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Trail Running Shoes • December 5, 2023

Topo Athletic MT-5 Review: The Age of Spin

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What You Need To Know

Weight

9.3 oz (263 g) for a US M9,

7.7 oz. (218 g) for a US W7

Stack Height / Drop

28 mm in heel, 23 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)

Best For

Light trails and a little bit of road running

Key Features

ZipFoam midsole, gaiter attachments, Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole

On The Run
Comfortable ride on roads and trails 5 mm drop is the sweet spot The sizing is definitely hit or miss
Price

$130

Intro to the Topo Athletic MT-5

JOHN: One of my favorite Chappelle show skits was the Deep Impact movie parody when Dave played President Beck (Morgan Freeman) and released publicly that a magic bullet existed. When it comes to running, I’ve always been looking for this magic that Chappelle declassified, but for the trails, of course. I don’t like a lot of shoes that are supposed to cover multiple surfaces. It always feels like the shoe is too much or too little on the varying surfaces you encounter on specific trails.

Topo’s MT has been a well-reviewed, reliable shoe over the years. When it comes to trail shoes, unfortunately, updates don’t often get progressively better, which can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes companies feel like they have to make changes that do not necessarily improve the shoe but the MT-5 has managed to stay in the right direction.

Topo touts the MT-5 shoe as an entry-level trail runner designed for easy to medium terrain, and it’s made to easily transition from trail to road. The MT-5 went from a 3 mm drop to a 5 mm drop and now boasts more cushion with the 28 mm and 23 mm of total stack. In addition, the Zipfoam midsole gives the shoe a more responsive ride. It has a Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole, which gives the shoe versatility on a variety of trails.

On paper, this shoe looks like yet another hit for Topo Athletic, who has been just crushing it with great shoes, but is it a magic bullet for multiple types of situations like fire roads and road-varying trails? Let’s see how it worked out there and if they improved the shoe on this update.

EMILY: It’s virtually impossible not to crack a smile and feel the grip of a hectic day loosen a little when pondering ANY of Dave Chappelle’s contributions to comedy — and beyond, for that matter. Kinda like the fact that it’s tough not to smile when you step into most Topo Athletic trail shoes. The toebox alone is enough to make me feel like a Super Freak on the trails — here’s looking at you, Rick James.

So when John conjured the comic trailblazer in his review of the Topo MT-5, I couldn’t agree more. They are both examples of excellence and creativity in their fields and have inspired many others to follow in their footsteps.

SAM: Comedy is a funny thing.

Hold for laughs.

Jokes are jokes, of course, and most are better than what I just led with, but we each have a sense of humor that we’ve personally curated over a lifetime. A joke from 30 Rock, or to continue the thread, The Chappelle Show, that sends me careening off the couch in laughter could squeeze little more than a shrug out of you.

I’m secretly fascinated by this. One of the little buried joys of being in a long-term relationship is discovering the shape of your partner’s humor through the weave of years you spend generally observing the same things. I hope I never cease to be surprised by things that make my wife keel over in laughter. It’s consistently more entertaining than whatever the joke was. We each have our own odd ways in which we find funny things, well, funny.

Never is this oddity more apparent than when I try to convey the hilarity of some joke from a TV show or — god forbid — a meme to someone who has never seen the thing. The result is almost always blank stares and forced chuckles, and those absolutely will never stop me from trying again and again to verbally let you know how funny the thing was. I just have to let you know. Maybe you’ll remember one day and look up the thing, and if our oddities cross, maybe you’ll laugh like me.

And this is really why we share any of our interests, right? We want someone else to share in what we find so fulfilling. In the running shoe world, this is how I’ve been with Topo Athletic shoes. Some of the best shoes I’ve ever worn have been made by Topo, and I preach long and loud, probably to many people who really just don’t care.

So for me, any new Topo Athletic shoe is a cause for celebration, and when the Topo Athletic MT-5 showed up at my door, I was excited to turn around another glowing review. It has a recycled upper, a Zipfoam midsole, and a glorious Vibram XS Trek outsole. How could it go wrong? Usually, it won’t, but sometimes, that thing you find so fulfilling falls a bit below expectations, kind of like a joke that you find funny and I do not.

What we like about the Topo Athletic MT-5

JOHN: I took the MT-5 on my local trails in Fredericksburg for 7.5 miles in the pouring rain to test out the grip. As wet and miserable as I was on the trails that day, I didn’t slide at all. They worked excellently on rocks, mud, and all the gross stuff out there. The shoe drains extremely well (even after being fully submerged in water), and the fit is really comfortable, I was actually shocked when I put them on, it was so nice. The MT-5 fit my foot true to size.

