Monday, March 21, 2022

Altra Mont Blanc Multi Tester Review: The New Altra!

Article by John Tribbia, Canice Harte, Jeff Beck, Sam Winebaum, and Dom Layfield

Altra Mont Blanc ($180)

Introduction

Sam: The Mont Blanc, a long distance trail racing and training shoe has a lot of firsts. It is the first Altra trail shoe not named after one of the iconic Wastach peaks (Superior, Olympus, Lone Peak, Timp) where Altra started and was located until acquired by VF (The North Face among other brands) in 2018. Given the timings of new shoe design, testing, production it can also be said to be the first all new Altra trail shoe created under the ownership and its dual upper construction of non stretch rear and softer more stretchy front for sure reminds of the The North Face Vectiv Flight. 


For sure the Mont Blanc is all Altra. It features the Foot Shape toe box, balanced 30mm zero drop front and rear geometry, and a new softer and lighter flavor of EGO midsole foam, EGO Max first seen in the identical stack height road Paradigm 6 (RTR Review), a model Altra elites actually often raced the UTMB in. Finally it is shod with Vibram MegaGrip in the new LiteBase outsole design.  

At a US9 approximate weight of 9.65 oz / 274g it is about the same weight as the newest version of the iconic Lone Peak, the 6 (RTR Review) yet with 5mm more overall  stack. Lots of new and lots of familiar things in the Mont Blanc . Time to see how they perform!


Pros:

New EGO Max foam has a great combination of softer, energy return and stability- Sam, John, Canice, Jeff, Dom

Truly giant toe box is a miracle of hold and incredible room helped by the secure mid foot hold- Sam, Jeff

LiteBase outsole is grippy yet not in the way on the road- Sam, John, Canice, Dom

Admirable weight at 9.65 oz / 274g for 30/30 stack with upper and outsole substance - Sam, John, Canice, Jeff

Overall comfort of shoe - Canice, Jeff, Sam

Front half of upper among the most comfortable in running shoes - Jeff, Dom, Sam

Dry traction is solidly good - Jeff, Dom


Cons:

Narrow heel feet may struggle with heel lock (not midfoot or forefoot) Sam, Jeff, Dom (huge understatement!)

Narrow feet may find toe box volume too much - John

Don’t mistake the fit here for a precision fit. It’s more about long haul comfort Sam

Stiff and muted ride on roads during ~3 run break-in period - John

Rigid profile that got some very front flex after several runs. Could use some of Altra’s Inner Flex and/or more rocker up front Sam, Dom

Midfoot hold was a bit loose. It felt more like the old Altra fit - Canice

Heel slip was prevalent, even with a lace lock - Jeff, Dom

Laces are a bit short. A lace lock is possible but not long enough for a double knot- Sam

Wet traction is less than ideal  - Jeff

Lacking a toe bumper - Dom

Giant sole stack married to spacious upper makes shoe scarily easy to tip - Dom

Stats

Approximate Weight: men's 9.65 oz  / 274g (US9) 

Men’s Samples: 

                -     9.4 oz  /  266 g US8.5  (Sam)

  • 10.1 oz / 297 g US M10 (Dom)

  • 10.2 oz / 290g US M10.5 (Jeff)      

Stack Height: men’s 30 mm heel / 30 mm forefoot 

Available now including at our partner Running Warehouse here. $180 


Tester Profiles

John Tribbia (5' 6", 130lbs) is a former sponsored mountain/trail runner who has run with La Sportiva, Brooks/Fleet Feet, Pearl Izumi, and Salomon. Even though he competes less frequently these days, you can still find John enjoying the daily grind of running on any surface, though his favorite terrain is 30-40% grade climbs. He has won races such as America's Uphill, Imogene Pass Run, and the US Skyrunner Vertical Kilometer Series; and he's held several FKTs on several iconic mountains in Boulder, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. If you follow him on Strava, you'll notice he runs at varying paces between 5 minutes/mile to 12 minutes/mile before the break of dawn almost every day.


Canice Harte is a 2 x finisher of the Wasatch 100, the Bear 100, Moab 100, Western States 100, and Leadman as well as many other ultras. He regularly competes in Expedition Length Adventure races with his longest race to date 600 miles as well as in traditional road races and triathlons.


Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 30 miles per week on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR's are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.


Dom Layfield 49, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  In 2019, his only notable finish was at the multi-day Dragon’s Back race in the UK.  All 2020 plans were wrecked by Covid and California forest fires.  In 2022 he inching his way back to racing.


Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 64 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.


