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9.7 oz. (275 g) for a US M9,
7.9 oz. (224 g) for a US W7
38 mm in heel, 33 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)
Daily training, easy days
Newly formulated ZipFoam midsole, neutral platform, recycled engineered mesh upper
$160, early November 2023
ROBBE: It’s no surprise that Altra just released their first “low drop” shoe in the AltraFWD Experience, and while they won’t publicly say it, we’d bet the house that the shoe was in some way a response to Topo Athletic’s market creep and the migration of longtime Altra users over to the brand.
There’s a reason more people are switching to Topo Athletic: Slowly but surely, Topo is gaining more traction in the run scene, and they’re doing it in a way that stays true to their core mission– providing runners with a natural toe box in a low drop shoe in a comfortable and durable package. This, at a time when Altra’s quality control has been all over the place since its buyout by VF Corporation, and any attempt at a broader audience has been forever stymied by its longtime insistence on zero drop (aka “balanced cushioning”) shoes.
Topo’s trail line has been stellar for years, consistently landing on our year-end “best of” lists. However, the road side of things has been a bit hit or miss. Overall, Topo caters to a more natural-motion run crowd, so their lower stack shoes have been fine, even if they’re not our cup of tea. Their attempts at higher stack or performance shoes have been pretty lackluster, if we’re honest.
But one thing we’ve learned about Topo is that they’re always improving, always trying to be better, while sticking to their core identity. Earlier this year we were blessed with the Topo Athletic Cyclone 2, a gem of a shoe that provides a great Pebax bounce in an incredibly lightweight and speedy package. Honestly, it was a treat that we didn’t see coming.
Then there’s the Atmos, an all-new, max cushion training model with a newly formulated ZipFoam midsole with a stack height of 38 mm in the heel and 28 mm in the forefoot (5 mm drop, as with most Topo shoes). A recycled mesh upper accommodates the foot and it all comes in at a reasonable 9.7 ounces for a US M9.
I’m gonna be real– I was ready for this shoe to be a miss like last year’s much-hyped Specter. I was wrong. Let’s find out why.
CARYN: As a new-to-me brand, I was super impressed by the Topo Athletic Phantom 3, a mid-stack, true daily trainer designed to handle all of those base miles that come with marathon training. I found the shoe to be fantastic in fit and feel thanks in large part to Topo’s slightly foot-shaped toe box and nicely balanced ZipFoam. It reminded me of versions of one of my other favorites– the Brooks Ghost– and stayed in my rotation long after the review period was over.
When I heard that Topo was upping their stack-height game, I was intrigued. I have come to appreciate some extra cush during training, but personally don’t feel like I need a closet full of carbon-plated daily trainers. I’m a bit of a purist, what can I say. I was excited to see if a Topo shoe would continue to take up a spot in my (very crowded) shoe closet.
CHAD: If you’ve been following Believe in the Run for the last year or so, you may have seen my review of the Topo Athletic Phantom 3, Topo’s low-drop, mid-stack daily trainer. Long story short, if you haven’t come across it, I really enjoyed that shoe. I felt it was the perfect blend of firm and soft in a smooth and stable ride. It even made my list of best daily trainers for heavier runners.
I really didn’t think that Topo could make a shoe better than the Phantom 3. Topo must have read my mind and said “hold my Athletic Brew non-alcoholic beer,” because the Topo Athletic Atmos is about to drop into the market and make a big splash. Topo’s debut into the max cushion ballgame, the Atmos features 38 mm/33 mm of Topo’s ZipFoam midsole under a recycled mesh upper.
ROBBE: I’ve always felt that Topo’s ZipFoam has been great on trails, but “meh” on pavement. It’s an EVA blend that uses some TPE, which gives it a bit of bounce while retaining greater durability than full TPE/supercritical midsoles. Nothing crazy, but when it works, it really works. Such is the case with the Atmos.
I was quite pleased (shocked, even), to find that I was really loving the midsole feel and overall ride in the Atmos. In our video review of the shoe, Thomas and Meaghan found it to be pretty average, to which I’ll respectfully disagree. Underfoot, I think it’s as good or better than anything Hoka has right now, even a bit better while on the run.
