The Reviewer: My name is Brett Hornig and I have been running for 14 years. As well as being a Trails and Tarmac coach, I work at Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland, Oregon. Ever since I started running, I have always been fascinated with what makes shoes so vastly different, and have continuously been on the hunt for that perfect shoe. This is the first shoe from Topo I have run in, and it is exciting to see smaller brands create their own space in the footwear world. Read on to see my thoughts, likes, dislikes, and if this might be a shoe worth trying.
One thing to keep in mind when reading this review, is that I am 5’8″, 130lb, and have a size US9 foot that is slightly on the narrow side (C width). I am a neutral, midfoot striking runner, so some things I describe about this shoe may need to be tweaked depending on who you are and how you run.
About The Shoe
The Topo Ultraventure is the highest cushion shoe in their trail lineup, geared towards (unsurprisingly) longer and ultra distance efforts. With a 25mm forefoot and 30mm heel stack height (including 6mm outsole lugs), the Ultraventure is tilting right into that maximalist category, rivaling shoes like the Hoka Challenger ATR 5, Brooks Caldera 3, and Altra Timp 1.5. I was sent a size 10 from Topo and the weight (finally got a kitchen scale and apologies to my wife for weighing shoes on said kitchen scale) came to 10.4oz (295g) for each shoe. The 5mm heel to toe drop of the shoe is right in my sweet spot. Any lower than 4mm, and my calves/achilles tend to get a little cranky. More than 8mm, and I begin to feel my forefoot slap the ground as the heel makes contact first.
Initial impressions of the Ultraventure Upper are that there was some serious thought put into the design of this shoe. The materials are high quality, and it doesn’t seem like there is a bunch of unnecessary junk on the upper of the shoe. The welded overlays are strategically placed, and wrap into a fairly firm toe bumper. There are a few densities of mesh throughout the shoe. Some of the panels are tighter and more supportive, and others are more open and breathable. I liked seeing the drainage gills on either side of the forefoot. I did manage to slip off a rock into a creek on a run while testing these shoes, and I can say, they did drain pretty well!
The heel cup has quite a bit of padding all the around, but almost felt like a bit too much when I first tried the shoes on. After a run and keeping the shoe on for a few hours, the foam warmed up and compressed just enough to provide a very secure and amazingly comfortable fit.
The tongue of the shoe is fully gusseted and wraps around my arch very well. It is just thick enough as to not feel lace pressure across my foot, but also thin enough to keep the fit snug and secure. Speaking of laces, I really appreciate Topo keeping with a classic non-stretch, oval lace. I can tie and untie them with gloves, they hold their knot, and they don’t immediately loosen when I tug at them to tighten the shoe. Kudos to you, Topo.
The Ultraventure has a triple density EVA midsole. The blue section on the outside of the heel is extra soft and provides a lot of impact absorption when descending. Many runners will come down in some way or another on the lateral side of the heel, so this softer foam makes that transition from heel to mid-foot very smooth.
Under the medial side of the arch is a small section of higher density foam. I wouldn’t go as far to say this is a true stability post, as I couldn’t feel it at all while I was running. If anything, this denser section will act as a little safety net for when the foot strike gets a little sloppy late into a long run or race. Also, this piece will add some torsional stiffness right around the middle of the shoe to help increase its stability on the trail.
The rest of the shoe is the middle density of the three foams. It is pretty soft, but not mushy. Dense enough though, where the cushioning will still be good after some really long days on the trail.
The Ultraventure does not have a rock plate, and there have been hardly any moments where I wish it had. You can definitely feel some rocks, but the thickness of the midsole does provide fairly adequate protection. If one really wants a rock plate, I can think of a similar, natural, foot shaped shoe company (rhymes with shmaltra) that sells a flexible rock plate to put under the insole of the shoe.
Topo worked with Vibram for the outsole of the Ultraventure. Unlike many trail shoes that have the Vibram Megagrip treatment, Topo opted for the XS trek variant. What does that stand for? I’m not sure. Perhaps X-tra Soft! XS Trek is quite a bit softer than Megagrip. A big pro I found to the XS Trek outsole is that it simply feels bouncier and less harsh. While Megagrip claws into the ground, I found it somewhat dead feeling, and quite loud when running on pavement or hard packed trail. On the other hand, I can tell that the XS Trek outsole compound isn’t as durable as Megagrip. That is a sacrifice I am OK with, as the lugs are big enough where I will still get plenty of miles out of the shoe.
The outsole pattern itself is strategically designed, and I found it to work very well across a wide variety of terrains. The 6mm lugs are far enough apart to shed mud and debris well, but close enough to where I can’t feel them when running on harder surfaces. The outsole is all one piece, which will help with durability and protection, while reducing the risk of the lugs peeling away from the midsole. There are definitely other shoes out there that will work better in deep mud, snow, etc, but for a shoe meant to work across a wide variety of terrains, this hits nearly every end of the spectrum.
Fit and Ride
Upon first trying this shoe on, I was pleasantly surprised at how locked in my feet felt, despite the spacious toe box. Similar to Altra, Topo utilizes a natural, foot shaped toe box, which allows for plenty of space for all the little piggies to move freely about the cabin. Toe box height is generous as well, so there is no uncomfortable downward pressure onto the tops of the toes.
Unlike similar Altra models I have tried on in the past, the Ultraventure feels narrower through the arch and in the heel. Not to say it fits narrow by any means, but simply snugger than the forefoot might imply. The heel counter is deep enough for a secure fit. No heel slippage at all, and I didn’t have to re-lace the shoe in any way.
Dry dirt road or singletrack that is smooth to mildly technical is where this shoe excels. In Ashland, Oregon where I have been running in this shoe, most of the trails fit into this category, and for this terrain, the Topo Ultraventure could easily be the one shoe you wear for every day of the week. On the roads, the Ultraventure was very comfortable. You wouldn’t even guess this was a trail shoe. I do advise a little caution in regards to piling up the road miles on this shoe though in regards to durability of the soft outsole compound. Where the Ultraventure did just alright was descending on steep, technical terrain. I do notice the lack of security in the forefoot when the terrain gets rocky or really steep, which is just hard to avoid with so much volume in the forefoot. At slower, ultra paces though, the issue is much less prevalent.
I obsessively logged every mile in these shoes before this review, and at the time of writing, I have totaled 125 miles. 24 miles were road, and the other 101 were a variety of trail with 24,000 feet of climbing, and about 21 hours of time on my feet. I am starting to see a little bit of outsole wear on the lateral heel, and under my forefoot, but there is plenty of tread left for a few hundred more miles of running. The cushion is holding up fairly well. There is some minor creasing starting to happen in the foam, and the shoe doesn’t feel new anymore, but it is far from packing out. I expect this shoe to have quality cushion in that 300-400 mile range. There are no signs of wear to the upper.
The ride of the Ultraventure is definitely geared towards long outings and ultra distance type events. There is ample cushion for all day comfort, as well as enough room up front to keep the toes content. The transition from heel to toe is very smooth. The shoe has just enough flexibility to it as to not feel ‘slappy’ when running on flat terrain or downhill. Climbing in the Ultraventure is very pleasant, both while running or hiking.
I have been pleased with how this shoe performed, and given how it is holding up and the features you get, the $130 price is quite reasonable. I would absolutely recommend this shoe to those looking for a higher cushioned, flexible shoe that has generous room in the forefoot and can cover a wide variety of terrains.
Anything I missed, or would like to learn more about? Shoe or product you would like to see reviewed in the future? Feel free to comment below and let me know!
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