Merrell Altalight Waterproof
With the Altalight Waterproof, Merrell has produced a truly waterproof shoe that performs well on wet, muddy trails and rocky terrain. A narrow toe box and stiff sole stand out as cons to an otherwise well-made shoe.
- 5mm lugs stick and hold
- Excellent in caves
- Stiff, inflexible sole
- Narrow toe box
- Missing the Heel Lock feature found on other Merrell shoes
- Not sized the same as other Merrell models
I have been mostly wearing Merrell hikers since my first backpacking trip in 2007. Overall, I have found the brand to be reliable. The MQM Flex has been my favorite hiking shoe of any brand I have used to date. So I was excited for the opportunity to test the Altalight Waterproof on my thru hike of the River-to-River (R2R) Trail in Shawnee National Forest.
A Truly Waterproof Shoe
The majority of the R2R is notorious for being wet and muddy in all but the summer months. Much of the trail is a series of interconnected horse trails. Horse trails equate to pools of wet muck. Add to that intermittent storms and heavy rains (1.5 inches on the fourth day alone), and the trail was a giant mud pit, intersected by flowing streams that were once the path. As long as I kept the collar of these shoes above water, my feet stayed perfectly dry. I said, the collar, not the eyelets or even the tongue. I was able to step in water up to 3.75 inches deep and keep my feet dry.
I didn't really appreciate how much the waterproofing improved my hike until I encountered another thru hiker wearing plastic bags in his shoes to keep his feet dry.
Despite the waterproofing, I did not feel my feet were overly hot, nor were they particularly "pruny" when I took them off at the end of a hot, wet day.
Excellent Traction and Grip
The 5mm lugs gripped and held in wet, muddy conditions. When I put my foot down, I was confident it was going to stay there. This included the slick, rocky sections of the R2R. The spacing of the lugs ensured the shoes shed all the mud and grime. At no time did I have to scrape off the bottom of my shoes.
After a day of muddy hiking, the lugs are pretty clean.
The Merrell website states the Altalight is "Our lightest pack hiker yet," coming in at 13.5 ounces per shoe. I threw one on the scale (men's 10.5), and it weighed 15.4 ounces. Then I weighed a MQM Flex (size 11), and it came in at 13 ounces. Hunting around Merrell's website, I found the same specs for weight on their mid-version of the shoe. The website refers to the MQM Flex as a "hybrid" shoe. So perhaps it is in the technicality of categories, but the Flex is definitely a few ounces lighter.
Sizing Runs Big
As I mentioned, I have owned numerous Merrell shoes, and I have worn a size men's 11 in every Merrell shoe I have owned. When these shoes arrived, size 11 was too large. Merrell shipped out a size 10.5. For that reason, I recommend fitting these shoes in a store and not ordering online.
Fit and Comfort
- The toe box on this model is narrower than other Merrells I have owned. I have an average width foot, and these were too narrow for my personal preference. Other people might feel different about this. Again, I recommend trying them on in person.
- I was pleased to see Merrell has moved away from stock insoles that are meant to be replaced. The shoes are well-cushioned with Merrell's trademarked "Kinetic Fit" base insoles.
- I really missed Merrell's "Hyperlock" system found on other models. The Hyperlock prevents blisters by locking the heels into the shoe and eliminating slippage. The Altalight does not include that feature, and I had difficulty tightening the shoe, even after relacing to create a heel lock (pictured below). I managed to reduce heel slippage, but not fully eliminate it. In my first 12 miles on the trail, I developed a heel blister on my right foot. I also treated a hot spot in the same location on my left foot. Blisters come with hiking, but the heel slippage was not problem I have had in other Merrell models.
- The stiff, inflexible soles on the shoe reduced my ability to do big miles. The design of the soles prevented my ankles, feet, and toes from working within their full range of motion. This led to acute Achilles tendon pain on the second day of my hike. By my third day on the trail, I could no longer hike/limp more than a few miles at a time without a long break to rest my tendon.
This photo was taken after 100+ miles in the shoe. The shoe on the left is the MQM Flex. The shoe on the right is the Altalight Waterproof.
An Unorthodox Usage
I didn't like these shoes for big trail miles, but these were good in water, mud, and slick rocks. After my backpacking trip, I did a caving trip that included 5 miles of hiking and hours of climbing on scree piles rising up hundreds of feet underground. I came away happy with the Altalight's performance in a "mountaineering" situation. The lugs kept my feet where I put them, when other cavers were slipping in mud. The stiff soles were ideal for mechanically ascending ropes.
As someone wisely told me in my first draft of this review, fit and comfort is often a matter of preference. Try these shoes on before you buy them to see if you like the narrower fit. Then determine if your style of hiking needs the deep lugs at the expense of a flexible sole.
I have been hiking primarily in Merrell shoes, starting with the Moab line, since 2007.
These shoes were primarily tested on a seven-day backpacking trip, covering 103 miles in Shawnee National Forest. Total mileage on shoes, including shorter hikes and an in-cave thru hike: 113 miles.
Source: received for testing via the Trailspace Review Corps
(Sample for testing and review provided by Merrell)
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