I already jumped ahead and read Caryn’s review, and as you’ll see, she and I agree on much of the shoe, especially the ride. I thought it struck a perfect balance between comfort and responsiveness. It’s not a soft shoe in that you sink down into it, but it really hits the sweet spot I love in a shoe which makes it a great training companion for anything from daily training to long runs. The rocker in the shoe gives it a smooth transition through the stride which means you can pick up the pace if you need to as well.
While the shoe isn’t as light as the Hoka Clifton 9, it’s not heavy by any means. I feel the weight is pretty standard for a daily trainer, and I’ll take a more resilient shoe over a half-ounce lighter shoe any day of the week.
There’s a ton of arch support in this shoe, which was a bit too much on my first 6-mile run out of the box. If you need that kind of support, know that you will have it in spades. For me, it actually made my arch a bit sore after that initial run; however, I had no issues on the following three test runs between 4-8 miles.
The upper is pretty nice as far as uppers are concerned, though I don’t think there’s anything inherently special about it, though I did like the comfort of the tongue. I don’t know, it’s a standard mesh upper, what is there to say?
No issues with the outsole, but I also ran in dry conditions, so I can’t comment on the grip.
I like the white/yellow/blue colorway of the shoe, but the rest are fairly bland.
CARYN: I continue to be impressed by the fit and feel of what I’ve tested from Topo. I personally have a wider forefoot, so I really love the toe box space and shape, which is consistent across all Topo models. I was excited that the feel and fit of the Atmos was nearly identical to that of the Phantom 3. At first step-in, the Atmos felt a bit more plush and soft when compared to the Phantom, which tracks given the fact that the shoe has 38 mm of ZipFoam.
While I don’t know the actual manufacturing specifics behind ZipFoam (I imagine they like to keep these kinds of things under wraps), I would like to give it the underrated-foam-of-the-year award. The feel of ZipFoam is extremely balanced – by no means would I call it responsive (especially in the context of the other foams out there), but it is fantastic for easy, or even long run miles. It isn’t mushy and still feels natural, which is my main gripe with many other max-cushion daily trainers out there.
On the run, I found the Atmos to roll along really nicely. There is a slight rocker and a moderate toe spring, both of which offer a mildly propulsive feel without bringing too much drama. The upper felt identical to the Phantom 3 – while it wasn’t especially flashy, it has a nice tongue and easy lockdown with a defined, foot-hugging heel cup.
I don’t always look at things through the stability lens, but I think it’s worth it in this instance given that the Atmos offers a more stable ride despite being a neutral shoe. The heel cup, slightly blown out base of the shoe, and sidewalls definitely offer at least some amount of guidance, which expands the audience for this particular model.
CHAD: Where do I even start? The fit of the Atmos, with the anatomical toe box but normal width midfoot and heel, is perfect for me. It gives my toes rooms to splay and be comfortable on the run but not roomy that my foot moves around. The upper is a great blend of breathable and plush, leading to no hotspots or blisters and no overheating on the road.
While the initial step-in of the Atmos was stellar, it performed even better when the rubber meets the road. The 38mm of ZipFoam in the heel is soft without being mushy, meaning you get all of the cush without the squoosh. But with that cush you also get some semblance of responsiveness and bounce from the midsole, something I don’t necessarily expect in a recovery day shoe, but is very welcomed. Plus, each run in the Atmos got better as the ZipFoam loosened up, something I also experienced in the Phantom 3.
You think I’m done? Nope, it keeps going. One of the most impressive things is that Topo somehow was able to put this entire package together and have it come in at under 10 oz. for a US M9. Many max stack shoes are coming in at 10 oz. or higher, including the recovery day shoe that was on top of my podium, the Brooks Ghost Max.
One of my gripes about the Phantom 3 was that I thought it was lacking a bit in the style department. But I think Topo got it right with the Atmos. The white upper and the blue and green midsole combine to make a clean and aesthetically pleasing look.
ROBBE: As much as I want to get behind Topo’s look, it’s hard to get past. They’ve definitely gotten better over the last couple years, but some/most of their colorways (aside from the one featured in this review) and designs are mom-core to the max. Like, I was running through downtown Baltimore on Howard Street the other day and I noticed a dude checking out my shoes and, honestly, I wanted to wither away and slide down the gutter. I almost stopped and said “No, no, no, for real, I have a bunch of Adidas and New Balance running shoes back home.” Like, you cannot make these shoes look cool. If you are one of those people who embrace the toe box life, then you could care less about this section. In that case, freakin’ go for it.
