Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 Review: Steeper MTN, Still a Racer
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10.1 oz. (286 g) for a US M9,
8.3 oz. (235 g) for a US W7
33 mm in heel, 28 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)
Long trail runs at almost any pace
Updated ZipFoam midsole with 3 mm stack increase, breathable mesh upper, reliable Vibram Megagrip outsole
TAYLOR: Being a fanboy is a way of life. When it comes to Topo Athletic, you could say my passion and history run deep. Recently, both Michael and Sam have joined my enlightened ranks as well.
Part of my love is because Topo Athletic is still somehow relatively unknown as a brand, while other companies like Altra have screaming cults. They’re both based on similar premises (low drop and foot-shaped shoes). Yet, in almost all categories, Topo Athletic outperforms Altra. It really is a mystery to me why more people aren’t in these shoes.
For me, it all started with the original Topo Athletic MTN Racer. The shape, the fit, the quality — all of it. At the time, I would have taken it over any other trail shoe on the market. Yes, that includes the coveted Lone Peak, Speedgoat, and Cascadia. In my mind, this was a one-hit-wonder. Then I got miles in the Ultraventure, Terraventure, Runventure, and the more recent Pursuit, and every single one was a hit. And that, folks, is how fanboys are made. Keep churning out the goods, Topo. We’ll be there to run in them.
With all that being said, the new Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 comes in with a lot of expectations. The original was our best overall trail shoe in 2019, and the MTN Racer 2 only refined that formula.
The Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 brings another major revamp. It has a new ZipFoam formula and a little extra stack, both of which give the ride some character and protection. Other elements, like the Vibram Megagrip outsole, general shape, and mesh upper, stay virtually untouched. In the end, Topo’s updates seem to find the sweet spot between newness and familiarity that cult runners love.
MICHAEL: What a fabulous time of the year to be reviewing shoes. The trails are around 50 degrees and sunny in the morning, the terrain is varied, and miles of singletrack unfold every weekend. With cool weather and a minimal training agenda, no terrain or paces are out of the question.
It’s really liberating in its own way, having no real plan to adhere to, yet feeling strong and motivated enough to tackle any distances or climbs that fancy how I’m feeling each day. A single run might include everything from root-covered, muddy singletrack hugging the banks of cool mountain streams to technical rocky ridgelines, or flat, flowing singletrack weaving through the oaks and pines. To top it all off, the birds are chirping, the mountain laurel is blooming, and the shoes on my feet? The Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3.
Before writing this, I went back and did a quick look over some previous Topo Athletic trail shoes we’ve reviewed here at BITR. If this is your first time reading one of these reviews, or if you’re considering the MTN Racer 3 as your first Topo shoe, allow me to give a brief history of what we’ve had to say about Topo trail shoes in the past:
Anyway, you get the point. We’re pretty huge fans around here, and the hype for this third iteration of the MTN Racer is real. Read on to find out if the latest MTN Racer is as good as this top-notch pedigree would suggest.
SAM: Taylor and Michael aren’t wrong. We get starry-eyed over here for just about anything Topo Athletic puts out for the trail. While the running world was drooling over the Nike Vaporfly Next% 3, I was scrolling tech sheets for another third iteration, the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3. Some of that is because of the way my toes revolt when I stick them into a narrow Nike toebox, but most of it is because I’m such a heckin’ huge fan of every Topo Athletic shoe I’ve run in.
Like Taylor, I’ve spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to figure out why Altra has a ravenous following and quietly, in a big ol’ zero-drop shadow, Topo Athletic seems to be making shoes with a similar toebox and overall better components that at the same time don’t murder your Achilles. Don’t mark this up as Altra hate — I’ve had, and still have, great experiences in my Altra shoes — it’s just that Topo Athletic makes trail shoes that just shine.
Then, coming off a weekend backpacking trip (in which I wore the MTN Racer 3, which showed up on my porch the week before), I talked to a friend who had recently thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. His observation, much to my surprise, was that Topo Athletic and Altra each represented large majorities of the shoes worn, and other brands — like the Brooks Cascadia he wore — had their own small smatterings. Maybe Topo Athletic’s star is truly starting to rise, and it won’t be reflected just in the eyes of weird reviewers like us anymore.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing these annoyingly effusive reviews of Topo Athletic shoes like this one, the MTN Racer 3. Be the spark that starts the fire, right?
TAYLOR: Simplicity and quality have been Topo Athletic’s mantra since day one. They stick to their principles and find a functional way to do so. This is exactly why the MTN Racer 3 just works.
Up top is a lightweight, moderately breathable, and durable woven engineered mesh upper sets the stage. It’s very similar to the MTN Racer 2, except it has a subtly softer feel. I like the fact that this engineered upper has an appropriate amount of tenacity and is consistent in performance and comfort. Minimal internal and external overlays help maintain the balance of structure and the agreeable feel.
