Product Review: Topo Athletic COR

Any runner will tell you that in order to continue doing what we all love, it is important to take care of your body.  One way to do that is by cross-training to build strength and stay healthy.  That is one of the things that I love about Topo Athletic shoes; in addition to their running models, they also have a line dedicated to cross-training and gym work.  The COR is the latest model in the gym line and the shoe that I will review for you today.

DISCLAIMER: I bought these shoes at a discount as a member of the Topo Athlete team.

Product Description

The COR is marketed as a light, minimal shoe that can be worn in the gym or around town.  My review will focus on the gym aspects of the shoe.  It has a simplistic look, but don’t let that fool you, it is a high performance shoe.

Specs

The COR is built on the same platform as Topo’s minimalist road shoe, the ST-2.  This translates well into the gym for a number of reasons.  First, it is a zero-drop shoe with a low to the ground feel, providing you with a firm, stable base perfect for lifting weights or high-intensity cardio workouts.  Second, it has a light feel so that it doesn’t feel clunky or impede quick movements.

Weight: 6.8 oz (Size M9)
Heel Drop: 0mm
Stack Height: 16mm

Outside the Shoe

The upper is an elastic-fit mesh with a velcro strap.  The primary driver of the fit is the elastic upper where the strap allows you to fine tune how snug it feels.  The mesh is completely breathable and provides a comfortable fit.  The mesh is a bit thicker than I expected, but results in an overall softer feel without sacrificing much in terms of weight.  While I experienced no issues, the elastic fit might make the shoe difficult to get on if you have a large foot, but I have heard from others that the elastic loosens up a bit after a few wears.  The velcro strap across the top allows you to apply just the right amount of added pressure to keep the shoe snug in place without feeling too restrictive.

Inside the Shoe/Fit

The fit of this shoe is great.  It is light, airy, and comfortable.  The mesh material of the upper is soft enough that you don’t really feel like you are wearing anything.  The natural, low-to-the ground footbed and wide toe box also allow your foot to do what it is meant to do.

In Action

One of the concerns I had before trying the shoe in action was that the upper wouldn’t provide enough stability on quick side movements (as typically found in HIIT-type workouts) and that my foot would roll over the side of the shoe.  So far, this hasn’t been the case.  The upper is flexible, but the strap provides just enough stability to prevent this from happening without inhibiting freedom of movement.  Another thing that look out for in gym shoes is that sometimes, in workouts with explosive side-to-side movements, I have gotten foot cramps because the shoe fit is too tight and restrictive.  Throughout my use of the COR, I have yet to experience such cramping.  The shoe provides stability and confidence to do such workouts without worrying about traction injury.  Lastly, being a low-to-the-ground zero-drop shoe, it provided an excellent platform for strength workouts.  It helped with my form during squats while also providing safe footing while doing weight work.

Final Thoughts and Recommendations

From the gym aspect, it’s a very solid shoe.  Whether you work out at home or the gym, it is a shoe that will get the job done for every workout.  If you are ok with the look, it would even be a comfortable everyday shoe.  And since it is built on the same platform as the ST-2, I would feel confident going for a run in these too.  It is a great multi-purpose shoe.

Pro’s

  • Platform is perfect for just about every type of workout.
  • Upper is definitely more breathable than I expected.  It feels great around the foot.
  • At only $90, this is the best price you will get for a high performance shoe that can be used in so many different ways.

Con’s

  • Stability strap is only mildly helpful in my opinion.  Could probably be improved to provide even more stability support.

If you decide to give them a try and can’t find them locally, you can order them (or any other Topo shoe) at topoathletic.com AND get 10% off with code 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!

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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.

M_Ultrafly-Black_Yellow-hero-944x720

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!

Gear Review: Coast HL27 Headlamp

As I was walking through Outdoor Retailer back in August, I was passing by the Coast booth and their product line up caught my eye.  Having never heard of them before, I decided to stop by and have a chat.  They had a very interesting looking suite of light products, including the Coast HL27.  As it turns out, they don’t specifically target their products toward the trail running crew…you are more likely to find their product line up inside of a Home Depot than your local running store.  Still, the product design and specs all looked promising and the $60 price tag is hard to beat, so after a conversation with their Director of Marketing, I decided to pick up a HL27 to test and review.  Let’s have a look shall we?

DISCLAIMER: None to note.  They were selling them at Outdoor Retailer for a discount, so I decided to buy one to review.  Afterall, you can never have too many headlamps!

