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 TOPODEANJ10...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: 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 TOPODEANJ10...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!

TNFECS Utah 50K (Sorta) 2016 Race Report

Well, that was one helluva way to end my season.  My goal was to run a fast 50K to finish my 2016 races on a strong note, but Mother Nature had something quite different in store for me at The North Face Endurance Challenge Utah this year.  Watching the weather forecast all week was depressing, with constant rain and snow predicted for 2 1/2 straight days leading into the race on Saturday.  As it came closer, I decided to accept that I would be dealing with the adverse conditions and make the best of it, even if it wasn’t what I was hoping for.

The race had a scheduled start of 7:00am on Saturday morning.  Living about 45 minutes away, I decided to sleep in my own bed the night before and drive up in the morning.  Since I don’t like to feel rushed, I got there at about 6:15 only to find out that the race start was delayed until 8:00.  To pile on to it, at about 7:15, the race crew made the announcement that the 50 Milers that started a couple hours earlier were being rerouted because the upper half of the mountain was experiencing white out conditions and the course markers were buried in snow.  We too would now be running a modified course; two loops of the half marathon course.  So, my 50K turns into a Marathon at the last minute…oh well, you can’t control the weather and I was already there so I might as well MAN UP!

We started out on the trail in three waves with instructions on the new route to help spread us out on the single track.  I took off in the first wave and we immediately went the wrong way.  By the time we figured it out, we tacked on an extra half mile and ended up behind most of wave 2 and 3.  This created quite the bottleneck as we all tried to swerve around people in the mud (not always so gracefully).  The first climb is supposed to go up over 3,000 feet to Jupiter Peak, but instead, we went up about 1,400 feet before we started cutting across the middle of the mountain to the other side to run down.  There were a few sections on the first loop that were actually pretty runnable and I moved as fast as I could.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was too busy trying to not fall on my ass, but I did steal a few from other people so you can get a sense for what we were dealing with.  I am happy to report that although I had to move slower at times, I did manage to stay upright the whole time!

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PC: Ryan Delany

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PC: Alan Griffin

We ended up having three aid stations per loop and I was impressed with how well stocked they stayed for the entire race and how friendly the volunteers were.  They were all super helpful, despite probably dealing with a higher percentage of grumpy runners than normal.  Thanks to all of you volunteers!

I ended up doing the first loop in around 2:30, which I was pretty happy with given the conditions, however, the second loop was a slightly different story.  As I started back the second climb, I started to have some stomach issues.  It ended up being nothing major and settled down after about five miles, but it did make it painful to run for a few miles there.  In most cases, the uphill grade on this course would be runnable for me, but with the conditions and the stomach pain, I decided to hike most of it on this lap so that I didn’t dig myself into a bigger hole.  I think this ended up being smart as I was able to rally, although it did cost me a bit of time.  The other significant issue on the second lap were the trail conditions.  While manageable on the first lap for the most part, by the time I came through for the second lap, they were torn up after all of the foot traffic that had been passing through.  This too contributed to slowing me down a bit more than I was hoping.

As I crossed the finish line, I ended up doing the second lap about 30 minutes slower than the first with an overall time of 5:28:07.  Good for the top 30% of finishers.  The conditions weren’t ideal and definitely exposed some of my weaknesses (being a skittish downhill runner for example), but I can’t really complain all that much.  Given all of the injuries I had this year, it was good to get through the race without any setbacks.  I also managed to get across the finish line before Rob Krar finished the 50 Miler, so that is good in my book.  Even though he is a beast, he did start three hours before me and I never like getting passed up by people running longer distances 🙂

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PC: Ryan Delany

For now, I am going to enjoy my off season and getting to run for fun without having to focus on a particular race.  I also plan on doing quite a bit more strength training ahead of the 2017 race season to help combat some of these injuries that popped up on me from happening more often.  Don’t worry though, just because race season is over doesn’t mean you won’t find me out on the trails all winter…afterall, I am a trail addict!

Pros:

  • Hard to talk about pros when a race does not go at all as you expected.  Still, I will say that the volunteers went above and beyond during this event.  They dealt wonderfully with the conditions and were quick to deal with the last minute modifications.
  • Despite being wet and muddy, the scenery for this race is amazing.  This year in particular, you got to see Fall and Winter battle it out…it was pretty nice.

Cons:

  • While not part of the normal course, because the 50 Mile, 50K, and Marathon runners all ended up doing laps on the same trail, it was pretty crowded and got pretty sloppy.  That being said, this was the exception that the weather brought this year.  I ran this race before and can say it is definitely not the norm.
  • My biggest complaint was how they handled the weather.  Given that the weather was expected all week, I felt they should have made the course changes at least the night before to give runners more advanced warning.

2016 was mentally tough for me.  It has been one with random nagging injuries that never allowed me to get the momentum that I was hoping for.  They were frustrating, which definitely took a toll on me mentally too.  Despite that, I still had my fair share of people cheering me on.  Thanks to my friends and family for their continued support.  Thank you to the crew and volunteers for dealing with the elements to make sure us runners were taken care of.  Lastly, thanks to all of my sponsors for enabling me with the best gear ever.  Please show your love and check out my “What I Use” page for discounts on everything that I use and trust!  Here is what I used.

  • Topo Athletic Hydroventure: This is the best waterproof shoe on the market.  26+ miles of wet, muddy trails and my feet stayed completely dry.  Unreal!
  • Injinji Trail 2.0 Crew Sierra: Love the designs on the new Injinji trail socks and as always, no blisters.
  • Orange Mud Vest Pack 1: Light, with enough room for the water and food I need to get me from one aid station to the next on race day.
  • Headsweats Go Hat: If you wear hats on race day, there isn’t a better one out there.
  • RAD Roller and Rod: I always need to take care of the muscles after a great run.

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!