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Road Running Shoes • October 20, 2023

Topo Athletic ST-5 Review: Simple, Slim, and Ready for the Gym

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What You Need To Know


6.6 oz. (187 g) for a US M9,

5.3 oz. (150 g) for a US W7

Stack Height / Drop

14 mm in forefoot, 14 mm in heel (0 mm drop)

Best For

Short runs and gym workouts

Key Features

Zero-drop platform, full Zipfoam midsole, Ortholite insole

On The Run
Comfortable natural toebox Excellent at the gym Simply not enough cushion for long runs


Introduction to the Topo Athletic ST-5

JOHN: The barefoot craze is officially back, baby… or is it? Depends on who you ask. Personally, I’ve always had an extremely minimal shoe in my rotation, but while some companies are straying away from minimal shoes, Topo is all in.

My first feelings when I unboxed the Topo Athletic ST-5 brought back memories of the Altra Solstice, Altra Kayenta, and the Xero Zelen, which is a mix of some of my favorite minimal road shoes.

Is Topo’s ST-5 strictly a gym/treadmill shoe, though? When I saw on the tech sheet that the ST-5 was recommended for the gym, I kind of cringed a little bit because I’m not a gym bro, but I’ve dealt with a lot of gym and gym-adjacent shoes in run specialty, so let’s explore this.

SETH: Topo claims that the ST-5 is its “Most Natural Feeling Shoe,” featuring 2 mm less stack than the previous version to deliver a more flexible and lightweight ride. Topo Athletic designed the ST-5 to take on all daily runs, gym workouts, and even uptempo workouts. This is the first Topo Athletic shoe I’ve ever put to the test, and with multiple 10-mile runs and a trip to Disney World and Universal Studios, I have a strong review for anyone who wants to know the truth about the Topo Athletic ST-5.

KALEB: Heads up, I’m about to wax philosophical, ’cause there’s honestly not much to talk about in a minimalist shoe.

Culturally, human ideas often seem to act and react in a sort of pendulum motion. Take American literature, for example. The creative Renaissance gave way to the objectivism of the Enlightenment, which was followed again by the free-thinking Romantics, who were yet again supplanted by the boring-as-all-get-out Realist and Naturalist writers. People chase after a concept until they get so violently sick of it that they turn to its near-opposite, and while the specifics may reinvent and modernize themselves, the pendulum swing remains constant.

Now, setting that cathartic release of my English syllabus aside, I do have a point here — the running shoe industry follows its own pendulum, swinging from the chunky bricks of the early 2000s to the barefoot craze of the 2010s and back again to the maximalism of the modern era. At first, we leered cautiously at the 40 mm competition, then at some point, the dam broke, and supermax shoes have flooded the scene thick and fast ever since. The past three-plus years of squish, bounce, and wobble have left us wondering if the days of snap, crackle, and pop would ever make their return or if super foams and plates had finally caused the swinging pendulum to turn into a one-way track to Marshmallowville.

Enter Topo Athletic, breaking norms and kicking butt as per usual. We’d be lying if we said we thought they were on the cutting edge of running shoe innovation, but we’d also be lying if we said we didn’t dig what they cook up every once in a while. The ST has always been the brand’s minimalist model, and in a world where formerly low-stack shoes are being beefed up, the ST’s stack height has been dropped down. Is the ST-5 a subtle mark that the tides are changing? Is the pendulum beginning to swing back to the world of minimalism? Who knows, who cares, all that matters is that Topo Athletic is still cooking.

RUBY: Straight out the box, I’m underwhelmed. Despite being almost identical to its predecessor in terms of design and materials, there are actually a few changes aboard the Topo Athletic ST-5 — if you know where to look. Most notably, those changes are in the weight and stack. Topo’s updated ST-5 barely tips the scales at just 6.6 oz. for a US M9, compared to 7.3 oz. for the ST-4. The minimalist diet also sees the shoe shave a full 2 mm of stack. Unfortunately, the price tag missed out on the dietary restrictions, bumping from $110 to $115. Yes, less shoe for more money.

