In mid 2019, Altra released a racing flat for trail runners called Vanish XC. According to the specifications, Altra have done a remarkable job in providing off-road grip and at the same time reducing weight. They claim to have done this with respect for the classical Altra virtues: comfort, zero drop and a foot-shaped toe box.
This review relays my personal experiences with the Altra Vanish XC after running some 50+ miles. Please note that I'm an independent recreational trail runner, and not affiliated with nor paid by Altra for this review.
When it comes to fit, the Altra Vanish XC is very much a signature Altra shoe. Extremely comfortable right out of the box. A classical soft fit and a nice wide toe box. That said, the Vanish XC is also unique in many ways.
The seamless upper consists of a meshed fabric with huge holes. You can see straight through the material, and as such it provides unique ventilation and drainage. The mesh holes even double as lace holes.
The upper consists of a very light see-thru mesh, which doubles as lace-holes.
The upper around the toe box is reinforced on the inside with a soft synthetic fabric, which provides a bit of structure and cushion. The tongue feels pretty much like on any other Altra shoe - nice and soft. It is attached at the bottom end only, i.e. not gusseted.
With a soft tongue, a very simple and pliable upper, and an unusually configurable lacing system; it is very easy to find a comfortable fit. If the default lace configuration does not suit your needs, simply shift the laces around using some other mesh holes.
In my case the Vanish XC was pretty much ready to go right out of the box. I did a bit more than 12 km on the first run with no indication I was running in new shoes, i.e. no pain, no niggles, no hot-spots.
The second and third runs were both 20+ km. One on difficult, muddy, rocky, forested single-track; the other on reasonably flat, packed, mixed trail and beaches. There were no new-shoe niggles whatsoever.
The only issue I have had with the fit of the Vanish XC is a classical Altra issue: A sloppy fit around the back. In my other Altra shoes (Escalante, Superior, Lone Peak) I don't mind too much, because amply cushioned ankle collars mask the sloppiness. A sidenote: I prefer long slow runs, hence value comfort over control so have never been a huge fan of very tight heel cups.
In the case of the Vanish XC, however, the sloppiness cannot hide behind thickly padded ankle collars because there is hardly any padding. I tried to remedy the loose fit by shifting the laces around (further back), and this worked well for me.
A loose/sloppy fit around the back was in my case remedied using a customised asymmetrical lace configuration!
The Vanish XC is extremely lightweight. Right out of the box mine weighed in at a meagre 273 grams - or app 137 grams per shoe for a size UK 7. This is about half the weight of Altras more traditional trail shoes (e.g. Superior at 255 g and Lone Peak at 276 g). At 137 grams, they are also plenty lighter than most barefoot shoes!
To put it short; the Vanish XC is the lightest, fastest, most nimble and fun shoe I have ever had the pleasure of running in. They excel in all kinds of trail conditions from muddy over rocky and technical to sandy, all with surprisingly good grip. They also handle the odd bit of tarmac nicely, but don't overdo it as you can almost feel the minimal outsole grating away (fast).
They handle both short and long runs really well. I have run for as long as two and a half hours, and my feet still felt like they could have kept going forever. This is really a superb shoe - also for long runs.
The extreme nimbleness comes at the cost of providing very little protection, laterally as well as downwards. You have to be carefull not to strike the ground too hard or bump your toes into rocks and roots - otherwise the payback is instant!
Minimal yet grippy outsole only makes up part of the exterior.
The outsole is very minimal. It consists of a wide webbing of sticky rubber-like material with a few protruding rubber "spikes". The midsole is exposed in between the rubber webbing.
Given that, the midsole is essentially the outsole. I find this to be a problem because the midsole material is not sturdy enough to be exposed to the elements. It is not outsole material, so to speak! Furthermore, the outsole only covers the fore/mid-foot area and a bit of the outwards lateral side of the heel.
In my humble opinion I think Alta have overdone the weight reduction on the outsole. Durability is very much an issue! Just a wee bit more outsole, in my case especially around the heel area, would have been good.
For example, had Altra gone with a bit wider space between strands in the outsole webbing they could have covered the entire outsole (or at least a larger proportion of the heel) without adding more weight.
When it comes to protection from underneath the rather thin and soft material of the midsole provides only minuscule protection. You'll feel every single sharp rock or pebble you run across. I like very responsive shoes, but if you are a heavy heel-striker this might be a serious concern!
I'm not saying your feet are not protected at all, but you do not need to be particularly sloppy or unlucky to hurt yourself. Especially if you heel-strike. The Vanish XC encourages a more gentle whole/mid/forefoot strike, which is nicely in tune with Altra's natural running philosophy.
Even though the midsole material itself is soft and cushy there must be some sort of structural element inside the shoe. I say this because the shoe itself is very stiff horizontally, i.e. the midsole does not bend nor twist easily.
I find that very comforting and it clearly sets the Vanish XC apart as an actual running shoe. It is minimal but not a simple flip-flop nor a barefoot shoe.
Water/moisture will seep in right away due to the very open mesh upper, but they also drain easily. Likewise with sand and grit - easy come, easy go.
I have taken mine for long rugged trail runs, and have not once had to take off the shoes to "empty out stuff". Don't be mistaken: Plenty of stuff and water has been inside the shoe, but it left again quite quickly on its own volition.
The only situation where I have had problems with the Vanish XC is coming downhill on steep sections and very uneven surfaces. Because the Vanish XC provides little support laterally and has no structural elements to the upper; your feet will eventually shift around inside the shoe.
I thought I could remedy that by tightening the laces and/or perhaps alter their configuration. But that only helped in some situations.
Firstly, you can only tighten the laces so much before they start cutting circulation to your feet. Secondly, I found that when your feet slide, they do not move relative to the upper. The upper and tongue simply shifts with the foot because the shoe has no structural elements that prevents this kind of lateral movement.
