Product Review: Topo Athletic Ultrafly

It has been a while since I have posted a product review.  With my peak training in full swing and the constant grind of everyday life, I have been left with little spare time.  Fear not though!  I have been out testing a few things and finally found some time to polish up my review of the new Topo Ultrafly, released in May 2016.

DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the 2016 Topo Athlete Team and these shoes were provided to me free of charge.  As always though, I aim to provide my honest feedback to help you make the right buying decision and to help Topo continuously improve their products.

Product Overview

As those of you that have been following me for a while are well aware of, I try to get most of my miles in on the trails. However, with my schedule, I still manage to log a fair amount of road and treadmill miles out of necessity.  Downside, lack of scenery; upside, I get to try out even more shoes!

The Topo Ultrafly is an extension to Topo’s Road line of shoes and is their most cushioned shoe to date.  At 28mm in the heel and 23mm in the forefoot, it offers a more cushioned ride than their Fli-lyte and Magnify models and you can definitely feel the difference when you put it on your foot.  Additionally, this is the first shoe from Topo that offers “light support” through the incorporation of a denser foam on the medial side of the outsole.  So, while it isn’t a full on support shoe (it doesn’t incorporate plastic posts like most other support shoes), it does provide a bit more support than its brothers and sisters.  The outsole pattern and upper are not identical to their other road shoes, but are similar enough in look, fit, and feel that if you like the other road shoes from Topo, you will not have to adjust much to these.  Lastly, the 5mm heel-to-toe drop offers a more natural foot feel without having to transition all the way to zero drop…it is a happy median.

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Specs

Release Date: May, 2016
Price: $120 (An extra 10% off at topoathletic.com with code TOPODEAN10)
Weight: 9.2 oz (M9)
Stack Height: 28mm/23mm (5mm Heel to Toe Drop)
Fit: True to Size

Design/Fit

The design and fit holds true to Topo principles.  It fits true to size and follows the foot shaped design that gives you freedom in the toe box while securing the rest of the foot through the mid foot and heel.  The upper is light and breathable, yet durable.  My pair of Ultrafly has over 100 miles on them and they still look like I just took them out of the box.

Performance

Comparably Light

For a shoe with this kind of stack height, the Ultrafly is actually pretty light at 9.2 oz for a Men’s size 9.  It is at the lighter end of other comparable popular road shoes such as the Mizuno Wave Rider (9.7 oz) , Saucony Ride (9.2 oz), Nike Zoom Pegasus (9.9 0z.) and the Brooks Glycerin (10.6 oz). Topo saves a fair amount of weight with their light, breathable upper as well as through the strategic use of different foam types to incorporate in mild guidance without overdoing it on denser, heavier foam.  To be honest, I have never fretted too much over the weight of a shoe, particular within a half ounce or so and I don’t think most runners should either.  If the shoe performs for you and you train appropriately, then I don’t think it matters all that much to a majority of runners.

Comfort

The added cushion is definitely noticeable and makes for a great feeling underfoot.  With a 28/23 stack height, the Ultrafly definitely provides a soft, cushiony ride, but not without a minimal break-in period.  I found them to be a little stiff out of the box, but they did loosen up a tad after 25-30 miles.

Ride

Topo markets the Ultrafly as a guidance shoe thanks to the denser foam they use on the medial side of the shoe.  As this is further back on the shoe, you will probably notice this more if you are more a heel striker than you would if you run on your fore or mid foot.  The ride of this shoe was definitely plush, but I found the heel to toe transition to be a bit more stiff than their other road shoes, even after a break-in period.  As a support shoe, this is clearly by design and should resonate with the types of runners looking for a bit more in their shoe.

Conclusion

As a light support shoe, I think the Ultrafly is a solid first version.  It provides added support without hindering the natural movement of the foot, so it is not going to mess with your natural body mechanics.  While my personal preference is probably still for the more flexible Magnify, I would recommend this shoe to anyone that is looking for a shoe that embraces the natural shape and function of the foot while providing a bit more support.

