Article by Renee Krusemark, Jeff Beck and Cheng Chen
Altra Running Vanish Carbon ($240)
The Vanish Carbon is natural running pioneer Altra’s first entry into the carbon plated, super critical foam super shoe race. At a weight of men’s 7.65 oz / 217g (US9) / women’s 6.84 oz / 194 g (US8) and a zero drop stack height of 33mm it ticks the boxes by stats for shoes in the category while remaining distinct from competitors and true to Altra’s balanced cushion zero drop and anatomical Foot Shape toe box approach to running shoes.
The construction is illustrated below.
Cheng: Altra’s entry into the plated supershoe battleground is an engineering wonder. It does the one thing that all others don’t: being for me as equally capable at 10’00” pace as at 5’00”. This is partially achieved through its partnership with carbon plate supplier Carbitex, solving a foundational issue of tuning plate stiffness. How? Read on to find out!
Smooth and healthy ride/footlanding: Renee/Cheng/Jeff
Good balance of comfort and response: Renee/Cheng
Stable at a variety of paces: Renee/Cheng/Jeff
Very wide pace range Cheng
Variable plate stiffness via Carbitex plate: Cheng
Forefoot splay room adds enhances control: Cheng/Jeff
Most form-fitting midfoot Altra in a decade: Jeff
Tongue slips and bunches: Renee/Jeff
Voluminous upper fit: Renee
Outsole durability: Renee
Potential heel irritation during longer sessions: Cheng
Unforgiving to bad form: Cheng
Heel slip issues: Jeff/Cheng
Slick outsole: Jeff
Approx. Weight: men’s 7.65 oz / 217g (US9) / women’s 6.84 oz / 194 g (US8)
Men’s: 7.51oz / 213g (US 8) 8.4 oz / 237g (US 10.5)
Women’s: 6.84oz / 194g (US 8)
Stack Height: 33 heel / 33 mm forefoot
Available now $240
Renee is a former U. S. Marine journalist, which is when her enjoyment of running and writing started. She isn’t that awesome of a runner, but she tries really hard. Most of her weekly 50-60 miles take place on rural country roads in Nebraska, meaning mud, gravel, dirt, hills, and the occasional field. She has PR’s of 1:30:59 for the half marathon and 3:26:45 for the marathon.
Cheng is a CrossFitter turned runner. He lifts and base builds in the winter while racing in the summer with personal bests of 5:29 (Mile), 1:20 (Half), and 17:53 (5K). He passionately brings an engineering stance to analyzing running, shoes, and tech. Follow him on Instagram (@MrChengChen) for more.
Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less. Jeff runs 30 miles per week on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR’s are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.
First Impressions and Fit
Renee: Curious about a zero drop, carbon-plated racer? You should be. I think the Vanish Carbon is versatile and unique as a plated shoe. As such, many runners might surprisingly enjoy the ride. However, proceed with caution. For our loyal RTR readers, you want the details before making the purchase, so sit back and enjoy! I have mixed first impressions of the Vanish Carbon. My first two runs were awesome, and I loved the shoe. My third run (long run at 21 miles) left a mixed bag of feelings that I’m still processing.
Overall, I think the Vanish Carbon is worth a solid consideration from many runners. I love the ride and geometry under foot, but had some fit issues because of the upper and I question the outsole durability. For sizing, I suggest true-to-size although the length runs slightly long. For those between half sizes (like me), pick your battle. I wore a women’s size 8; I could wear a 7.5, but I prefer having too much length as opposed to not enough.
Cheng: Along with many Altra fans, I’ve been waiting for this shoe for a long time. When Internet leaks of pros like Zach Bitter testing the prototype first came out a year ago, we thought the release was right around the corner. Yet, it took a while for this shoe to finally drop. By now though, competitors like Nike are well into their 4th supershoe iteration. Was Altra just sitting in limbo all this time? Not likely!
One of the fundamental issues of plated supershoes is plate stiffness. This hidden factor secretly fuels much of the online debate around “which shoe is best for me?”
After analyzing countless racing models and even discussing with Carbitex, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of finding a supershoe with a plate more tuned to your individual stride. Too stiff a plate and it’ll force you to expend extra energy at slower paces. Too soft a plate and you’ll be queued to inefficiently increase ground contact time. This is why high caliber pros have supershoes with plate stiffnesses tuned to their exact ground contact dynamics.
