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Road Running Shoes • April 19, 2024

Altra Vanish Carbon 2 Review: Zero Drop, Meet Fast and Fun

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What You Need To Know

Weight

7.6 oz. (215 g) for a US M9,

6.5 oz. (184 g) for a US W8

Stack Height / Drop

36 mm in heel, 36 mm in forefoot (0 mm drop)

Best For

Dropping into race day with zero drop

Key Features

Ego Pro midsole, Natural Ride System, segmented carbon fiber plate, Slim Footshape

On The Run
An upper that just about vanishes Just the right amount of toe room Your heel may or may not get destroyed
Price / Availability

Available now for $260

Introduction to the Altra Vanish Carbon 2

AUSTIN: I remember seeing a meme recently about the Altra Vanish Carbon 2. In the classic 1988 film Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Judge Doom (portrayed by the fantastic Christopher Lloyd) emerges at a crime scene to demonstrate why toons should abide by the laws. Looking down, he notices a smiling shoe nestled by his own. He proceeds to pick it up and slowly lower it into “Dip,” a mixture he created to kill toons. On a related note, I’m not sure why this scene didn’t traumatize me as a kid. That’s some dark stuff for Warner Bros. In this meme, however, the cartoon shoe is replaced by Altra’s updated zero-drop racer, the Vanish Carbon 2.

I can only speculate whether the meme creator thought the Vanish Carbon 2 colorway mirrored the Roger Rabbit shoe or if he or she thought it was worthy of a dip in the Dip. I think it’s the former, because I’m prepared to heap lots of praise on Altra’s updated super shoe that’s anything but cartoonish.

SAM: Like Michael below, I’m coming off our review of the all-new, much-improved Altra Mont Blanc Carbon. It’s nearly impossible not to compare that shoe and this one, the Altra Vanish Carbon 2. Sure, they share a colorway (coral/white), midsole foam (Altra’s Ego Pro), and split-fabric style upper, but they also seem symbolic of what this newly drop-inclusive Altra wants to be seen as in the running world.

Both the Mont Blanc Carbon and the Vanish Carbon 2 are zero-drop race day shoes meant to be emblematic of the apex of what zero-drop running performance can be. Gone with these shoes is the language of “balanced cushioning” that Altra toyed with to attract a broader base. With the Altra FWD shoes trickling onto the market, Altra can relax on landing mass appeal and lean fully into constructing the absolute best zero drop race day shoes possible for road and trail.

That differentiation of purpose and surface is important because as similar in material these two shoes are, they are wholly different on the run, and that’s what makes me most intrigued by them. Not to spoil things early, but the Mont Blanc Carbon and Vanish Carbon 2 are both legitimate race day shoes that are also uniquely purpose-built to be zero drop. Neither is without its problems, but they fill a hole in the market and give zero-drop runners interesting options when that race they have been training for rolls around.

MICHAEL: Since my friends here have pretty much everything wrapped on the introduction (Sam should seriously be featured on a marketing commentary podcast), I’ll try to get a little more particular and discuss some nuances of the Vanish Carbon 2 I enjoyed and some that I didn’t.

Coming fresh off the heels (or lack thereof) of the Altra’s latest trail speedster, the Mont Blanc Carbon, the Vanish 2 was a very interesting and fun shoe to review. It features a maxed-out stack of exceptional Ego Pro foam, a full-length carbon plate, and an airy, svelte upper. With all the makings of a great zero-drop race-day bullet, read on to see how the Vanish Carbon 2 shakes out.

What we like about the Altra Vanish Carbon 2

AUSTIN: After reviewing and promptly shelving the Brooks Hyperion Elite 4, I wasn’t sure what to expect from an Altra super shoe. Zero-drop and a full-length carbon fiber plate? An intriguing premise, to be sure. I’ll begin with the upper. Like the Hyperion Elite 4, the mesh upper is nicely perforated, which provides exceptional breathability. Flat laces, light tongue padding, and a fully gusseted tongue lock the midfoot down well. I thought the extended flap on the tongue might produce some irritation like the Torin 7, but the soft fabric felt nice on every run.

