With the introduction of Inov-8 to Massdrop, several UL members have asked how these compare to Altra. I'm happy to share a few thoughts and photos on the subject to get the conversation started, and I hope that some of you with experience with either brand will add more insight.
Founded in 2003, Inov-8 is a British company that focused on trail running and ultralight hiking. It quickly became a favorite of BPL members around the world. Generally speaking, the shoes had sufficiently durable outers, great treads, minimal cushioning, and tremendous 'natural' foot flex. The shoe lines come in different heal rise, that allow you to taper from the conventional running shoe 12-15mm to zero-rise or something close.
Altra was started in 2009 in Utah and is known for their zero-rise heel and super wide toe-box, which is supposed to allow your toes to splay more naturally when you run. The cushioning is usually fairly substantial, soft and light. When I first tried them on, I instantly thought of moon boots from my childhood. Aesthetically, the design is less traditional looking for sure. This shouldn't matter for running or hiking, but the looks could be less ideal for traveling when you don't want to stand out.
I took a few pictures to illustrate the differences. The photos aren't great, and the comparisons maybe aren't the most equal, but they should suffice for our purposes. We have (left to right) Altra Lone Peak NeoShell in Mens 12, Inov-8 X-Talon in Womens 8, and Inov-8 Roclite in Mens 12.5 (all black).
The Inov-8 shoes are super flexible up front, giving a more natural experience (closer to barefoot than not).
Applying the same amount of pressure, the Altra shoe is much stiffer due to the propensity of cushioning.
Again, the Inov-8 is very flexible laterally too.
And the Altra is laterally stiff.
I think a quick summary is that Altra shoes are zero-rise, highly cushioned, and have a big toe box. Inov-8 tends to use a more traditional last (ie, 'normal' or 'narrow' toe box), have varying degrees of rise based on model, are lighter and have less padding / more flexibility for a more minimalist shoe.
I'm not trying to persuade anybody one way or the other, but rather start the sharing of information so we all can make the best decision for our own personal uses. For reference, I use Inov-8 shoes for hiking, Altra shoes for daily walking, Scarpa boots for mountaineering, and Vibram Five Fingers for all runs but the rockiest, where I bring out the Inov-8s.