|Rating:||8.8 / 10|
|Comfort||1.8 / 2|
|Durability||1.7 / 2|
|Support Stability||1.8 / 2|
|Weight||1.8 / 2|
|Value for Money||1.7 / 2|
This is probably one of the strangest shoe configurations I have tested over the past 6 years. I must admit I came into this review with a lot of preconceptions, both good and bad. So how did it go?
Before I talk about the Mont Blanc Boa I need to talk about Altra as a company. They have been producing a well known range of shoes, including models such as the Lone Peak, Timp and Olympus since 2009 and in that time they have become a main stay of the US long distance hiking circuit. One issue I had with this company (along with many other manufacturers) is that they persist in releasing new ‘upgrades’ on an annual basis but didn’t always get it right. Even with the constant need for upgrades, I have been a big fan of this brand for the past 6 years; I’m the owner of a wide size 15 US feet which limits my footwear choice. Over the past 12-18 months Altra has taken a more pragmatic approach and is now releasing new models every 2 years, and doing a colour update in the second year which makes much more sense.
One of my favourite shoes is the Altra Olympus 5 but as much as I love this model I would prefer a physically narrower sole given I’ve had instances in the Australian Alps where I haven’t been able to use the narrow trails because my feet wouldn’t physically fit. The Olympus models are the ultimate in comfort and cushioning. I’ve seen them described as ‘clown shoes’ by various reviewers and given the sheer bulk of them, I can understand why.
The Altra Mont Blanc shoe was designed not just as a trail running shoe (like the Lone Peak, Timp and Olympus) but also as a shoe designed for long distance trail running so I like the idea behind the design. I wasn’t able to source my size in the US or Australia so I had been biding my time keeping an eye out for size 15 to come own the market. Earlier this year (2022) Altra released a new version of the Mont Blanc and this was the ‘Boa’ model which has a pulley lacing system and I was able to snap up a pair of size 15’s as soon they were available.
Now to my preconceptions:
So how did they go in real life after my usual 200 km trail test process? How did my preconceptions pan out?
First up these shoes like all in the Altra range are a zero drop which means that from the front to the back of the shoe, the footbed is even and doesn’t slope towards the toes like most running style shoes. If you’ve never worn zero drop shoes before then this will be one of the biggest things you notice; it pushes you more upright in your stance which I love, you don’t feel like you are falling forward and you feel like you’re standing more upright. If you haven’t worn zero drop shoes perviously, start wearing them in small doses and build up to longer uses.
Altra’s philosophy is to provide footwear that mirrors your feet and this shoe definitely does that. The width at least from my perspective is perfect; medium width at the rear and mid foot, and opening out wider at the front to allow your toes room to spread. As someone whose feet resemble flippers, I really appreciate the extra toe space particularly on longer hikes when my feet swell and increase in size.
The depth of cushioning (stack hike) is 30 mm which sits between the Altra Timps (29 mm) and the Olympus’s (33 mm). In addition the sole which is definelty more durable than others in the range also provides excellent cushioning so you don’t feel like you’re bouncing (something I notice with the Olympus model which makes me feel like I’m walking on clouds).
My biggest issue with Altra shoes is that at best, they have a life of around 800 km before the cushioning under the midsole collapses following a gradual reduction in cushioning early on during wear. Many shoe manufacturers (of trail shoes or runners) suggest replacing footwear after around 800 km. I can see this model from Altra easily doing that distance if not longer. Even after 200 km the Mont Blanc’s felt like brand new. While the Mont Blanca’s are fairly cushioned, you still have ‘feeling’ underfoot which is always something good to have.
While still on the sole, these shoes have very good traction in both muddy and dry conditions. My usual testing track has sections with a gradient of 1:4 to 1:5 and the shoes held well to the ground which is not always the case with the footwear that I test when the conditions are bad.
Cosmetically these shoes are bright in colour coming in a fairly vibrant blue and a very bright orange in the standard lacing option. However, the Boa model comes in Maroon Bells (red/white) and the placement of the white colouring made me feel like I was wearing ‘spats’ – showing my age now I know! I’m sure that Altra will have other colour options as the model ages but one way or another these shoes will draw comments from people.
Now onto the lacing system. As mentioned these shoes have pulley lacing with two knobs on each shoe. The front orange knob controls the front section of the lacing and the rear white knob controls the rear half. I didn’t bother reading any instructions on this system and it was very easy to work out. Pull the knob out and the lacing unlocks. Push the knob in and then twist, and the knob locks and tights up to to desired lacing tension. It took me a couple of wears to work out that at least in my case, I liked the front section just firm and the rear section tighter. This is a big bonus of this shoe over standard lacing which tends to apply even tension across the whole shoe unless you start to look at non standard lacing options. This pulley system really is comfortable! While I still thought this would be a potential weak point given I’m only going to be wearing them for around 3 months (1000 km) before I wear them out. However, the system isn’t likely to break and I think it will last most people for the life of the shoe. Where the Boa Model differs from the standard laced version is that this shoe doesn’t have a ‘gaiter trap’ system. What this means is that if you’re trying to prevent grit getting into your shoe with a lycra style gaiter, then you are going to need to add your own velcro the the rear of the shoe. A minor issue but one worth considering.
The toe guards and heel guards on these shoes aren’t as thick and obvious from a physical perspective and this is a pattern being included in Altra’s upgraded range. Instead the sole wraps up slightly at the front and the rear guard has a good section of protective rubber. I dont have an issue with this lighter guard system given I rarely stub my toes while out on trail.
Price wise these shoes aren’t cheap having an RRP of AUD $349.90. In fact this places them in the upper end of the trail running market and for many people this price may be a deal breaker. Having said that, while not cheap I think they are good value for money.
So what’s the verdict? I love these shoes and at the time of this review they are the stand out in the Altra trail running range. In fact I’ve worn many pairs of Altras over the past 6 years and the Mont Blanc is the best trail runner Altra has produced.
I even love the Boa Model pulley lacing and I’m likely to continue buying this version over the standard lacing system for almost every hike I do. If you can’t go to the pulley lacing on the Boa model, then look at the standard lacing.
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AUD $349.90 RRP
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe Golden Hour colour
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe – front and rear view. What’s missing? This shoes does’nt have the gaiter trap system common to the other Altra Trail runners
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe – sole inside view including insert
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe – side view with both of the lace tensioning knobs visible. The lacing is a fine durable nylon cord
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe – sole view
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe – upper lace tensioning knob. The white knob adjusts the upper section of lacing. The orange knob adjusts the lower lacing section
Altra Mont Blanc Boa Men’s Trail Running Shoe – top view showing lacing
Tim with his Altra Boa’s on. As mentioned the white section at the top of the ankles look like spats
This review was done with product purchased from a retail store by Australian Hiker