Shoe Review: ALTRA Mont Blanc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEWER: KATE DZIENIS

AS IMPRESSIVE AS MONT BLANC ITSELF

PREMIUM PREMIUM PREMIUM. The newest member of the Altra family, the Mont Blanc, has literally sold out everywhere with demand outrunning supply. But don’t worry. Altra has heard the call and is returning this month in August with plenty of new sets available.

And just why has it been such a success?

Well, I’ll tell you one thing. The Mont Blanc shoe is Altra’s offering to the ultra gods after they heard ‘the people’ calling for a product that could go the extra mile against the toughest terrain.

And they’ve come up with their most premium long distance trail running shoe yet.

Clearly inspired by the UTMB, the biggest feature (and star of the show) for the Mont Blancs is the EGO™max midsole – foam that provides a light and luxurious performance with added bounce and durability. Essentially, it’s a blend of cushioning compounds, and there’s no other way to describe how the shoe feels other than two thumbs up and crying out ‘Yeah, baby!’.

At first glance, the Mont Blancs scream Altra – they feature the same undercarriage foot shape toe box, are a balanced 30mm zero drop front and rear geometry, and are very recognisable in their design. Their fit to the wider foot is impeccable, with runners getting their own personal security guard of snugness within the forefoot and midfoot, and plenty of room for toes to swell up and breathe.

Altra markets their shoes three ways – Original FootShape™ Fit (the roomiest design), Standard FootShape™ Fit (the middle of the bunch), and Slim FootShape™ Fit (their slimmest option but still with plenty of toe room). It’s a trademark to have the wider toebox combined in a specific and unique-to-brand FootShape™ Fit so that the majority of runners can experience the shoe. It’s a big reason why Altra has become one of the fastest growing footwear brands globally – a brand that allows people to run more naturally but still with the benefits of superior, high-tech and modern cushioning.

The Mont Blancs are classified in the Standard category, but as someone who took to the Altra Lone Peak 6 shoes recently (which are of Original FootShape™ Fit), I could immediately tell the difference in ‘fit’. When I run, I tend to wear a thick sock brand, and have done so for over six years…never having a problem with testing or trialling shoes those exact socks. In the Mont Blancs, however, there was a necessity to source a slightly thinner sock so my foot wouldn’t feel strangulated.

But that was an easy fix, swapping out socks, and I happily took the Mont Blancs with me for training runs as well as the Lighthorse Ultra 3hr event, where I bonded with two other runners who were wearing the exact same pair in the exact same colour – “Don’t you just love these?!” were the words coming out of our mouths as we idolised over the funky Coral Black colour scheme.

One of the most impressive features with the Mont Blancs is the insane tread on the outsole. Think premium track wheels on the best 4WD vehicle, and that’s what you get with the grip these babies give you. Other than the sexy, sleek design, it’s one of my favourite parts of this shoe. The innovative sole technology of the Vibram® Litebase rubber is an uncompromised piece of material, giving superior grip and traction, and there’s plenty of lug spacing to tackle the terrain too. The Mont Blanc gave me confidence on the dry trail, and on days when the ground became slippery and wet, it still performed very well across a range of surfaces.

A more interesting component I found, however, is that the tongue is lightly padded, made from a very thin stretchy nylon. I believe it may have been designed this way to strip the upper down to make it as lightweight as possible. It’s still a gusseted tongue though, to reduce debris getting inside. Not many people may notice, but take a look at this – Altra have printed the latitude and longitude of Mont Blanc on the tongue. There’s no function in that, but it made me smile when I got online to check the coordinates. It’s definitely a charming personal touch.

With regards to other elements of the Mont Blanc, the only things that didn’t quite work in my favour where the lace lock and the heel collar. The lace lock holes sit further up the shoe than what I’m used to, so the technique meant the heel collar, which is made of the same material as the tongue and sits high up, felt loose and rubbed against my skin. I solved the issue by trialling a higher sock rather than my usual ankle length ones, but the heel lock still provided me with a slighter more lose feel than I’m used to.