For us mere mortals, Carbitex offers a unique solution of a plate that flexes up with ground forces but remains rigid in the other direction. Most plates are rigid in both directions. This effectively serves as a “tuned plate” for all, helping to make the Vanish Carbon a racer for both the 8’00” minute mile guy and the 6’00” minute mile gal!
Jeff: While Altra may be a little late to their first entry into the super shoe party, it seems clear that they’ve been paying attention and learning from the competition. Right out of the box this shoe is clearly something special, and not just because it’s a plated super shoe with an Altra toebox. That said, it’s not a surefire home run across the boards, and the upper has some real issues.
Fitwise, I’d stick with true-to-size, but don’t expect the super baggy midfoot that Altra seems to have adopted over the last few years. This feels like the fit and cut of Altra in their first few years before they were acquired, where the toebox was big and the rest of the shoe fit like everyone else’s trainer. I ran my first marathon in the original Torin in 2011, and this feels like the most trim Altra since then – which is a nice change.
The toebox is bigger than virtually everything else, but may be considered a little tight for an Altra, so if you are one of those runners who has to pick and choose your Altra/Topo models to get the widest toebox, this one may be a problem for you.
Renee: The upper is a mixed bag of issues for me. My first run was a 10-mile tempo run that went awesome in terms of ride. The upper fit took some time to figure out prior to running. The upper material has a generous amount of volume, and I had to spend some time making sure the tongue was laying flat across my midfoot before lacing.
The tongue is not gusseted and it’s wide, a bit exaggerated in the photo above pulled up. For narrow and low volume feet, that might be an issue. I thought the midfoot hold was good, but I needed to lace really tight, which made the tongue slip and bunch.
During my 10-mile tempo run, the tongue bunched, but I didn’t notice. During my long run (21 miles), the tongue had slipped and bunched so much that it folded over itself and I had to stop at 16 miles to adjust because I had irritation on the top of my foot. Once I stopped at 21 miles, the tongue had once again slipped and bunched.
As a race option, the tongue slippage would be a deal breaker for me. I’ll have to make some MacGyver adjustments and stitch the tongue to the upper in places. Too much work? Maybe, but I love the midsole and ride, so I’ll do it so I can continue to run with these shoes. I don’t think high volume or wide footed- runners will have the same issue, but all that upper material caused irritation across my midfoot, which affected my foot landing and the heel hold. On shorter runs (10 mile or less) this was not an issue. I’ll state the obvious too: the toe box is roomy. I like it, and I don’t think it’s overly roomy even with my fit issues with the rest of the upper.
Cheng: Altra tried; they really did. But alas, the upper is polarizing!
The main fabric is an extremely lightweight monomesh – light to the point of nearly compromising durability and stability.
It is paired with this is an internal lock-down midfoot cage, similar to the dynamic support in the latest Provision/Paradigm.
Adidas fans will find this implementation reminiscent of Celermesh 2.0 uppers (think Adios Pro). This cage wraps around the feet, functioning to provide structure to an otherwise flimsy upper. Compared to Celermesh, though, this does NOT provide a strong arch support and goes in line with the overall notion that this is not a platform for those looking for an easy ride.
The rearfoot upper is composed of a thermoplastic material that truly feels like… plastic. There are internal achilles padding, but these pieces only mildly contribute to heel lockdown.
After testing for many miles, it’s my belief that Altra does not intend the runner to significantly rely on a secure heel lock-down. Rather, they’ve engineered a ride that highly depends on the aforementioned midfoot cage. This produces a very different feel from nearly all other shoes, racers, and trainers.
Jeff: YES! It isn’t just me that’s struggling with the tongue – and it’s been a constant struggle. Every single time I’ve put them on my feet I’ve had to take at least one of them off to try to get them on even cleaner than I did on the first go round. And just because the tongue started in the right position doesn’t mean it’s going to stay there, but really I’m burying the lede on my upper concerns.
Much like the Mont Blanc, I’ve struggled to get a good lockdown and eliminate heel slip. I am a prominent forefoot striker.