First Impressions and Fit

John: My only experience with Altra was testing the Lone Peak 4.5 a few years ago. I know there are a lot of people who love and adore Altras because of the lower stack height and wider toebox for foot splay, but I struggled to enjoy the Lone Peak - it felt stiff, harsh, and I struggled to find the most precise fit. Enter the Altra Mont Blanc, where it is stacked 30 mm with a new EGO Max foam that provides the added softness I was hoping for. My initial impression is that this shoe will be much more runnable than the Lone Peak, thanks to the softness and supportive feeling underfoot. There is still the wider toebox traditional to all Altras, which isn’t a major bonus for me since my feet are relatively narrow. I do find the upper to be conforming through the midfoot, which helps with foot hold. Lengthwise, my US9 foot fits to size in the US9 Mont Blanc.


Canice: I usually do not comment on looks as it’s highly subjective but I have to say the Mont Blanc is a great looking shoe. Finally Altra has dropped the heavy frumpy look of the past and delivered a sleek lightweight shoe that feels and runs great. My M10 fit perfect and I found the shoe to be very comfortable. I do wish the midfoot hold was a bit better but it works very well as is. For my part I love a light shoe with good pop in the midsole when running and the Mont Blanc delevers. They’re a joy to run.

Jeff: I’ve put many miles on several iterations of the biggest stacked Altra trail shoe, the Olympus, so I was excited to see what a little more agile, but still very well cushioned, Altra would run like. And I’m inclined to agree, the looks feel like a massive leap forward for Altra, this now looks like a modern shoe. Fit is a little more nuanced. Size-wise, I think true-to-size is the way to go, that leaves roughly a thumb’s width in front of my big toe, which is great for a shoe like this. The shoe’s hold is much more difficult to nail down. I’ll touch on this more in the upper section, but it took five runs of more than an hour each, frequently with mid-run re-lacing, to feel like I have an even remotely solid foothold.

Sam: The Day Glo toe box upper which really accentuates the gigantic, soft to the touch Foot Shape hotel up front with fading to the rear darker colors and non stretch ripstop promising security and hold.


My fit is true to size no question about it although I might try a half size down as while correct in length there is minimal toe bumper stiffening, just the 3D printed overlays up front.  

This is one incredibly comfortable and spacious front of the shoe. The hold there as at the mid foot  is more than adequate for my not particularly technical or fast running. I did take them on several runs on slushy and softer snow where side to side slip of the shoe in the mush was for sure in play and the overall upper hold was always solid.


I did note a touch of “heel slip” on my narrower right foot but not in the sense of the heel rising up but more  that the top rear of the achilles collar felt a bit loose. 

I tried a lace lock and that solved the issue on my wider left foot with still a bit of play on the narrower right while wearing medium thickness socks. There is no conventional plastic heel counter in the Mont Blanc just a fairly substantial stiffening created by the ripstop mesh upper, inner bumpers, and a rise of the midsole part way up the achilles. 

I do think the inner bumpers particularly at the far rear at the achilles could be a bit thicker to better hold that area, maybe with a full wrap around half donut approach as Nike does so well in shoes such as the Next %. 

Dom:  I enjoy Altra shoes for training, but have long complained that they don’t make shoes that are appropriate for racing – particularly the ultra-distance trail races that I enjoy.  Admittedly, this may be an inherent contradiction: a wide toe-box and flat shoe might be ideal for everyday running, but fundamentally inappropriate for racing.  An analogy might be a “racing” version of a weight vest.  Nevertheless, I have long held out hope that one day Altra might produce a competitive ultra race shoe.  (The last Altras I raced in were actually a road shoe: the Torin v4.)  


Naturally, I was super excited to hear that Altra were producing a legitimate ultra, trail, race shoe.  Not only that, but one that was named after a favorite race of mine, UTMB.  But the disappointment started before I even put the shoe on my foot.  First, the weight – while very impressive for the gargantuan stack of foam – doesn’t break new ground.  My pair of size US M10 weighed 297 g (10.4 oz) per shoe.  Compare that to my go-to race shoe for the last few years, the Hoka EVO Speedgoat at 285 g (10.1 oz).  Or Altra’s own 29 mm stack Timp 2.0 at 290 g (10.2 oz).  Altra are not shattering ceilings on the weight front, but still creditably within striking range of the best-in-class. 


On the foot, the overwhelming sensation is of startling pillowy, springy, bottomless cushion.  Official stack height is “30 mm” but it feels even more than this.  This shoe is lovely to walk in, but on the trail, it is just a little too tall.  The problem is accentuated by the minimal, stripped-down upper, which – while sublimely comfortable – is just not stiff and tight enough to really secure my foot to such a high stack.   On mellow terrain, the shoe was a delight, but as soon as things became steep and loose and/or off-camber, I felt like I was falling off the side of the tower of foam.


Speaking of securing the foot, the catastrophic weakness of this shoe is the back end.  (Trying very hard here to avoid obvious puns about Achilles heel.)   The heel is wide, low, minimally padded, and completely lacking in stiffening elements.  My (admittedly narrow) heels felt completely unsupported:  I was swimming in space; I can lift my heel out of the shoe without any significant force; and on off-camber descents, I felt the back end of the shoe sliding and twisting around under my heel.  A disaster.