After my local adventure, I thought that Topo Athletic may have even undersold how great this shoe is. So I did 23 miles at Shenandoah National Park to test this on harder terrain (not that the rain day was easy because it totally wasn’t) for a shoe without a rock plate. It felt really good out there, too. My feet didn’t get poked by rocks, there was adequate grip, and on the fire road, I was able to do some fast miles.

I also have to point out this shoe is $130, what a bargain!

EMILY: What? The men’s shoe is 20 dollars less than the women’s? I jest — I, too, loved the economic price tag of the MT-5. I’ve always been pleasantly surprised at Topo’s competitive pricing throughout their entire trail line compared to the other prime-time players like Altra, Hoka, and La Sportiva. For the roomy accommodations, no-nonsense Vibram grip, and enduring integrity, the Topo has garnered international accolades.

I ran for a couple of years in the Pursuit — actually the same pair, to be clear — and though a bit more heel-to-toe drop is ideal for this runner, they still remain in circulation to this day, no worse for the wear. After spending 5 hours and 30 miles in the MT-5, I don’t expect any deterioration in the near future, and the 5mm drop reduces some of the stress on the ankles and Achilles. I also loved the buttery ankle and heel collar. I’m 100% guilty of not untying my laces and evil-stepsister-ing my way into a shoe mid-run, and not only did the collar not get deformed, but I have zero discomfort to whine about as a result of my own laziness.

It’s worth mentioning that the Topo MT-5 is compatible with gaiters and has attachment points on the heel.

Transitioning to pavement for a few miles was pretty seamless. The bit of extra cushioning attributed to the stack was appreciated after the first mile on the road.

SAM: Foreshadowing aside, a shoe from Topo Athletic is still a shoe from Topo Athletic, and we’ve come to count on a certain level of excellence from it. All the parts that make up the MT-5 hold up to those expectations. The upper is sturdy, breathable, comfortable, and durable. It’s cut a bit more like a road shoe — I had rotated in a run in the Brooks Levitate 6 before my first run in this shoe, and I was surprised at how similar the lasts of the two were (outside of the foot-shaped toebox, of course).

Shape aside, the MT-5 has typical Topo underlays to provide midfoot security, similar to what we saw on 2023’s Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 and Terraventure 4. Other than gaiter compatibility (if your eagle eyes catch an absent forefoot loop in these pictures, Topo has assured us that the production model will have one), the other main trail-centric upper feature is a burly toe guard.

The Zipfoam midsole is characteristically responsive and comfortable. The durometer feels maybe a touch softer than the midsole on the MTR Racer 3, which tracks with the hybrid aims of the MT-5. I’ll continue to maintain that a 5 mm drop is near-perfect, and this shoe is served very well by the dimensions of the midsole. On roads, this shoe feels like a reasonably responsive daily trainer, but it lights up when you veer off into the dirt. Most of that is due to the outsole.

That outsole is the same Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole found on the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3. I’m on record already as a fan of this rubber and the lug configuration. It holds up here on the tarmac, but like I said earlier, it’s on trails that this outsole is at home. It’s grippy without being in the way and perfect for light-duty trails.

Shop Topo Athletic Trail Shoes - Men Shop Topo Athletic Trail Shoes - Women

What we don’t like about the Topo Athletic MT-5

JOHN: My only real nitpick is that when I used this shoe on my long run at Shenandoah, my foot slid a little bit. The inside of the shoe is really comfortable (almost to a fault), and the materials have a slick feel to them. It’s weird that the shoe feels amazing, but I did notice it caused my feet to slide slightly here and there.

EMILY: Ditto, John. The interior was curiously slippery, making for some noticeable shifting, particularly on descents. This wouldn’t be anything to note, except that because of the ample room for which Topo is known, I found myself instinctively gripping the insole with my toes for perceived stability. Annoying? Slightly — but so are my kids. I think I’ll keep them anyway. The shoes too.

SAM: Cue up a subdued ominous noise for the beginning of this section. I think the worst thing I’ve ever said about a Topo shoe was that the MTN Racer 3 didn’t run or fit quite like a racer (but was still good enough for my runner-up spot for Race Day in this year’s Best in Gear voting). The Topo Athletic MT-5, though, is not quite there for me.

