By: Brian Metzler
Altra has been deeply immersed in trail running since its inception more than a decade ago, thanks to the ultra-distance racing experiences and Utah mountain tramping of co-founders Brian Beckstead and Golden Harper. Most of the brand’s original models — the Lone Peak, Timp and Superior — have evolved gradually and are among the best-selling trail shoes every year. But Altra’s new signature trail shoe — the Mont Blanc — is perhaps most emblematic of the brand since its 2018 acquisition by VF Corp and move to Denver, where it has been able to access the advanced shoe design technology and resources of sister brands Timberland and The North Face.
What’s New: The Mont Blanc is a brand-new streamlined, race-ready shoe inspired by the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc trail running events based in Chamonix, France. It’s a light, nimble and cushy race-ready cruiser made with premium materials and features — most notably hyper-responsive Altra EGO MAX foam, a grippy Vibram LiteBase outsole and a wispy engineered mesh upper — designed for running fast on a wide variety of surfaces.
Why It’s Great: It’s great because it combines an ideal blend of comfort, cushioning, traction and speedy vibe for trail racing. The Mont Blanc is comfortable and well-cushioned, but also extremely light and agile. That’s a surprisingly unique blend for most mountain running shoes, which are often slightly heavier or a tad clunky even though they excel on technical terrain. The Mont Blanc feels like your favorite road racing shoes with a trail tread, but it’s much more sophisticated than that.
Fit-Feel-Ride: The Mont Blanc has a medium-volume interior with a traditional Altra fit — snug and narrow in the heel heel, secure in the midfoot and a bit roomier in the toe box. (Note: Some wear testers have complained about poor heel security, but I never found that to be an issue.) Like all Altra shoes it has a foot-shaped toe box which gives plenty of room for your toes to wiggle and splay on variable terrain and also provide extra space when your feet swell during long runs. The engineered mesh upper has a durable, supportive feeling in the rear of the foot, but a soft, pliable sensation in the forefoot that together help keep your feet locked down while accommodating for foot flex and dynamic movements on off-kilter terrain features.
The Mont Blanc also built on Altra’s noteworthy level (or “zero-drop”) platform — meaning the height of the heel and the forefoot are the same height off the ground — that Altra believes is most conducive for a natural, uninhibited ride. It has a soft and smooth, seamless interior, accentuated by a fully gusseted tongue and an extra cushy premium footbed. On smooth terrain, it feels as energetically vibrant as a road racing shoe, but on more rugged terrain you’ll appreciate its agility and exceptional outsole traction.
Why You’ll Love It: When you lace up a pair of Mont-Blancs, you’ll immediately feel a zest for running fast and free both for shorter or longer distances. It’s a shoe that will inspire quick-cadence running on all types of trail terrain, smooth dirt paths, gravel roads and even pavement. It’s not a maximally cushioned shoe, but the mid-range 30mm stack height offers the best of both worlds. There’s plenty of lively cushioning under your feet, but the Mont Blanc also provides a very good feel for the ground.
Weights: 6.5 oz. women’s 8; 9.0 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 0mm (30mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot)
Pro: The Vibram MegaGrip outsole in the LiteBase configuration is extremely effective, with a series of low-profile lugs built on segments of rubber that promote flexibility while also keeping the weight down. In more than a dozen wear-test runs, I’ve found it to be reliable on dirt, rocks, mud, snow and rocks – including a run/hike up and down Colorado’s 14,049-foot Culebra Peak in late May — although it’s decidedly better on dry surfaces than wet terrain.
Con: The only thing the Mont Blanc really lacks is sufficient toe box and sidewall protection. The thin upper won’t defend against toe stubbing or side-wall abrasions, but it earns a pass because it’s meant to be a stripped-back racing shoe. It doesn’t have a flexible rock plate embedded in the midsole, but the outsole rubber and thick foam do a good job keeping the bottom of your feet out of harm’s way.