Altra Vanish Carbon Review: Zero Drop, Drop Top, Carbitex Plate for the Pop Pop
THOMAS: My relationship with Altra (before the Vanish Carbon) has been hard to grasp. I remember when their first shoe came out and hearing the brand’s origin story. Regardless of what you may think of their shoes, Altra’s mission has always been to help runners get a better experience through its footwear. That sounds like our goal here at Believe in the Run, though we achieve it by testing gear and giving honest feedback to consumers with the hope that we can get runners into the best product for their needs.
Altra started by modifying other brands’ shoes to make them better for their running store clientele. Its technique for creating zero drop shoes (now called “balanced”) was to cut wedges out of existing ones and melt them back together. Why zero drop? Altra values natural movement and is all about not interfering with the way our feet have evolved. Then, Altra decided to widen the toe box and make the shoes more “foot-shaped.” Over the years, Altra has developed nicely and gained a shit ton of loyalists. The story is a good case study of how a company can stick to its founding principles and succeed in a competitive market.
So, what’s been my issue with Altra? My foot. My low-volume, narrow foot just could never play nicely with Altra’s designs. There’s just too much toe box. Also, I don’t care about the drop. If a shoe rolls through my stride, I don’t care if it is a 10mm or 0mm differential. Have you ever seen what 5mm vs. 10mm really looks like? It’s tiny. Finally, the foot-shaped toe box has never seemed that stylish to me. It just doesn’t look fast, kinda like running in Birkenstocks.
This isn’t to say I’ve never enjoyed an Altra shoe — I have, in fact, even when they haven’t worked perfectly for me. My reviews have typically included the caveat, “if you like Altra or want something with a wide toe box and zero-drop, then these shoes are a good choice.” This review is going to be different. The Altra Vanish Carbon is a shoe that can ditch the qualifying “for an Altra” and just focus on it as a fantastic racing and training option for runners.
MEAGHAN: It’s about time Altra made a road racing shoe! After Cal Neff paced (in the Altra Carbon Vanish) Keira D’Amato to the American Marathon record, I was curious about their first-ever carbon plated shoe. It comes with a competitive price tag ($240), so I was cautiously hopeful that it could follow suit on the roads.
THOMAS: I had a feeling about this shoe after seeing it at TRE. First, built on Altra’s narrowest arch, the Vanish Carbon looks sleeker and faster. The upper is race-ready with a thin breathable mesh streamlined without unnecessary overlays or decorations. Padding is minimal in the heel counter and the tongue. This thing is stripped down to be as light as a feather (US M10 – 7.9 oz/225 grams). Once I got my foot into the Altra Vanish Carbon, I found it fit well and isn’t baggy in the toe box.
Moving down to the midsole, the Vanish Carbon employs a TPE foam, branded EGO Pro, that didn’t feel that soft or responsive in hand. On foot is another story. The foam has the right amount of give and bounce that you look for in a modern fast day shoe, and Altra even found time to sandwich a three-quarter Carbitex plate in the 36mm stack.
The plate and forefoot are where the shoe gets its unique character and might be more beneficial for the runner who lands midfoot to the forefoot. The forefoot feels rockered instead of the shoe feeling like a zero drop. If anything, my initial take was that the shoe felt higher on the forefoot than the heel. When a shoe lifts under the toe, we refer to that as toe spring. In a comment from the Altra founder, Golden Harper, he states the Vanish Carbon doesn’t have a toe spring. He says it uses a term I’ve never heard before called “toe taper.” Harper suggests that the toe spring lifts the toes in an unnatural position, and the “toe taper” doesn’t lift the toes. It just has a pivot point where the foam narrows. In my opinion, it’s little more than semantics — the front of the Vanish Carbon feels exaggerated, you feel the pivot behind the toes, and I like it. The sensation created is a feeling of faster transition and less time on the ground.
The Altra Vanish Carbon feels good throughout all my paces. I did a 14-mile training run to test the shoe’s racing feel. I started with five miles easy, followed by three miles half marathon pace (HMP), one-mile float, three miles HMP, with two cool-down miles. The shoe was comfortable during the warm-up. I could feel the plate come alive when it was time to ramp up to the HMP miles. The foam rebounds and the carbon plate assists the toe-off. After the HMP was over, my easy cool-down miles floated by in comfort. Nailing the workout makes the shoe hard not to like. I got in 25 miles in the shoe before sitting down to collect my thoughts.
CAL NEFF, Altra Pro Runner and Weartester: “It’s the shoe I had been looking for; efficient, light, responsive, stable, comfortable, and an aggressive rocker. That last feature was a tough design challenge for the Altra footwear-engineers-extraordinaire to stay within Altra’s balanced cushion platform, but they pulled it off beautifully.
