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!

 

 

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Gear Review: Salming Trail T1

I have been wanting to post my review of the Salming Trail T1 for a while, but end of the year races and a bit of off-season rest greatly limited the amount of time I have had to review new products, especially shoes (which I don’t like to experiment with too close to races).  After finally getting a few more runs in them recently though, I can go ahead and share my thoughts.

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

Product Description

Salming, hailing from Sweden, is one of the newcomers (relatively speaking) to the US running shoe market.  To date, they offer six different models, with the Trail T1 being their lone trail model.  I have heard great things about their road shoes, so I was interested to see how well their entry into the trail market performed.

Out of the box, the first thing you notice is the rather bold color scheme of the shoe.  Beyond that, you will see a pretty standard shoe that clearly takes a page or two from its road-based siblings.  It has a traditional lacing system and a traditional tongue.  One of the add-ons to the outside of the upper on the T1 is the RocShield, which is a toe guard that wraps around the outside front of the shoe to help protect the toes on those occasions where you catch a rock or root.

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Specs

  • Weight: 10.2 oz
  • Drop: 5mm
  • Fit: Normal/True to Size

Fit

I would classify the fit of the T1 as true to size.  Its fit and feel feels similar to the Scarpa branded shoes that I have reviewed in the past, if not perhaps a tiny bit more snug.  It does have a bit of a stiffer feel than I expected and the upper doesn’t seem to have much stretch to it, which made me wonder how it would feel in action.  I have narrow feet and the shoes didn’t seem too big/wide, but as I learned in the run, I experienced a bit more slippage that I expected when I first put the shoes on.

In Action

As most of you know by now, I do most of my test runs in and around the varying terrain of Salt Lake City.  Running in the mountains and foothills in the T1s ended up giving me two distinctly different impressions.

In the foothills, where the trails are a bit more groomed and rolling, these shoes performed well.  They were responsive and provided a great amount of traction, allowing me to run with confidence.  I really have no complaints on this type of terrain to call out as they seemed to have been engineered with this in mind.  It was when I took them to the steep, technical trails of the Wasatch where these fell a bit short for me.  For one, I had a bit of slipping in the shoe on the steeper downhills that caused hotspots after only 7-8 miles.  Another cause for concern was the stiffness of the outsole.  They didn’t seem to conform to the terrain as well as I would have liked.  While I had no ankle rolling incidents to speak of, I was not comfortable in the way the shoe flexed when traveling over rocks.  They also didn’t seem to loosen up after about 50 miles on the shoes either, so that is a minor concern for someone like me that has a history of rolled ankles.

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • The upper seems pretty durable, which I would expect from the nylon material used.  And while I have read other reviews expressing some concerns with the feet getting hot because of this material, I didn’t really experience anything of the sort.
  • The outer provides solid, reliable traction on all conditions that I tested (no snow).
  • Pretty responsive, allowing for fast running, despite a weight that is somewhat on the heavier side.

Cons

  • My biggest complaint was with the stiffness of the outsole, which caused some uneven footing on technical terrain.  If you have a tendency to roll ankles, these might not be your best option.
  • While slippage wasn’t an issue on flatter stuff, it was definitely something I couldn’t seem to fix in the T1 on steeper downhills.  It makes me hesitant to use these shoes for anything over ten or so miles.

Recommendation

Score: 3.6 of 5

Overall, this is a respectable first entrant from Salming into the trail market.  While there is definitely some room for improvement, I think this shoe gives Salming a solid foundation to gather feedback and build their future trail line off of.  I would slate this shoe in for those that prefer the feel of a road shoe and spend most of their time on well-groomed, flatter trails.  I will still continue to use these in my neighboring foothills, but will likely find something else in my closet for the more mountainous destinations.

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: Scarpa Spark

I have been working on this one for some time, but didn’t feel like I could release it until I got a really solid long run of 20+ miles in, which I did this morning.  Some of you may have read the review that I did of the SCARPA Tru last fall (found here), which was not only my first review of a Scarpa shoe, but also my first experience with them.  Since writing the review, I have continued to have success with the Tru, including during my first 100 mile completion and, most recently, a podium finish at the Grand Canyon 50K.  This has made me want to take a closer look at the brand, so I reached out to Scarpa to see if I could take a look at another one of their shoes, the Spark.  They were happy to oblige…let’s take a closer look.

