Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Review-Montrail Trans Alps: Top Tier Trail Protection,Traction, Durability and All Day Comfort

Review by Jeff Valliere

Montrail Trans Alps
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
Initial Impressions
The first thing I noticed upon taking the Trans Alps out of the box is that this is a beast of a shoe and brought back memories of the Montrail Hardrock from ~10 or so years ago, but this shoe is vastly different.  Though a bit heavy at an advertised weight of 12.5 oz. (for a men’s 9), this shoe feels lighter on the foot than I would have imagined.  The Trans Alps is sturdy, well built and protective, with a very aggressively lugged outsole.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere


Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
The upper of the Trans Alps has a mix of stitched and welded overlays that do a fantastic job of keeping the foot in place and provide excellent control, the mesh is adequately breathable and the toe is well protected by a sturdy toe bumper that can withstand just about any hit.  The upper is overall quite comfortable, though the seams that form the gusseted tongue are were somewhat noticeable early on when wearing a thin sock.
 I was able to reposition the tongue though to minimize this distraction and over time, I noticed it less and less as I broke the shoe in.  Also on my first few runs, I noticed that my heel did not feel very locked down and even though it was not lifting, it felt a bit loose and unstable.  I moved the laces from the uppermost eyelet to the lower optional eyelets a little lower and further back and was pleased to find that this solved the problem entirely.  The tongue is of moderate thickness, is just the right height and is gusseted to keep out dirt and debris.  The heel collar is very sturdy and protective and just the right height with good padding.

The Fluidfoam midsole offers moderate cushioning and is complimented by an insole that is on the thicker side, supportive and cradles the foot well.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
Overall, I found the cushioning in the Trans Alps to be somewhat on the firm and end of the spectrum.  Despite being a larger, heavier shoe, it is surprisingly responsive and I felt like I could push the pace on easy to moderate terrain and the Trans Alps could handle it without any trouble, which I attribute in part to the Fluidfoam technology.   Additionally, Montrail employs adaptive support they call Fluidguide.  From their information sheet, Fluidguide is described as:
“Adaptive support for each unique foot-strike and ever-changing terrain.  Ruts, rocks and roots take their toll, often causing ankles to roll inward regardless of natural pronation.  FluidGuide delivers on-demand support, slowing the rate of pronation for each individual foot strike, allowing for a natural, balanced stride.  Neutral runners and natural pronators will feel a cushioned supportive midsole.  The blended densities eliminate any hard glue lines between midsole on posting, resulting in a smoother, more comfortable ride.”

Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

While I admit to not being able to decipher each of these details specifically, the shoe did handle rough terrain quite well, despite the Trans Alps feeling a bit stiff overall.  Over the course of several runs though, I did notice an incremental breaking in period where the shoe softened a bit and became more slightly more conforming.


Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

The outsole is without a doubt one of the more aggressively treaded shoes I have seen and grips impressively on a wide range of surfaces.  The well-shaped 6mm lugs are cleverly arranged and are extremely durable.  The rubber compound grabs well on wet or dry rock, as well as a wide range of temperatures.  The Trans Alps also employs rock protection called Trailshield, which is a lightweight flexible material that is co-molded between the outsole and the midsole for underfoot protection from rocks, roots, and just about anything else one may step on.  I run primarily on rocky trails and I never even came close to feeling a zinger, despite deliberately aiming for the pointiest rocks.  I found that on longer runs, this definitely helped reduce foot fatigue.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere
The fit of the Trans Alps is true to size, though a touch narrow in the forefoot.  I don’t have a particularly wide foot and the narrowness was not at all bothersome, but noticeable and something that those with wider feet should take into consideration.  As mentioned earlier, I had trouble at first with the heel not feeling locked down, but lacing the rear most optional eyelet solved the issue instantly.
Photo Credit: Jeff Valliere

I was fortunate to test this shoe in a wide variety of conditions and found that this shoe could handle just about anything.  It got excellent grip in muddy conditions, fresh snow, slush, packed/icy snow, wet rock, dry rock, steep dirt, off trail use and even performed reasonably well on short segments of road.  The shoe feels as though it rides a bit high (despite "only" being 25mm heel/17mm forefoot) and though the upper holds the foot well, the Trans Alps felt a bit awkward when pushing really fast on technical terrain, but otherwise feels very stable and do amazingly well at moderate to lower speeds.  Despite flex grooves, the shoe feels a bit stiff and proprioception is somewhat minimal, but I give it a pass, as I see this shoe as more of an all-day trainer or ultra-shoe.

Montrail hit a homerun with the Trans Alps. It is perfectly at home in the mountains and on technical terrain.  I’ll be using this shoe for any of my longer day hikes/runs in the mountains where I know I will need that extra traction, protection and will be encountering steep/loose scree, talus, some snow, off trail, etc… I could also see this as being a great shoe for 100 mile races such as the Hardrock 100, where that added protection and traction will have cumulative gains over a full day or two.  There is also a waterproof Outdry version ($150/14.7 oz.) that will be available as well.  Unfortunately we were not able to test/compare, but it sounds like it would turn an already great shoe into a top notch winter running shoe.

Highs:  Protection, grip, durability, comfort, responsive, breathable.

Lows:  Somewhat narrow, a bit less stable at higher speeds, weight

$130. Available Spring 2016
12.5oz/354g Men's 9, 10.9oz/309g Women's 8
18mm heel/10mm forefoot midsole- Approx. 25mm/17mm full stack inclu. 6mm lugs and outsole.

Score 4.5 out of 5
-0.25 for weight of 12.5 oz on the high end for even highly protective modern trail shoes
-0.1 for narrow forefoot
-0.15 for stability

The Trans Alps was provided to RoadTrailRun at no charge. The reviewers opinions are entirely their own.

Reviewer Bio

Jeff Valliere is a former pro cyclist who now runs and climbs the mountains of Colorado. He has been top 5 Masters, top 25 overall, at the Pike's Peak Marathon several times, finishing 3d Masters this year. Jeff loves vertical accumulating more than 500,000 vertical feet per year, has climbed all the 14's and 200 of the 13's and has held FKT on several.  He often runs and climbs at night. Passionate about the sport but also the gear he has reviewed hundred of shoes for various magazines and sites and participated in product testing for many brands.  Formerly a bike mechanic he now works in Satellite Imagery. He has twin 5 year old daughters who keep him ever busier yet.

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David Henry said...

Agree completely with your review Jeff. I've only got one run in my pair so far, but the shoe runs super well for being as burly and protective as it is and much more precise that I expected. I definitely think it will be useful for long and technical ultra races. -David

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey David, glad you like them, this is a great shoe for those long tough days in mountainous terrain.

Bruce said...

hi jeff--very detailed and helpful review, as usual. have you tried the newer f.k.t. version of the trans alps? more than an ounce lighter, wondered if it ran any different. this seems like a perhaps obvious choice as a running/hiking combo shoe--some might think it would work better as a hiking shoe? does it feel like an 8mm drop, or lower/higher?

thanks, bruce

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Bruce, have not tried the FKT version, but a bit of weight savings in this shoe would be grand. As far as drop goes, yes, feels like 8mm, but outside the extremes (0 drop or 12 degrees), I find drop to be a fairly minimal factor in a trail shoe, as the majority of the trails that I run are fairly technical, so each foot plant is typically so varied in angle. I am more aware of drop on uniform terrain, such as level road running or fire roads, but am fortunate in that I am just as fine with 0 drop (though not my favorite) as I am with 12 degrees (still not my favorite). 4-8 seems to fall into range of the shoes I gravitate toward.