In The Box and Specs

In the box, you have the headlamp with 3 AA batteries included.  The design of the headlamp is a three strap harness with the battery pack on the back of the head, similar to the Petzl NAO.  The lamp is a single LED center-mounted light, which tilts to adjust the aim of the light.  It includes a pretty simple interface, with an on/off button and a dial, which allows you to quickly adjust the light output.

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Price: $60 Retail

Light Output: Variable, 1 lumen -> 330 lumens
Runtime: 93 hours -> 8:30 hours
Beam Distance: 7 meters – 129 meters
Weight: 6.9 ounces

Fit

The fit of this headlamp is actually quite nice.  It’s three strap harness approach fits securely to the head with no movement, all the while not feeling too tight or restrictive.  The light unit on the front has a relatively small footprint, which is also nice.  It is slightly curved to conform to the shape of the forehead as opposed to having an awkward boxy feel like some others I have tested.  If I was to complain about anything regarding the fit, it would probably be the battery pack.  I like that they don’t use a proprietary battery pack because of the flexibility.  At the same time, the tradeoff is that standard batteries tend to take up more space, resulting in a larger battery pack.  In my use of this, it didn’t get in the way of anything (like my hat or Orange Mud rear bottle pack), but it definitely feels a bit bulkier in the back.

In Action

First, the back yard test.  I usually take this picture as a means of getting a general idea of the light output, range, and spread pattern.  As you can see, the light output is pretty solid at the max 330 lumens.  It has a super wide light spread and throws light outward to a decent distance.  The HL27 does not have a beam mode, offering only a flood light option.  [UPDATE on 10/15/2015: Even the best reviewers make mistakes, especially when they rip open the product out of excitement and don’t thoroughly read the instructions.  The HL27 does have a spot mode, controlled by turning the bezel right in front of the power button.  In fact, it is great, because it also takes a dimmer approach that allows you to go from flood mode to beam mode and anywhere in between depending on your need.  Apologies for missing this initially.  I have updated the pictures to include one of spot beam mode.]  In the comparison pictures below, you will quickly notice the difference between the HL27 and the Petzl NAO (at 535 lumens).  You can definitely see a difference between each of the pictures, but my feeling here is that this comes down to a matter of preference; Assuming that the distance that the light casts forward is acceptable, I kind of prefer the wider light coverage because it gives me a more comfortable feeling of my immediate surroundings.

 Coast HL27 (Flood)

 Coast HL27 (Spot)

NAO Light Output Petzl NAO

Second, is the run test.  I took this out on a few runs, including the first part of the Bear 100 recently and I would say that for a lamp that was not designed specifically for running, it did a fantastic job.  To revisit the flood vs. beam light approach, I found the lamp in flood mode to provide ample light output.  I never felt like I couldn’t see obstacles in my immediate path without having to adjust my speed and was always able to a good bearing on where I was.

My absolutely favorite part of this lamp is the way in which you can adjust light output on the fly.  Most lamps I have used either allow you to program in a few light output modes or automatically adjust the light output for you (i.e., reactive lighting).  The HL27 incorporates a dial, right behind the on/off button, that acts as a dimmer switch.  This dial allows you to quickly go from 1 to 330 lumens and everything in between…I love this flexibility and level of control.  The second great aspect is the battery life, which provides 8+ hours of use on max output.  I do wish it had a battery life indicator though so I didn’t have to use fully charged batteries on each run to feel comfortable that I wasn’t accidentally running on low batteries.

Overall Thoughts

Pros

  • 8+ hour battery life on full light output is hard to beat.  In most cases, if you are also tuning the light output throughout the run based on what you need, it should last the duration of the night.
  • The light output and flood-to-spot dials offer full flexibility and control to the runner in regards to controlling real-time light output.
  • Overall value.  For $60, this is a feature-packed headlamp!

Cons

  • No battery life indicator to tell you when you are close to going dark.  This is key for many trail runners since the last thing you want is to be caught in a remote area in the dark.
  • Large battery pack adds bulk and a little bit of weight to the lamp (about a half an ounce heavier than the Petzl NAO).
  • Although I didn’t experience any issues in my initial use, the tilt mechanism on the lamp seems to be a bit fragile.  We will see how durable it is with continued use, but worth calling out.

Overall, the Coast HL27 is solid running headlamp.  $60 for a 330 lumen headlamp with 8+ hours of battery life is phenomenal.  At half to a third of the cost of other comparable brands on the market, this lamp is a great option for the cost sensitive trail runner that isn’t necessarily bothered by the specific con’s that I called out.

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!