The carbon fiber train has been chugging right along since the original Nike Vaporfly made its original splash back in 2017, and just about every brand has been following the sometimes-circus parade with their own super shoe. Nobody has to reach Nike race shoe status, but a few have come close (Asics Metaspeed Sky, New Balance RC Elite 2). Nevertheless, you gotta throw your hat in the ring.
And while some of those hats have been real Stetson-style winners, others have been moth-eaten costume props (we won’t say who, but you probably know).
No doubt, smaller and/or less road-centric brands may have only started developing their carbon shoes when the Vaporfly came out, and we’re finally seeing the fruit of those endeavors. This spring, we saw the release of the Salomon S/Lab Phantasm CF, the trail-heavy brand’s first carbon plated racer that we’ve seen on the feet of athletes like Noah Droddy. And finally, the Altra Vanish Carbon, a shoe that we’ve been waiting on for a while since we knew Cal Neff was testing it and since he paced Keira D’Amato to an American women’s marathon record in the shoe at the Houston Marathon this past January. It should also be noted that Frank Lara dropped a 2:11 in his marathon debut at that same race, earning top-American honors.
We first saw the Vanish Carbon in person at The Running Event (along with the upcoming Vanish Tempo) back in December, but are now able to give some first thoughts of our own since the embargo has finally lifted (the shoe will be forthcoming to the general public in mid-April).Shop Vanish Carbon – Men Shop Vanish Carbon – Women
For the unfamiliar, Altra specializes in zero-drop shoes, meaning that the midsole has the same stack height in both the heel in the toe, allowing for a more natural running motion since your Achilles isn’t propped up by a high heel. Typically, racing shoes (or really, most shoes) have some sort of drop to facilitate a forward motion from heel to toe, so having a zero-drop, carbon-plated racing shoe is a deviation from the norm. Just how much of a deviation is it? More on that in a second. Of course, every Altra shoe also offers a wider-than-normal toe box to accommodate toe splay upon footfall.
In the Vanish Carbon, Altra has included the creme de la creme of their own technologies, featuring an all-new EVA-based supercritical Ego Pro midsole, which is Altra’s lightest and most responsive cushion to date. It’s definitely softer and bouncier than any other Altra midsole we’ve tried in the past. The stack height on that is 33mm, which is quite sizable for Altra. They also somehow managed to keep the weight under 7 ounces for a US M9.0, which is in line with most super shoes. That falls right in line with the speedy Escalante Racer, which is saying something.
Of course, the talk of the town is the carbon plate, which is a ⅔-length plate running from the midfoot through the toe. It’s made by Carbitex, who has partnered on plates for a variety of other shoes, including the ultra-premium Speedland SL:PDX trail shoe as well as the Adidas Adizero Pro. What’s interesting and different about the Vanish Carbon plate is that it offers flex grooves running vertically, almost mirroring the outsole pattern. Those flex grooves are specifically designed to harness the energy from the big and little toe and create a pop-off sensation.
All this works in concert with the shoe’s Active Stance Rocker, which is located 65% forward when measured from the heel, the farthest back in any Altra shoe, for a more efficient toe-off.
Now, the combination of a carbon plate, a pronounced rocker, and a 33mm stack certainly paints the lines of the zero-drop world. Technically, yes, since the heel stack and toe stack are both 33mm, it is a zero-drop shoe. But the integration of a carbon plate, high stack, rocker, and slimmed down toe box make the Vanish Carbon one of the least-natural natural running shoes… ever?
Let it be known– we’re not judging it. We love the direction Altra’s taking. There’s only so many people who want a clowny-looking toe box and a purely natural running form. That said, there’s a certain segment of die-hard Altra fans who are certainly going to be pissed at the creation of this shoe. But let’s be honest– Altra is now owned by VF Corp, a publicly-traded company whose top priority isn’t bending the knee to the Subaru-wielding, REI lifetime membership cohort. The base must expand, and creating more normative shoes moves that needle.
It remains to be seen whether or not the Vanish Carbon is a legitimate race day option or not (we just got our pair in yesterday), so stay tuned for the full review in a couple weeks.
You can pre-order the Altra Vanish Carbon for $240 by using the shop link below.Shop Vanish Carbon – Men Shop Vanish Carbon – Women
Want to learn more about how our review process works? Check out this guide.