The Topo brand might not be the first you think of when you imagine a shoe for going long in the mountains, but it should be because of the path it is carving with the Topo Mtn Racer 3, the third iteration of this great 5-millimeter drop shoe, which has an actual weight of 10.3 ounces (293 grams) for a men’s U.S. size 9.
If you find the volume and shape too restrictive in stalwart mountain running shoes from La Sportiva, Dynafit, Scott, and Scarpa, the Topo Mtn Racer 3 is your antidote. It outperforms the various FriXion rubber outsoles from La Sportiva, and uses a much more abrasion resistant upper compared to nearly all trail shoes — except Matryx-backed ones in new shoes from Arc’teryx, Nnormal, Salomon, or Norda.
From Longs Peak to the High Lonesome loop to the Indian Peaks Wilderness classic Pawnee-Buchanan, and finally, the Softrock (a four-day supported loop of the Hardrock 100 course), all in Colorado, I’ve run hundreds of mountain miles in the Topo Mtn Racer 3. Its comfort, durability, and outsole traction have made it my new go to for any run with demanding trail conditions — uneven surfaces, rock hopping, talus scraping, creek crossing, wet, and mud — and we named it one of the best all-terrain mud shoes in our Best Trail Running Shoes for Mud guide.
Topo Mtn Racer 3 Upper
For a shoe to hold up in the mountains, it must be constructed with super durable materials. Talus rock has shredded countless uppers on my shoes during long mountain runs so when it comes to equipment for that terrain, I tend to find something that works and use it repeatedly. While the Topo Mtn Racer 3 doesn’t boast any extra special or brand-name upper material, its tightly woven, durable mesh has withstood the impacts of harsh terrain without ripping, shredding, or blowing out. Initially, I found the upper to be almost opaque and overly firm, but over time the material has relaxed, while still retaining the protection.
The upper of the shoe provides excellent lockdown thanks to Topo’s lace stay system, which consists of two loops at the base of the gusseted tongue. This is a brilliant innovation that keeps the tongue in place and prevents it from slipping off to the sides. The laces themselves are thick and chunky, like I’ve come to expect from Topo’s shoes — a little too thick for my liking, and result in an unkempt pile of fabric —especially if you double knot your laces.
The shoe doesn’t stand out particularly from a breathability standpoint, but it does an adequate job. To be fair, my testing was particularly oriented around elevations above 9,000 feet, where the air temperature is merciful.
Topo Mtn Racer 3 Midsole
The midsole of the Topo Mtn Racer 3 is where most of the changes have been made from previous iterations of the shoe; the outsole is exactly the same as the Topo Mtn Racer 2, — look back at our Topo Mtn Racer 2 review for details — so the midsole is where runners will either enjoy these updates or yearn for the old design.
Firstly, the company itself has said that its customers and athletes have asked for more protection underfoot. This influenced the decision to increase the stack height. It retains the same 5-millimeter drop, but has gone from a claimed stack height of 30 millimeters and 25 millimeters at the heel and toe in the Mtn Racer 2, to 33 millimeters/28 millimeters in the Mtn Racer 3. With no rock plate or carbon plate, this extra stack indeed provides a great feel underfoot and I sustained no “zingers” to my arches or heels the way other shoes might have, due to their more severe ground feel.
This protection is delivered through the chunky, soft, and springy ZipFoam, Topo’s proprietary compound. ZipFoam is indeed springy, but I personally like other proprietary foams like Nike’s ZoomX or Hoka’s dual density sandwich foam, ProFly, better.
Where ZipFoam does exceed these other brands’ compounds, is over the duration of a long run with a lot of descending. The Softrock route through the San Juan Mountains had multiple days of about 30 miles with vertical gain and loss around 9,000 feet, so the comfort could really be judged by the fatigue in my legs and feet as the days wore on. For faster efforts, I’d opt for one of the aforementioned brands’ shoes, but for super long and rambling days, the Mtn Racer 3 has the right characteristics.
As a shoe tester, though, I am often running in carbon-plated shoes, which has helped me run through a lingering big toe injury. The stiffness of a carbon-plated midsole helps alleviate the pain when pushing off and it’s incredibly noticeable how adversely affected my toe is in normal, springy foam alone. This is just something to note if you too have found trouble with your toes or ankles, or other tender foot bones, when running in softer midsoles like the one used in the Mtn Racer 3.
Topo Mtn Racer 3 Outsole
The Topo Mtn Racer 3 uses the same Vibram Megagrip outsole material that all versions of the shoe have used since inception. This rubber just sticks. We even put the Topo Mtn Racer 3 in our Best Trail Running Shoes for Mud guide for the outsole’s ability to be mud-repellent and just as aggressive in the wet, even on slabby, technical rock where it locks in for a confidence-inspiring experience.
Vibram is the natural choice for Topo shoes considering that Topo’s founder, Tony Post, was the key person behind bringing Vibram to the U.S. market in the FiveFingers days. And though I think Vibram, in any of its formats (Litebase, Megagrip, and more), is the superior material, it really matters how deep the lugs are. I’m testing the new Nike Ultrafly right now, which is notably using Vibram Megagrip for the first time ever in its trail shoes in lieu of its own material, and it’s like roller skating on the very dry and sandy surfaces on which I do about 75% of my running. The Mtn Racer 3, on the other hand, has a strong bite on this type of surface and doesn’t skitter at all; the lug-depth difference between the Topo Mtn Racer 3 and the Nike Ultrafly is about double.
Topo Mtn Racer 3 Overall Impressions
Calling the Topo Mtn Racer 3 a “racer” doesn’t seem right for me and my style of running. I’ve become a bit of a weight weenie and committed to very specific midsole foams (and carbon plates) in shoes like the Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 2 and Merrell MTL Skyfire 2. Do check out our Salomon S/Lab Pulsar 2 review and Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 review if you like these characteristics too.
If I were at the helm, I’d rename it the “Mtn Runner,” because it is masterful in real alpine mountain terrain, but not necessarily a shoe in which I would race those conditions. I have used the word “chunky” in this review several times and it is apropos; from the burly materials to the way it feels on your feet it’s just a tad clunky for me to really run fast. But for rugged mountain runs, I would pick the Topo Mtn Racer 3 ahead of those others in a heartbeat. This shoe will get you through tough terrain without materially breaking down as quickly, or breaking your body, and that is why it made the cut in our Best Trail Running Shoes for Mud guide.
Call for Comments
- Have you run in the Topo Mtn Racer 3? What were your thoughts?
- Would you use this shoe for racing or training or both?
[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!]
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