As for overall shape, this one is generous. The fit of the MTN Racer 3 is going to have more volume throughout the body than most shoes, even comparatively to Topo Athletic offerings. For the moderate to non-technical miles, the structured heel counter, gusseted tongue, and wider rounded foot-shaped toebox make for an extremely comfortable ride inside the cabin. Because of the wider natural toebox, this is an inherently stable ride for both inversion and eversion, which I came to appreciate when the runs became longer or more technical.
The additions of a new midsole foam and a couple of millimeters of stack keep the pleasantries coming. This iteration of EVA-based ZipFoam reminds me of a wide variety of shoes like the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, Saucony Xodus Ultra 2, Nike Zegama, Hoka Speedgoat 5, and Altra Mont Blanc. It’s not necessarily a plush ride, nor is it close to being firm. I like that there’s some noticeable compression and some responsiveness. A couple more millimeters of foam also made for a more rockered forefoot, smoothing the overall ride on all terrain. It’s simply consistent, comfortable, and efficient.
Lastly, who can ever argue with 6mm of Vibram Megagrip claws underneath one’s feet? This is a serious selling point of many Topo Athletic shoes because this outsole design can get through any terrain you need it to. The lugs are optimally shaped and spaced for anything.
MICHAEL: To be fair, I don’t know much about the founder of Topo Athletic, Tony Post. I’d like to imagine, though, that he appreciates a good pizza (thin-crust, wood-fired, you get the vibe here. Also, Tony, if you are reading this and happen to be gluten or dairy intolerant, my sincere apologies). Good pizza, of course, starts with quality ingredients, and similarly, Topo starts here with a quality choice of materials. Like the recently reviewed Terraventure 4, there are no shortcuts here on build quality.
First, I really appreciated Topo’s thoughtful placement of padding throughout the heel counter and tongue. Add a lightweight yet durable mesh upper, and we have a perfect blend of lightweight performance and ultra-distance comfort. Lockdown through the midfoot is superb, and I had minimal issues with excess bunching of material in the forefoot, which is something I often do on other ‘natural’ fitting shoes from different brands.
Onto the midsole, the ride and durometer of the ZipFoam are Goldilocks. A slight bounce keeps the legs feeling fresh as the miles stack on, and a subtle rocker helps to roll you through your stride. For its tall stack height, I never felt unstable in the MTN Racer 3. The stout heel counter helps, and I appreciate that Topo didn’t cut corners here to save on weight like one particular foot-shaped racer from a competitor brand.
Last but not least, this outsole needs to never change. For a shoe boasting such a fantastic repertoire of low weight, comfort, and versatility. It would be a shame if it didn’t have a capable outsole. Never fear, Topo fans, because the same outsole featured on nearly every Topo trail shoe ever is back on the MTN Racer 3. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again… the lug pattern, lug depth, and compound here are as close to perfect as I’ve tested.
I could go rambling on about other little details that I love about this shoe (the lace-keepers on the tongue, dedicated gaiter attachments, and so on), but perhaps my thoughts are better summed up with a claim that the MTN Racer 3 is the Speedgoat competitor for the people. Is it truly better than the Speedgoat? Maybe, maybe not. But there’s no denying that this will be a much better choice for many runners who prefer or even need a more forgiving fit through the forefoot. Topo’s mission to blend race-day performance, versatility across all conditions, and a high-performing yet accommodating fit in the MTN Racer 3 is an overwhelming success.
SAM: Look, at the risk of sounding like a record skip, Taylor and Michael are spot on here. The upper is a durable, breathable engineered mesh that is supported by minimal (but tough) overlays in the toe and heel. There are no midfoot overlays except for a thin Topo logo that very nicely matches the midsole color, so there is no movement restriction around the toebox. Light underlays lock your midfoot in for that amazing Topo fit we rave about so often. The ZipFoam midsole is as close to a perfect durometer as you can get for trails — there’s trail feel, protection, and a fast, slightly springy bounce. And on top of all that, the wide platform is stable and supported by a Vibram Megagrip outsole that stands up against the best in the industry.
