Altra Vanish Carbon | Blister Review

Altra on the roads

Altra’s road running shoes have had great moments in the past decade. The Torin and Escalante models — and all their subsequent offshots (e.g., the Torin Plush and Escalante Racer) — have long been staples in a lot of runners’ shoe quivers. The perfect shoe may not exist, but the more popular models central to Altra’s road lineup seemed to check many boxes for a lot of people.

Altra did have their fair share of misses, though. Their original Vanish models had a moment in the sun, shoes that should ring a bell for Altra devotees. The Vanish-R (for ‘racing’) was a super minimal racing flat for 5k to 10k distances (and personally one of my favorite niche models) and the Vanish XC (for cross-country) was similarly designed for short and fast efforts. Both these models have since been discontinued, likely for their lack of durability and narrow application, but they foreshadowed many of the concepts Altra would later use in shoes like the Vanish Carbon and Vanish Tempo, namely, “let a foot be a foot.”

Marathon racing prototypes

As mentioned previously, Altra’s ethos since the start has always been to let the foot act as naturally as possible. However, as we’ll see, this stance eventually conflicted with the mounting evidence supporting the use of performance plates in road shoes, a piece of technology that seemed quite opposed to Altra’s way of thinking.

One of Altra’s first legitimate road marathoning shoes was the Escalante Racer. Instead of going the way of thick midsoles bisected by performance plates, it featured a simple midsole made from “EGO” foam, Altra’s proprietary blend of EVA. The Escalante Racer’s modest stack height paired well with a unique mesh upper, which allowed the shoe to trim weight. This was a great shoe and a personal favorite, although still very minimal by most standards for its class. Having worn the Escalante Racer for a road marathon once, I found that it failed to provide adequate levels of cushioning during the later stages of the race.

In addition to the Escalante Racer, Altra was rumored to be testing a handful of other marathon-specific prototypes designed in a similar style, with varying stack height thicknesses and different ultralight upper materials. I’d occasionally spot them on the feet of some of their sponsored athletes at races (or on social media), though none of these prototypes lived to see Altra’s production line.