-shoe experience, then testing the shoe first or observing user feedback from various sources are necessary tasks.
When it comes to the fit, the elements that affect the security and relative snugness are the form-fitting upper, the foot-shaped construction of the silhouette, the roomy toe-box and the padded collar-and-tongue. Altra, as a brand, takes pride in giving an in-shoe feel that is similar to merely running barefoot.
The outsole unit of the Altra King MT 2 is made of Vibram® MegaGrip™ Litebase™, a rubber layer that is designed to protect against wear-and-tear. It covers the whole of the midsole’s base, ensuring that it is shielded from the abrasive nature of the trails.
The 6-millimeter gripping lugs that pockmark the external pad are 40% thinner than the ones found under the soles of the previous iterations. Such a design aims to heighten the clamping capacity of each traction node while also reducing the overall weight of the product.
Altra EGO™ is a midsole technology that is designed to provide full-bodied cushioning without any unnecessary thickness. This piece runs the entire Altra King MT 2, supporting the foot and keeping it safe from impact shock. It also has the goal of energizing the toe-off phase of the gait cycle.
StoneGuard™ is a layer of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that rests below the EGO™ midsole. The purpose of this technology is to prevent sharp debris or surfaces from poking against the sole unit and causing discomfort to the underfoot. StoneGuard® is a staple in many Altra running shoes, even gracing flagship rosters like the Lone Peak.
A 6-millimeter contour footbed is placed on top of the main cushioning system. This add-on offers some more oomph to the support given to the foot. It has curved sections that follow the natural crevices of the foot-pad.
The upper unit of the Altra King MT 2 is made of hand-tailored mesh. This material is a lightweight and breathable layer that accommodates the foot-shaped last of this product. It has a close-weave design to prevent stones and other outdoor debris from infiltrating the foot-chamber and causing a ruckus from within.
Printed overlays cover the front, the sides, and the back. These elements are designed to bolster the upright position of the facade while also helping the traditional lacing system when it comes to delivering a secure fit.
Flat laces snake through pronged eyestays on the instep. These features help the runner when it comes to tightening or loosening the wrap.
A midfoot strap is meant to improve the feeling of being locked inside the shoe and being confident about wobble-prevention. A Velcro peel-and-lock scheme adjusts the firmness of the hold.