AUSTIN: If you want the shortest version of my review, check out this 3-second clip from “The New Girl.” I know we’re just a little over halfway through the year, but the Topo Athletic Phantom is already vying for my favorite shoe of 2020. And the Phantom is the first Topo Athletic model I’ve ever owned! Topo Athletic, I discovered, is short for Tony Post, the former Vibram CEO who believes that footwear should create “a more natural running experience.” I’d say the Phantom scratches that itch and then some.
ERIN: The Topo Athletic Phantom is my first Topo Athletic road shoe (unless you count the Topo Athletic trail shoes I wore as road shoes <insert shrug emoji>). Spoiler: I liked those shoes better for road running than I like the Phantom.
AUSTIN: The extent of what I knew about Topo Athletic prior to this review pretty much came down to regular comparisons to Altra. Wide box. Low drop. Natural motion. The similarities are evident for sure, but the two brands differ in a number of ways. Though Altra maintains a zero drop across the board, the Phantom has a 5 mm drop (30 mm heel and 25 mm forefoot). At 10.2 ounces for a US M9.0, the weight is respectable for a max-cushion trainer. The shoe feels slightly heavy in hand, but the run is something else.
My goodness. The ride. Five steps into my first run I pulled an out-loud, full-on-Keanu, “Whoa.” Credit the new, full-length Zipfoam midsole for a pillowy ride that will undoubtedly rival anything from any HOKA model to the Altra Torin. Like my experience with some Altra models of yore, I thought the Phantom might feel a little loose, but the stiff laces locked the midfoot down well. An engineered mesh upper and a handful of overlays provide enough structure without feeling loose. Lastly, a wider heel (and base) provides an added touch of stability.
ERIN: I was really excited to try these, because a good friend of mine loves them, and we tend to have similar taste in shoes (both road and trail). When I put them on for the obligatory new-shoe walk around the house my immediate impression was that I would love them: While they felt a tad heavy in the hand, they felt less so on the foot, and the step-in comfort was great. Let’s just say I really appreciate the Phantom’s padded heel collar and tongue. The toe box is roomy but not too roomy, and these––unlike the MT3–– fit true to size.
While I imagine that some people aren’t a fan of how this shoe looks, I actually love them from an aesthetic standpoint. Granted, I also wear Altras as fashion shoes so keep that in mind.Shop Topo Athletic – Men Shop Topo Athletic – Women
AUSTIN: If I truly like a shoe, I do my best not to nitpick the little stuff. Honestly, there’s nothing to critique. If I were pressed for something, I’d go for rounded laces instead as I feel they might allow me to cinch the midfoot a touch tighter. And I’d cut an ounce of weight to demonstrate that a max cushion trainer can be resilient, responsive, and fast without tipping the scales. Otherwise, props to Topo Athletic for putting together a complete package in the Phantom.
ERIN: Sorry, Austin, but every step I took in these shoes was unenjoyable. They just do not work for me whatsoever, and I can’t really pinpoint why. At first, I thought maybe it was because my current rotation includes some really stellar trainers. But then, I still consider the budget-model Altra Viho to be one of the best shoes of 2020 (it’s still 2020 right?). So while I think the Phantom and the Viho should be pretty similar– they’re both no-frills, cushioned, neutral trainers– I’d wear the Viho over the Phantom any day.
So why did I dislike this shoe so much? For a 5 mm drop shoe, it feels very heel-heavy to me, and I find it difficult to run in at any pace. Easy-pace runs were a slog; faster runs with pickups felt blah. For me, the Zipfoam is not zippy; it just feels dead.Shop Topo Athletic – Men Shop Topo Athletic – Women
AUSTIN: For distance training, the Phantom is legit. Seriously, if you’ve never owned a shoe by Topo Athletic or gravitate towards a max cushion ride, there’s no reason why the Phantom isn’t an excellent entry point. Take the red pill and snag these shoes– you won’t regret it.
ERIN: I was disappointed in the Phantom 3, even though I tried not to be <insert another shrug emoji>. I think the fit and overall comfort are both great, but I found the midsole to be heavy and uninspiring. However, this is one of the more polarizing shoes we’ve had in awhile, and others clearly love it. So if you want to try out the Topo Athletic Phantom 3, you can pick it up at Running Warehouse for $130 by using the shop links below.
You can pick up the at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop Topo Athletic – Men Shop Topo Athletic – Women