The heel collar also looks flimsy at first glance, but the two internal pillows provide a secure rear fit. I didn’t have any heel blisters like Michael, but I always suggest experimenting with socks if the heel lock isn’t working. Sometimes, a thicker yarn or higher cut can make all the difference. I removed the sock liner and replaced it with a Currex insole for some arch lift, which helped a lot. Finally, there are some additional cutouts in the midfoot and the heel for added ventilation.

On the run — wow. Seriously. Altra’s 36 mm (up from 33) of Ego Pro delivered a soft, bouncy ride. I loved the turnover without my legs feeling trashed by the end of the day. The deep flex grooves in the forefoot and rocker geometry aided the smooth transitions, and the outsole coverage was much more comprehensive than I anticipated. I’d say there’s about ninety-percent coverage on the bottom. This enhances durability and traction but adds weight, too.

SAM: The Altra Vanish Carbon 2 fits true to size, and it comes in Altra’s Slim Footshape. It has more of that classic Altra shape than some other Slim Altra’s I’ve run in, but there’s considerably less volume than, say the Lone Peak 8. The upper here is a wide open mesh over the toes and a reinforced ripstop around the heel. It’s very comfortable. It kind of disappears on the run, but never to the point of uncertainty. The midfoot is secure without being tight, while the toebox has plenty of room for toe splay, but even runners with narrow feet aren’t going to feel like they’re swimming.

The 36 mm Ego Pro midsole and full-length plate are light, cushioned, and poppy. Here, the Ego Pro is soft but not squishy, with plenty of rebound. It’s cut with a similar taper to many of Altra’s road offerings of the past couple of years – narrowing from just below the ball of the foot to tip you forward on the transition of each step. This is a fun and fast shoe to zoom through miles in, and the plate really starts to shine with faster paces.

One of the biggest issues with the first Vanish Carbon was the rapidly wearing outsole, and on this follow-up, they blasted the bottom of the shoe with rubber. It’s very grippy, even on very wet pavement.

MICHAEL: Like its trail-oriented cousin, the Mont Blanc Carbon, the Vanish 2 runs very light on the feet but with a more pillowy sensation underfoot thanks to heaps of Altra Ego Pro Midsole foam. From the first step-in, the increased stack of 36mm shines footfall after footfall. The rocker of the shoe is also well-placed, promoting a forefoot strike and helping to overcome some of the general flat feelings in other zero-drop models.

While I had some issues with the upper that I’ll address later, I loved the barely-there, airy feeling of this upper. From the open-mesh toe box to the suede tongue and ventilation holes in the heel, this upper is made to vanish on summer runs and races alike. It’s one thing for an upper to breathe well, and most race day shoes do. But this one is downright drafty, breezy even. Yet despite the barely-there feel, the Vanish 2 upper still fit securely through the midfoot, and I enjoyed the slimmer last (still with abundant wiggle room, of course) throughout the shoe compared to other Altra’s Classic Footshape models.

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What we don’t like about the Altra Vanish Carbon 2

AUSTIN: I have no serious gripes about the shoe, only some suggestions. First, I propose dropping some of the outsole rubber in the heel to trim a bit of weight. Second, serrated laces are also popular in the marathon shoe lineup, so I might consider adding those, too, for increased lockdown.

SAM: This is a zippy, propulsive, and slightly bouncy shoe, but it lacks the rebounding pop that we have come to look for in the best race day shoes. You can almost feel it there, waiting to escape from its zero-drop cage, but really only managing to sneak out at really fast paces. I blame this on the drop (or lack thereof), but I really have no idea where all the bounce goes in the Vanish Carbon 2. I do know that, much like the Mont Blanc Carbon, running in this shoe feels like more work, especially in my calves. I’ve run in zero-drop shoes a decent amount recently, and my calves were never more sore than in this one.

I also didn’t have the blister problems in the heel that Michael did, but I couldn’t ever get a feeling of true security there. There was no real slippage, no discomfort; I just never felt locked in. This was also an issue I had with the Mont Blanc Carbon. I tried a few different lacing methods, and nothing really took.

I’m up in the air about the rubber coverage on the bottom of the Vanish Carbon 2, but one thing I did notice was that I had some noticeable shaving after my test miles. It’s not a huge deal, and the added rubber should hold through plenty of miles, but it’s just something to note.