One of the coolest comparisons I have to the Nike’s (Vaporfly) is racing The Chicago Marathon, every single corner (lots of them on that course), I was maintaining my pace, but the pack of a dozen VaporFlys was dropping 2-3 feet back, unable to turn due to instability. So even if the Vanish-C doesn’t reach the 4% efficiency benefits, a few seconds every corner is way bigger.”
MEAGHAN: What a breath of fresh air that Altra’s race shoe doesn’t contain the words: speed, elite, or fast. Am I right? The Vanish Carbon is Altra’s first-ever carbon plated shoe, which I’ve been testing for all kinds of runs, from short, easy days to marathon efforts at the end of a long run. I’ll get right to it: I’ve really enjoyed the miles.
When I first pulled these shoes out of the box, I didn’t think I’d like the ride. The foam felt stiff. But the profile totally changed for me on the run. The rocker geometry works well for my stride, and the Ego Pro Midsole feels responsive and bouncy out on the road. There’s also a pretty good slab of it — 35mm, to be specific.
As someone with a wider foot, you’d think I’d gravitate towards Altra shoes, but I never have. With that said, I really liked the fit of this shoe, particularly when comparing it to other race day options. Its wide platform provides stable footing when you’re turning corners or picking up the pace, and it also accommodates a wider foot, with plenty of room for toe splay.
These shoes are light (but not race-day light), coming in at 7.1oz for a W7.5.Shop Altra Vanish Carbon – Men Shop Altra Vanish Carbon – Women
THOMAS: Laces have been the bane of Altra’s existence. We constantly receive shoes with laces that would extend up to your kneecap. Slap a little sauce on ’em, and you could have a plate of spaghetti. The Altra Vanish Carbon laces aren’t nearly as long, but they’re an odd choice for a race day shoe. The laces are thick, waxy, and not the easiest to adjust. Sure, you can swap them out easily enough, but for a $240 shoe, let’s get some badass laces in there. The tongue construction also makes getting the shoe on properly a challenge. It’s thin and tends to fold over if you’re not holding it in place.
Additionally, the rubber on the outsole shows wear after 31 miles of running. Not just a little wear, either — I was able to wear the lateral edge down to the foam.
My last complaint would be Altra’s durability claim. When we interviewed their team at TRE, they gave the Vanish Carbon a lifespan of just 150 miles. That’s a high cost for speed, but Altra isn’t alone in the steep price per mile cost.
MEAGHAN: I picked up this shoe thinking the midsole and outsole would be my complaint, but it’s the complete opposite. I enjoyed the ride but struggled with the upper. For starters, this shoe is not easy to get on. The heel and collar are super flimsy, and without a pull-tab, it took some serious patience to loosen up the laces, shimmy my foot in, pull the heel up, and then tighten the laces again. Even with all that maneuvering, I never had a secure locked-down fit around the heel.
Speaking of the laces, this may sound harsh, but they’re terrible. They’re heavy, slick, and don’t stay tied out on the run. I had to stop several times midrun to re-lace them. Super frustrating.Shop Altra Vanish Carbon – Men Shop Altra Vanish Carbon – Women
THOMAS: I like the Altra Vanish Carbon a lot. The ride is lively, it fits well, the cushioning can chew up miles, and the plate is noticeable enough to feel like it’s helping you click off the miles. Also, once the shoe is on foot, it’s the best fitting Altra I’ve ever tested. That statement might worry classic Altra fans who like the extra toe room, but it worked for me. The Vanish Carbon deserves a spot in the same category as the Nike Vaporfly Next%, ASICS Metaspeed Edge/Sky, Saucony Endorphin Pro+, New Balance RC Elite 2, and the Puma Fast-R.
Just so you’re sure you heard me right, I loved testing out the Altra Vanish Carbon. I give it a big thumbs up.
MEAGHAN: The Altra Vanish Carbon was a fun surprise. While I wouldn’t call this a ‘race day’ shoe for me, it’s a great long-run or tempo day shoe. The responsive midsole and rocker geometry make for some very enjoyable miles, and the carbon plate gives some extra pop for those days you want to pick up the pace. This is a solid option for runners with a wider foot who haven’t been able to wear most carbon-plated race shoes. Just make sure you swap out the laces.
You can pick up the Altra Vanish Carbon for $240 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Altra Vanish Carbon – Men Shop Altra Vanish Carbon – Women
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Why would I buy a narrow altra, the reason I started using altra was because the wide toe box was the only shoe that comfortable fit my realy wide feet. (10.5 to 11 cm wide size 8). I fill out their wide old supreme, the new supreme is too narrow.
Got a narrow fot and there are thousands of shoes out there.
I wish altra went back to their roots.