Altra Mont Blanc Review

This week is my much-anticipated Altra Mont Blanc review. I came to realise that the Altra Mont Blanc reminded me of the Altra Duo. This was a highly cushioned road shoe with a very light upper, designed for racing ultramarathon distance on the road. The Altra Mont Blanc, as the name would suggest, is a highly cushioned shoe designed for racing ultramarathon distance over trails ‘a la’ the UTMB. The 30mm stack height is made up of Altra’s Evo Max midsole, which is a soft and very bouncy midsole and usually shoes with this thickness of midsole are very soft and designed to give you maximum protection whilst ‘plodding-along’. The Mont Blanc though, does not feel like a ‘plodding-along’ and this midsole is a lot more flexible. This coupled with the Vibram Litebase rubber that is used on the outsole makes the shoes feel a lot more flexible than other shoes with this high stack height.

As you would expect with a race shoe, the upper has been stripped down as much as possible to make it extremely lightweight. So thin in places that you can see through it! The tongue is lightly padded just in the centre where the laces cross. The tongue is gusseted to reduce the chance of debris getting into the shoes. The gusset is made from a very thin stretchy nylon.

As with most Altra running shoes, there is no plastic heel cup. The heel cup is made from the material of the upper only so that it can shape to your heel. If you have heel spurs or other lumps and bumps on the back of your heels then this type of heel cup is much more comfortable than a plastic one. There is light padding around the cuff of the shoes and the upper feels very light and roomy due to the thin materials used for the upper. Although I found the fit secure enough it doesn’t give a locked in feel and even felt a bit ‘slippy’ when walking around in the shoes. This is very similar to the fit of the Topo Cyclone, which I am currently using for my morning runs. When I am running, I am totally unaware of the heel of the shoes. As I am landing on my midfoot and the shoes flex, there is no pressure pulling the heel of the shoe off my heel.

My foot is left free to function in the shoes as it wants to. The fit around the midfoot is also not super snug. I did think that this would mean that when I ran on more broken terrain my foot would move around inside the shoes, but it doesn’t. The soft midsole absorbs a lot of the rocks and roots on the trails in a similar fashion to Hoka shoes or the Brooks Cascadia 16. This absorption is the same concept a mountain bike tyre uses and stops you from being thrown around by what’s on the ground. This compression and flexibility of the midsole reduces the twisting that the shoe and your foot required to do so despite the looser fit I never felt like my foot was moving around inside the shoes.

The Altra Mont Blanc, along with all other Altra trail running shoes are designed to give your feet the room to function in the shoes. For this reason, they have a much more rounded toe box than a lot of other brands so that your feet can spread on impact. This helps absorb shock, stabilises you and spring you into your next step. How much room you need for your feet to function is dependent on the shape and width of your feet and how much foot expansion you think you will get in the shoes. For this reason, Altra now produce their Zero Drop running shoes in three defined last shapes:

• Original, which is used to make the Lone Peak, Olympus and Escalante ranges. This is the last which has the most volume and width.
• Standard, which is used to make the Paradigm, Timp, Mont Blanc, Provision, Torin and Superior ranges. A little narrower than ‘Original’ through the midfoot, a touch narrower in the forefoot and a little less voluminous in the upper.
• Slim is the narrowest of the three fits. The toe box still has a rounded shape to it, but shoes made on this last wouldn’t be described as broad fitting. This last is used for the Vanish Tempo, Vanish Carbon and Rivera.

The Altra Mont Blanc is a Zero Drop trail running shoe like the rest of the range. This means that the thickness of the midsole at the back of the shoe is the same as at the toe. This promotes a more midfoot landing, which allows the foot to be loaded correctly. This encourages the foot to spread on impact. If you haven’t worn shoes that has the shape/room for this to happen before, then you might find that your foot doesn’t immediately spread on impact. However, this function does come back over time.

If you haven’t worn low or Zero Drop shoes with a broad rounded toe box then it’s a good idea to gradually increase the time you spend in the shoes, alternating with your current shoes. This is because your ankles, feet and lower legs will function more in this type of shoe. By gradually increasing the time you spend in the shoes you will allow your body to strengthen up without getting overloaded.

There is no rockplate in the Altra Mont Blanc but, as above, the 30mm stack height should give you enough protection from sharp rocks or thorns.