While Topo brags about the ST-5’s lightweight and flexible “second skin” fit and feel, only time will tell whether this skin will be rubbed raw and blistered like my feet have in other super minimal shoes. Looking through a more optimistic lens as I walk around my house in the ST-5, the roomy anatomical toe box allows my toes a chance to relax, and coupled with its pale gray colorway, it reminds me very much of a slipper or house shoe. Again, only time will tell how well it performs in the wild and on the run, but I have my doubts.

What we like about the Topo Athletic ST-5

JOHN: I’ve run in the Topo Athletic ST-5 exclusively for about a week while recovering from the Barkley Fall Classic. So far, I really enjoyed running in this shoe. Would I use it for a PR attempt? No. Would I use it to race in? No. Where this shoe excels for me is in 3-8 mile runs with low to medium effort.

I travel a lot for races and have really been enjoying multipurpose-type shoes. Topo boasts that the ST-5’s collapsible heel counter allows the shoe to pack flat into a gym bag for travel. In addition, the company says that the ST-5 is for daily runs, up-tempo workouts, and gym work. When I do ultras or when I’m traveling with my girlfriend or daughter, I have to pack a lot of stuff, so I don’t like bringing a lot of extra shoes for my runs on top of everything else.

The Topo Athletic ST-5 definitely feels natural. If it didn’t have the Topo logo, I’d swear it was made by Xero. The ST-5 is so light it’s definitely fun to run in. The recycled mesh upper keeps your feet cool. I found the fit comfortable and true to size.

SETH: When I laced up this shoe for the first time, the first thing I noticed was the arch support. The last comparable shoe I had to this was the Xero HFS, and that was completely flat on the inside, so feeling some support in the arch area was a nice surprise. Topo is known for having a nice, wide toe box, and I personally love that since most running shoe brands seem to have such narrow toe boxes. It always feels nice when your toes can splay out and not be restricted, as I believe they should be.

To break in this shoe, I did a few 6-mile runs on my local paved trail. The most I ran in it was 10 miles, which probably says something. From the first run to the last, the shoe never felt any better or worse. Nothing really stood out or impressed me. It was lightweight and stable, but it was just kinda there.

Since the Topo Athletic ST-5 is low to the ground and flat, I really enjoyed lifting weights in it. When squatting or doing lunges, I felt very controlled, like I could keep my body even when taking each step. Especially when doing step-ups on a box with dumbbells in each hand, the lightweight feel was very smooth when moving up and down. I always felt prepared when wearing this shoe to the gym.

When I flew to Orlando, Florida, to visit Universal Studios and Disney, this was the only shoe I brought with me. I was walking and standing all day, and the lightweight feel was nice for quick, fast-paced cuts through big crowds of people. If you’re stuffing a shoe in a backpack, the Topo Athletic ST-5 is a great option since it features a collapsible heel and is super light and flexible, so it doesn’t take up too much space or add too much weight.

However, wearing this shoe all day to stand and walk came at a price.

KALEB: Topo’s Zipfoam has never been a groundbreaking EVA compound, and with two fewer millimeters than the ST-4 (6mm to be exact, plus the rubber and insole to bring the total stack to 14mm), there’s not a lot to comment on as far as ride character and responsiveness… nor is that the point of a minimalist, barefoot-stye shoe. The goal here is to be as unobtrusive as possible, and Zipfoam does do well at that: it’s not brickish, but nor is it particularly squishy, which means you can have a firm, flexible, ground-like platform to push off of while still benefiting from a few millimeters between you and the road.

One of the fun things about running barefoot is that feeling of nimbleness, and where many minimalist shoes go awry is when they have too much heavy rubber or a clunky upper that disturbs that featherlight feeling. Thankfully, Topo knows what’s up and stuck with the basics. The rubber is durable and grippy enough that I could confidently corner on a dime at speeds I’d normally have to take wide turns at. Topo’s classic narrow-midfoot upper kept my foot locked in while the wide toe box still let my little piggies do their thing.