Soooo much space around the heels. [Dom]

Upper

Canice: A minimalist approach to the upper that is lightweight and highly breathable is also very comfortable. I found the upper to be incredibly well ventilated and quick drying. The fit is true to size and as you would expect with the Altra Natural Fit toe box there is plenty of room for me to spread my toes and wiggle them freely.


Altra has chosen a round cord style lace which is a nod to the outdoors, but I must admit, I prefer a flat lace on a running shoe. As far as round laces go the Mont Blanc lace were fine and once I switched them to a flat lace all was good.


The Mont Blanc has a gusseted tongue which is incredibly well ventilated and I found it to be very enjoyable. Altra has included the latitude and longitude of Mont Blanc on the tongue, and while not having any functional value I find it to be a fun callout.


Of note there is very minimal toe protection. For my part I am happy to give this up for the reduction in weight and a softer upper but you may want to consider this based on your running style.


The insole design is unique in that what looks like ventilation in the heel also provides more shock absorption. By creating what looks like a porous midsole with many holes, Altra has increased the surface area of the insole which in turn provides more shock absorption. Each ventilated hole you see is actually a miniature shock absorber.


John: The upper, as Canice has described in detail, is minimalist and very comfortable. With the weather in Colorado being very frigid and snowy lately, the breathability is noticeable where I have to wear wool socks to keep my feet warm. What really stands out to me is that my foot is held in place much better than the Lone Peak 4.5 and I was able to appreciate the extra toebox room. 

The integrated tongue and upper combine to envelope my foot much better. 

Moreover, the excess material in the wider toebox doesn’t get bunchy and cause irritation. For me, the fit of the Lone Peak feels somewhat sloppy but the Mont Blanc feels secure, giving me confidence on off camber terrain. 


Jeff: Canice covered the details very well, and I’d agree with most of what he and John have said. The upper has two completely different sides to it, the front and the rear. The front is incredibly soft, and while it is thin, it still feels very plush. There’s a level of comfort there that few shoes can claim. The rear of the shoe is much more down to business, but the heel collar is problematic. I continued to struggle with getting a good fit around my heel, and I rarely have those types of issues. In the rare instances that I do, a simple lace lock solves the problem, and on we go. Not the case with the Mont Blanc. I had to lace, and re-lace, and re-tie the shoe in order to keep the shoe from slipping off my heel. And we’re not talking a minor slip, it was massive amounts of slip that left unchecked would have generated blisters inside of a couple miles. I had to crank the laces down to the point of unpleasant pressure on the top of the foot, and even then I twice had to re-do that mid-run.


My other gripe with the upper is also focused on the rear of the shoe - the hell collar is flayed open in a way that allows and seemingly encourages rocks and debris getting into the shoe. I spent a lot of time on my normal trails, it wasn’t like I was running in sand dunes, but I had numerous stones and pebbles in each shoe at the end of each run. A few times I was able to find a place to sit (most of my runs were pretty muddy) and just removed the shoe and dumped them when it was time to fix the laces, but that wasn’t always possible.


Sam: The guys have described the upper well and I particularly agree with Jeff: an incredibly spacious yet well held toe box with supreme comfort followed by a very adequately secure if not short and fast performance midfoot, a nice lockdown, then a bit too relaxed at the far rear.  


The front mesh is very soft and pliable, almost a light softshell type material.with tiny, tiny ventilation holes, 

There is no internal toe plastic or other toe bumper just an array of 3 D printed overlays which give the front of the shoe structure without ever pressing on the toes. 

The rear (black) upper construction is a non-stretch ripstop construction with not only the familiar square grid of slightly thicker threads but also bisecting each square a thinner threads array.  This all direction ripstop construction leads to the impeccable, very comfortable, foot wrapping mid foot hold if not a snug performance hold  as the lower day glo orange more pliable soft mesh extends below the black non stretch quite far back. 

It is important to note that we also have a stretch gusset tongue and the entire midfoot upper both black and orange areas have an array of fairly thick soft underlays which extend to the end of the lace up so there is plenty of pliable support.  


Doing a lace lock clearly improved the heel and midfoot hold but the laces are too short to double knot and there was some pressure at lace up from the thin upper.  I was pleased that the round fairly stout laces required no adjustments and after the single knot didn’t come untied but..


Noticeable ventilation throughout the upper


Holes = ventilation and shock absorption

Velcro Gaiter Trap and heel loop are visible along with a protective material around the achilles tendon

Welded overlays are visible on the tongue as well as the latitude and longitude of Mont Blanc


Dom:  I was astonished that my fellow reviewers did not all feel similarly to me in regard to the rear end of the shoe.  Sam remarks breezily that the Mont Blanc is “a bit too relaxed at the far rear”, but that’s it.  In my opinion, a shoe that could have been great is completely undermined by the train-wreck of the rear end.   


