TAYLOR: Altra fans have been waiting for a proper long-distance trail racer for about as long as Granny Lois has waited for her free-spirited granddaughter to settle down. For years now, it just seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. That’s not to say they haven’t been making great shoes, because they have. But come ultra race day: WE WANT MORE. We’re so difficult to please.
Now here we are in 2022, with Altra stepping up to throw down some modern-day racing shoes. As trail runners, we care most about the brand-new Mont Blanc. Altra is trying to do it all by offering a stripped-down, light, responsive, and well-cushioned trail shoe.
The Altra Mont Blanc basically takes the midsole foam from the Torin, the slim last of the Rivera, and adds a few other new-to-the-brand components to create a new beast of its own. Naturally, I was pumped to get into these as it really sounds like Altra has put together a greatest hits record. However, I knew it was about to go one of two ways — I was either gonna get a beautifully bridled horse that’s ready to ride or a mashed-up Frankenstein’s monster that couldn’t hold its own.
In honor of transparency, the final grade comes somewhere between those two. What’s good is really good. What’s bad is, well, not utterly terrible, but still not good. You’ll see what I mean.
ALEX: The Altra Mont Blanc is a high cushion, lightweight long-distance trail shoe inspired by the highest mountain in the Alps. It comes in a fresh, fiery new colorway and was designed with all-day trail adventures in mind. It maintains the balanced cushioning (zero-drop) and FootShape fit that Altra is known for.
MATT: From the moment photos of the Mont Blanc came out of The Running Event in Austin, the shoe shot high up my trail running radar. It looked completely different from what Altra has thrown at us so far, and that’s not a bad thing. The appeal of a long-awaited zero-drop racer is enough to get any Altra fan excited.
The Mont Blanc blends some of the features that Altra fans have grown to love, along with some brand new ones that would help the shoe achieve its goal of being a lightweight trail racer with the maximum cushion possible.
At first glance, the shoe looks the part, but would the convergence of features functionality mesh beautifully like Nutella & banana, or would it be more like milk & pizza– great for the McPoyle brothers, terrible for ultra runners)?
TAYLOR: When I got the Altra Mont Blanc in hand and on foot, I was shocked at how light the package was. 10.2 ounces for a US M10.5 is getting really light for the trail division, especially in a well-cushioned shoe. Immediate bonus points to Altra for committing to a lightweight racer and following through on the promise.
Take the upper, for example. It’s a split mesh style that is crazy light and breathable. The heel gets a translucent layer of engineered mesh, while the forefoot gets a finer and softer mesh.
As for fit, the Mont Blanc takes a different approach to security. Typically, Altra shoes fit more on the snug side in the heel and midfoot, and the toes tend to have some sway. Here, it hugged my forefoot and midfoot nicely. Initially, it gave me flashbacks to the Altra Timp 2 — Altra, if you’re reading this, please, please, please bring that shoe back.
At any rate, the Mont Blanc is built on the same last as the Rivera (and the upcoming Outroad will be, too), which is the slimmest of Altra’s styles. The fully gusseted racer-style tongue and inner webbed structures (similar to Salomon’s Sensi-fit system) are responsible for that nice lockdown on the front end.
I’m gonna bring this talk of the upper to a hard pause right here, not to mislead anyone. It will pick up in ‘The Bad’ section.
No doubt, the star of the Altra Mont Blanc Show is the 32mm of stack and EgoMax midsole. In a world of fancy foams, this one gives hints of modern without ditching the tried and true. It’s hard to describe other than feeling really flippin’ good underfoot.
There was a real sense of soft cushion and some solid responsiveness on trails and roads. Even though the newest Torin has the same foam, the durometer feels slightly firmer in the Mont Blanc. EgoMax is an excellent foam for going fast, far, or both. For trails, and in general, I’m very much a fan of what’s going on here.
Vibram Megagrip Litebase continues the trend of being able to go fast and far. It’s a version of Megagrip where minimal rubber is laid down on a needs basis. You’ll find the 3mm lugs more concentrated under the metatarsals (typical Altra) and heel. Nearly one-third of the outsole is exposed where less traction is needed. It’s a thoughtful way to keep the weight down while holding grip a priority. We saw this on the Hoka Tecton X and Zinal. This formula has been a winner every time on various surfaces, even wet rock (which I was initially worried about).
