I've had my eye on the Mont Blancs for a while, Altra's flagship trail racing shoe. If you see any of the Altra sponsored athletes at the big events like UTMB and Western States they are all sporting these new lightweight racers.
However the reviews weren't great, all coming in lackluster, a bit mediocre, and at the price point of an eye watering £165 you'd want them to be a slam dunk!
Three things encouraged me to give them a go in the end: firstly I'm looking for something with more cushioning for my first 100 miler whilst still having that comfort the Lone Peaks give me. Secondly I'd met a runner on the RIDUM who swears by the Mont Blancs as a fellow Altra lover, and thirdly the winter sales dropped the price of this lovely red pair to something more affordable.
Let's get real nerdy and talk about the construction of the shoes:
Starting at the top we have this ripstop style upper with a few overlays leading to Altra's trademark wide toe box. This is their "standard" toe box as opposed to the "original fit" toe box on the Lone Peaks, which means it's a little more narrow. Honestly I couldn't tell the difference though.
There is structure to the heel with some padding, though generally it's all lightweight on top. It has a gusseted tongue which fits like a sock around your foot.
The midsole is their Ego Max compound, the same that's found on the Timp 5s and the Torins. Having ran in Torins for a while I'm a big fan, it's bouncy and plush without feeling like running on clouds or completely losing ground feel.
On the outsole we have 3mm Vibram Litebase lugs, which is a lighter version of the popular Megagrip compound Vibrams do.
Their first outing was a super muddy, mucky and wet 10k around Goblin Combe with the Bristol Punks. Mixture of woodland trails, rocky paths and deep boggy ground.
I was a bit unsure when I first put them on, they were a little stiff and needed some breaking in, especially the upper which felt quite uncomfortable when laced up.
Those concerns went away quickly though as we got moving. The shoes felt nimble, lovely and cushioned underneath and handled what was pretty gnarly terrain well, despite being obviously designed for hard packed trails.
After some test walks locally I then took them out for a 32k around the Black Mountains. More mixed terrains with a combination of country lanes, wet woodlands, mountain trails, harsh climbs and rocky descents.
They came into their own on this run and I found myself falling head over heels for them. That light nimble feeling whilst still providing a super comfortable plushy fit was great.
It wasn't all rainbows and roses though: the heel cup really, REALLY let the shoes down. In my whole time trail running I can count on 1 hand the amount of times my foot has come out of a shoe when going through mud. With these, despite using heel lock lacing, my foot lifted up loads when in mud, and came out of the shoe completely twice!
The lugs are also not well suited for the British Winter either. They are definitely designed as summer mountain / hard trail racing shoes: the Vibram grip is great for rocks, but is a let down when it gets muddy.
It's strange though: despite a few clear downsides, I find I really like them. The comfort, cushioning and agility makes me want to use them more and more. I had a right blast in them, came out of a hard run with my feet and legs feeling fresh, no injuries, niggles or toe problems.
What I Liked
The fit and feel, my goodness are they comfy. They really are that Lone Peak fit with a plushier midsole and better overall grip. A lovely wide toe box, rooming inside for your feet to splay, I can see doing long distances in these with no worries of issues in my feet. This combined with the zero drop base, that I find reduces impact forces on your upper legs and knees, means they are now a solid forerunner as the shoe pick for my Epona 100 miler in the summer.
The upper is comfy, has a sock-like feel, and held my foot well even though I'd laced nice and loose across the top.
Having experienced an Ego Max midsole on the Torin road shoes, I'm so happy it's what they used here. It's bouncy, you feel comfortable on road stretches, but don't lose all ground feel or feel like you're running in platforms.
The outsole has good general grip (with caveats) and gave me confidence across most surfaces in the mountains.
Finally, they just feel really light and nimble. That agility is fun! They are exciting to run in, I felt like I could push hard and move over technical ground quickly.
What I Didn't Like
Above anything, that heel cup is frankly atrocious. Any deep mud and you're risking your foot being pulled out regardless of how well you lace. It didn't cause me any issues in terms of rubbing during the run, and as I'm a midfoot striker when running it's not a big deal, more when walking and engaging the heel more.
The shallow 3mm lugs mean they aren't a great pick for any muddy conditions, I wouldn't use these for winter / fell racing, they are 100% designed for summer and hard packed trails. It's a shame as that Vibram Litebase coating is great otherwise.
It puts me in a bit of a pickle. I was going to go with Merrell Agility Peak 5s for race day, but these are definitely more comfortable, and I do find that zero drop style with a wider toe box helps a good deal with preventing niggles on the day, especially important over such a large distance with so much elevation change.
I'll be testing these over the coming months and comparing, I've also got the new Timp 5 arriving next week and am very hopeful for them. They seem to be an even better mix between the Lone Peak and Mont Blanc, whilst also being a little lighter that the latter too!