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

Product Description

From the SCARPA website:
“Somehow the Spark feels weightless on your feet, but offers substantial support and protection, too. We use a slightly shallower lug profile and less drop (6mm) to give the Spark a minimalist feel underfoot. Same grippy HDR rubber as the Ignite. A high-tensile fabric, protective layer in the forefoot armors your feet’s most vulnerable area. The Spark delivers a slightly more nimble feel, but even so–we’ve had some of our athletes complete ultras in them. If you prefer a more minimal, less-structured shoe, then the Spark might be the perfect solution to your run. ”

Out of the box, you can definitely tell that these are related of the Tru.  They share the same outsole lug pattern and have a similar feel underfoot.  The main difference aside from a bit more cushioning is in the upper, which definitely has a heavier/sturdier look to it.  Despite that, the shoe only have ad added weight of 0.7 oz compared to the Tru.

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Specs

  • Weight: 9.2 oz
  • Drop: 5mm
  • Fit: Normal/True to Size

Fit

The Spark fits very similarly to the Tru, which is to say, it is not too snug and not too loose on the foot.  It holds the heel fairly well in most scenarios and fits the foot well from back to front.  It does feel a bit softer in the upper than the Tru, especially in the heel where there is a bit more padding.  A couple observations on the fit…it does seem to slip a bit on steep downhills.  However, unlike the Tru, it has an upper lace eyelet that allows you to tie a heel lock that helps to alleviate this a bit.  I also noticed that after running on side-sloped trails for a longer period, I got a little sore on the ball of my foot (although had no blisters).  This, of course, is a problem I have had with most shoes and may not be completely avoidable.

In Action

As I mentioned, the outsole is identical to that found on the Tru, so my experience was basically the same.  The shoe performs well on varied terrain.  No blisters or hot spots and no slipping around.  One thing I will note here about this outsole that I didn’t cover in my Tru review is how well it sheds mud.  I wore the Tru through some severely muddy conditions at the Grand Canyon 50K (after my initial review) and had ZERO issues.  I mention it here because, as I said, the outsole is the same and therefore I would expect it to perform similarly..  Lastly, the shoe has a very stable platform, which is of high importance with me as I have a tendency to roll my ankles from time to time.  I try to test all of the shoes I review on technical terrain for this reason (sometimes to my own peril) and I didn’t have a single incident with the Spark.  Here are details and Strava links for a few of my main runs with the Spark.

Test Run #1 – 7.0 Mile technical trail, damp/wet trail conditions (Strava Link)

Test Run #2 – 11.25 Mile rolling terrain trail, dry trail conditions (Strava Link)

My Final Thoughts

Pros

  • The upper is definitely more sturdy than the Tru.  If you are looking at Scarpa and don’t know which one to get, I would recommend this one if you are looking for a slightly heavier trainer or you have a history with wearing out uppers quickly.  This one will last longer.
  • The outer works well on just about every surface, giving you the confidence to run to your fullest without worrying too much about losing your footing.
  • The one thing that this has that this shoe has that the Tru doesn’t is an upper lace eyelet, which is a big deal for me.  I like having the ability to tie the laces further up my foot or tying in a heel lock if needed.
  • Solid, yet flexible platform.  I had no issues with ankle stability at any point in this shoe.

Cons

  • I know this is personal preference, but they feel a bit too soft and bulky for my taste.  Even though they aren’t technically that much heavier than the Tru…they feel like it.  I prefer a lighter feel.
  • Still seems too have a problem with slipping forward into the toe box on steeper declines.

Recommendation

Score: 4.3 of 5 (Recommend)

While I like the addition of the upper eyelet as I have already mentioned, I definitely like the lighter feel of the Tru, so I am going to give it a slighter lower score in comparison.  I think there are ways in which they could offer a sturdier upper without having a bulky feel to it, and I hope that they do that in future iterations.  Still, this is a solid shoe from Scarpa and worth trying if you are feeling on branching out.

One additional note as I am posting this the weekend after the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2015 show.  I got a chance to see the new trail shoe line from Scarpa.  Now I have been impressed with what I have seen so far from them overall, but the new line looks AWESOME.  They are due out next Spring and I am not sure what this means for the current line (they couldn’t say), but I would guess they may move away from it.  That being said, would I hesitate to buy another pair of these?  Nope.  They are a good shoe and worth getting some use out of while waiting to see what else Scarpa brings to market.

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!