Overall, the Mont Blanc is a precision Altra shoe that doesn’t sacrifice its signature features. Incredibly impressive in technology and design, I can completely see why it’s one of the most popular trail running shoes on the market. Definitely a fit for anyone who has a wide foot, who loves technical trail, and who can use and abuse these shoes as much as possible.

THE LOW DOWN

GREAT FOR: Ultra distances on technical terrain, preferably dry ground
NOT SO GREAT FOR: Road and cycle paths (you want to use these babies on trail as much as possible)
TEST CONDITIONS: Limestone, boardwalk and asphalt
TESTER: Kate Dzienis
TESTER MECHANICS: Severe overpronator with wide feet, usually running in 8mm drop shoes.

VITALS

RRP: $319.95 AUD / $349.95 NZD
WEBSITE: altrarunning.com.au
CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by Altra

Shoe Review: ALTRA Lone Peak 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEWER: KATE DZIENIS

SO I HEAR FROM HARDCORE ALTRA USERS that once you go Altra, you never ever go back. And quite frankly, after putting on a pair of these babies in the form of Lone Peak 6, I can absolutely understand and attest to the fandom that comes with having them.

Firstly, I’m just going to say that the zero drop on these is unbelievable. For someone who usually runs in an 8mm drop shoe, I was taken aback by the comfortability in a shoe that allows you to feel like you’re almost running barefoot, and I love how despite all its high-tech features, the Lone Peak 6 feels incredibly minimalistic on my feet – meaning there’s enough cushioning to soften the blow of trail terrain while at the same time I’m left feeling closer to Mother Earth and all of her nuances.

I have quickly come to realise that the Lone Peak 6 allow me to absorb the impact of running, and its wider toe box helps with that. After having children, it’s widely known that pregnancy can indeed increase a woman’s foot size – in my case, my change to foot shape has been permanent and I’ve needed a much wider shoe in recent years. The Lone Peak 6’s wider-than-other-shoes’ toe box is abundant, and 100% accommodates swelling toes and improves pain/reduces the occurrence associated with blisters and bunions. The wide toe box also allowed for my big toe to stay positioned straight, making me feel more stable along the compact limestone I usually run along. Stretching my toes at the end of my run in these was an absolute delight, and I didn’t feel a need to take them off once I got in the car.

These are a high performance trail shoe, very much as versatile as a running shoe can get, and they conform to the natural movements of your feet. The air mesh remains the same as previous versions, so wet and muddy conditions won’t weigh you down due to updated drain ports that improve the flow of excess water. And random debris won’t find its way into your socks because of – and this is the best ‘oh-my’ moment ever – a Velcro attachment on the back heel where you can attach a pair of gaitors! To not have to race to the shops for Velcro, cut each piece up and stick them to the back of your shoe is one of the best ideas to date. Because who has time for that?

Onto the tech specs of the Lone Peak 6, and it’s worth noting that MaxTrac outsole technology is utilised – a combination of grip, traction and durability to tackle more terrain. Basically, it’s the multi-directional lug pattern on the bottom of the shoe that allows incredibly outrageous grip. That being said, the Lone Peak 6 also features StoneGuard™ tech, which offers protection from rocks and branches underfoot. So whilst you may feel you’re running barefoot, you won’t get the cuts and bruises that come with it.

What’s more is that I can’t talk about all these tech features without mentioning the shoe’s EGO™ midsole, known as the ‘holy grail’ of running shoe cushioning and offering a fast and springy, yet comfortable and soft run response. It’s a technology that caters to the elite runner for its speed and to the recreational runner due to softness underfoot. This midsole, along with the wide toe box, is Altra’s distinctive design, one that is highly engineered and built for performance.

The Lone Peak name in itself, for cult followers, is an iconic name and known to tackle most conditions and distances along with a stylish look. I wore the Lone Peak 6 shoes not only for training runs, but for my recent entry at Herdy’s Frontyard Ultra, which saw a combination of bike path, crushed limestone trails and grass. It got to a point where the shoe almost became an extension of my own body, and I forgot they were even on – isn’t that what we want all of our shoes to feel like?