There is so much to admire about the upper.  It is innovative and light, wonderfully stripped down, while still remaining comfortable, breathable, quick-drying and able to exclude dust and grit.   The midfoot hold is particularly impressive, given the lack of rigid elements.  Like Canice, I appreciated the innovative ventilated footbed.  There are so many clever details to admire.  But all this brilliance is completely undermined by the ghastly heel.  


What Sam describes as “a bit too relaxed” is – for me at least – like running in a pair of bedroom slippers.  The heel is so wide and loose, so low and insubstantial, that it is hardly worth it being present at all.   Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not someone who prefers a stiff, built-up heel.  Many of my favorite shoes of all time have been very soft at the back, and with many shoes (notably various iterations of Nike Terra Kiger) that the heel is too tall and rigid.   Finally, as Jeff pointed out above, the low, loose, heel collar also allows a lot of debris to get into the shoe.   


In my efforts to secure the heel, I did try tying lace-lock.  And indeed, this improved heel retention slightly.  But in general, I’m not a fan of this strategy, particularly for racing, as it produces a pressure point at the top of the tongue that can become profoundly uncomfortable after many hours of running.   Altra’s unusual choice of round ‘paracord’-like laces doesn’t help much here, either.


Setting aside my specific misgivings about the heel, I wonder if the Altra designers had an impossible remit on their hands.  It is hard, perhaps impossible, to marry a soft, flexible upper to a really high foam stack and still have the shoe perform well in technical terrain.  I don’t much like running in Hoka Speedgoats: the upper feels too constrictive, and the sole like rolling in a tank.  But time and time again, I select precisely this shoe for 100 km and 100 mile races.  With such a high sole stack, my foot needs to be pretty much nailed to the shoe in order to stop me sliding off it and/or tipping the shoe over and spraining an ankle.   In the case of the Mont Blanc, the stack is even higher and feels softer.   The super light, race-worthy upper, while admirably comfortable, is mismatched to the titanic sole stack underneath.    


Dom:  One last point worth mentioning.  During testing, Sam suggested trying a thinner sockliner.  I didn’t have anything suitable to hand, so opted instead just to remove the insoles completely, and found this significantly improved the character of the shoe.  Allowing my heel to sink deeper into the shoe raised the heel collar higher, and provided just enough depth that the (inexplicably low) ring of padding was now above the widest point of my heel, and helped hold my heel in the shoe.  The heel still felt significantly oversized and loose, but at least with this change was enough that I didn’t feel my foot was lifting out of the shoe with every stride.   Wandering into more subjective territory, I also felt that removing the footbed made the front end more stable, too.  Perhaps 30+ mm underfoot is just too much for me, and removing a few millimeters brings the stack back into my comfort zone.  Removing the footbeds also saves 44 g per pair, 22 g (0.8 oz) per shoe, dropping overall weight right into class-leading territory!



Midsole

Canice: the EGO midsole is light, springy and combined with the Vibram® Lite Base outsole offers plenty of rock protection. This is by far my favorite midsole from Altra and I am looking forward to many miles on them.


John: The EGO Max midsole is the game changer for me compared to the Lone Peak 4.5 . It is light, pillowy, yet firm enough to provide some excellent energy return. Like Canice mentions, the midsole is springy and I would add that it saves the legs when going long. Even with the softer springiness, the midsole does have some density that offers sufficient protection. 


Jeff: EGO Max is the best Altra midsole they’ve put out, full stop. In road shoes like the Paradigm 6 or here in a trail shoe, EGO Max has incredible balance between being soft and too soft, with plenty of good protection. For the last few years Altra midsole foams have lagged behind some other manufacturers who were innovating, EGO Max is Altra catching up, and in many cases, taking the lead.

EGO Max midsole


Sam: The Mont Blanc has 30mm heel / 30 mm forefoot construction so zero drop as all Altra are. Altra in recent times talks less about zero drop but “Balanced Cushion”. By this they mean weight is evenly distributed. In the past some Altra for sure felt zero drop and in some cases negative drop but not so here even with the softer and energetic EGO Max midsole foam. I tend to prefer Altra on trail over road and as with every Altra road or trail I test the shoe on road to see in the absence of the variables of terrain irregularity how they feel.


The EGO Max foam is as Jeff describes a big advance for Altra. Energetic, soft but not mushy, and very leg friendly. The midsole  is for sure appropriate in this long distance shoe designed to circumnavigate the 100 plus miles of the Mont Blanc. I have trekked it twice, once in the original Hoka Mafate (happy feet)  and once in boots and my sense is that the total 30mm of stack here would be up to the task in terms of rock protection (there is no plate)  and cushion.


I like to take every trail shoe for at least one road run to get a sense of the midsole and outsole without variables of terrain. As it has been snow covered in Park City I have not as of yet gotten them on dirt. A five mile fairly hilly road run was an eye opener. The midsole foam is highly energetic and soft with a distinct rebound that interestingly combines both some rubbery bounce and some spring. The feel reminded me of Salomon’s Energy Surge in the UltraGlide but more, more stack height of it especially upfront. It also reminded me quite a bit if softer of the famous rubberized RMAT foam in the 2014 Hoka Huaka, one of my all time favorite do it all road to trail shoes. 


