Product Review: Topo Ultraventure Trail Shoe

Topo, now about four years old,  is continuing to grow their portfolio in the market of running and fitness shoes.  As they grow, they are also continuing to refine, improve, and innovate their models while staying true to their mantra of “move better naturally”.  Their latest model, the Ultraventure, pairs what is already a top of the line upper and midsole with a tried and true outsole from Vibram, the Topo founders prior company.  For me, this is a union that has been long in the making and one that is truly meant to be.  But enough about that, let’s take a look at the Ultraventure.

DISCLAIMER: These were provided to me for free as a member of the Topo Athlete team.  While I am partial to Topo, know that I don’t take the decision to commit to a single shoe brand lightly.  At the end of the day, my goal in all reviews is to lay out the facts in an unbiased way so that you can make an informed buying decision and so the company can use the feedback to make their products better.

Product Description

Topo has spent a lot of time tinkering with their trail shoes over the past couple of years with the goal of improving durability and performance.  The upper is solid and, while the previous outsole held up nicely, no one can deny the reputation that Vibram has for building the toughest outsoles on the market.  The Ultraventure is the first shoe in the line to feature a Vibram outsole and will not be the last (as I write this, the Terraventure 2 has already been released although I have not yet tested it).  If you think about it, it is a move that makes sense by allowing Topo to focus their efforts on developing other parts of the shoe.  In fact, this is a road that many other shoe manufacturers have already started the journey down.  In the end with the Ultraventure, you are going to get an extremely durable trail shoe, although it does come with a little more weight.

Specs

Here is a quick side-by-side comparison of the key specs between the Ultraventure and some of the other shoes in Topo’s trail line.

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As you can see, you are starting to notice some separation as the shoes are falling into distinct categories within the trail line.  The MT-2 still remains a faster racing shoe.  The new Terraventure 2, with its rock plate, offers a bit more protection with the added weight.  The Ultraventure offers a bit more cushion with a bit less weight, optimal for the longer distance runs.

A bit more about the shoe…

The upper and the fit are both classic to Topo form.  No one else has yet to replicate the Topo fit, with its wide open toe box and snug midfoot and heel fit.  This is still the best shoe on the market when it comes to foot shape, and the durability continues to outshine most of the competition.  In the trail line, if you don’t get AT LEAST 400 miles out of the shoes, I would be surprised.  In fact, many of my models are already over that.

The midsole offers a nice, cushioned ride.  This is partly due to the Ultraventure having the highest stack height in the Topo line of shoes.  It is called the Ultraventure for a reason…to give you a comfortable ride for the long haul.

I have already talked about the new Vibram outsole, but to reiterate, it significantly adds to the traction of the shoes.  It has deeper lugs than previous Topo shoes, which makes a huge difference on most terrains.  I actually went out for a run in a foot of snow before writing this and they performed wonderfully.

In Action

What better way to test out a pair of shoes than to go run a 25K race in them right out of the box while dealing with plantar fasciitis (I didn’t say I was smart)?  Well that is what I did, and while it was a first year race with a very small list of racers, I grabbed the win.  The plantar fasciitis did NOT feel good for the next week, but the shoe performed wonderfully.  I never felt like they were heavy and felt confident as ever under foot and had no issues with my foot the entire run (maybe I should have just kept them on).  I haven’t taken them out much further than that race, but I can say without a doubt that they may have supplanted the Terraventure as my favorite Topo trail shoe.

On the downside though, these are not going to be a shoe for the runner that puts a high premium on ground feel.  For that, I would go with the MT-2.  As I mentioned, these have the highest stack height in the trail line and when coupled with the Vibram outsole, it does take away ground feel quite a bit.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

These will get about 50-60% of all of my trail miles going forward.  I like the softer ride for long runs and love the 5mm drop (many of their other trail shoes are 0-3mm).  If this is what you look for in shoes, then definitely give them a shot.

Pro’s

  • Durability…best to date.
  • I personally love the stack height and drop on this shoe.  I wouldn’t call them Hokas or anything, but they are the softest ride in the Topo trail lineup.

Con’s

  • No rock plate, although with the stack height I can’t say it that I really missed it.
  • Lack of ground feel versus other options.

If you decide to follow my advice, you can give them (or any other Topo shoe) a try AND get 10% off at topoathletic.com with code TOPODEANJ10...with 10% off and a friendly return policy, why wouldn’t you?

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!

Product Review: Arc’teryx Cerium LT Jacket

After months of unseasonably warm weather, the bone-chilling cold looks like it is here to stay in Salt Lake City.  While I don’t normally rejoice in this type of weather, it does finally give me a chance to review my Arc’teryx Cerium LT jacket in proper conditions.  Let’s take a look shall we?

DISCLAIMER: Arc’teryx provided me with this jacket for the purposes of this review, but Ultrarunner Joe cannot be bought!  My reviews are always as unbiased and honest as possible!

Overview

The Cerium LT was recommended to me when I was looking for a lifestyle/everyday wear type jacket to wear during the winter months.  In addition, Arc’teryx markets it as a mid-layer to use in dry conditions.  As I am not a skier, I can’t comment much on it’s use as a mid-layer during activity, but I will talk to the ways I have used it later in the review.  Before we get into that, here are some of the key selling points (from the Arc’teryx website):

  • 850 fill European goose down
  • 9.3 oz (super light and packs down to a small footprint)
  • Down Composite Mapping strategically places synthetic insulation in areas where moisture may buildup; down in the core and the collar gives maximum warmth.  In essence, this provides maximum amount of warmth with in the lightest jacket possible.
  • Water Repellant
  • Hood model also available (I went without the model without the hood based on my preference.
  • Two zippered pockets with a stuff sack inside the left pocket.