The Lone Peak 6 comes in navy light blue, black green, and white green for women while men can choose from black/gray, orange, and maroon colours. The only real difference between the Lone Peak 6 and its predecessor, the Lone Peak 5, is that there are three additional lace eyelets in the midfoot to lockdown the shoe better, they are only a fraction lighter in weight, and there is a slight variation from the shape of the upper, with less material for a decrease in ‘baggy’ appearance.

Overall, Altra’s Lone Peak 6 trail shoe is perfect for mixed terrain conditions, and performs exceptionally for those who are new to zero drop running. It’s definitely a workhorse runner, and Altra has done incredibly well to maintain the shoe’s adaptability as well as retain its notoriety as one of the best trail shoes on the market.

THE LOW DOWN

GREAT FOR: All terrains and weather conditions. This is a high performance shoe made for all levels of running
NOT SO GREAT FOR: Long stints on concrete paving. With this being a trail shoe, it’s best to let it perform where it excels – on the trails
TEST CONDITIONS: Flat, single track on dry crushed limestone, grass, cycle path
TESTER: Kate Dzienis
TESTER MECHANICS: Severe overpronator with wide feet, usually running in 8mm drop shoes.

VITALS

RRP: $249 AUD / $279 NZD
WEBSITE: altrarunning.com.au
CONDITIONS: Shoes provided for testing by Altra

Watch Preview: Suunto 9

TRM get a sneak peak of Suunto’s 9, their next-gen Multisport GPS Watch designed to go very, very long.

Two years on from our preview of the Suunto Spartan Ultra, we’re proud to announce the Suunto 9 (S9), the next generation of Suunto GPS Smart Watches. In keeping with Suunto’s long tradition of producing premium quality tools for the outdoors, the S9 builds on the Spartan’s refined, suit-and-tie aesthetic with a spread of upgrades, improvements and function-focused new features tailored to the ultra-distance and multi-day end of the market. While an in-depth review will follow once we get our hands on a retail release unit, here’s the low down on what you can expect based on our early sample and the official tech specs.

On the surface, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Suunto 9 was a Suunto Spartan Sport Wrist HR Baro. Aside from a more robust bezel, a different silicon strap and sapphire glass as standard, the only external sign that the S9 isn’t an SSSWHRB is the blessedly-short name printed beside the Valencell Optical Heart Rate (OHR) sensors. Yep, the Finns finally realised that the practice of including every listed product feature in the product name was getting a little out of hand and so, in a complete backflip, have just called it the “9”. Bravo.

Naming faux pas aside, I’ve long thought the aesthetic of Spartan series was top notch and far sexier than anything else in the multi-sport GPS segment. Suunto clearly felt the same way and must have felt that changing it up so soon would be a waste of resources. Crack an S9 open, however, and you start to see where the Suunto boffins have been spending their time. Actually, scratch that, please don’t crack open your $899.00 watch.

As far as I can tell, based on real-world testing, official press releases and sales materials, and conversations with our travelling Guru, the three critical features of the initial S9 release* you need to know about are as follows:

1. Massive Battery Life and Smart management of this limited resource
2. Long Battery Life in spite of adding Optical Heart Rate
3. High accuracy route recording, even when pushing the GPS accuracy down to extend battery life

* I say “initial” release because, as with all modern smartwatches, the software is updateable and significant improvements can be added with time.

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Battery life, Battery life, Battery life! Let’s break those down one at a time.

Through a combination of a new, far more efficient GPS chip and intelligent software design, Suunto is claiming some pretty hefty battery life stats. While I haven’t had a chance to validate this in testing, the official specs list 25 hours, 50 hours and a whopping 120 hours of track-recording life in the Performance, Endurance and Ultra battery modes, respectively. Additionally, the watch will notify you during your run if the battery starts to get low and then give you the option to change the battery mode to extend its life expectancy.
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While 25hrs and 50hrs may seem reasonable for an increasing number of ultrarunners, at first glance 120hrs might seem a bit unnecessary. But what about multi-day fastpacking trips where you’re out for long, consecutive days? How about hiking the Larapinta? Checking out Everest Basecamp? It’s not hard to clock up 120hrs on extended journeys and the battery life of the S9 means you can record every filthy second.