It is important to note that the Mont Blanc is not particularly flexible. It is not a totally rigid rocker profile either as after break in (required as John said above) it does get a bit of far front flex for climbing.  It does not have Altra’s Inner Flex tech and maybe could use some of it. That said there is nothing quite like that broad front platform for climbing even if the Mont Blanc could use a touch more flex or rocker to the toe off.

Dom:  Like the other reviewers, I felt that the midsole was a winner.  Thick and protective and bouncy, this was a pleasure to run in.   Downsides?   On technical terrain it felt just a little too much.  Personally, I would trade a couple of mm of cushion for the improvement in stability you get by being closer to the ground.   I was also slightly perplexed by the unusual triangular cutout in the perimeter foam around the heel.  Rather than leave the heel surrounded by a Hoka-esque ‘bathtub’ of foam, Altra chose to remove material either side of the heel.  My guess is that this is intended to improve the sole flex when heel striking.  But regrettably, it is also a missed opportunity to provide lateral support for the heel, further exacerbating the heel instability.


Triangular cutout at rear of midsole:  purpose unclear.


Outsole

Canice: Altra is using the Vibram® Lite Base outsole which provided great traction on the trails here in Park City, UT. This time of year a single run will involve running on snow, in mud and dry sections with exposed rocks, so while not Pacific Northwest or Southeast conditions, the trails here offer a pretty good mix of conditions this time of year. 


John: Most of the terrain we’ve been able to run in this winter here in Colorado is much the same as Canice. It has been either mud and slush, hard pack snow, ice, or dry roads. Nonetheless, the outsole performs quite well across this range of surfaces. I felt confident striding out, even in icy stretches. And it is fairly efficient on the roads. 


Jeff: Maybe I’m still adapting to Colorado trails from the perpetually dry and rocky terrain of the Arizona desert, but I found the outsole to be lacking in the mud, which has been largely what we’ve had of late. The couple runs I had that were on hard packed snow were very pleasant, but the mud runs saw the mud cake onto the lugs (as well as in the outsole indentions) and created a traction free, or at least reduced traction, experience.


Dom:  Vibram have been in the sole business longer than just about anyone on the planet, and have likely invested more in R&D than any shoe brand. It shows.  Despite the hype surrounding various different outsole rubbers, I’ve consistently found that Vibram rubber outperforms everything else I’ve tried, particularly when trade-offs between grip,  longevity and weight are taken into account.   The Vibram LiteBase is great stuff, and Altra made absolutely the right choice here not to use their in-house MaxTrac rubber which might be cheaper, but not in the same league.


Dom: There is so much exposed midsole foam, and limited outsole coverage. But I think Altra made a smart choice here to optimize for weight.  This is, after all, a race-focussed shoe.  Nevertheless, I found traction to be excellent: predictable and confidence-inspiring.  Also of note, the open web-like outsole template allows the shoe to flex nicely, and keeps the shoe pleasingly flexible.   A full-coverage outsole on a sole stack this thick would likely make the shoe unpleasantly stiff and insensitive. 

Vibram LiteBase


Sam: Not much to add to what the others have said. LiteBase reduces weight and here with 3.5 mm lugs we have an all purpose outsole that plays decently on the wet and slippery, very well on hard packed road and doesn’t get in the way on firm smooth and road.


Ride

Canice: I really enjoyed running in the Altra Mont Blanc’s. The ride feels light and springy and they stay fun to run over many miles. I found I had ample ground feel and plenty of rebound that created a lively feel.  A big thumbs up from me.


John: The aspect of the Mont Blanc ride I like the most is the combination of decent ground feel and energy return. Altra has done a great job with the stack height as this gives you plenty of cushion for long runs yet you can feel the ground as you navigate the trails. I found the ride to feel good on cruisy and technical trails. As mentioned before the EGO Max does yield some springiness under foot but this is a bit muted by my preference if I’m using the shoe on dirt or asphalt roads. The shoes took about 3 runs to really break-in and I felt the initial rigidness on the roads loosen up. On another note, I’d prefer more stack height variation and more rocker in the shaping. Obviously this is subjective to me, but I think the Mont Blanc is a new standard of Altra shoe altogether. 


Jeff: And this is where my upper issues and muddy traction complaints fall by the wayside, because the ride is truly top notch. There’s plenty of protection, both from ground feel and rocks or roots, and there’s just enough bounce to make the shoe a pleasant experience, without going too far in that direction, causing stability concerns.