Even with a runner’s loop it takes me lacing the shoe beyond tight in order to feel like the shoe isn’t going anywhere. And while the tongue is on the flimsy side, I’m not getting lace bite from having them tied so tight, but I did have two different runs where I started losing a feeling in my feet from having the laces pulled so taut. And I rarely struggle with heel slip, but something about the lightweight (and it sure is lightweight) Altra uppers that don’t agree with my feet.
Other than that, I’m really impressed with the upper. The lightweight nature of it works well, and while the heel counter is incredibly flexible, once I got the fit dialed in I felt plenty of support. And I mentioned in the fit portion, I really appreciate how well dialed in the midfoot is. So many Altras have had baggy midfoot uppers, and the Vanish Carbon outlines my foot very nicely.
EGO Max Pro super critical foam midsole with Carbitex AFX (asymmetrically flexing carbon fiber plate) in a 31mm heel / 31mm forefoot geometry with a rocker starting at 65% of the distance forward from the heel so earlier stage than many other super shoes.
Renee: I love the midsole feel and ride. The guys will have all the technical specs and details, so I’ll add that it does not feel like a zero drop shoe and will cater to runners who like low drops (like me!). Even as a race day option, the geometry is a great mix of a healthy landing with bounce, softness, and comfort. Unlike all other carbon-plated racers I have, the midsole shows no creases at 50 miles, which is surprising.
Cheng: The midsole is similar to ZoomX in that it is a super critically formed foam rather than a compression heated one. However, unlike ZoomX, EGO Max Pro is TPU based from what I hear as opposed to PEBA/Nylon. To the touch, the midsole feels like a hybrid between ZoomX and Hyperburst. And though we don’t have exact resilience data (energy return), the bounce sensation also subjectively sits between Hyperburst and ZoomX.
Geometry wise, the midsole has an extremely early stage and aggressive Active Stance Rocker which is located 65% forward when measured from the heel, the farthest back in any Altra shoe. .It is clearly seen in the medial side photo above. The only other shoe I know of that is this extreme is the experimental ASICS MetaRide. For most Altra fans, this could be a highly polarizing feature as it effectively turns a zero drop sensation to something not quite high-drop but also far from zero. For runners familiar with the Rivera, think of that but 10x more aggressive.
Jeff: Agreed, this super foam is at the top of the game right out of the gate. It’s bouncy yet controlled, it’s firm yet cushioned, and even my very large frame hasn’t creased the midsole any. The platform is wide enough to be very supportive, and while some of the zero drop road shoes have given me lower leg issues, I haven’t experienced that with the Vanish Carbon.
Cheng: One of the first things I did as A/B test this shoe with various Altra insoles. From this, I’ve found that the latest insole in the Vanish Carbon to be well tuned. Based on a similar last as that of the Rivera, the 14.5g insole is visibly smaller than most others of the same shoe size. However, unlike their larger brethren, these are well perforated and thicker, contributing 5mm of stack height.
The end result is a plush ride that has most of the ground harshness dampened out. Here, I recommend folks swap out the insole for a thinner option when training on the track. Otherwise, the entire platform is slightly too pillowy when running on a synthetic surface. A thinner insole also noticeably decreases the sensation of being on stilts.
EVA Foam (hardened)
Renee: I was looking forward to the generous outsole coverage. My 21 mile run was through some puddles and wet pavement, and I had a lot more confidence going straight through water without adjusting my paces than I do when running with the Next%. Initially, I thought the Vanish Carbon would make a good race day shoe for a 50K on gravel or crushed rock (rail trails), but I had significant wear on the outsole after my 21 mile run. I think because of the upper issues I had, my stride became uneven and my foot landing became a shuffle.
Jeff: While this outsole isn’t my favorite on the market, let alone favorite on a super shoe, it’s a very interesting execution. Hardened EVA feels like it isn’t there while you are running, which is great, but it also has two very clear drawbacks.
The first Renee touched on, and I agree, durability is definitely going to be a long term concern. The other is the amount of grip, especially when new. It’s a bit of an outlier, because once I ran outside in them the problem got better, but I tried to run on the treadmill (victim of timing) right out of the box and after a quarter mile called it off because I was fairly sure I was going to fall. They had so little grip on the belt I was very uneasy. I tried again (just out of curiosity) after putting about 10 miles on them outside, and while I could still feel a little slip on the belt, it was much better than my first experience. Not a deal breaker, just something to be aware of.
