When I lived in Brooklyn, NY, I worked at a (then) locally-owned running and triathlon store. It was like Cheers but with gear instead of booze. The manager had been there for 9 years, and was king of the neighborhood. Kids stopped in on their way home from school. Loyal customers brought cookies on holidays. Regulars showed up for group runs in the pouring rain. Even though I had been teaching higher education for more than a decade, I learned more in the running store than I had since I bagged groceries at the local co-op during graduate school. Everyone should be required to work retail or an otherwise low-wage job as an adult: humanity might be saved.
I specifically remember when we were introduced to the Hoka One One (pronounced oh-nay oh-nay). I took a picture of a quarter next to the height of the cushioning, and rolled my eyes for months. We were at the tail end of the minimalist craze, and I felt embarrassed to even have it in the store. I treated the Hokas as sort of a joke: whenever I brought it out for a customer to try on, I said something like, "And then there's THIS!" Other employees made a note of telling us all if they sold a pair. We'd wager bets on how soon a customer would return them.
Fast-forward...I've been wearing nothing but Hokas (Cliftons) for at least 2 years. After finally breaking down and buying my first pair, I couldn't get over how light they were, and how 100% injury-free they made me. Now they're everywhere. I even saw a photo of my cross-country coach wearing a pair! (Go Tigers).
But, when I started getting serious about trail running a few months ago, I started tripping on rocks. I know this is largely (if not entirely) human error, but I wanted a new shoe: something with a low drop and more traction. I found the Altra Superior 3.5. Like the Hoka, this is a unique shoe, and certainly not for everyone. It is "minimal" in that it is zero-drop, but it's nothing like a racing flat. The cushion is perfect and the grip is incredible. I haven't tried the rock plate that can be added because I love it as-is. My foot doesn't move around at all, despite the "foot-shaped" toe box.
Altra is built on the ample-forefoot room (their motto is "embrace the space,") which I love. I recently put this shoe to the ultimate test. Horsetooth Mountain in seriously muddy, foggy, slick, rainy conditions. I ran a little over 6 miles with 1,600 feet of climb and descent. This shoe was amazing. Even thick mud didn't stick to the lugs on the sole: it transitioned well from mud to rock to grass. (For a long time--like, 7 years--the Mizuno Wave Rider was my shoe; but my main complaint with that shoe was that "stuff" constantly got stuck in the wave plate: snow, mud, rocks...) With the Altra, I went through puddles and streams and even scrambled up some rock, and never slipped or collected the trail in my shoes. While the upper isn't waterproof, necessarily, I never felt uncomfortable despite being covered in mud and rain. At the end of my run, I sprayed them off with the water fountain at the trailhead and the grime washed right off. While mud and rain haven't ever been my ideal conditions for running, they might soon be with the Altras.