From the very first run I found the Mont Blanc to be enjoyable, somewhat surprisingly so as a fan of more responsive trail running shoes. With a 30mm stack height of soft bouncy midsole, when I stood up in the shoes, I did feel a bit like I was walking on marshmallows! When you start to run though, the increased force makes the midsole feel firmer, so you don’t feel like you are losing any forward propulsion despite the soft cushioning. The bouncy feel to the midsole makes it easy to get a good rhythm going in the shoes and the Mont Blanc feel very light and energetic. Partly because of the unrestrictive fit of the upper and partly because of the bounce from the midsole.

I found the Altra Mont Blanc a very easy shoe to run in. For me, as a responsive fa, the Altra Olympus was a little more difficult, with a similar stack height but more stiffness and softer cushioning. They have always felt like plodding shoes and running in them felt like harder work. The Mont Blanc gives the benefit of a maximal cushioned shoe, in that it reduces inflammation in the joints so you can keep running for longer but is a lot more runnable. Don’t get me wrong, it is still not a light nimble shoe and so wouldn’t be my choice for short distance racing, but it’s not designed for that.

The grip of the shoes is good on tracks and trails. The lugs, as you would expect, aren’t deep enough to cope with the deepest mud but offer good traction on greasy trails and wet rocks. The flexibility of the midsole and the way that it absorbs the lumps and bumps of the trail mean that a good surface area of the outsole is in contact with the floor. This improves the traction.

After over 200 miles of a real mix of terrains, including some tarmac, there are small signs of wear on the outsole. To be adept on trail terrain, the lugs are quite small, which allows them to bite effectively into soft ground but makes them less durable. The cushioning level is good enough to run on road but these aren’t designed to run on tarmac regularly as you run the risk of wearing out the front studs in particular. There are out-and-out road to trail running shoes for that!

The Altra Mont Blanc has a bit more toe spring than other Altra’s. That means that the midsole of the shoe curves up slightly at the toes. I found that this curve kept me on my midfoot and helped me stay more upright. Zero Drop shoes do this anyway, but I just felt like the moment my foot hit the floor there was a pull from my hamstring to lift it up again. The bounce from the midsole also helped with this but the toe spring helps you maintain the feeling that you are in effect ‘falling along’. I felt this feeling was very evident when running down steep hills. Zero Drop shoes are fast downhill! There is no elevated heel to crash into the floor so you land on your forefoot and the momentum increases your cadence. You feel like a kid again throwing yourself down the hills!

A lot of our customers who run ultramarathons like the broad rounded toe box shoes. This is because if your feet are functioning in the shoes, they pump the lymph around your body, so they don’t swell as much. You therefore have less chance of blistering or rubbing in the shoes. The advised fit for this type of shoe is to have a thumb width of space between the end of your longest toe and the end of the shoes. This is when you are standing up in the shoes with them laced. Width wise there should be no bulging at the sides and your toes should be free to wiggle. If you haven’t had a shoe with a rounded toe box before then they are likely to feel big. This room is there to allow your feet to function. Having less than a thumb width of space might make the shoes feel snugger but it will take away the benefits of having a shoe with this shaped toe box.

In summary the Altra Mont Blanc is a very cushioned and comfortable shoe that’s going to feel great running longer distances or taking on an ultramarathon race on harder packed technical trails. I thoroughly enjoyed running in the Mont Blanc and was pleasantly surprised by how energetic it felt, for a higher stack height well cushioned shoe.

Other Considerations

Brooks Catamount was also designed for 100 mile trail races. The ride is firmer but, the rocker makes you feel light on your feet. Not as wide and with a pointed toe box. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/brooks-catamount-review/

Hoka Speedgoat was designed as an Ultra race shoe and is the most popular shoe in the UTMB. The rocker gives it a fast feel and the cushioning is soft. However, the toe box is very pointy. Although it is available in a wide fit. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/hoka-one-one-speedgoat-evo-review/

Inov-8 Trailfly Ultra G300 Max. Not as fast but a firm responsive but cushioned feel makes it easy to keep running a long in these. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/inov-8-trailfly-ultra-g-300-max-review/

Topo MTN Racer 2 is a more minimal shoe. In that it is not a maximally cushioned shoe, so it feels more flexible and responsive. They have a broad rounded toe box with room for your toes to spread. If you prefer to not wear overly cushioned shoes then these would be worth considering. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/topo-athletic-mtn-racer-2-review/

La Sportiva Jackal offers a very secure stable option. Good grip and durability. Here is our review:
https://www.northernrunner.com/blog/la-sportiva-jackal-review-2/

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