Pro’s

  • The cushioning feels great under foot without being overly squishy.
  • The overall weight of the shoe, especially compared to its industry peers, is light.  The makes it a great candidate for race day or as an every day trainer.

Con’s

  • Not as flexible as I typically like in a shoe, but as this is built to be a moderate support shoe, this is by design.  It will work for runners that seek out more support in a shoe.
  • I don’t typically have to deal with rain as often on the road,  but I found the drainage to be less than ideal.  After a 6 mile run in pouring rain, they felt heavy and had puddles in the heels when I took them off.  This is due to the rubber bumper that wraps around the base of the upper.  I would like to see the next version to have some areas where the water can escape.  In the meantime, save these for dry days.

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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Gear Review: Topo Athletic HydroVenture

Ah, Spring…the time of the year when the snow starts to melt and rain begins to fall from the sky.  No matter where you are at (with some exceptions — I am looking at you Arizona!), Spring typically means copious amounts of mud and rain on the trails.  Despite this annual occurrence, it has always surprised me that there isn’t a wider selection of waterproof trail running shoes on the market.  Sure, there are a few, but a majority of waterproof gear comes in the form of a hiking boot and other clunky footwear.  Well, that is no longer the case.  Just in time for the wet weather of 2016, Topo Athletic released their waterproof shoe, the HydroVenture.  As a member of the Topo team, naturally I was going to try it out…so I did and now I want to share my thoughts.

DISCLAIMER: I am a member of the 2016 Topo athlete team and this pair of HydroVentures was provided to me for free.  However, my goal with every product review is to provide an unbiased review so that you can make informed decisions and I can help the company improve on their product.

Overview

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The HydroVenture follows the same design principles as all of the other shoes in the Topo product line:

  • A wide toe box allowing for freedom of movement and natural splay of the toes.
  • A narrower mid foot and heel that provides a more snug fit throughout in order to provide a secure feeling without slippage.
  • A low heel drop to promote natural foot motion.

In addition, the HydroVenture incorporates some additional features to round out the shoe and make it the lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market.

  • A partnership with eVent incorporates a waterproof membrane that keeps water out without sacrificing breathability.
  • A rockplate to promote underfoot protection in the front of the foot.

Specs

Release Date: March, 2016
Price: $130
Weight: 9.7 oz (M9)
Stack Height: 23mm/20mm (2mm Heel to Toe Drop)
Fit: True to Size to 1/2 Size Small

Design/Fit

The HydroVenture uses the same outsole lug pattern as the MT-2 and the RunVenture.  After using both of these shoes extensively over the past year, I say if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it.  The outsole has proven to be an extremely durable, multi-purpose choice for all types of terrain.  The stack height, ride, and responsiveness are all very similar to the MT-2.  In other words, it is a mid-cushion shoe that provides ample protection underfoot without sacrificing too much responsiveness.  The upper is similar in appearance to other Topo trail shoes, but adds the eVent waterproof membrane.  The special thing about this membrane is it gives you true waterproofing without a significant addition to the weight or without sacrificing breathability.  In fact, the HydroVenture weighs only about a half ounce more than the MT-2.

As far as fit, I did notice a slight difference here.  Whereas the upper on the MT-2 seems to have a little bit of stretch, the HydroVenture, likely because of the waterproofing, didn’t have as much give.  As a result, the shoe felt just a slight bit tighter in the upper mid foot.  I accommodated this by loosening the laces a little bit, which seemed to do the trick.  Another option for some may be to go up a half size.

Performance

Light

The shoe comes in at 9.7 oz for a Men’s 9, which is middle of the pack for a mid-cushion trail shoe.  I personally did not see this as an issue as the shoe still felt pretty light and responsive.  Also, considering the trade-offs, dry feet are more important on some runs than a little bit of (barely noticeable) added weight.