Renee: Like the midsole, the ride is another positive aspect for me with the Vanish Carbon. I thought the geometry and midsole helped with a healthy stride length and foot landing. During my 10-mile tempo run, my pace was effortless. Even during a recovery run of 5 miles, the shoe felt great from slow to aerobic paces. I’m a naturally high cadence runner, and I could feel the benefit from the low drop and the bounce up and forward. Really, the ride is everything I want from a carbon-plated distance shoe, albeit it is not as fast feeling as some other carbon-plated racers. I don’t have issues switching from high to low drop shoes, so I did not experience any soreness in my calves or achilles but caution and some time to adapt is always advised in rapidly shifting to “zero drop”.
Cheng: As discussed above, the ride is no doubt plush. And while the insole-midsole pairing contributes the bulk of that sensation, the Carbitex plate is also a big deal. Here, it’s apparent that the plate adapts to the runner’s stride, providing a uniquely steady ride.
The overall sensation feels similar at 9’00” pace as at 6’00”. This presents a large optimal pace range, something not present in competitors like the Endorphin Pro nor Vaporfly/Alphafly. In these latter racers, there’s a distinct pace range where the shoe comes alive with most slower speeds feeling rather awkward. With the Vanish Carbon, the experience is one of gradual stiffness increase in sync with ground contact forces. This in turn produces a subjectively stable ride sensation as speeds increase, making this an excellent shoe for both jogging and racing!
With this positive note is one potentially big downside: this shoe will not work for the runner new to zero drop + rocker, and the Vanish Carbon maximally combines both of these traits. If you’re used to only running in Altras like the Escalante, the early stage rocker will come as a shock, producing a high-drop sensation. If you’re not used to a zero drop shoe where landing midfoot-forefoot is a must, running just a few miles will produce some significant tensions. This shoe is meant for the zero-drop-rigid rocker-galore fanatic; others beware!
Jeff: And this is where I feel like Altra got it best. We’ve seen a number of supershoes over the last few years come out with lots of hype, and ultimately delivered a somewhat pedestrian result. The Vanish Carbon gets it. The bouncy yet controlled ride is one of the best supershoes I’ve run in, and I appreciate it at my slow easy ~10:00/mile pace as well as my faster (yet still slow) racing paces around 6:30/mile pace. It’s very clear that Altra didn’t race this shoe to market to be one of the first supershoes around, instead making sure they brought out one of the best performing running shoes on the market.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Renee: Overall, I think the Vanish Carbon will cater to runners who like lower drop shoes that provide a natural roll forward. The geometry, midsole, and carbon plate worked well for me at a variety of paces and distances. The upper fit does not work as well for me as other race-specific carbon-plated shoes, and I question the durability of the outsole material. At $240, the Vanish Carbon is pricey, but that’s on par with other options and I think the Vanish Carbon can double as a trainer and race-day shoe, particularly because the midsole durability seems (so far) better than other carbon-plated racers. I don’t think it will be as fast for 26.2 races (or shorter) as compared to other options, but it might be a better choice for ultra distances.
Renee’s score: 9.0/10
(-.30 upper fit, -.60 tongue slippage, -.10 outsole durability)
Cheng: After years of watching competitors take off with multiple supershoe iterations, has Altra been resting on its laurels? Absolutely not! They’ve taken some deep insights from the industry and created something truly unique. Though not quite perfect (see upper issues), the Vanish Carbon really does provide a ride that is unlike any other. Where else will you find a shoe that is lightweight, zero-drop, massively rockered, and flies at all paces? The closest competitor I can think of is the ZoomX Invincible and that’s another polarizing shoe…
Cheng’s Score: 8.9 / 10
Ride: 10 (50%), Fit: 7 (30%), Value: 9 (15%), Style: 9 (5%)
Jeff: Altra’s first attempt at a supershoe is better than most initial entries into the space, and their midsole material and plate combination is the star of the show. The upper has bunching issues and I had major heel slip problems, but was worth dealing with because the shoe is so good underneath the foot. I could easily see the outsole wearing out long before the midsole, but perhaps the wear will level off in time. It may not be the fastest of the supershoes, but it’s definitely one of the more intriguing, and I think will ultimately be a polarizing shoe that some folks adore while others bounce off of quickly.