First and most obviously, my review US M10 fit at least a size too big. I was swimming in them, and the oversizing was corroborated by my brother, whose US M11 foot fit the shoe just fine. It doesn’t seem like John or Emily had this issue, so maybe I got a fluke.

Whatever the reason, I couldn’t get a proper lockdown in my oversized MT-5. I got quite a bit of side-to-side slipping and some heel lift, no matter how I tied them.

Maybe I just have sensitive feet, but I think that either the durometer or thickness of foam underneath the forefoot of this shoe isn’t protective enough or that the outsole doesn’t sport enough coverage. I had several rocks punch painfully through the outsole and midsole into the ball of my foot. I know this is billed for light-duty trails, but even the lightest trails can hide a rock.

When I said above that this shoe, specifically the outsole, started to shine when it hit the trails, it’s because the Vibram XS Trek EVO rubber is just a little too cloppy for really comfortable road miles. The lugs are also a little too shallow for loose surfaces. I experienced some slipping running over thick beds of leaves in the middle of East Coast Autumn.

Shop Topo Athletic Trail Shoes - Men Shop Topo Athletic Trail Shoes - Women

Topo Athletic MT-5 Conclusion

JOHN: This is an extremely versatile shoe at a great price. I definitely will use it to train in and to use on certain ultras, especially on trails that have a mix of trail and fire roads. I would 100% put this shoe in my rotation and just load it up with miles because of that Swiss army knife capability you can trust. Take a look at the Topo Athletic MT-3 review from a few years ago here at Believe In The Run. I like this review a lot because it shows how great a shoe it was at the time, and it’s only gotten better. Topo has created a trail running magic bullet, and I highly recommend this shoe!

I like it so much I will be using it on the Devil Dog 100 for the entire race, no shoe change. The varying trails at Prince William Forrest always mess me up but I truly feel that the MT-5 will work amazing for me there.

EMILY: Topo excels at engineering authentic shoe experiences like no other, and the MT-5 remains memorable for the innovative, high-caliber performance it delivers, even when faced with bumps in the road (and trail). Kinda reminds me of someone else we know.

SAM: Look, so maybe the Topo Athletic MT-5 is like a joke that didn’t quite make me laugh. I’d really like to write that up to some kind of weird sizing issue since it doesn’t seem like either John or Emily had the same fit problem I did. Even outside of that, I’d like to see a little more security in fit and a little more protection underfoot.

In truth, they’re both absolutely right, and this is a really great hybrid shoe for the cost. You get great comfort, durability, and a Vibram outsole for a price that’s just above what I’d consider budget. If you can nail the fit, this is an excellent option if your runs take you down roads and then through some gravel paths.

You can pick up the Topo Athletic MT-5 for $130 in Spring 2024 from Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

Shop Topo Athletic Trail Shoes - Men Shop Topo Athletic Trail Shoes - Women
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  1. Irwin Choy says:

    I wonder if using heel lock lacing would work nicely for MT-5?

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Authors

photo of man in yellow shirt
John Calabrese
Habitual Ultrarunner
  • Instagram
  • Strava

An obsessed runner, John has run in most ultra races in the Mid-Atlantic area. Since he’s an ultra runner, it’s no surprise he’s also a lover of food. He’s also a dedicated father, caregiver, and veteran.

More from John
Shoe Size

11.5

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 23:25:23

    100 Mile
  • 9:13:41

    50 Mile
  • 4:23:38

    50K
girl running in a red tanktop wearing a hat
Emily Hanson
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer

Born and raised in Smaltimore (Baltimore), Emily relishes running for hours in the woods. It’s where she works out the kinks in her approach to being a mother, partner, writer, and a better human being.

More from Emily
Shoe Size

9.5

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 15:02

    100K
  • 5:11

    50K
  • 3:14:28

    26.2
  • 2:23:36

    25k
Sam Edgin
Mid-Atlantic Trail Reviewer
  • Instagram
  • Strava

Sam lives in Baltimore with his wife and two kids and spends his days fixing espresso machines for Ceremony Coffee Roasters. He runs with the Faster Bastards when he can, races ultras, and has been working on completing the AT section by section. He thinks the best days are made of long miles on nasty trails, but that a good surf session, a really stunning book, or a day of board games are pretty all right too.

All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Xodus Ultra, Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Altra Lone Peak

More from Sam
Shoe Size

10

Fav. Distance

50K

PRs
  • 6:15

    50K
  • 1:40:39

    Half Marathon
  • 21:30

    5K
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