A trail shoe that does double duty as a paddling shoe? Possible with the Altra Kayenta Shoes. Not only are they lightweight and super comfortable but they have built-in drainage features to move any water that gets in. Innovation and high praise win the Kayenta our Gear of the Year Award!
The Backcountry Skiing Canada Team.
For 2019 Altra released the Kayenta, a lightweight road shoe with some unique design features that expand their innovative line-up of technical trail and running shoes. Although not specifically designed for travel and paddle sports I thought that they may be highly adaptable for lightweight carry-on travel and paddle board adventures. Our early season testing took the Kayenta out on the lake for some paddle days and abroad for a three-week light and fast road trip through Spain and Portugal.
The women's and men's versions of the Altra Kayenta Shoes below.
A relative newcomer to the world of running shoes, Altra's roots are as grounded as its technologies are innovative. The company was founded by two high school running buddies, Golden Harper and Brian Beckstead. Golden's hypothesis at the time was that the heel height of most running shoes was leading to injuries that he and other runners were dealing with on a regular basis. Moulding the very first pair of Altra running shoes in his basement using his toaster oven, Golden, tested a zero-drop approach (more on that in a moment) and noticed a difference right away. This commitment to make shoes that support and respond to the way people naturally run lead to the development of company’s three core technologies—FootShape, ZeroDrop, and Fit4Her—now the foundation for Altra's entire shoe line-up.
The Footshape toe box found on all of Altra’s shoes and boots is aimed to fit as close to the shape of the human foot as possible, giving space for the toes to relax and spread out naturally. This also supports the big toe to stay straight which helps runners improve stability, strengthen feet muscles and increase power in the stride.
Zero Drop essentially means that the amount of cushioning under the heel is the same as under the ball of the foot so your foot lays flat rather than sloping downward from heel to toe. Traditionally running shoes have been designed with a heel-toe drop of 8-12mm. According to Altra running in elevated heels removes the foot from its natural position and encourages high-impact over striding. The natural balance of Zero Drop is designed to align the feet, back and overall body posture for less impact while at the same time strengthening the Achilles and lower calf muscles.
The Kayenta’s Zero Drop 23mm sole is made up of a lightweight blend of EVA and A-Bound cushioning which runs evenly from heel to toe and is weight balanced from front to back to encourage proper low-impact running technique.
The midsole features Altra’s new Max-LT lightweight performance foam with a responsive feel, while the outsole has strategic rubber pods mapped to the foot's anatomy and designed to increase the shoe’s durability.
Traditionally, women’s sport shoes have been made using a smaller version of a men’s last with all dimensions proportionally scaled according to foot length. But here’s the major oversight: female feet and legs are not simply scaled-down versions of men’s feet but rather they differ in a number of shape characteristics. Women typically have a narrower heel and mid-foot, a higher instep, a longer arch and metatarsal shaping. Altra was kind of groundbreaking in this area as they were the first running shoe manufacturer to honour the unique qualities of the female form by producing all their women’s shoes with their Fit4Her design.
Beyond Altra’s three core technologies the company continues to develop and refine their design and material technologies. The Kayenta features a unique two-layer sock style construction that makes it adaptable to many foot shapes and volumes. The soft inner Neoprene liner is designed to flex as you move, it also keeps gravel, dust and dirt out. Loops at the heel help with sliding the foot into the inner sock.
The supportive Quick-Dry Air Mesh outer shell is quite porous for designed this way to maximize breathability
On close inspection of the sole you will notice two drain holes, one mid-foot and one fore-foot—yes, drain holes! These were integrated in the design with the purpose of enhancing breathability and allowing for drainage while running on rainy days. This feature is one of the primary reasons I wanted to test this shoe as a water shoe.
Insole: 5 mm Contour Footbed
Outsole: Full Rubber
Upper: 2-layer Lightweight Quick-Dry Air Mesh and Neoprene lining
Let’s get one thing straight, I am not a runner and these shoes were not tested through that lens. There are a number of reviews out there measuring the performance of the Kayentas as a running shoe and based on my research they already have a great reputation in that arena. I had two main objectives for the Kayenta—travel and paddle boarding. No surprises the Kayenta is ideal for carry-on luggage, it’s the lightest 23mm stack height performance trainer on the market at just 5.9 ounces for men and 4.9 ounces for women. It also packs fairly flat due to the flexibility of the upper. What you lose in weight you don’t compromise on comfort however as the EVA and A-Bound cushioning in the sole is more than enough between my feet and the pavement and even the cobbled-stoned streets of Lisbon. It was light and fast on hiking trails and the inner sock hugs the foot so the shoe stays put on uneven ground with no heel lift whatsoever.
The look of the wider FootShape toe box took me a day or so to get used to, it’s kinda like eating healthy, you do it because you know it’s good for you and it feels good. The ability to splay my toes definitely helped me feel more agile on my feet. I particularly noticed this feature on the paddle board where having splayed toes can enhance balance and grip on the board. The Kayenta is an incredibly comfortable shoe to paddle board in and I am looking forward to some long paddling days with them to see if the pressure that causes the soles of my feet to go numb after a few hours is alleviated forever– so far no numbness. Despite the fact that these were never designed as a water shoe they perform remarkably better than most water shoes I have used in the past and I think much of it has to do with the fit as traditional water shoes seem to focus on durability in the water and drainage over fit. Fit is where Altra excels, and the way the Fit4Her design responded to the shape of my foot offered a marked difference both on solid ground and on the paddleboard.
Drainage through the upper is not as quick as in water specific shoes such as the Body Glove Dynamo Ribcage shoes we reviewed but the dual drainage holes through the sole meant that the water didn’t pool for long around your feet which we have experienced in shoes like the Dynamos. Put simply there is no sloppiness or splashing around in your shoe, you’re off the board and out of the water onto dry land over rocks and pebbles no problem. The Kayentas then dry promptly overnight. I am sure there are ways that Altra could easily enhance this design further for water specific use, innovating the paddling industry the same way they innovated the running shoe industry, in the meantime, I am pretty thrilled I have found a women’s specific shoe with amphibious tendencies for light and fast travel adventures. And did I mention they also look great!
Stack Height: 23mm
Weight: 139g / 4.9oz (women’s), 167g / 5.9oz (men’s)
Sizes: 5.5-12 (women’s), 7-15 (men’s)
Colours: blue, grey/blue, plum (women’s), grey/orange, black/lime, grey/blue (men’s)
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