Altra Vanish Carbon: first zero drop supershoe with some downsides
The Altra Vanish Carbon is the first ever zero drop “supershoe” and also the first carbon plated shoe by Altra. While many elements are pointing in the right directions, I was disappointed by a few things that make this shoe fall behind the leaders of that specific segment of the market.
At 257g (9.06oz) in my size US 11, the Vanish Carbon is quite heavier compared to other supershoes. Of course the zero drop feature adds some midsole in the forefoot (33mm stack) and there is a rather thick outsole in this shoe. And while weight is not the number one criterion, it’s still a nice comparison point – not playing in favor of the Vanish carbon in this specific case.
The platform is wide like one would expect from an Altra shoe. For specific values, please check the Shoe Comparator in which you can compare the width for the forefoot, midfoot and heel against other shoes.
The upper is very thin and composed of two distinct parts: the black plasticky material in the heel and the red engineered mesh in the midfoot and forefoot. The black part is thicker and has more structure to it, providing with a nice heel lockdown and comfort. I’m more skeptical with respect to the forefoot. That red mesh does not feel super sturdy nor qualitative. Plus it is very unstructured, which compromised the lockdown for me in the midfoot. As you’d expect the forefoot is pretty wide, although Altra connoisseurs will probably rate it slimmer than on other iconic models of the brand.
One issue I noticed fairly quickly in my testing: the tip of the forefoot comes with a plastic underlay that is glued to the upper from the inside. It is meant to bring some structure and avoid having the upper collapse too much on your toes. This piece of plastic detached and came against my toes while running, which was unpleasant. I removed the shoe and put it under the insole (but the upper was then really collapsing on my toes). Altra confirmed this issue was solved on production pairs.
The midsole of the Vanish Carbon is Altra’s new EgoPro proprietary foam. Lots of speculation around the nature of that midsole compound but it seems that it is nitrogen-infused TPE-E. It comes in two layers separated by the two-third length carbon plate provided by Carbitex. I measured the top layer at about 29.5 on the durometer scale (ranging from 0 to 100) and the bottom layer at around 41. Those numbers are fairly similar to those of the Vaporfly (also two layers, expect the foam is Pebax there).
Geometry & ride
The ride would be rather on the firmer side of things (think Saucony Endorphin Pro or Puma Deviate Nitro). It does have a bit of dampening effect to it similar to what one could encounter with Adidas’ Lightstrike Pro foam.
One key feature of the Altra Vanish Carbon geometry is the rocker. It’s a very aggressive one. And it’s one you either like or hate. If you land right behind it and can nicely take advantage of it, it has a great geometry for you and will likely even make you feel the plate more. If you land “on it” or too much forward then it feels useless. That very specific rocker reminded of the rockers seen last year on Scott shoe (Speed Carbon RC and Pursuit). While zero drop shoes aren’t really meant for that, heel striking felt flat and really hard to transition to the toes.
What pace did the shoe feel the best at? I found it working pretty nicely for me around half-marathon up to 10k pace. Below that I couldn’t really match my gait cycle with the requirements of the zero drop and rocker. Above that (5k pace) the unstructured upper did not provide enough lockdown to feel secure. At 10k pace everything clicked quite nicely but that’s probably also because I’m a midfoot/forefoot striker with a rather long stride.
Stability and durability
The Altra Vanish Carbon is a stable shoe with a caveat. The top layer of EgoPro foam has higher and denser edges meant to bring more stability. The firmer lower layer also helps with that. And of course the wide platform brings some inherent stability too. However one caveat for me would be the unstructured engineered mesh red part of the upper, that will provoke too much foot movement for some of us.
It’s not a concern as such but durability is something that needs to be mentioned here. Altra themselves don’t hide that the shoe will not go past 200 to 250 miles (320-400kms). After a few runs in my pair the wear and tear of the outsole remains limited. I will follow-up on that after putting more kms on it.
At €240/$240 the Altra Vanish Carbon is as expensive as some of the best carbon plated shoes out there. And while Altra’s first attempt at this segment of the market is not a bad one, I struggle a bit with that price tag. The limited durability plays a role in that. But the lack of “supershoeness” in this pair also contributes to that feeling. The shoe feels nice at some specific paces, and that is only if you meet certain conditions (footstrike, rocker activation). And the EgoPro foam is fine but does not provide that effortless sensation like other foams on the market. How would it like the Vanish Carbon to improve? A more structured upper and a slightly softer bottom layer of Ego Pro foam may help this shoe to rank higher, at least in my opinion.
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