Dom:  The minimal,soft upper and partial coverage outsole keep a big shoe comparatively soft and flexible, and allow the giant slab of midsole to shine through, dominating the character of the ride.  This is a big, bouncy, smile-inducing shoe that is fantastic at soaking up the miles in moderate terrain.  It excels on smooth trails and also on-road – although on pavement a little more rocker to the shoe might help.  Where it’s least at home is in rough, off-camber terrain, where so much stack married to soft upper makes the shoe a bit of a handful.   

Sam: My runs have been on all kinds of snow (very hard packed and almost icy, slushy and sloppy and everything in between. I have also taken the Mont Blanc to the pavement. It was on the firm pavement of the road that the ride characteristics really emerged: energetic, quite soft and leg friendly.  A blast to run. The outsole blended very well in feel with the midsole. I do wish for a touch more front flex. 


Even if the upper may not quite cut it for the most technical of trails for most,  Altra fans needing a fantastic door to trails,  smooth trails trainer racer should be thrilled. I was. 


 If you are considering your first Altra I would make it Mont Blanc. While well balanced with not much sense we are a zero drop with a feel closer to 4mm for me, if you are new to zero drop start gradually to get your calves and achilles used to the platform at the rear.


On snow what was notable was the super broad platform digging in up front. Despite the relative stiffness they climb very well. 


Conclusions and Recommendations

Trail Scoring Rubric

Road Scoring Rubric



Canice: Assuming you like a zero drop wide toe box shoe, Altra has a real winner here and I look forward to many miles in them. Give me some flat laces and a slightly snugger midfoot and I’m all in for the Mont Blanc.

Canice: 9.8/10



RIDE

FIT

VALUE

STYLE

Traction

Rock Protection

Overall Score

Percentage of Total

30%

30%

10%

5%

15%

10%

 

Score

10

9.5

9

10

10

10

9.8



John: The Altra Mont Blanc is a fun trail shoe that is technically capable on gentle off-road terrain and the more advanced technical terrain. The shoe is very comfortable and has a nice combination of cushion, firmness, and agility. The shoe is ideal as a long hauler, capable on technical trails at a variety of paces. The shoe rolls smoothly and accommodates the heel or forefoot striker. 


John’s Score: 8.3 /10

Ride: 8 ( comfortable shoe with soft, but not mushy, ride that feels stiff on roads)

Fit: 8.5 (overall, comfortable out of the box)

Value: 9 (great shoe for the trail runner needing multi-purpose use)

Style: 9.5

Traction: 7 (does well on dry, mellow terrain)

Rock Protection: 9 (nice combination of ground feel and protection)


Jeff: This is one of those shoes that gets one thing really wrong, and the rest really right. The upper hold and heel slip is problematic, and has required more effort on my part than any three shoes combined to feel even remotely confident in the shoe. And that’s not to make it a technical speedy shoe, that’s just to make buffed out trails run with predictability and no blisters. And it’d be easy to write the shoe off as a miss, but the rest of the shoe is incredible. It’s relatively lightweight, especially with a beefy midsole and decently lugged outsole, and the front half of the upper is one of my favorites on any running shoe. Here’s looking to the future, and hoping that the likely Mont Blanc 1.5 gets the upper dialed in, and I’ll be naming it my trail shoe of the year for 2023.


Jeff’s Score: 8.15/10

Ride: 9.5 (fun and bouncy while still controlled with plenty of cushioning)

Fit: 7 (sizing was spot on and front half was great, heel hold was hard to achieve)

Value: 7 ($180 is a lot of money for a shoe that makes you work to make it fit)

Style: 10 (best looking Altra trail shoe to date)

Traction: 7 (dry traction was a 9+, snow traction 8, mud traction 3)

Rock Protection: 9 (not a trail crusher that requires zero thought, but rock strikes aren’t bad)


Dom: This shoe is so great in so many ways, and I was really rooting for Altra to have a winner on their hands.  The midsole (even if a little thicker than I personally like) is outstanding.  The outsole is also right on the money.   The upper is innovative and, mostly, tantalizingly, excellent. But Altra somehow contrived to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.   The back end of the shoe is just unforgivably loose and sloppy.   A shoe that is – by definition – intended to race more than a hundred miles of mountainous terrain with enormous elevation change cannot have glaring weaknesses.  After more than 24 hours of hard running, a minor irritation will turn into a full-fledged disaster.


I am expecting to race the Mont Blanc’s namesake race, UTMB, at the end of August, and I don’t see the Mont Blanc on my shoe shortlist.  For me the lack of heel retention sadly makes it a non-starter.


That said, I’m curious to see how many people I see wearing the Mont Blanc at races this year.   Maybe for some big-boned runners, the super wide heel may be a positive.  And maybe for certain races (Badwater 135?  Two-hundred milers?) the Mont Blanc may prove popular.


Dom’s Score:

Ride: 8+ (In its comfort zone of mellow terrain, the MB makes the miles fly by.)

Fit: 5   (Front end gets a 9/10; rear end a 1/10.)

Value: 6  (Like Jeff, if I pay $180 for a shoe, I expect it to fit my foot.)

