Topo Athletic Ultraventure Review

As running-shoe consumers, we are living in an exciting time where upstart companies can take on the long-established corporate behemoths and actually do fairly well. Trail running and ultrarunning, in particular, seem to be on the cutting edge of being willing to try new brands, and if a great shoe comes along the word of mouth spreads the news like wildfire. We were the early supporters of minimalist shoes, like the New Balance MT110 and much loved MT101 that led to multitudes of companies developing minimalist-style shoes. At the same time trail runners were trying Hoka One One models, like the Mafate and Bondi, that shaped the maximalist movement to come. Any runner who has attended a recent ultramarathon has seen the proportion of runners decked out in Altras with their foot-shaped fit and zero-drop technology.

At the same time, trail runners and ultrarunners seem to be the least brand loyal in the running crowd, and for good reason. Our sport itself tends to favor the stubborn and independent of humankind and we’re less likely to follow a brand due to clever marketing or the sponsorship of our favorite ultrarunner. This makes ultrarunners the perfect test kitchen of athletes to support new brands, new ideas, and even some absolutely quirky fads.

One of the people responsible for possibly the greatest quirky trail running fads, Vibram FiveFingers, is also responsible for a rapidly rising favorite among trail-shoe brands, Topo Athletic. A stalwart in the running-shoe industry, Tony Post was president of Vibram USA and spent 30 years in the shoe industry prior to launching Topo Athletic in 2013. Since its initial launch Topo has been turning heads with well-constructed and incredibly well-fitting running shoes, and their no-nonsense style and function seem to be catching on in the trail and ultra community.

I’ve had the pleasure of putting the Topo Athletic Ultraventure ($130) through its paces over the last six months, and while a running shoe might immediately make an impression with me, I find that it can be important to see how the shoe performs after months of running when the luster has faded. What follows is my honest take on an elegantly simple and long-lasting trail running shoe.

The Topo Athletic Ultraventure. All photos: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Upper

One attribute of Topo shoes that seems to be almost universal since their first season’s offerings is a very dialed-in fit. For those unfamiliar with Topo shoes, the toebox is anatomically shaped (foot shaped) and accommodating without feeling sloppy. Topos always feel dialed in with my foot type and I think it has to do with the simplicity of their designs. A very durable mesh with welded-on overlays provides a supportive and locked-down fit that works well with the ghillie lacing system. What’s a ghillie lacing system? It’s just a cobbler’s word for a system of loops to route laces through to provide greater control in locking down the midfoot.

Refreshingly, the Ultraventure upper is devoid of obnoxious branding or colorways in an age which seems to be worshipping the 1990s. This is the type of running shoe that I’ll retire to casual wear for the sheer comfort of the last and shape. My only critical feedback on the Ultraventure upper is that the heel collar and cup is great fitting, but somewhat shallow. It worked well for my foot, although I could imagine some runners struggling with some slippage while ascending.

The Topo Athletic Ultraventure lateral upper.

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Midsole

If you’re looking for a trail shoe to overwhelm you with new midsole-foam technologies or carbon plates, the Ultraventure will not be your shoe. However, if you’re looking for a simple and effective trail shoe with a great blend of cushioning and fit, while at the same time providing all of the protection and ride you need for 100 miles, the Ultraventure may be your shoe. There aren’t any bells and whistles here, just a very functional and comfortable ride comprised of three layers of EVA at different densities. Some runners have compared it to the ride of the now-defunct Pearl Izumi Trail N2 and N3, and I agree with the comparison.

When I lace up the Ultraventure and start a run, I’m never initially blown away. However, after 30 minutes on the trail the Ultraventure starts to feel very smooth and more like a well-protected extension of my foot. With a stack height of 30mm (heel) and 25mm (forefoot), the Ultraventure doesn’t feel like a maximal shoe in any way, and it does feel nimble for a trail shoe weighing in at 10.5 ounces for a men’s size 9 and 8 ounces for a women’s size 7. The Ultraventure does not have a rock plate, and I’m not sure that one is needed. This is a shoe that excels at long distances on mild to moderate trails.

The Topo Athletic Ultraventure medial upper.

Topo Ultraventure Outsole

Vibram XS Trek Outsole runs the length of the Ultraventure with very few cutouts where EVA is vulnerable to sharp rocks. The relatively shallow multidirectional lugs shed snow and mud fairly well and they also allow the Ultraventure to work effectively as a door-to-trail, or hybrid, shoe. I was able to test the Ultraventure in muddy and snow conditions, but not in rainy conditions simply due to the fact that it rarely rains where I live. The Vibram outsole has exhibited excellent grip without showing much wear over the course of around 100 miles, and personally I did not have any issues with the lack of a rock plate.

The Topo Athletic Ultraventure outsole.

