Montrail call themselves, ‘The original trail running brand!’ And to USA based runners they may very well be. But to Europeans, they are just a name and in all honesty, I very much doubt that they have seen a Montrail run shoe, let alone used one. Of course, in the last 18-24 months that has all started to change and that is directly attributable to the UTMB.
Yes, when The North Face jumped ship sponsoring the big loop around France, Italy and Switzerland the American brand jumped it. Of course nothing is straight forward and UTMB sponsorship comes in the name of Columbia, Mountain Hardwear and Montrail. All three brands are under the same umbrella and are interconnected.
Topher Gaylord is president of Columbia’s Mountain Hardwear brand and ironically he was the man who originally set up the TNF sponsorship deal – what goes around, comes around.
As one commentator said, “Montrail was once the biggest brand in the American trail running scene, but many other brands have created more buzz in the past few years. This should certainly help create more traction for Montrail, which was acquired by Columbia in 2006.”
So as you see, a picture starts to form and although the above information doesn’t tell you if the Montrail FluidFlex FKT shoe is any good, what it does do is provide some perspective.
Dakota Jones, Ellie Greenwood and Max King have worn Montrail shoes in the past and I often looked on wondering how these shoes performed? Unfortunately, being based in Europe, the possibility to get hold of shoes was either extremely difficult or zero. With UTMB sponsorship, Montrail (Columbia and Mountain Hardwear too) are looking for increased exposure on a world platform.
Montrail Trans Alps
After the curve ball of the FluidFlex FKT I had high hopes for the Trans Alps. Opening the box and taking a first peak in I saw similarities immediately, the cushioning of the two shoes looked very familiar. However, as I peaked at the outsole I immediately became aware that the FluidFlex FKT and Trans Alps are like chalk and cheese – no similarity at all. Picking up the right shoe made the differences marked. The Trans Alps is heavy… I called a couple of friends, they quickly popped over to my apartment, and together they helped me remove the left shoe from the box; my back is far too fragile to lift out both pairs!
I joke of course but at 412g each for a UK9.5 these shoes are the heaviest running shoes I have ever tested.
Overall looks are pleasing, a strong blue contrasted by yellow works. Like the FluidFlex FKT the Trans Alps is on the face of it a simple shoe. So where does all the weight come from?
Let’s first of all take one step back and clarify what this shoe is for and look at some simple specs.
The Trans Alps is a shoe that is intended to appeal to all with key buzz words like: Protection, Durability and Support. I agree, it does all these things with a huge tick. I still haven’t decided if the shoe is ‘neutral?’ It feels neutral, just neutral with support in a bullet proof casing. The Trans Alps has a full length ‘TrailShield’ to protect pretty much 100% from anything the trail can throw at you. In addition, a rubberized rock guard and reinforced toe and heel cap boosts protection to the max and with 6mm lugs on the outsole I had to start to wonder if I was looking at an approach shoe or a scrambling shoe and not a running shoe.
Ultimately, Montrail don’t try to sell or big up the Trans Alps as anything other than what is, the shoe does exactly what it says on the tin – a mountain running shoe that offers rigidity, support, aggressive traction while providing a smooth ride.
The FluidFoam midsole was something that I loved on the FluidFlex FKT, especially the flex grooves which allowed me to run with a responsive and propulsive forefoot strike. In the Trans Alps that is all gone – yes the shoe is cushioned, it has 18mm at the rear and 10mm at the front (8mm drop) but the outsole and full length TrailShield removes any connection with the terrain leaving a flat and lifeless run, albeit protected! But this shoe is designed to protect and yes it does that with bells on. What I am getting at here is that if you require a mountain shoe and ultimate protection, this shoe does the job. If you want a trail shoe for some occasional aggressive trail and daily runs, this shoe is over engineered and too lifeless for that.
The fit of the shoe is excellent with a padded tongue that is gusseted and sewn into the upper. If you read my shoe reviews regularly you already know I am a huge fan of this. In the Trans Alps it works well but not as well as in the FluidFlex FKT. The main reason for this is that the Trans Alps feels a ‘roomier’ shoe? I went for my normal UK9.5 but I would maybe like to try a UK9 for comparison, keep this in mind when purchasing or testing. The toe box has plenty of room allowing for good toe splay and/ or swelling. The heel box is Snug and secure.
Drop at 8mm is perfect and completely appropriate for a shoe of this build. The drop allows for long days out and when you get a little tired or your form falters, the 8mm will work well and not punish you. The Trans Alps works exceptionally well when walking – I’d go as far to say that if you are a walker looking for something lighter and more ‘shoe’ like for mountain days out that may involve some jogging, this would be a good choice as an alternative to boots.
The upper is simple, breathable and seamless. A real plus as this should almost certainly reduce the risk of getting blisters or rubbing from any seams. Reinforcement comes on the side of the uppers from thermoplastic strips which leads to the lace holes. Pull the laces tight and this along with the gusseted tongue holds the foot secure. The mesh is breathable and durable.
The outsole has 6mm aggressive lugs which run the length of the shoe providing grip on a multitude of surfaces. Although aggressive, the grip is not great on mud or sloppy trail. It’s ok, at best adequate, but the Trans Alps is certainly not a shoe I would choose for regular running on this type of terrain. The Trans Alps excels in the mountains where rocks, scree, boulders and all sorts of obstacles and irregular objects can get in the way. But the shoe and sole is so inflexible it does contradict itself at times. It all comes down to compromise. At times I loved the rigidity as it offered confidence, at other times I wanted the shoe to flex more to allow me and my feet to reach more challenging places.
In conclusion, the Trans Alp is not a bad shoe if you use it for its intended use – tough mountain days either running, running and jogging, jogging/ walking or even just walking. Personally I feel it fits the latter options better. I spend many a long day in the mountains with a camera bag covering ground at a slower pace and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the Trans Alp for this use. As a run shoe, it lacks feel, responsiveness and excitement for me. It’s a shoe that you can turn to any day and it will do its job. A little like practical workwear, it will do the job but you are not excited to wear it. Having said all this, the Trans Alp will suit male and female runners who require a sturdy/ bullet proof shoe. It may well be that you are taller and heavier and a flimsy shoe just is ‘too’ flimsy for you and this where the Trans Alp has a place. Also, although not a shoe for a ‘racer,’ if you participating in a multi-day event on a mix of terrain, I am pretty sure the Trans Alp would be as solid on day 6, 7 or 8 as it was on day 1.
Finally, this shoe has lots of pluses – plush and secure fit, 8mm drop, cushioning, rigidity, stability, durability and if this criteria is high on your list, check it out. The Trans Alp is definitely not, responsive, light, fast with a connection for the ground or surfaces that you will run on.
Montrail website HERE