Style: 5  (Not a fan of the fluorescent pink.  Nor the giant ALTRA. Sorry.)

Traction: 9  (There are shoes with better traction, but not at this weight.)

Rock Protection:  8 (With this much cushioning, you can roll over most anything.)



Sam: A wide comfortable toe box, solid mid foot hold, a superb new foam in EGO Max, and an all purpose Vibram LiteBase outsole all come together very well in the Mont Blanc to deliver the first of the next generation from Altra. 


My last truly “favorite” Altra, and also an all time favorite was the Torin 2.5 road shoe with its truly trail worthy upper and firmer denser midsole than Mont Blanc. I for sure ran it a lot from the door to trail. Here the upper is lighter, more breathable, more comfortable and not quite as secure but the ride is way superior in energy, cushion, and fun. EGO Max is great stuff and I for one will also not be hesitating to run the Mont Blanc on road as a long run, dirt road, even recovery type shoe. 


I wish for a touch more front flex and a more substantial rear hold for more technical trails taken faster. As always, or mostly with Altra but less so here, I wish for a bit more “drop” and might try for a lift from a piece of sockliner under the existing but… I worry about not enough heel hold raising things yet higher. All of this said, things are very close with Altra delivering a shoe that at least for their elites and likely for others can be worthy of its name. 

Sam’s Score 9.09 /10

 Ride (30%)    Fit (30%  Value (10%)  Style 5%  Traction 15%  Rock Protect.(10%)

9.5

8.9

8.5

9

9

9.2


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Altra Lone Peak 6 (RTR Review)

Dom:  Startlingly, both the 25 mm (official stack height) Lone Peak 6 and the 30 mm Mont Blanc are almost identical weights.  And this after Altra put the LP6 on a diet, losing an ounce per shoe over the LP5.  So: that’s the part in which they are similar.  Where they differ dramatically is (1) width: LP6 is even wider than MB; (2) stability: LP6 is firmer and lower to the ground, making for a much more surefooted platform in rough terrain.  But they are very different shoes: Mont Blanc is big and squishy and able to soak up the miles. I’d expect durability of LP6 to be better too, but time will tell.  


Altra Timp (last reviewed T2)  (RTR Review)

Dom:  I last reviewed version 2 of the Timp.  This was, in my opinion, a fantastic shoe, with enough cushion (nominally 29 mm) for all day efforts, and at a competitive weight.  Unfortunately Timp 2 turned out to have a major weakness at the point where the upper joined the sole.  So durability was disappointing.  (Regardless, I liked them enough to buy a second pair when the review samples fell apart!)   Since then Altra have updated the Timp twice: Timp 3 improved upper durability, but also made a beefier shoe.  And Timp 4 has just been released: review samples are expected any day.  The midsole of the Timp 4 is reportedly the same Ego Max used in the Mont Blanc, so I’m optimistic it will share some of the bounciness of the Mont Blanc.


Altra Timp 4 (RTR Multi Tester Written Review)

The Mont Blanc and Timp 4 share a nearly identical stack height of 30mm and 29mm of the "same" EGO Max foam yet are very different yet in fit, ride, and outsoles. In the video RTR editor Sam closely compares.

Watch Sam's Video Comparison Review Mont Blanc vs Timp 4 (21:00)



Altra Olympus 4   (RTR Review)

Jeff: Surprisingly the Olympus 4, with 5-6mm higher stack, doesn’t feel much more cushioned than the Mont Blanc. Perhaps that’s the difference with the newer midsole in the Mont Blanc, though the Olympus platform feels much wider at every part of the foot - making it feel like a full-on trail cruiser than the MB. Mont Blanc has the edge in traction and well as midsole performance and upper comfort, while the Olympus wins in upper lockdown and overall beefiness (which is hard to define, but if you’ve ever run in a max stack shoe, you likely understand). Not a surprise that both toeboxes are exquisite.


Hoka Challenger ATR 6 (RTR Review) 

Dom:  Another competitor in the raceable super-cushioned category is the Hoka Challenger ATR 6.  With comparable stack height, but heel to toe drop of 5 mm, the ATR 6 provides far more foot security than the Mont Blanc, with a more structured, traditional upper.  Personally, I found the forefoot of the ATR 6 a little narrow (particularly compared to previous iterations of the shoe), but crucially, the Challenger ATR is also available in a wide version.  At almost exactly the same weight as the Mont Blanc, the Challenger is a little less plush, and not quite so grippy, but has better foot retention

Inov-8 Terraultra G 270  (RTR Review)  [Note: shoe renamed as Trailfly G 270 for 2022]

Dom:  They’re both zero-drop but I don’t really see these as competitors.  Mont Blanc is super-stack maximalist shoe, built to cruise 100+ miles.  I last raced a 100 km in the TUG 270 and personally wouldn’t want to take them any longer (at least on rocky ground).  Mont Blanc has tons more cushion, but TUG has a far more secure upper.  Oh, and the Inov-8 actually holds your heel in place.