Waterproof

Prior to trying on the shoes, I made a video illustrating the waterproof capabilities.  I put a paper towel in the shoe and poured water over it.  The end result, a dry paper towel.  You can find the video here:

Now that is all fine and dandy, but how about real world application.  I purposely delayed my review of the shoe until I could put it through the ultimate test; the Gorge Waterfalls 100K in Cascade Locks, Oregon.  During the race, we crossed more than a dozen waterfalls and just as many stream crossings.  While the race didn’t go as planned performance wise, my feet did not get damp in the least.  Furthermore, the shoe provided great traction over the wet, mossy, rocky surfaces.  Lastly, the shoe didn’t seem to sacrifice breathability.  Most hiking shoes that I have that are waterproof trap in the heat…not these.  My feet stayed cool the whole time.  Honestly, I couldn’t have been more pleased with the performance of the shoe on the course.  Here are some pictures and a link to the run on Strava:

Gorge Waterfalls 100K on Strava

Comfortable

My longest run in the HydroVenture was the 50 race miles on wet, rocky terrain through the Columbia River Gorge.  During this run, I felt the shoe had more than enough cushion.  Even on the pavement sections, they provided a smooth, comfortable ride.  As is typical with Topo, my toes had plenty of room to move freely.  What is even more important is that I experienced no blisters or hotspots thanks to the secure fit.

Conclusion

I am a big fan of Topo no doubt, but putting that aside, these are a game changer in my opinion.  I clearly favor the the Topo design methodology, but beyond that, to release such an effective waterproof trail shoe in such a lightweight package is truly an accomplishment.  If you haven’t found a reason to try out Topo yet, this should be it.  As I said, most of us are in grave need for a waterproof trail runner that feels great and works without feeling like we are running in cement shoes.  This is that shoe.  I see these playing a key role in my shoe rotation anytime I am running in wet conditions.  As far as pro’s and con’s:

Pro’s

  • Definitely the waterproofing…it works!
  • Lightest waterproof trail shoe on the market!
  • Topo design more closely aligns with my foot shape and the natural mechanics of humans.

Con’s

  • The upper is a bit more restrictive than their other shoes.  You will want to loosen the laces or size up a half size.
  • Speaking of the laces, they were a bit short.  Double-knotting them was a bit iffy in a standard lacing configuration.

If this review wasn’t incentive enough to try the HydroVentures, how about a 10% off code at TopoAthletic.com.  Just use TOPODEAN10.

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!

 

 

Gear Review: Topo MT-2

Last summer, I reviewed the Runventure; what I considered to be the first serious trail running shoe from new, upstart running shoe company Topo Athletic.  Short of a few very minor tweaks, I found this shoe to already be one of the favorites in my closet for anything under 20 miles.  I was surprised that such a young company could nail a trail running shoe with their version one release, then again, maybe I shouldn’t have been given the experience of their founder Tony Post.  My one major complaint as an ultrarunner is that I struggled to use it over really long distances without my legs feeling hammered.  I, like most others, prefer a bit more cushion with those longer distances.  Enter the MT-2, which Topo released in November, 2015.  Let’s take a look and see if they were better!

DISCLAIMER: I purchased the MT-2s and began crafting this review prior to joining, however, I am now a member of the 2016 Topo Athlete team.

Product Description
If I was to try and describe the MT-2 in one sentence, I would call it the long-distance version of the Runventure.  As you pull the shoe out of the box, you will immediately notice the similarities with the Runventure.  It still emphasizes the wide toe-box with a snug, tapered midfoot and heel.  It also sticks to the natural running approach with only a slight 3mm heel-to-toe offset.  Despite the added cushion, the MT-2 is actually 0.3oz lighter than the Runventure, likely due to changes to the foam and the absence of the rock plate.

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Specs
Weight: 8.5 oz (size 9)
Drop: Heel: 23mm / Toe: 20mm / Drop: 3mm
Fit: True to Size
Price: $100

Outside of the Shoe
I have included pictures of the upper and outsole above to give you an idea of what they look like. The upper and outsole are basically the same as the Runventure; here is a recap:

  • The upper is a breathable mesh material which looks good and has a durable feel to it.
  • A standard lacing system.
  • The tongue and heel cup offer a good amount of padding while still providing a minimalist feel. It fits well enough to keep debris out of the inside of the shoe.
  • The lug pattern on the outsole provides good coverage and grip. The lugs are shallow enough to preserve ground feel, but deep enough to provide great grip in varying conditions. You will also notice a couple breaks in the lugs that allow the shoe to bend at all of the natural flex points.