Price: ~$270 on Amazon.com (click to view)

Fit

The length of the jacket extends down to about hip-level.  Also, it has a form-fitting design to provide maximum warmth, which is something you should take into account.  In the image below, I am wearing a medium, which is the same as my shirt size.  It is super comfortable with a t-shirt on underneath, but I found it to be a bit restrictive while zipped when I had a heavier shirt on underneath.  If you plan on wearing this with thicker base layers, I would recommend buying one size up from your typical shirt size.  Construction of the jacket is perfect, with no visible defects or deficiencies.  Everything you would expect to see from a premium jacket.



In Action

As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to wear this as a lifestyle jacket.  I have worn it as an outer shell over a t-shirt (as shown above) and as a mid-layer with a hoodie on over it, with the former being my far more common use.  I was surprised by how warm it is for such a light jacket. It performs so well that when wearing it over a t-shirt, I still find that I sweat if the temperature starts warming to anything over 30-35 F.  The sweet spot as an outer layer is definitely somewhere between 0 – 25 F.  For colder days, you could switch to using it as a mid-layer with something over it.  In either case, it does a fabulous job at keeping the core warm due to the fact that it does such a great job at containing body heat. Another plus about this jacket is that it disappears after awhile.  In other words, it is so light that you forget you are wearing it after a while.  Additionally, despite it being form-fitting, it wasn’t restrictive in the slightest keeping you free to move your arms without discomfort.

Conclusion

If you don’t want to buy another jacket for awhile, I would say that the Cerium LT is a sound investment.  Yes, it is more expensive, but you are getting top-of-the-line technology that results in one of the best weight-to-warmth ratios of any jacket on the market.  Additionally, its construction and durability ensures you will have this for a while.  The only downside to this particular style is that you have to be careful on sizing because the form-fitting design does limit what you can wear underneath it if you do not size it properly.  If you have a chance to try it on first, I would recommend that.  Otherwise, make sure you order from a place where you can exchange it easily if needed.  If not sure, size up one size above your shirt size.

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Product Review: Katadyn BeFree Water Filter Soft Flask

I actually ran across the Katadyn BeFree while I was flipping through an issue of Runner’s World looking at one of their “favorite gear” articles and it caught my eye.  I am a recent convert to soft flasks, which I like to keep readily accessible in the front pouches of my vest.  I figured that one with a built in filter would be great for self supported runs where water sources aren’t always reliable.  I have carried a Life Straw before, and they are great, but the straw is only good when physically at a water source and their bottle models are rigid and don’t fit well in my pack.  This gives me a great option without having to carry any extra gear.

   

Overview

The flask itself is made by Hydrapak, so you know you are getting a solid bottle.  It is a 0.6L flask (20 oz), providing capacity in line with other soft flasks and rigid bottles on the market and perfect for the front pouch of most running packs.  It is going to cost you around $40, which means you are paying about $20 for the added benefit of the filter when you consider the price of similar soft flasks on the market.  The filter is certified for up to 1000 liters of water or about 1600 refills of the flask, so it will last most people for awhile.

In Use

On the trail,  I was quite satisfied, but there are a few things I would tweak to the overall experience.  The bottle itself was great.  Katadyn says that the flow out of the bottle is roughly one liter of water per minute, which is more than enough for a swig of water along the run.  I haven’t yet had any issues with a reduction in water flow and don’t imagine that I will as long as I keep the filter clean between uses.  In general, it is great not having to worry about running out of water.  I generally carry two soft flasks these days.  My usual practice is to empty the filter flask first and then fill up at the next water source, making sure I hang on to my non-filter flask mostly for backup.  Filling it up is super easy.  Just take the cap off, fill the flask, and put it back on.  It is recommended that you wipe off the flask after filling it, but since you are drinking through the cap, the risk of ingesting water that does not pass through the filter is still pretty low.

As for the experience, I would like to see if there is a way to use a straw top instead of the drink nozzle that is on it, that way, I can keep it in the front pouch of my pack and drink from it without having to take it out.  An alternative would be to try one of those soft flask holders (like Solomon has) to make it easier to carry in your hand (which I haven’t tried yet).

Pros

  • Super convenient with the filter built right into the bottle.  You can stop at any water source, take the cap off, fill the bottle, and you are good to go.
  • Easy to clean the filter if water flow becomes clogged.  In most cases, you can just shake it, but if all else fails, you can rinse/flush it in a clean water source.
  • Perfect size to fit conveniently in the front pouch of most packs.
  • Water flow was great.  A light squeeze and you can get a mouthful of water no problem.

Cons

  • The cap is a squirt top, which means you have to take it out and squeeze it to be effective.  I think you could offer a cap with a straw attachment and it would work just as well.  This would keep from having to take it out of the pocket.
  • The top of the soft flask near the cap is a bit more rigid than other Hydrapak flasks I have used and it is a bit more tricky to get stuffed down into the front pockets of my vest when full.

If you like this post and would like to stay up to date when future gear reviews, race reports, and other related posts are released, please follow my Facebook page at Ultrarunner Joe!