Inov-8 Terraultra G 300 

Dom:  Traditionally, the numbers in Inov-8’s shoe names refers to the weight of the shoe.  So e.g. the Terrraultra G 300 should weigh 300 g.  But whereas the TUG270 came in right around its advertised weight, the TUG300 was vastly over, at 358 g per shoe (in US M10).  The TUG300 (which should really have been called the TUG350) with its much vaunted graphene-enhanced foam, felt like running with a brick on each foot.  It was stiff, heavy, cumbersome, and insensitive.  On the plus side, it was built like a tank and would probably last 300 years.  The Mont Blanc is much more pleasurable to run in: bouncy and soft and fun.  Foot retention in Inov-8, however, is far better.


Hoka Speedgoat 5  (RTR Review)

Jeff: Both shoes have similar levels of underfoot protection, which is very good. The Mont Blanc toebox is 7 to 10 times wider than the Speedgoat (only a slight exaggeration), and has a more bouncy/fun ride to it, with a slightly wider overall platform. The Speedgoat toebox is much more protective, with a discernible toe bumper and the upper has a more technical fit that locks in the foot with little to no effort. Speedgoat traction is a little better as well.

Sam: As Jeff describes. Speedgoat a better choice for more technical trails and for a more precision fit


Hoka EVO Speedgoat (RTR Review)

Dom: I’ve not yet had the pleasure of running in the Speedgoat 5, but the EVO Speedgoat has been my go-to race shoe for 100 mile trail races for the last few years.  The stack height of the Speedgoat (28/32 mm) is overall similar to Altra Mont Blanc (30 mm flat).  But Mont Blanc certainly feels higher.  Mont Blanc is pillowy and bouncy, and despite lacking rocker, much nicer to run in on the flat.  Its soft spacious upper is also more comfortable.  However, as soon as the ground starts to tilt sideways or get broken up, the Hoka is far superior: the taller the stack, the more important it is to secure the foot, and the Mont Blanc cannot compete here.  I have to say, though, that both shoes are far bigger and more protective than I can ever imagine wanting to train in.  For me, these are race-only shoes, so performance trumps comfort.


Hoka Tecton X (RTR Review)

Sam: Clearly Hoka’s direct competitor for elites, the Tecton X  about 0.8 oz lighter with 2mm more heel stack and 1mm less forefoot as a 4mm drop shoe. It includes clearly propulsive and flexible dual carbon plates and a lively springy  but not quite as soft and bouncy  supercritical foam midsole. No giant toe box, more a precision fit but it turns out to be a more accommodating one than the Speedgoat 5 for me. Similar Vibram LiteBase midsoles.  For smoother fast trails and “shorter” distances for me Tecton X. For longer slower paces on moderately technical terrain Mont Blanc.


Scarpa Spin Infinity  (RTR Review)

Sam: The Infinity is Scarpa’s most cushioned current trail and ultra shoe and the shoe that was  on the feet of Aurélien Dunand-Pallaz for 2nd at the 2021 Ultra Tour du Mont Blanc, so it has proven chops for the course and distance. It has a similar energetic midsole which is a bit firmer. A 4mm drop shoe with a 35mm heel / 31mm forefoot it is more stacked at the heel and heavier weighing 10.9 oz / 309g in our US9/EU 42 but we all agreed it runs lighter than its weight. Unlike the mostly rigid Mont Blanc it has a long flex profile. I was sized up half a size and that was correct as the toe box and overlay armored upper is snugger than the Mont Blanc that is for sure but comfortable. 

Watch Sam's Mont Blanc Initial Video Review (11:41)



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4 comments:

Andreaxxx said...

I have heel slip problems on technical trails with the Olympus 4. Is the heel of the MB narrower or the same? Thanks!

rms said...

I for one appreciate a touch of humor and even sarcasm when warranted, to balance the mostly staid and carefully worded reviews here, so keep sending Dom shoes, I want to hear his opinion!

Jeff said...

Andreaxxx - I'm in the office now but I'll follow up when I get home tonight after wearing one on each foot paying close attention to the heel. That said, I haven't had really any heel slip issues with the Olympus 4, though it might fit a little wider, while the Mont Blanc heel slip is truly legendary. It isn't a width issue that causes the slip in MB, more shape/design I think.

Jeff said...

Andreaxxx - my apologies, I didn't home until late last night. That said, the heels are similar but different. With one on each foot the extra padding of the Olympus is evident, especially at the rear, where it tapers in much better than the Mont Blanc. That said, off foot looking straight down at both shoes, the Olympus is much wider directly down from the ankle.

I'd suggest trying them on, either in the store or from an online retailer that has free returns. If the Mont Blanc slips for you, I think you'll know in the store or in your home, you don't need to be on the trail to feel the heel insecurity if it strikes you.