Suunto 9 on wrist

While it’s important to point out that these stats are approximate and that real-world experience may vary, it’s also exciting to note that Suunto has gone to great lengths to make their battery formulae intelligible to the layperson. While these modes are based mostly on switching different functions on and off (e.g. setting the screen to time out, disabling touch screen, decreasing GPS ping rate and turning Bluetooth off), something you’ve always been able to do, the effects of each switch has always been a bit of a mystery. The updated interface makes the presets clear and easy to understand and also allows the creation of a custom battery mode which will auto-calculate the predicted battery life.

SS050019000 - SUUNTO9 - GEN1 BARO Black - Expressive-A ResizedAdding an Optical Heart Rate sensor is an excellent way to smash your battery life, but Suunto’s engineers have worked hard to ensure that the published figures of 25 and 50hrs are with the OHR turned ON. While the S9 is no bigger than the Spartan Ultra, the advertised battery stats are big, fat and juicy. Turning off OHR or using an HRM Strap makes them even more impressive, adding 5-10 hours to these figures. That means an awesome 30-60hrs in Performance and Endurance modes respectively; an incredible leap forward.

Extending the Accurate AND Long-Lasting focus of the S9’s feature set is a new tech called FusedTrack. Whereas FusedAlti in previous Suuntos used a combination of Barometric Pressure and GPS location to achieve a more accurate elevation reading, FusedTrack does a similar thing with route recording. Combining information from other always-on sensors (e.g. accelerometer, compass, and barometer) with GPS data, the S9 is able to perform a sort of “Educated Guess” about where you’ve “been” in the time between GPS pings. This means the ping rate on the GPS can be turned down without excessively compromising the accuracy of the recorded route. The three switchbacks you ran in the 60seconds between GPS pings finally get a mention in your Strava track because the compass recognised you weren’t going in a straight line.

While, again, I must reiterate the fact that I’ve been unable to put these new features through their paces extensively, the hardware is there, and the software roadmap is clear. Notwithstanding the Spartan Ultra’s difficult birth, Suunto has a long history of building professional tools designed to perform in the harshest conditions, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a retail unit to use and abuse for your benefit!


The Low Down

Great for: Stylish Trail Runners, Ultra Runners, anyone wanting to go long, people that value tools over toys
Not-so-great for: Tincy Tiny Wrists, those on a tight budget
Tester: Tegyn Angel, TRM Associate Editor
RRP:  $899.99, available in Black and White
Available: June 26, 2018
Website:  http://www.suunto.com/en-AU/
Conditions: Sample was provided by Suunto Australia for review


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Shoe Review: Altra Lone Peak 3.5

Lone Ranger: hi-ho Silver, and away….

For those of you old enough: remember the Lone Ranger? Do-gooder Texas Ranger cowboy dude sporting a black eyemask (that never really did conceal his identity) and an eye-brow-raising, rather tight for the times, all-lilac-blue outfit replete with a dainty red neckerchief. I mean, seriously, who wears lilac blue when barrelling along on a trusty steed pursuing dastardly outlaws in the badlands of the Wild West? All that dust shows up terribly on lilac blue…

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No matter what the Lone Ranger’s fashion choices, he and his native American Indian partner, Tonto, always got their (bad) man, and always coped with whatever the rough Wild West terrain threw at them as they bolted through it.

So, too, the latest Altra Lone Peak 3.5 strides out in an all-blue colourway, albeit a much more appropriate deep navy shade that hides the dirt much better. It also eats up whatever the wilderness throws at it. That’s this shoe’s strength – gobbling up technical singletrack, gripping like it has wolf teeth, yet still riding cloud-like over the grit, like the Ranger and Tonto hoofing it across the western plains.

Those two lawmen were expert horsemen, however, whereas with these trail running steeds, there’s a bit of breaking in required. Not so much of the shoe, but of you.