That said, it is only in very extreme situations I have found it to be a problem for these running shoes.
The Vanish XC is generally true to size, but space is ample. Perhaps going down half a size would have been possible for me, and perhaps that would have helped with the sloppy fit. Well, that is mere thoughts as the Vanish XC apparently do not come smaller than UK 7 in mens sizes.
My biggest concern with the Vanish XC relates to durability. Already on the first run (12+ k of mixed trail) the rubber "spikes" were nearly gone, and some of the exposed midsole sections had grated away. The midsole material on the inwards lateral side of the heel had also compacted, and did not regain much of its composure afterwards.
The midsole material flattens out prematurely. In my case mostly on the inwards lateral side (red arrow).
However, this (mostly visible) damage did not seem to increase much with milage, and did not influence my running experience. At the moment of writing this review I have run a bit more than 50 miles in my Vanish XC and they still look pretty much as abused as after the first run.
On the other hand, because the shoe is made of light materials and the overall shoe is so flimsy I very much doubt they will last in the long run. I wonder what the Vanish XC will look like in 2-300 miles time, and more importantly what they will run like! But for now I just enjoy running in my Vanish XC!
The Vanish XC retail at around US$80, which is significantly less than most ordinary trail offerings. Altra clearly appreciates that the Vanish XC is not an ordinary shoe and it is perhaps not built to last. However, taking both the wonderful running experience and the poor durability into account, I think it is a fair price.
If not for the every day grind, then you can use the Vanish XC for pampering yourself and your feet once in a while.
The Altra Vanish XC is the fastest, lightest, nimblest most fun running shoe I have ever used. On top of that they are super grippy and superbly comfortable. I could easily see myself purchase a pair just for casual wear (wouldn't be the bright yellow variety though).
The Vanish XC offers superb traction, ventilation and drain extremely well. They are suitable for pretty much any type of trail run, from short to ultra long - perhaps excluding the most rugged, extreme and toe-damaging conditions.
The only caveats with the Vanish XC are the poor durability and the fact that you need to be accustomed to minimal shoes with zero drop. Otherwise running in the Vanish XC will be a hard learning experience and you may end up hurting yourself.
If you are used to minimal low-drop shoes and find most other similar offerings - for example Inov-8 X-talon, Icebug Acceleritas, and VJ sport iRock - to be tight and uncomfortable I can highly recommend the Altra Vanish XC! They are super comfy and super fun!
- The Altra Vanish-R is a road running shoe that is strategically made for runners who have neutral foot motion. The footwear is intended for those who want to take their running sessions to the next level. The Altra Vanish-R uses the blown rubber outsole which gives added flexibility, durability and traction.
- Featured in the shoe is the thin EVA midsole foam. The purpose of this midsole material is to provide a cushioning system that is lightweight in structure.
- The Quick Dry Air Mesh is utilized in the Altra Vanish-R. It delivers a more breathable upper area. The mesh is essential in keeping the foot drier and healthier even after long-distance running activities. Together with the Quick Dry Air Mesh upper is the midfoot A-Strap support system. With the utilization of this material, it provides a more comfortable and snugger fit.
With a standard size and length, the Altra Vanish-R is sure to offer a perfect fit to those runners with medium-foot measurements. Available in standard medium D and B widths for the men's and the women's respectively.
The Blown Rubber is integrated into the Altra Vanish-R. This material aims to offer lightweight traction on a wide variety of paved surfaces. The updated coverage results to added flexibility and enhanced durability. As a result, a more responsive ride is sure to be delivered.
With the utilization of the thin EVA midsole foam, a more durable and lightweight cushioning are encouraged. This is essential in delivering a comfortable running experience to the user.
The TPU Propel Plate is used in the Altra Vanish-R. This component of the shoe offers firmness to the platform for a bouncier foot transition.
The Inner Flex grooves provide added flexibility while reducing the overall weight of the shoe. Because of the shoe's decreased weight, increased and improved performance and speed are sure to be experienced by the runner.
The Natural Foot Design is utilized in the Altra Vanish-R provide maximum comfort. Its primary focus is to follow the natural shape and curvature of the human foot.
The Quick Dry Air Mesh is integrated into the footwear. It is centered on eradicating and wicking water away from the foot. The mesh works well and effectively without compromising the lightness and breathability of the upper area. As a result, a fresher and cooler foot environment is acquired by the individual who is using it.
With the use of the Ultra Wide Toe Box, added comfort is experienced by the wearer. The purpose of which is to allow the toes to splay out naturally and comfortably.
Size and fit
How Vanish-R compares
1 shoes (0.11% of shoes)
2 shoes (0.21% of shoes)
9 shoes (0.97% of shoes)
11 shoes (1% of shoes)
54 shoes (6% of shoes)
73 shoes (8% of shoes)
155 shoes (17% of shoes)
217 shoes (23% of shoes)
339 shoes (36% of shoes)
71 shoes (8% of shoes)
113 shoes (12% of shoes)
268 shoes (29% of shoes)
271 shoes (29% of shoes)
169 shoes (18% of shoes)
61 shoes (7% of shoes)
37 shoes (4% of shoes)
9 shoes (0.97% of shoes)
1 shoes (0.11% of shoes)
2 shoes (0.21% of shoes)
1 shoes (0.11% of shoes)
6 shoes (0.77% of shoes)
18 shoes (2% of shoes)
47 shoes (6% of shoes)
141 shoes (18% of shoes)
215 shoes (28% of shoes)
219 shoes (28% of shoes)
98 shoes (13% of shoes)
26 shoes (3% of shoes)
4 shoes (0.51% of shoes)
5 shoes (0.64% of shoes)