ALEX: The aesthetic and design of the Mont Blanc are stunning — the coral and black colorway is bright and vibrant, and the shoe just looks good.
Weighing in at just over 8 ounces per shoe, it’s about an ounce lighter than the Hoka Speedgoat 5, both in a US W8.5. The weight was mainly trimmed from the Mont Blanc’s outsole, with the Vibram Litebase outsole reducing the sole weight by 30%. It’s even the same outsole material as the Hoka Tecton X. Even though the sole is about half as thick, the grip and traction remain uncompromised.
The Altra Ego Max midsole combined with the Vibram outsole is solid and capable of all-day trail adventures. The 30mm stack height provides great underfoot protection, and the shoe has a responsive feel with great traction. I was a little disappointed that the shoe’s midsole material didn’t feel very bouncy, but it’s often a tradeoff between a cushy, lively ride and firm midsole responsiveness.
MATT: Let’s start with the good since the Altra Mont Blanc has plenty going in its favor. For starters, it might be one of the best-looking trail shoes of the past few years. It’s sleek, stylish, and I’m a sucker for the classic red and black colorway that showed up at my door. The Mont Blanc is surprisingly light, considering the fat 32mm stack of foam underfoot.
There are also a few brand-new features that keep the package light and contribute to the overall ride of Altra’s latest racer. The upper is a split mesh material, which is super breathable and comfortable. It’s thin yet provides a snuck and secure lockdown through the midfoot and toes. It also sheds moisture exceptionally well.
Part of that secure fit comes right back to the lacing system and gusseted tongue.
While I enjoyed the fit of the upper from step-in, I think my favorite parts of the shoe are the midsole and outsole. As mentioned above, at 32mm of EgoMax stack height, the midsole is a dream. It somehow feels both plush and responsive and provides a ride that makes you feel like you could go all day — certainly a big positive for those hunting their next ultra-distance racer.
The outsole is Vibram Megagrip Litebase. It’s been a big winner for me across the shoes I’ve tested, including Hoka’s Tecton X and Zinal (noticing a trend). The concept behind Litebase is not only to minimize the thickness of the rubber but to optimize the lug position. You’ll find most of the traction concentrated in the hot spots underfoot, saving rubber where you’re less likely to impact. In practice, it works well across various surfaces.Shop Altra Mont Blanc – Men Shop Altra Mont Blanc – Women
TAYLOR: After the section on what’s good, you might be ready to sit down and award the Altra Mont Blanc a blue ribbon. Pump the brakes on the awards ceremony. I’m not sure that the Mont Blanc is really “the one” that the natural running scene has waited for. I feel there are some serious mishaps that should have been caught before the shoe hit shelves. Maybe it’s a strategic move? I mean, it definitely gives Altra something to fix on the upcoming BOA version.
Let’s start with the heel. I’m shaking my head in disappointment at this part because there’s almost no structure to the heel whatsoever. There’s no heel cup, just minimal padding… and that’s it. I guess you could say there’s a slight rise in the foam as a half-hearted attempt at a cockpit, but that’s it. C’mon, Altra, this is the Mont Blanc, for Pete’s sake. It should be ready to tackle its namesake mountain with the padding and support you get.
There was very noticeable shifting and shaking in the heel on any downhill or speedy technical sections. Nothing I tried was helping either. It’s such a shame because uphills and smooth segments were a joy in this shoe. At the end of the day, if it’s not secure everywhere, it’s not secure anywhere.
Another issue, though not as serious, is the disequilibrium between the top and bottom halves of the shoe. For whatever reason, we seem to get an unbalanced shoe once in a blue moon, and the Mont Blanc seems to be that shoe. I’m gonna blame the upper.
Please send up thoughts and prayers for the BOA version to be better in this department.
ALEX: Poorly designed heels are often the deal-breaker for me, and unfortunately, this one might be my least favorite to date. I couldn’t get a secure fit, and the issues were all in the heel. I found my heel constantly slipping due to an unstructured, shallow heel cup and what felt like unnecessary, poorly placed padding.
The paracord lacing looks and feels rudimentary and out of place on the Mont Blanc. It’s rigid and unforgiving compared to the flat lacing systems that many shoes use. Add the short, minimally padded tongue, and I found that the knot sits uncomfortably on the front of my ankle. Worse, my foot slides forward, creating added pressure, especially on the downs.