Most in trail run land will by now know Altra sits in a very specific space in the shoe-style heirachy, it’s core pillars being zero-drop (the company coined the term) – so your foot sits as it would on the ground, flat – and a wide toe-box that lets your toes splay naturally rather than confining them to an un-natural shape. The result is not just a shoe that looks a little – well, boxy – but also a shoe that if your Achilles and calves are not trained up for the zero drop, you are going to take some time conditioning yourself to them. You’ll feel it if you are used to having a wedge under your heel.

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So ease in gently remembering this isn’t just a lower drop of 6 or 4mm, its ZERO-drop. Things is, once you are habituated to it, your muscles and tendons conditioned, the result is indeed less fatigue, rather than more. But we’ve covered the Altra points of difference here before (check previous editions). So what’s different about this particular pair, the 3.5? (I’m unsure if the half scale designation 0.5 means it’s only a half-revised model? I mean, why not just jump to the V4.0?).

The main upgrades are a quick dry mesh, enhanced drainage features, and a refined midfoot / heel fit. Along with these three upgrades you get a new four-point gaiter hold, which highlights that these shoes are set up to cope with seriously rough stuff.

When it comes to the midsole the story is cushy, cushy but not too mushy. It’s a beefy 25mm stack height, is indeed comparable with some of the Hoka range, specifically the Clifton 4 with a 23mm forefoot stack height.

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In the midsole, designers have squeezed a slim rock plate adding to what is a super-protective ride. You can roll over pretty much anything in these and barely feel a thing, making them excellent for super knarly and technical terrain. The sole material is made out of a combination standard EVA foam and proprietary ‘A-Bound’ foam, which sits directly below the foot and compresses 2–3-times less than traditional foam. In the forefoot zone this translates into a better trail feel than you would expect in such a cushioned shoe. In essence, it delivers a desirable balance between a softer ride, with good feedback from the mid-forefoot strike you should be putting in to play.

The midsole has a decidedly rocking curvature, the heel and forefoot tipping up slightly either end. But the shoe is not exactly stiff, so all that does is give a subtle (if noticeable at all) spring effect when you rock through your step.

Durability has been a bone of contention for Altra-wearers in the past, and while we haven’t tested these beyond the 50km mark yet, the new upper does seem to be more robust that past editions. We’ll take a watching brief on these as we poke them around the trails further.
Looking more closely at the upper mesh we see that Altra put in extra threads around high stress areas.

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One feature most other trail shoes lack is the 4-point gaiter system found on these. A velcro clasp at the back combines with a metal loop at the front and side openings in the overlay to hold a gaiter as firm as you could hope.

The shoe is not for those with small, thin feet, nor those looking for a nimble, short-fast-run racer feel. But if mountains and beefy terrain is your go, and you like the splay of toes giving you extra stability, and you’re conditioned to Zero Drop, these are definitely an on-radar choice.

The 0.5 designation seems to indicate that these are a mild upgrade from the previous incarnation, rather than a full-blown redesign. As with most upgrades, the upsides are good and there are few downsides. There’s enough change to warrant your new investment, and the changes all address small weaknesses to make the shoe overall a much stronger contender.

Tonto used to call the Lone Ranger ‘Kemosabe’ – which loosely translates to ‘trusted scout’. Just like the Lone Ranger, these Altra Lone Peak 3.5 can easily be trusted to scout you through any single track in the wild west. Or wild east, north or south. Anywhere really. They are that good. Even if they are, like the Lone Ranger, a little lacking in the fashion stakes.

NOTE: there are other, better, colourways!


The Low Down

Great for: slab feet runners, ultra distances, strong calves, comfort, technical running, grip
Not-so-great for: fashion (subjective), thin feet, minimalists
Test Conditions: last minute test, so only 45km of local singeltrack, mixed technical and groomed MTB trails, rocky, rooty sections.
Tester: Chris Ord, TRM Editor,
Tester Mechanics: midfoot striker, prefers technical, perennially undertrained
RRP:  $199.95
Website:  www.altrarunning.com.au
Conditions: shoes were provided for wear test by Altra Australia


 

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