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Overall Impressions

In my opinion, the Ultraventure is a bit of a sleeper. It doesn’t have the kind of step-in plush comfort of a shoe like the Hoka One One Speedgoat 3, or the completely locked-in speedy feeling of a Salomon. If you tried it on at a running-shoe store you probably wouldn’t be very impressed. It’s a well-fitting shoe with a good deal of cushioning that just feels… pretty good. You don’t really realize the magic of the Ultraventure until you’re a few hours into a run and you realize that you haven’t thought about your shoes or feet at all. This shoe is a workhorse and it really functions on all types of terrain over all distances, and the Ultraventure is the type of shoe you could start and end a 100 miler in without issue. Additionally, the Ultraventure is a very solidly constructed shoe that I would expect to outlast 500 miles.

Topo Athletic as a company continues to impress, offering well-built and durable shoes that are simple and functional in their design. If you’re looking for an excellent-fitting shoe with a wide toebox, dialed-in fit, and a moderate drop, I would recommend giving one of their models a try.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Have you run in the Topo Athletic Ultraventure? If so, what are your thoughts on the shoe?
  • Would you agree with reviewer Tom’s assessment of the shoe as a sleeper and workhorse that can be worn for long distances on mild to moderate terrain?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

The Topo Athletic Ultraventure view from the top.

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 22 comments

  1. Flemming

    Hi
    Thanks for the review. I have been running in this shoe for a while too and agree with the conclusion.
    The shoe performs well and has become my go shoe on all runs and works good on mid-length runs too.
    It is not uncomfortable even when completely soaked or after running in mud. I have experienced that it gets less sand in around the angle than other shoes I use

    1. Tom Caughlan

      I knew that, I apologize for my error. I remember reading Runner’s World or Running Times as a kid obsessed with running when he ran a marathon in Rockport dress shoes.

  2. Steve Pero

    Tom…you never mentioned size fit.I find in all Altras I need to size up a full size, which makes the shoes more prone to tripping. I have to go up a full size to 14 because you cannot get half sizes this large in most shoes. I recently read the TU review by Fegy and He mentioned that they seem less prone to tripping.
    Thanks for a great review of a shoe I am considering for Massanutten.

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Hey Steve,
      Sorry about that. I wear a size 10 in Altras, and in the Ultraventure I’m good in a 10.5. For reference, I’m a size 10.5 in most other shoes right now.
      Bummer about no half sizes. It seems like more shoe companies would take note of this.

  3. Dave

    Love the shoe – but can’t agree on it’s durability. Had three pairs, that all had the upper separate from the midsole, at 125-175 miles. Useless by 200 miles. Maybe it’s just my foot..

      1. Tom Caughlan

        Thanks for this feedback. I’m not there yet in my Ultraventures, but other Topo shoes I’ve worn seem to be built very durably, and I can easily get 500 miles out of them. This is bizarre?

  4. David VanMiller

    I’ve been wearing this model for over a year. I’ve run three 100 milers in this shoe, including HURT 100. They perform well on all surfaces, drain decently, and require zero modification (unlike several Hoka’s that I’ve worn). They do not have a rock plate although that has barely an issue even on the rockiest of PNW trails.

  5. Robert

    I switched from Altra to Topo two years ago. I weigh around 190lbs. My Altras (Olympus, LonePeak ) were going negative drop (compressed cushion ) at less than 200 miles and lots of problems with durability- uppers and tread. I average 40 trail miles per week. I have the Ultraventure, Mountain Racer, Terraventure and Ultrafly. Ultraventure is my go to shoe, fantastic tread but doesn’t last as long as the Mountain Racer. The upper breathes well and I’m getting around 400 to 500 miles per shoe. The Mountain Racer is a great winter shoe. The Terraventure is my casual wear shoe. If I’m going to run a really rocky east coast trail I insert a Altra rockplate. Overall I’m very happy withTopo

    1. Linda

      Thanks for the idea with the Altra rockplate! just getting rid of my Superiors and hadn’t thought to remove the plates from them, will definately use them now when rocks are on the cards.

  6. Andy M

    Great review Tom — your comment about the similarity to the ride of the PI Trail N2 really piqued my interest since I have yet to find the perfect replacement for it (as you said about this shoe, it was “the type of shoe you could (and did!) start and end a 100 miler in without issue”). Two questions: (1) Is the Ultraventure built on a rocker platform like the N2? and (2) how does the width compare to, say, the N2 or the Lone Peak, for accommodating a wider forefoot?

    1. Tom Caughlan

      Hi Andy,
      1) No, the Utraventure doesn’t have a rocker platform. In fact, when I think about how aggressive modern rocker platforms are on road shoes especially, the N2 was fairly tame by comparison.

      2) I would say the width of the Ultraventure is similar to N2 or the new Timp 2 and Lone Peak 4.5, which is to say a bit narrower than past versions of the Lone Peak. My toes have plenty of splay, but the Ultraventure has good lockdown on downhills and nothing is sliding around on side hills. I like wide toeboxes and I have a moderate bunion and the Ultraventure fits my foot well.

  7. Graham King

    The Ultraventure cushion goes flat really fast. By the second long run it’s already different, and by 50 miles it’s basically gone. I think that’s pretty common for soft EVA, but it also feels like a shoe industry dirty trick. I have 200 miles on it and don’t reach for it much any more.