MICHAEL: While the Vanish Carbon 2 is technically a super shoe, in my experience, it still lacks a bit of that top-end race day speed and pop. The foam is great, the plate is great, and the upper is great, but all these great components unfortunately come together to result in a ride that feels more like a super trainer rather than a racer. In large part, I think this is due to the zero drop geometry. Over the course of my review mileage, my calves felt like they were working and engaging a perceivable 30% more compared to other top race day models in this price range. Other models tend to adjust my running geometry in a way that promotes a slightly forward lean and a quick turnover. Both of those feelings were somewhat lost on the Vanish Carbon 2.

Additionally, I had major issues with the heel. Throughout my test mileage, I tried several different pairs of socks, yet still found that after every run, the heel cup just left my Achilles all sad and blistered. In the recently released Mont Blanc Carbon, the material in the heel of the shoe came very low on the heel. I noted in my review of that shoe that the heel felt like an awkward side hug. Interestingly, the heel of the Vanish 2 feels like it comes up too tall on the Achilles and just digs in uncomfortably.

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Final thoughts on the Altra Vanish Carbon 2

AUSTIN: The Altra Vanish Carbon 2 is a superb update. I didn’t own the original, but I can easily tell that fans will appreciate the full-length carbon fiber plate, soft midsole, rocker geometry, and a bump in the stack height for half or full-marathon distances. Speaking of which, I’m still on the fence about whether I would choose this one to carry me 26.2 miles. I’m not concerned about the cushioning or propulsion, but I do worry about my calves. That’s a lot of pull on those muscles for hours. I’ve run in Altra shoes for years but haven’t opted for one in the marathon. To those that have, meet your new best friend. Just watch out for Judge Doom.

SAM: This is a fun, light, and very comfortable zero-drop racer from Altra. They are putting their best foot forward with these high-end releases, and the result in the Vanish Carbon 2 is some of the most fun I’ve had running in an Altra shoe in a while. The upper shines, the midsole is responsive and exciting, and it makes zero-drop running feel a little less flat.

It’s just pretty tiring to run in for long distances. Since distance running is already a pretty tiring activity, we runners are not often too keen to add bonus tiredness into our races. But hey, if you have calves of woven steel, it could be the perfect shoe for you.

MICHAEL: Like Austin said above, despite its issues, the Vanish Carbon 2 is a great shoe. Its plush, fun ride and lightweight, airy feel make it a really fun, quick shoe to run in. Is it my top pick for race day? Not necessarily, but if you’re a fan of Altra’s fit and have some cash to splash, the Vanish Carbon 2 will be an enjoyable super trainer companion.

You can pick up the Altra Vanish Carbon 2 for $260 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

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Altra Vanish Carbon 2 | Full Review

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  1. Tomme Jogs says:

    Yall know the aerobic benifit of carbon plated shoes doesn’t come from the “poppiness” of the plate right? How did your feet feel at mile 20?

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Authors

michael bio photo
Michael Loutzenheiser
Southern Trail Reviewer

An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.

More from Michael
Shoe Size

9.5

Fav. Distance

13.1 (Trail)

PRs
  • 4:48

    50K
  • 1:16

    Half Marathon
  • 16:45

    5K
austin bonds
Austin Bonds
Southern Road Reviewer
  • Instagram

Austin, who lives north of Atlanta, is a stay-at-home father and running store part-timer (year eleven). Based on his inability to provide a 10K or 5K personal record, he should probably race those distances more. It’s rare to not see a party size bag of peanut M&Ms in his pantry and a pair of Shokz on his ears during a run.

All-time favorite shoes: OG Altra Escalante, Saucony Kinvara 3, Nike ZoomX Vaporfly NEXT%

More from Austin
Shoe Size

12

Fav. Distance

26.2

PRs
  • 3:03

    Marathon
  • 1:25

    Half Marathon
Sam Edgin
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
  • Instagram
  • Strava

Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.

All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone Peak

More from Sam
Shoe Size

10

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 6:15

    50K
  • 1:40:39

    Half Marathon
  • 21:30

    5K
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