One thing I particularly liked about the upper was that the overlays straddled that bony bump on the lateral (outside) of the foot that sometimes gets riled up if I tie my shoes too tight. These overlays meant the fabric could stretch and not cut off circulation at that location while still locking my foot firmly in place around it. Topo makes some of the highest quality uppers in the game, and the ST-5 is no exception: secure, breathable, light, and strong are the four names of the game with this shoe.

RUBY: For those of us with foot-shaped feet, Topo Athletic’s signature anatomical fit lets your feet be feet. The ST5’s roomy toe box encourages your forefoot to splay and spread naturally, allowing you to recruit all the muscles of the feet throughout the gait cycle without being pinned down and constricted beneath a tight upper and narrow fit. While this sounds like the ideal shoe for wider-footed folk, and it is, if you tend towards a standard or more narrow fit, fear not. My standard-width foot-shaped feet felt far from lost at sea, and my toes enjoyed the freedom to function properly with the extra space.

Without diving too deep into the physics (because who really wants that), the wider toe box and naturally increased foot spread give runners a larger base of support and greater stability. Add to that the ST-5’s minimal stack height and zero heel-to-toe drop, and you have one of the safest shoes on the market for runners with looser ankles prone to rolling.

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

JOHN: You will feel rocks wearing this shoe. I wouldn’t recommend running on gravel — save this one for the road and treadmill. Rocks also get stuck in the outsole pretty easily, even on regular road runs. Topo’s upper doesn’t offer much protection, so if you do kick even a pebble, you will feel it.

SETH: The first thing I look at in a daily running shoe is the amount of cushion and support it offers. Using a shoe every day means I need a comfortable, moderately cushioned option to offset the high impact that running puts on my body — especially on the hard concrete.

The Topo Athletic ST-5 is minimal, offering little to no cushion, so I felt every step I took while running, and it was rough on my knees. There’s just no way I would use this shoe for everyday running, especially with so many comfortable, cushioned running shoes out there. To be able to run the 10 miles that I did in this shoe, I ran super slow, so It wasn’t too rough on my body, but I definitely felt more sore than I usually do once I finished.

Despite Topo’s claims, I would never do a fast-paced run in this shoe. It’s flat, and there’s no bounce in the cushion or anything that would make me want to pick up the pace. I would not recommend this shoe for speed workouts. I was holding on for dear life by the end of my day of walking around in Disney. The bottom of my right forefoot was aching with pain with each step I took. At that moment, I would have really appreciated a max cushioned shoe, so I’ll keep this one for the gym.

KALEB: I’m going to contradict what some of the other reviewers are gonna say here: I don’t think the minimalism of this shoe should be a negative. That’s the purpose for crying out loud. Saying the midsole lacks character kind of misses the point that the goal here is to train your body to do the work instead of the shoe and, through that strengthening process, begin to eliminate form issues that could cause injury later on. Of course, to the average maximalist-addicted runner, the ST-5 is going to feel harsh, but over time, the goal is to be running well enough that one doesn’t need 30 mm of foam to act as a shock absorber.

Do I subscribe to the minimalist camp? Eh, not entirely. I enjoy barefoot running in moderation, but I’m not going to shun a good ol’ chonky boi every once in a while either, especially considering that humans weren’t really designed to run on asphalt all the time. Balance is key. Regardless, I’m not reviewing a maximalist shoe here, so I won’t judge it by maximalist criteria.

When I do that, I find precious few things to criticize about the ST-5. Sure, the price went up five bucks to $115, but c’mon, are we really going to nitpick inflation on a running shoe nerd website? One thing that I DO think is a no-no in many barefoot loyalists’ books is the noticeable arch support. It kind of goes against the whole “let your body do its own work” mentality, and it has frankly always confused me that Topo makes it such a staple of their designs.

My final potentially bad notes, depending on the runner — the midfoot is decently narrow, so there’s still the potential for discomfort if you’ve got brick-shaped feet like some of our reviewers (we really just love to crap on Jarrett about that around here, don’t we). Also, the laces on the ST-5 are kind of short, so if you’re a heel-lock kinda runner, this probably isn’t the shoe for you… or just get longer laces and quit whining. Gee whiz, they’re like three bucks.