The thin, minimal, race-inspired upper is great for breathability, but my toes quickly resented the lack of a bumper. The sprinkles of what could and should be toe protection are there. Still, I’m not convinced they’re going to offer much protection on loose technical terrain or during the late stages of a long run or race when I’m just barely picking up my feet and stubbing my toe on pretty much everything in front of me.
While the midsole and outsole were up to the challenge of a long day on technical trails, the upper is a letdown. I’m sad to say that the Altra Mont Blanc probably won’t be finding a place in my training or racing lineup.
If the Mont Blanc lived up to the hype, the price would be one thing, but $180 is too much for this shoe.
MATT: So, this is where the review takes a sharp turn. Like the others, I had plenty of good to say about the Mont Blanc, so it might surprise you to hear that my overall impression was one of disappointment. Well, sometimes, the sum of the parts outweighs the individual features.
To me, the Altra Mont Blanc was like that feeling when you were a kid, and you tried to mix all the flavors to make an epic Slurpee. Coke? Solid Cherry? The best. Blue Raspberry? Hell yeah. All great choices, so mixing them together has to be the ultimate flavor explosion, right? RIGHT?
There are certainly other pain points I had with the Mont Blanc, but the biggest by far was that all of the individual good things just didn’t work together. Despite the great upper, midsole, and outsole, they just couldn’t find a way to play nicely. There was no synergy.
The sleek and slim upper combined with the high stack midsole was fine when running the non-technical flats, but the instability was pretty telling as soon as I hit technical sections or big climbs and descents.
I may not be the most graceful, but I’m pretty good at staying upright and navigating the often rocky and rooty trails here in Maryland. I had more nearly rolled ankles in one 20-mile run in these shoes than I’ve had combined over the past few months.
In addition to the disconnect between the upper and midsole, there’s a severe lack of security in the heel. There’s just no structure or reinforcement there at all. As I said above, the shortcomings are hidden when rolling on smooth stretches, but as soon as the going gets tough, the quality gets going.
I also found that there just wasn’t enough toe protection. Once again, there’s just nothing there as far as a toe cap that will help when you boot a root or rock. I understand and respect the effort to go light and fast here, but there are standard offerings that trail runners come to expect. If cutting weight means losing protection, then lighter isn’t always better.Shop Altra Mont Blanc – Men Shop Altra Mont Blanc – Women
TAYLOR: What can I say? You win some and lose some, and the Altra Mont Blanc finds a way to do both. It has some great features in its corner. The whole package underfoot is fantastic and bound to please runners looking for a cushioned and responsive ride. You can go far, and you can go fast. It doesn’t matter what you want to do. Honestly, it will feel good. It also helps that the Mont Blanc is incredibly light.
Not everything is chocolate and roses, though. There’s some serious talk to be had at the round table and on the trail for Altra. The heel alone is nearly a death sentence for the Mont Blanc. If you’re typically on moderately technical trails, you may want to find something else. I’m sorry, but this one will either annoy you or turn out downright treacherous.
ALEX: As a big Altra fan, I have to say that I’m disappointed in this one. I love the intent, and overall I appreciate where they’re heading with the Mont Blanc. Altra delivered on the elements that we’ve come to know and appreciate about the brand — the foot-shaped toe box and balanced cushioning. Unfortunately, they’re also staying consistent in needing a few versions to get the shoe dialed in.
I look forward to the next version of the Mont Blanc, or even the Mont Blanc BOA, becaues of they can fix the heel issue, this shoe will be a beauty.
MATT: Dang. The Altra Mont Blanc was one of those shoes that I tried, willing it to be great. I knew the issues after my first run, but I kept reaching for the shoe on my next run, hoping that something would change because it’s too sexy to waste away on my basement shoe rack.
I love the individual features that Altra brought to the table here, but they just need to figure out how to make them function as a team (maybe Bill Belichick can do some consulting work). I really hope the team at Altra doesn’t get discouraged and scrap this idea because I would love for them to figure out the shortcomings and come back to knock the next version out of the park.
You can pick up the Altra Mont Blanc for $180 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Altra Mont Blanc – Men Shop Altra Mont Blanc – Women
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