    For comparison my Hoka Torrent, which were initially less cushioned than the Ultraventure, have 300 miles and feel like they have more cushion now than the Ultraventure. I credit this to Hoka using a harder EVA that changes less over the life of the shoe.

    Aside from the dead midsole it’s a fine shoe. It’s probably the best upper of any trail shoe I’ve owned. It fits true to size, the toe box is generous, and it’s made of a plastic type mesh so it doesn’t absorb water. The outsole grips very well in mud and works fine on the roads too.

    This shoe would be perfect with the midsole of an adidas Ultraboost or Supernova. Just don’t be tricked in the store into thinking you’ve found a soft shoe.

  8. Raymond Wright

    My go to trail shoe. I am on my second pair and had to mark them because the upper of pair 1 still looks new. Wore them for the JFK 50 last year and they handled the Road-AT-Canal path-Road course with zero issues.

  9. Charlie

    I agree with the author’s experience with Topo’s Ultraventure. By 150 miles, the midsole had flattened some to where the cushion and protection was closer to a medium stack shoe rather than a high stack shoe in certain conditions like running downhill and stomping on rocks.

    I liked the Ultraventures, but liked the MTN racer more because the latter is firmer and snappier with a stiffer upper that didn’t bother me.

  10. LB

    I’ve run in Topo shoes for the past 4 years and absolutely loved them. Was super excited when they added the Vibram sole as I thought the perfect trail shoe had arrived. Unfortunately they made some change to the upper with this model and the shoe is no longer wide enough for my wider than average foot. Contacted customer service and they unhelpfully told me to try a men’s shoe (even though they knew my shoe size and that their men’s line is not made in a small enough size). They also have no plans to make a wide for several years. So, so disappointed.

  11. Jeff J

    I would try this shoe if it had MegaGrip vs XS Trek which is not grippy enough in technical terrain and especially wet rock and also a rock plate of some kind. I’ve read numerous reviews and comments of the shoe being overly soft and you can feel rock impacts and also the midsole packing down quickly. Maybe what I really want is the Mtn. Racer with more stack height for long hours and miles. Of course your primary location can dictate what you want in a shoe and the demands it puts on them. I happen to live in New England and spend considerable time in the White Mountains and that dictates sticky MegaGrip or something as good and a rock plate or firmer foam or even slightly higher stack aka Hoka Speedgoat or Mafate which don’t fit allot of people’s feet. The Topo toe box is real nice. Had the Mtn. Racer briefly for a 30 day evaluation but an injury kept me from logging almost any miles…and they need another color in that shoe besides red IMHO.
    Topo how about an Ultraventure Mountain Racer. Hmmmmm, I like that idea.

  12. Allen

    I have almost 300 miles on a pair of Ultraventures. Initially I liked them a lot due to the wide but not too wide toebox and the vibram outsole. However as others have said the midsole is very soft and compressed out prematurely to the point that they do not feel at all like a highly cushioned shoe. I pretty much retired them from all but short, easy runs at around 250 miles as I was feeling every rock and felt the cushioning was not enough. I have had numerous pairs of Olympus and a pair of Speedgoat 2’s and typically get 400+ miles per pair at which point they still feel way more protective than the ultraventures at 200 ever did. To me the Ultraventure is not really a max cushion shoe as the midsole is way to soft for anything remotely rocky, so they didn’t work well for me. But I have pretty sensitive feet. I recently tried on the Timp 2 and the Speedgoat 4 in wide and will likely try one or both of those as they both felt really good although quite different from each other.

    Topo seems a bit lost on the midsole foam density…I have a pair of Phantoms that are way too firm/harsh so I can’t even run in them, the Ultraventure is way too soft, and yet I have a 2 year old pair of Magnifly’s that have a near perfect blend of cushion and responsiveness. I hope they get it figured out as they are otherwise really good shoes with a great fit for my feet.

  13. Quentin

    As I have somewhat wide feet, I quickly realized the problematic fits of Salomon and Hoka shoes, so I tried and switch to Altra (Olympus). However, the 0 drop was quite harsh on my Achilles, and as mentioned above, having to take a full size up on top of that led to lack of heel control. I exchanged my toe blisters to heel blisters!

    The Ultraventures were the answer, with wide toebox but non-0 drop, it was the best of all worlds. The fit is great, it feels like while Hoka and Altra max-cushioning options give you comfort under your foot, Topo gives it around your foot.

    They are great for not-very-technical ultras, but although they are the most cushioned Topo shoes, you can still feel the ground and rocks a lot, and this is even more the case for the MTN Racers, which are very light and responsive. I could also definitely feel the loss in cushioning after 200 racing miles comparing with a new pair.

    Therefore, for races over 100 km, I tend to start with Ultraventures for the nimble feeling, and switch to Olympus in the later stages of the race for enhanced cushioning. In any case, my (lightweight) wife found great success in 60-100 miles races using MTN Racers, so to each their own!

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