I don’t need to elaborate more on any of that. This is a pretty great trail running shoe, especially for longer efforts. However, since I took the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 on a backpacking trip, I can also attest that this is a stellar backpacking and fast-packing shoe. The wide, stable platform holds weight well and keeps your feet fresh, even at the end of a long day. One of my personal benchmarks for a backpacking shoe is how badly I want to take it off at the end of a long day; and then how resistant I am to put it back on to fetch water or try out the privy. With the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3, I was never in a rush to get out of it, and I was happy to slip the shoe back on for the trip to the water source.Shop Topo Athletic MTN Racer - Men Shop Topo Athletic MTN Racer - Women
TAYLOR: Well, this is a rare sighting. I have negatives about a Topo Athletic shoe? I’m not saying all of their creations are perfect, but they do often nail the mark they are designing for. With that being said, this is where the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 falls short. I’d actually have a hard time considering this as a mountain racer…
And the sole reason is because of the overall volume. To be a true mountain racing shoe, as its namesake, there needs to be more security through the midfoot. As mentioned before, the heel counter is stout and it has been fairly easy to lock down that portion of the foot. The toebox, by design, needs to be more voluminous to achieve natural running motion and toe splay. So, the midfoot needs to be another place of general security to dance in the heights. It’s not about the foot mapping of the upper — the materials aren’t baggy. This is simply a case of too much volume in the area. I could never quite get that lockdown without making the bridge of my foot uncomfortable and creating lassos out of my laces.
As speed and technical terrain increased, my feet could quite easily slip around the footbed. As a mountain dweller, I need that security. I’m sincerely hoping this will be a focus area for the next generation of MTN Racer to bring back some of that mountain attitude to the line.
MICHAEL: In both Topo shoes I’ve reviewed, searching for things to complain about seems borderline unreasonable and whiny. That being said, there is one issue I found with some stretching of the upper of the MTN Racer 3. For me, lacing tension through the eyelet chain caused the midfoot fit to loosen up over the course of a long run. I had to retighten the shoes after 6 miles or so, and the problem was fixed. Sure, this issue could worsen with more miles, but only time will tell.
SAM: I’ll echo Taylor’s sentiment that this shoe no longer runs true to its name. I didn’t have the issues with lockdown he did (although I did realize that I had the shoe cinched down too tight at the end of one of my longer efforts), but the wide platform and thicker ZipFoam make this shoe run a bit more like its high-stack cousin, the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, than I’d like for a shoe built for highly technical trail races. Underfoot, this runs like a highly capable and very comfortable trail trainer, but not a racer I’d want for tearing down a sketchy switchback.Shop Topo Athletic MTN Racer - Men Shop Topo Athletic MTN Racer - Women
TAYLOR: For its third at bat, the Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 has a solid swing and runs the bases with tenacity. Overall, this is a great trail shoe that could easily go any distance and anywhere. I think it has even broadened its capabilities with the addition of a new midsole.
I do feel like it has been moderated a little bit as the iterations have aged, loosing some of its mountain grit. Would I consider this for a true mountain race? Well, with overall security in the midfoot lacking it would likely be a no. Daily runs and long runs at a slower pace? Absolutely.
The Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 has all the right ingredients for a tenacious toothy trail runner. If you have a voluminous midfoot and are attracted by the foot-shaped design, this could be an absolute ace.
MICHAEL: In the intro, I left off describing a perfect spring day in the world of Alabama trail running. What does that actually have to do with the MTN Racer 3? Honestly, I’m not sure, but I guess the best way to explain it is that this shoe feels like the perfect choice for just about every kind of run. The outsole, midsole, and overall weight blend together to create a shoe that’s perfectly suited for any long run, easy run, or race.
Just like the Terraventure 4 was the golden combo of the Cascadia and the lone peak, this is the orangish-golden combo of the Hoka Speedgoat and the Altra Mont Blanc. If you’re looking for a true do-it-all racer, trainer, or simply an enjoy-the-bliss-of-trail-running-er, the MTN Racer 3 should no doubt be in consideration.
SAM: Even with some slight negatives, Topo Athletic still has an excellent shoe in the MTN Racer 3. The construction, midsole, and outsole are all competitive with the best in the industry.
After running in the Topo Athletic Terraventure 4 and this, I’d love to see a racer that takes the fit and shape of the Terraventure and adds some extra foam underfoot, closer to the stack we see in this MTN Racer.
The Topo Athletic MTN Racer 3 would be a great choice for anyone who wants a consistent, aggressive, and comfortable trail shoe that can handle any condition and surface. It’s also a great choice for fast packing and backpacking. My personal wishes aside, this is another winner from Topo Athletic.
You can pick up the Topo Atheltic MTN Racer 3 for $150 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the buttons below.Shop Topo Athletic MTN Racer - Men Shop Topo Athletic MTN Racer - Women
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Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.
All-time favorite shoes: Hoka Tecton X, Speedland SL:PDX, Merrell MTL Long Sky 2.More from Taylor
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 PeakMore from Sam
An engineer living with his wife and cat in Birmingham, Ala., Michael loves chill morning runs in the neighborhood, but especially enjoys soaking up long miles of technical southeast singletrack. Occasionally, he’ll get a racing itch and actually string together some “organized” training for a trail race or FKT. In his free time, Michael enjoys books, backpacking, and hanging out with friends.More from Michael
How would you compare V3 to V2, which is currently $50 cheaper? Is the increased cushion a drastic or marginal improvement to the ride?