Jeff’s Score: 8.65/10
Ride: 10 Fit: 7 Value: 7 Style: 10
Watch RoadTrailRun Editor Sam’s Vanish Carbon Video Review
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Nike Vaporfly Next% (RTR Review)
Renee: The Next% is more than 1 ounce lighter in a women’s size 8. For speed and fast efforts for 5ks to 26.2, the Next% is my choice. The spring and responsiveness is more pronounced in the Next% and the ZoomX maintains comfort too. For training efforts or distances past 26.2, I’d choose the more natural ride of the Vanish Carbon. The upper fit is much more secure on the Next%. Sizing is comparable, with the Vanish Carbon having more room in the toe box (by far).
Cheng: I personally don’t think these are comparable shoes, but if I had to pick one for racing, the Vaporfly wins every time. Au contraire, I actually see the Vanish Carbon as a great training companion for the Vaporfly, better than the Zoomfly. This is because the zero drop + early stage rocker actively queues the runner to engage both the rocker while efficiently dorsiflexing across the stride. These skills translate well to ultimately racing in the Vaporfly platform.
Jeff: I’d mostly agree, the Next% feels faster and the upper, while not perfect, is much more secure. ZoomX is noticeably softer than Ego Pro, but that’s not always a good thing, especially as your form is breaking down.
Saucony Endorphin Pro (1st Gen) (RTR Review)
Cheng: Though I’m unfamiliar with the 2nd/3rd/Pro generations I was not very impressed with the first generation. This was primarily due to the overbuilt upper, overly thick insole, and overly stiff plate (for my weight/pace). Here, I’d choose the Vanish Carbon for races up to a 10K, but might ultimately reach for an Endorphin Pro for a half marathon and above. The 10K and under distinction is mostly due to upper issues as the Vanish Carbon simply is not optimized for comfort and hold. Further, I’m simply not confident that I can maintain the great form needed to run well in the Altra. So while the Endo-Pro is more overbuilt, it is ultimately more forgiving in ride and comfort.
ASICS Metaspeed Sky (RTR Review)
Renee: I wore a women’s size 8 in both. The Metaspeed Sky runs slightly short, and for comparison, I think the Vanish Carbon runs a half size longer in feel as compared to the Metaspeed Sky (although I read that the sizing for the Sky+ will be adjusted, so watch for the RTR review). The Sky is almost an ounce lighter, but again the sizing is different. The toebox in the Sky is a bit narrow too, so wide footed runners might prefer the Vanish. For racing efforts, I’d prefer the Sky. For training or ultra distances, I’d choose the Vanish.
Puma FAST-R Nitro Elite (RTR Review)
Renee: I wore a women’s size 8 in both. The FAST-R is a mere three grams heavier. The FAST-R upper is much more secure and race oriented, although it runs somewhat narrow in the forefoot whereas the Vanish has a wide fit. The ride of the FAST-R is firm from the midfoot landing, and the Vanish will work better for a variety of paces. The Vanish has a more natural ride, and I think I might be too slow to fully appreciate the FAST-R. The Pumagrip outsole is awesome. I have far more wear on the Vanish after running similar mileage, paces, and the surfaces in both shoes.
Hoka Carbon X 3 (RTR Review)
Renee: Battle of the uppers that do not work well for me. Between the two, the ride of the Vanish is much faster, smoother, and more comfortable. The Carbon X 3 has a 5mm drop as compared to the zero drop of the Vanish, but with the geometry and plate, the Vanish feels like a low drop rather than a zero drop so closer to X than by stats alone. The upper of the Carbon X 3 was sloppy and I had issues with the Vanish tongue bunching. Still, I’d choose the Vanish for any pace or distance. For me, the Vanish is what I wanted the Carbon X 3 to be. I wore a women’s size 8 in both. The Carbon X 3 weighs a half an ounce more and runs slightly longer in comparison.
Vanish Carbon Vanish is available now at Altra & at our partners below
Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’
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