Before I launch into the specifications and my recent running experiences with the latest model of Topo’s best-selling running and hiking shoe, the Topo Ultraventure 3 ($150), I think I should reiterate something I wrote in my Topo Ultraventure 2 review for iRunFar: “I discovered Topo by an unwanted force in the form of a discontinued favorite running shoe,” the Pearl Izumi E: Motion Trail N2. I was faced with the task of finding a replacement — a trail shoe constructed to endure, honor the design of the natural foot shape, and withstand trail versatility in varied conditions.
That is a lot to ask for, but Topo delivered nicely with its Ultraventure model. Another appealing quality is that the American Podiatric Medical Association recently awarded Topo their Seal of Acceptance as a means to “empower podiatric physicians and consumers with the right information to make educated decisions regarding foot health.” When the body’s foundation — foot health and function — are primary in running shoe decisions, Topo is often the top choice.
The Topo Ultraventure 3 comes to the market with some updates and enhancements both structurally and aesthetically — some I applaud, and others I don’t readily embrace but greet with a keen understanding of what the designers are attempting to accomplish. The Ultraventure 3 will remain a solid shoe in my arsenal, or anyone’s for that matter, but I will lace up the Ultraventure 2 for faster and nimbler runs.
The new iteration definitely offers more cushion underneath the foot for a plusher ride, but it loses some ground feel with an increased stack height from 30 millimeters to 35 millimeters. The 5-millimeter drop remains the same. The change in stack height shifted my gait, leaving me to pine for less shoe and midsole foam. Topo’s goal with the Ultraventure 3 was to add “more protection and more comfort” in an effort to increase responsiveness (the energy of the shoe) and to decrease overall weight. They capitalized on the former since that is what many trail running customers want these days. I, however, don’t because I felt the Ultraventure 2 hit the mark with comfort and protection with the old stack height (the foam will be discussed below). I am short, and I am not keen on trying to be taller — I find being closer to the ground to be an advantage. For the type of runner I am, I need to communicate with the trail.
Interestingly, the weight remains the same — an actual weight of 10.4 ounces (296 grams) for a men’s size 9, even though Topo claims that the Ultraventure 3 is lighter. Regardless, it still boasts an impressive, lightweight feel for sustained efforts on mild to moderate trails. Lastly, the Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole was redesigned for even more flexibility, durability, and midfoot control — upgrades that are noteworthy while descending and running in inclement weather.
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Topo Ultraventure 3 Upper
The upper of the Topo Ultraventure 3 is sleeker, softer, and more uniform in style than its predecessor. The material is a smartly designed, snag-resistant mesh — thinly double-layered. I can’t speak to the overall breathability, but during the winter months, my feet have stayed comfortably warm and dry through snow and many rainy runs. The integrity of the upper is maintained with carefully stitched hidden inlays as opposed to overlays. One of the main inlays attaches to the lace eyelet overlays and structurally supports the midfoot, a sure security while running. If you didn’t look for it, you wouldn’t know it was there. In general, I never worry about Topo shoes falling apart or wearing down from abrasive forces. Additionally, Topo integrates recycling technology into its upper materials. To make a pair of Ultraventure 3s, three recycled plastic bottles were used.
The tongue is softly padded and partially gusseted. It does a great job of keeping out trail debris. Similar to the Ultraventure 2, the Ultraventure 3 comes with proprietary gaiter attachments around the heel and at the base of the tongue. However, I didn’t test this added feature.
The toe bumper design is modest and minimal in its protection for more rocky and rough terrain, but since this shoe is geared for moderate single-track and open public forest roads, I can’t expect much in that department. It keeps the weight down. The Ultraventure 3 reduced ounces in the upper by simplifying the heel counter and decreasing thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) material. Despite these changes, the heel remains solid and stable. The symmetry of the heel overlay keeps it fortified with an effective and comfortable lockdown. And again, it is simple — something Topo really does well.
Topo Ultraventure 3 Midsole
The Topo Ultraventure 3 midsole underwent a considerable upgrade. Along with the increased stack height, the ZipFoam was redesigned for increased suppleness and lightness with the goal of increased energy return. Responsiveness and more cushion are sometimes at odds with each other. It is a fine balance to ensure that the extra cushion doesn’t absorb stride compression forces without adequate bounce back. During my first couple of runs, I noticed the cushion, but it didn’t quite have the expected return. However, the more I have run in them, the more responsiveness I have felt, leading me to think that there was actually a break-in period. The ZipFoam nonetheless provides a lot for runners — protection, comfort, cushion, and that cloud-like feel another company claims to harness. Additionally, the increased and enhanced foam, in combination with a larger platform and curved rocker geometry, helped with stability and overall surety.
Topo Ultraventure 3 Outsole
When I got started with the Topo Ultraventure 3, I was surprised to see and test a new outsole design on a Topo trail running shoe. I had grown accustomed to their standard lug pattern, depth, and grip with the Vibram XS Trek EVO. Despite broader and shallower lugs, I was relieved to feel the shoe perform decently in wet and mildly technical conditions, although it is considerably less aggressive. The latter I felt while climbing. I tend to like shoes that grip and can assert themselves on any type of climb. The new outsole design has more flex points with more accessible ZipFoam at key midfoot locations, especially under the arch for multi-direction support. As mentioned in the previous section, there is a curved forefoot with lug placement aiding more effective toeoff, especially since the wide lugs at the midfoot help support midfoot gait mechanics. Beyond this review, I will keep testing the integrity of the outsole as I hope to get on more technical terrain during the spring months, as winter begins to yield where I live and run in Oregon.
Topo Ultraventure 3 Overall Impressions
Topo has a lot to be proud of with the Topo Ultraventure 3. They put a lot of thought and care into the redesign and upgrade. Even though I mentioned that I prefer the lower stack height of the previous models, I still think the production team did an exceptional job designing and constructing a materially smarter, more comfortable, more durable, and more enduring edition of the Ultraventure. What I felt was a loss in ground feel, and biomechanics was lifted with increased responsiveness and underfoot protection.
In sum, it is an amazing running and hiking shoe with endless potential and possibilities. In my opinion, it is one of the most well-rounded performance shoes for everyday training and long-distance running/racing — especially for runners looking for cushion. Comparatively, the Ultraventure 3 shines on rolling terrain and long descents, whereas the Ultraventure 2 bolts up long climbs with ease. Similar to the previous Ultraventures, I feel safe. I feel confident. I feel protected. And I feel my toes.
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Call for Comments
- Are you running in the Topo Ultraventure 3? What do you think of this shoe?
- If you have worn previous editions of the Topo Ultraventure line, share your thoughts on how this third edition compares.
[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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