There’s an interesting misconception with natural toe box designs, in that many people think that the shoe fit is wide because the toe box is wide. This is not true, as Wide Foot Jarrett can tell you. However, I feel that this shoe actually is kind of wide, or at least high volume. It just felt really hard to get a lockdown and the fit I wanted. Which is interesting because that’s usually not an issue with Topo. I do have a narrow foot, so just be aware of that if you’re in the same boat.
CARYN: This could be in part to the painfully boring black and white colorway I received, but my main gripe with Topo is their aesthetic. Look, head to head, I’m going to pick function over fashion, but it’s 2023– we actually can have it all (especially for $160). This shoe has a similar aesthetic to the rest of the Topo lineup, which I really feel like could fit right into a early ‘90s Stride Right store (anyone?).
I love vintage as much as the next girl, but this ain’t it. It’s obviously a bummer because the shoes themselves are rock solid. Otherwise, the only point of (potential) contention is the 5 mm drop. While that isn’t earth-shattering when you look across the industry, there are lots of folks that prefer a daily trainer with a slightly higher drop. This isn’t really a knock, though, just a point of awareness for those drop-sensitive buyers out there.
CHAD: The only, and I mean only gripe I have about the Atmos revolves around the outsole. I went on one run when the roads were wet from the prior night’s rain and it was drizzling while I was out, and I did notice some slippage when cornering or going up/down a hill.
ROBBE: The Atmos is a big step in the right direction for Topo Athletic. Fans of the brand will be delighted to try this new model, and newcomers will be surprised at the smooth ride and overall comfort. While Topo may not be in the top five by sales volume, they are for sure a brand that listens to its customers and is constantly looking to improve. And they’re doing it at a time when Altra is in disarray and scrambling to reclaim its identity or find a new one.
If you’re tired of Altra’s antics and were let down by the harsh ride of the Via Olympus (one of the biggest misses of the past year), I can tell you right now– the Atmos is the shoe that the Via Olympus should have been, so give this one a shot. Also, your Achilles will welcome the slightly higher drop.
If there’s a Topo shoe to go all-in on, this is the one.
CARYN: I’m really impressed by both of the offerings I’ve been able to test from Topo, and would recommend both the Atmos and Phantom for daily training. I really hope Topo can work on some of their aesthetics, because I think they’d see even more success in the industry with some innovation there. That being said, maybe they’re cool with it? Who knows!
Topo, let me know where you stand– I can embrace the simplicity with a ride this comfortable. The Atmos is just as good, if not better, than many of the available high-cushion daily trainers out there right now, and I’d definitely recommend it to someone seeking a comfortable, balanced ride that can stand up to high mileage.
CHAD: It’s hard to remain at the top. The Brooks Ghost Max held the top spot in my rankings of max cushioning recovery day shoes for about two months. And don’t get me wrong, it is still a great shoe, but Topo did something really impressive with the Atmos. I sincerely looked forward to every run I did in it during the review period, and it will likely be my new go-to recovery day/easy day shoe during my marathon build.
You can pick up the Topo Athletic Atmos in early November 2023 for $160 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.
Robbe is the senior editor of Believe in the Run. He loves going on weird routes through Baltimore, finding trash on the ground, and running with the Faster Bastards. At home in the city, but country at heart. Loves his two boys more than anything. Has the weakest ankles in the game.More from Robbe
Caryn is a recovering ball sports athlete and native Baltimorean who used to cry before the timed mile in gym class. Discovered running somewhat reluctantly when her pants stopped fitting in college, now a big fan of the marathon– go figure! Pediatric ICU nurse and avid UVA sports fan. Can usually be found with her chocolate lab, Gus, looking for a good cup of coffee.More from Caryn
An attorney by day, Chad lives in Central Pennsylvania with his wife and three kids. Never much for running growing up, Chad began running as a way to improve his physical health. He went from his first 5k in 2015 to running the Paris Marathon in 2016. Given his larger physical build, Chad is the resident Clydesdale runner, providing shoe and gear insights for those with a bigger build and taller stature.More from Chad