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 TOPODEAN10...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!

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Product Review: DRINK maple

I don’t write many food and beverage reviews on my site, but if I run across something new or unique that might appeal to my audience, I don’t hesitate.  I recently got a case of maple water from the folks over at DRINK maple and thought I would give it a try and share my thoughts.  Maple water is not necessarily a new thing, but with the recent success of coconut water, the opportunity seems ripe for similar water alternatives.

I am primarily a water guy.  I will occasionally pick up a sports drink to mix it up, but water is my bread and butter (especially during and after physical activity).  While water serves the purpose for me on most days, sometimes I like to mix it up with something with a bit more flavor along with some added nutrients to aide the replenishment process.  I am not a huge fan of coconut water, mostly because of the taste, so I decided to take this opportunity to give maple water a try.  Let’s get into my thoughts!

Taste

I was most curious about this.  DRINK maple is very clear that their product is straight from the tree.  With that being said, I didn’t know if it would have an overly sappy taste or texture.  These were my preconceived notions, but honestly, having never tried maple water before I didn’t know what to expect.  All in all, I was pleasantly surprised.  What I liked most about it was that it had a very clean taste, similar to that of spring water.  In addition, it had a slight sugary taste with a hint of maple, but wasn’t overbearing at all.  It was just enough to provide me with the different taste that I was looking for without being over the top.

 

Pros

  • Organic and all natural.  This will resonate with a good number of people.  Many athletes are being extra sensitive these days about what we put into our bodies.  With trust and transparency also being an issue with many nutrition companies, people are looking toward more natural sources.  If you look at the side of the bottle, the DRINK maple product has one ingredient, Organic Maple Water…you can’t get more natural than that.
  • More than water.  Maple water is rich in many nutrients and electrolytes, primarily Potassium and Manganese.  We all know the benefits of potassium as an electrolyte to promote proper muscle performance (the reason so many of us eat bananas by the case).  Manganese is one that most people may not be as familiar with, but it contributes to healthy bone and connective tissue development.  It is hard to argue that both of these are super beneficial to runners and athletes.
  • DRINK maple as a company is in it more much more than money.  If you look at the side of their bottle, each bottle sold supplies 200 gallons of clean water to people in developing nations.  This is a product that you can make you feel good not just physically, but socially too.
  • Half the sugar of its main competing product, coconut water (more if you consider that many coconut water brands have started adding flavoring too), and tastes better too in my humble opinion.

Cons

  • It can be pricy at a cost of about $3 for a 12 oz. bottle, so that means this isn’t going to be for everyone.  With that being said, I think it all comes down to a matter of personal priorities.  The production process of extracting directly from a tree is both seasonal and costly, but if your priorities are to get your nutrients and hydration through natural sources and from a company that is socially responsible, then the cost is much more justifiable.
  • For those that are buying this as a way of being natural may be bothered that it comes in a plastic bottle (although recyclable).  Luckily, they have an 8 oz. size that comes in a paper carton, which is my preference.  Hopefully, they will package in a larger carton size in the future.

Who Should Try It?

Like I mentioned earlier, maple water may not be for everyone.  I would say that there are a number of people that may want to give it a try.  If you drink coconut water because you aren’t aware of alternatives, but can’t stand the taste, then you should try this.  If you are more like me and drink mostly water, but want an alternative option that is full of nutrients and electrolytes without added sugar and chemicals, you should also give it a try.  You also don’t have to drink it all day every day, so if you are a bit cash strapped, I think you can still gain benefits from having one or two a week.  In any case, I have become mildly addicted to it and think it is worth a try!

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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!