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 TOPODEANJ10…there, what do you have to lose?

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Gear Review: La Sportiva Helios SR

I love the original Helios.  Since its release, it has been one of my go-to shoes on just about any trail surface.  So you might understand my excitement when the Helios SR was announced.  Basically, one of my favorite shoes upgraded with a rock plate for added protection…AWESOME!  I had high expectations for this shoe (as I generally do for the La Sportiva brand) and wanted to fall in love with it, but while it is a solid shoe I found that it fell short of my expectations.  Let’s take a look why…

DISCLAIMER: I have no formal affiliation with La Sportiva, however, they did provide me with a demo pair for my review.

Product Description

From La Sportiva’s website, they promote the shoe as a “Sticky soled, neutral trail shoe with a rock guard ideal for trail running on technical training.”

HeliosSR

Specs

  • Weight: 8.1 oz
  • Drop: Heel: 21mm / Toe: 19mm / Drop: 2mm
  • Fit: Extremely Small (size up a full Euro size from the original Helios or a half size from the Bushido)

Out of the Box

One of the first impressions of this shoe is the look, which is a bit more slick than the original Helios.  Though it currently only comes in one color, the shiny black and yellow combo looks fantastic.  The laces were a good length as well; I didn’t find myself stepping on them or running out of lace with different lacing configurations.

Fit

The fit through the back- and mid-foot falls in line with other La Sportiva shoes.  It is snug and really wraps the foot nicely.  This is one of the things I love about their shoes; I don’t have to worry about heel slipping at all.  You come to expect a snug, narrow fit with La Sportiva shoes, but it was in the forefoot that I experienced problems with the Helios SR.  With the addition of the rock plate, they didn’t seem to adjust the height in the toe box.  So what is normally a comfortably snug forefoot now feels really cramped (even after sizing up 1/2 size from what I wear with the original Helios).  I also noticed that at the bend of the upper near the base of my big toes I was experiencing some discomfort/bruising after a few miles.  This may have been exacerbated by the fact that they already fit rather tight.  It did seem to loosen up after putting some mileage on the shoe, but never totally went away.

In Action

Fit and comfort aside, these performed exceptionally well in regards to traction and responsiveness.  The shoe felt light and fast and the rock plate provided some nice added protection over the original Helios.  The outsole, which uses La Sportiva’s high grip “sticky” rubber, handled well on just about any surface.  Here are some observations from a couple of my runs:

Test Run #1 – 6.25 Miles: non-technical, mixed trail conditions (Strava Link)
This run was a relatively flat out and back with a short steep climb at the beginning and descent back down at the end.  This run had some muddy spots off and on, allowing me to test the traction.  The one thing I like about the “banana groove” design on the Helios outsole is that they provide great grip and flexibility while also shedding mud nicely.  I didn’t really have any issues through the few muddy patches and was able to maintain my speed for the most part.  It was on the uphill and downhill that I really noticed the restrictiveness in the toe box.  While it wasn’t overbearing to deal with, it didn’t really make me fall in love with the fit either.

Test Run #2 – 14.25 Miles: semi-technical, dry trail conditions (Strava Link)
For this run, I wanted to add a bit more distance with a couple minor obstacles thrown in.  The good thing is that even though the fit was snug it resulted in very little friction from shoe movement and, as a result, I had no signs of blisters.  That being said, my opinion didn’t really improve about the fit.  Traveling over a few small sections of rock allowed me to confirm that the outsoles do indeed handle exceptionally well like most other La Sportiva models.  The rock plate also resulted in a smoother ride.

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • The outsole did not really change from the original Helios, which means that this shoe is super grippy.  I love the Helios platform on any surface, from wet, bare rock to dry, loose gravel…it just eats that stuff up and creates a great sense of confidence while running.
  • The addition of the rock plate did in fact provide an ample amount of underfoot protection.

Cons

  • The toe box is way too shallow.  La Sportiva’s are already known for their snug fit.  It feels like when they added the 3mm rock plate in the front of this shoe, they failed to adjust the toe box.  My feet felt cramped immediately…can’t imagine what it would feel like with a little bit of swelling.
  • The area on the upper where the toes bend seems to cause some minor bruising/irritation.  With a little bit of break-in time, they loosened up a little, but it never fully fixed itself.

Recommendation

Score: 3.8 of 5

I hate being overly harsh, especially because my opinion is only one in a sea of different personal experiences, but I do feel that even with the improvements the Helios SR took a step back from the original Helios.  I have run in La Sportiva shoes far more than any other trail shoe brand and therefore have come to expect near perfection from them.  Perhaps this is unfair and I have become spoiled, but it is what it is.  I will still wear this shoe, but I anticipate limiting it to runs of under 10 miles.  Beyond that they start to become too uncomfortable for my taste.  I would prefer not to size up a full size to adjust for the narrow toe box because I would worry about losing the trademark La Sportiva fit in the rest of the shoe, but this might be the best option for this model.  I would rather see La Sportiva open up the toe box a little more in the next iteration and hope they do so.

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!