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Test editor Amanda Furrer raced in the not-quite-zero-drop Vanish Carbon at this year’s Boston Marathon.
The RW Takeaway: Super shoe tech gets the wide toebox treatment in the long-awaited Vanish Carbon.
Type: Road racing Price: $240 Weight: 7.4 oz (M), 6.5 oz (W) Drop: 4.0 mm (M), 3.7 mm (W)
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The brand known for its zero-drop shoes—now referred to as “balanced cushioning”—conceived the idea for the Vanish Carbon as far back as 2016, as co-founder Brian Beckstead tells it. The six-year timeframe was partially due to Altra being sold to VF Corporation in 2018 and moving its headquarters from Utah to Denver.
“But I think the other story is that we waited until we got it right,” said Beckstead by phone. “Rather than just putting a carbon-fiber plate in the shoe and launching it, for us it was very much a ‘how can we make the best Altra version of a carbon shoe?’ We did our research, we took our time, we did it the Altra way.”
Like the existing crop of super shoes, the Vanish Carbon has a carbon-fiber plate sandwiched into the brand’s own rendition of a new responsive midsole foam (Altra calls theirs Altra Ego Pro). Altra’s specs indicate heel and forefoot stack heights of 33mm, though in our shoe lab we measured a slight drop (the men’s heel is 35mm thick, the women’s 32.8mm). Both shoes are still thinner than Nike’s Alphafly Next%, which is 39mm at the heel and 35mm under the forefoot. This is where we begin to dig into “the Altra way.”
The Vanish Carbon follows the Altra formula with the forefoot and heel nearly equidistant from the ground. To promote smooth toe-off, the shoe has a curved shape the brand calls its Active Stance Rocker. Rocker geometry is common in super shoes to compensate for the extremely rigid plates. The Vanish doesn’t have the falling-forward sensation I get in Saucony’s Endorphin Pro, but it manages to achieve the same propulsive edge as its competitors.
“I really like the rocker shape,” one tester said. “It made me feel efficient and prevented my form from getting sloppy when I became fatigued.”
Altra also deviated from the usual super shoe blueprint, choosing a half carbon-fiber plate over a full-length version (the brand teamed up with carbon-fiber manufacturer Carbitex). This chosen construction enables the foot to flex more while running.
When I test super shoes, I use them as they were intended: in a race. At this year’s Boston Marathon, the Vanish’s ride felt incredibly light despite weighing more than its competitors (the Endorphin Pro+, for example, is a half ounce lighter). But the best surprise was how fresh my legs still felt postrace, especially after having run another marathon just 50 days prior. Other testers who had yet to race in the Vanish had already chosen it as their next marathon shoe.
“I like the Vanish Carbon and would definitely use this shoe as my half marathon or full marathon race shoe,” said one. “The lightweight construction makes this shoe feel fast to me, and the glove-like fit eliminates any pressure points.”
The shoe is designed with the brand’s “slim foot shape,” a more streamlined silhouette for racing. Though the shoe has Altra’s hallmark feature, a spacious toebox, I recommend sizing up. A side-by-side comparison showed that my women’s 6.5 runs short next to the same-sized Brooks Hyperion Elite 3. The wiggle room is there widthwise, but your toes will be pressing the front of the shoe.
The tongue and lacing were also problematic. The aglets—those plastic tips at the lace ends—came off after a couple tugs and reties (the laces frequently came loose), and it was difficult working with their straggly edges. Shoelaces are replaceable, of course, but another issue with the lacing system was the thin tongue that kept folding over on the sides.
“Unfortunately, the tongue is made of the same super-thin material as the rest of the upper,” said a tester. “Every time I put my foot in, the bottom of the tongue rolled to the side. But once you position your foot and the tongue correctly (it takes a few tries), you get an extremely comfortable fit.”
Troubleshooting aside, the Vanish’s ride feels bouncy and quick. Before its official launch, Altra-sponsored athletes had already demonstrated it could hold its own against other super shoes. Calum Neff broke the 50K Canadian record in January 2021 in a prototype, and Frank Lara was wearing the shoe at the Houston Marathon in January 2022 when he crossed the finish line as the first American.
A companion trainer, the non-carbon Vanish Tempo, is scheduled for release this summer. Beckstead said the team is in “a fun place” right now, with no hints of what’s next for the brand in terms of the carbon-fiber plate variety. Whatever direction Altra goes next, the surest thing is that they’ll do it their own way.