Inside of the Shoe/Fit
One of the things that I love about what Topo is doing with their shoes is the consistency of their fit across models.  There is no guess work like with many other brands as to whether or not you should size up or down based on the particular model you are buying.  If you have worn a Topo shoe before and found your ideal size, you can pretty much guarantee that trying a different model will have the same type of fit.  As to what that fit is, I stick by my belief that Topo offers the most anatomically correct shoe on the market.  The wide forefoot offers ample room for proper toe splay and freedom of movement, while the midfoot and heel taper a bit to offer a more secure fit through the rest of the shoe.  The result is a shoe that allows the foot to function as it was designed without sliding around in the shoe and causing blisters.

For initial fit, MT-2 removes the rock plate and adds cushion, which adds 4mm to the stack height in the heel and 3mm to the forefoot versus the Runventure.  This results in a noticeably softer feel.

In Action
As far as trail running is concerned, I have been using the MT-2s almost exclusively since picking them up in December.  Partly for this review, and partly because I really love this shoe.  The added cushioning and softer feel makes a HUGE difference over longer distances.  My longest distance during the review was just under 20 miles and aside from normally expected fatigue, my legs still felt fresh and strong.  I didn’t notice any significant loss of responsiveness with the added stack height.  In terms of the elimination of the rock plate, it didn’t cause any foot protection issues.  The added thickness of the shoe provides more than enough protection, making it unnecessary in the MT-2.  As far as traction, it mimicked the excellent performance of the Runventure.  Unlike my review of that shoe over the summer, I have been able to add in some snow running time with the MT-2 and it is great.  Running on the snow is a breeze.  I really can’t complain too much about traction in this shoe; it provides the maximum level of confidence.

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My Final Thoughts
The MT-2 is the second shoe in the Topo trail line and is a great complement to the already successful and proven Runventure.  With only two shoes in their line, they have focused on making an all-purpose product that is adaptable to all terrains.  In training, the durability of the shoe ensures you can log lots of miles in them before replacement.  In racing, the low weight and responsiveness ensures that you will be able to move quickly.  This works well for most runners, especially if you can’t afford to keep a closet full of specialized shoes.

Pros

  • Here is a copy and paste from my Runventure review because the message is the same and one that needs to be reinforced.  My favorite aspect of these shoes is the fit. The toe box had plenty of space to let my toes splay naturally, but the mid foot through the back of the heel still had a snug fit that kept the shoe from sliding all around. This is my favorite aspect of the shoe and the Topo brand overall.
  • They nailed the cushioning in this shoe, enabling longer distances without really sacrificing weight, protection, or underfoot feel.
  • Proves itself as a durable shoe that will last.
  • Price.  As shoe prices continue to climb, you can get the MT-2 for $100.  For what you get, this shoe definitely gives you the most bang for your buck.

Cons

  • I know you will have a hard time believing me here, but I sat and thought about this for a long time and honestly couldn’t come up with anything significant.  They could certainly toy around with different designs to see if they can make it better (and I am sure they will).  Maybe try different lacing or a different tongue design, but ultimately, that would be nitpicky at this point.

Recommendation

Score: 4.9 of 5

Look, everyone is different and I get that, but this review is about my experience afterall and this has become the single best shoe, FOR ME, that I have worn (unseating the Salomon Sense Mantra).  I have always been reluctant to commit to a single shoe brand because of how picky I am, but it was this shoe that ultimately convinced me to join the 2016 Topo Athlete team.  Because everyone is different, I can’t say that this shoe will be as perfect for you, but I can say that Topo is at least worth a very hard, serious look…you might be exceedingly pleased.  If you decide to follow my advice, you can give them a try AND get 10% off at topoathletic.com with code TOPODEAN10…there, what do you have to lose?

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!