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: Topo Athletic Terraventure Trail Shoe

Topo Athletic has been seeing a lot of momentum in the market recently as they continue to expand their product line and reach a wider user base.  I see more and more of them out on the trail, which tells me that their formula is working.  Their most recent expansion of their Trail line is the Terraventure.  For those of you that have been looking for a shoe that caters to more rugged terrain, this one is meant for you.  Let’s take a look.

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

The Terraventure is marketed as a shoe for more rugged terrain where traction and durability is more critical.  In looking at the shoe out of the box, I can see that this was definitely the focus in creating this particular shoe.  I don’t see the Terraventure as a shoe built completely from the ground up as much as I do a spinoff from one of their existing shoes, the MT-2.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the MT-2 (it is my favorite of their shoes all-around to date), but it does have its shortcomings when running in the rugged Wasatch Mountains of Northern Utah.  The Terraventures are meant to address those shortcomings, most notably with:

  • A more durable upper
  • A more grippy outsole
  • A more protected ride with the inclusion of a rock plate

Of course, these things don’t come for free with the trade-off being more weight in the shoe.  However, if you are looking for something that you can beat up and don’t mind a little more weight, this might be the shoe for you.

Specs

As I am largely comparing the Terraventure to the MT-2, I wanted to include the side-by-side specs for ease of comparison.  Also, here is a link to my review of the MT-2 if you want to look at that one.

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As you can see, they are comparable in most areas.  The difference in the stack height is largely attributed to the deeper lugs and the addition of the rock plate in the shoe.  The price is only slightly higher, most likely reflecting the increase in materials used.

Outside the Shoe

Sticking with the comparison with the MT-2, I have included some side by side images below (the terraventure is on the left/bottom in these photos).

On the upper, the design is only slightly different aesthetically, but largely the same.  What you can’t tell from the image, but is the main difference between the two in terms of the upper is that the Terraventure uses a slightly thicker, more durable material.  This is largely meant to reduce tearing.  The shoe uses a standard lacing system along with a nicely padded heel and tongue.

     

On the outsole, the lug pattern did change ever so slightly, particularly in the midfoot.  Additionally, the lugs are about 1mm deeper for increased traction and grip.

Inside the Shoe/Fit

The inside of the shoe fit almost identical to that of the MT-2.  That is to say, plently of room in the toe box for your toes to splay with a snug fit through the midfoot and heel to keep the shoe firmly in place.  This is Topos bread and butter design approach and it is resonating with a lot of people.

In Action

Fall/winter is my favorite time to test new shoes here in Salt Lake City because you have access to all weather conditions depending on whether you are back in the mountains or down in the foothills.  As such, I got a chance to test these in snow, mud, and dry conditions.  I had a number of observations:

  • The fit was pretty much identical to that of the MT-2.  In other words, my toes had ample room in the wide toe box while the shoe stayed snug with the secure fit through the mid-foot and heel.  Topo continues to stick with what works in my opinion.  They didn’t invent the wide toe box and foot shape design, but I think they perfected it.  While I have found other models to be clumsy in the midfoot and heel (causing slipping and blisters), the Topo design approach simply does not slip and slide around.
  • The deeper lugs, although only about 1mm of depth was added, made a world of difference, particularly in slightly packed snow.  While running, it allows the shoe to get a deeper grip in the snow, which reduced slipping by quite a bit.  In mud, I felt that they did a great job at shedding and preventing build up underfoot.
  • I noticed the rock plate, particularly on scree, where pointy rocks definitely felt a bit more dull.
  • No blisters or hot spots, which has never been a problem with Topo.
  • While heavier in comparison to the MT-2 that I usually run in, they didn’t seem cumbersome.  The shoe was responsive and had a good transition throughout the foot.

Overall, I maxed the distance in these out at about 12 miles for a single run.  It is a bit shorter than I usually like to go, but such is life in my offseason training plan.  Still, I didn’t see anything in those runs that would indicate possible problems over longer distances.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

As with most trail runners, I have a number of different shoes that I use depending on where I am running and what the conditions are.  In terms of the Terraventure, I see these becoming an integral part of my every day training, when I often like to wear a heavier shoe.  I also see myself being able to log more miles in a pair of Terraventure versus the MT-2 thanks to the durability.  I would then save the lighter MT-2 for race days or speed trail workouts.  For everyone else, I always recommend that you at least try Topo out if you haven’t before; all of their models promote proper foot and running form through their foot shaped design and low heel-toe drop.  If you primarily run in rugged terrain and/or are looking for a solid everyday trainer, I would start with the Terraventure.

Pro’s

  • The increased durability really lived up to the test.  Have yet to see so much as a snag in my Terraventure.
  • The added 1mm in lug depth doesn’t seem like much, but I definitely felt a difference when running in mud/packed snow.  In fact, this was probably one of the most notable improvements in my wear test.
  • The rock plate is a nice addition.  The few times running on scree, I definitely felt more comfortable under foot.

Con’s

  • It is a bit heavy in comparison, coming in a full 2 oz. heavier than the MT-2.  As a user, if you are deciding between Topo shoes, you really need to understand how you want to use the shoe and what the most important factors are, weight or durability.  At the same time, it is actually lighter than many other shoes in the space that tout higher durability, such as the Brooks Cascadia or Saucony Xodus.
  • Breathability, while still more than adequate, is not as good as the MT-2 (as you would expect with a thicker upper).  This, again, is more of a tradeoff versus a deficiency.  I never had an issue with my feet sweating in the Terraventure, but the more durable upper definitely takes away a bit of the airy feel that I get with the MT-2.

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!

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!