RUBY: The Topo Athletic ST-5 reminds me of the mandatory plimsolls that decades of British school kids had to wear during gym class, along with humiliating memories from the mere thought of school sports. In short, plimsolls were not a shoe of choice but rather a piece of mandatory kit that takes me back to a place I’d rather not revisit. Like the dreaded plimsolls, the ST-5 is a minimal, lightweight, zero-drop shoe without much character: no fancy foams, embroidered uppers, plush midsole, or other flares we’ve come to expect from our footwear.

To me, this shoe is a great example of the “lighter is not always better” maxim, crossing the barrier between being “refined” and “lacking.” Just walking in this shoe, I felt like something was missing — something like spring, responsiveness, bounce, or anything that encourages me to pick up the pace and try running. Sure, it’s light, but, in my opinion, it lacks the excitement I’ve come to love in the previous iterations of the ST.

Don’t take this the wrong way, though, the ST-5 fits into the minimal, zero-drop road running shoe niche perfectly — and I actually rank it highly in this category, with its premium materials and impressive durability — but this is far from a shoe for everyone and not one I plan on logging more miles in. Unless you know for sure that a minimal, zero-drop shoe works for you, I would caution runners before buying. For runners looking to experiment with zero-drop, I would recommend starting with a more cushioned option like the Topo Athletic Magnify 4 or Altra Torin 7. Oh, and unless you plan to run solely indoors on a treadmill, avoid the all-gray colorway.

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Topo Athletic ST-5 Conclusion

JOHN: The Topo Athletic ST-5 is a fun, straightforward type of shoe. It’s got some pop to it, looks good, and travels well because it’s so lightweight and easy to pack. It’s a good shoe for busy people to take on the go if they are going to use the gym and hit easier runs on nearby roads. I don’t recommend using this shoe on rough surfaces, though, because it catches rocks and because it’s so minimal you’re going to feel it.

If on the market for a gym, road, treadmill, or travel shoe, the ST-5 is not a bad shoe for $115. I’d also check out a shoe we just reviewed here at Believe In The Run, the Xero HFS 2. These shoes aren’t as bulky as the traditional Metcons and Nanos of the world and have a natural running feel. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by the ST-5. Topo has another solid addition to its lineup.

SETH: This is a gym shoe for me. It’s flat, stable, and lightweight with an unnoticeable amount of cushion, which will always be great to travel with or to keep in your gym bag. Sure, if I’m traveling to see my brother and we decide to run a chill-paced 5k after our workout, this shoe will be just fine. For a daily running shoe, this is simply a super plain, boring shoe. Running 7-10 miles per day, the lack of cushion and bounce in this shoe really just sucked.

There are too many comfortable, bouncy daily trainers I’d rather be running in. I could never run in this shoe every day, and especially would never want to run over 10 miles in this shoe. On top of that, calling this an uptempo shoe is a joke. If anything, the lack of cushion and bounce and how flat it is, made me feel forced to run slower so that my knees didn’t hurt. The last thing I’d want to do is pick up the pace.

If you want a solid gym shoe that features a wide toe box, a bit of arch support and is lightweight and flexible, this is a good option. However, I don’t really see why you should get this shoe over any other zero-drop or minimal-type of shoe, such as Altra or Xero. A good gym shoe is low to the ground, stable, and plain, and that’s what this shoe is.

KALEB: Barefoot running, slowly introduced with proper moderation, is a great way to shift running form away from the heel-striking, high-impact style of running that modern running shoes tend to promote. I really enjoyed the simple yet durable package that the ST-5 provides on the run. Is it going to single-handedly swing the maximalist pendulum back into the barefoot craze? Probably not. Such a change would be more dependent on the mindset of the consumers than on some wild new barefoot shoe coming out because, honestly, how groundbreaking can a 14 mm shoe be? Regardless, for those looking for a solid, zero-drop, minimalist shoe to run and do life in, the Topo Athletic ST-5 is as solid a pick as any.

RUBY: Seth summed up my thoughts perfectly, so instead of being super redundant, I’ll keep it brief. Topo has designed a light and comfortable daily trainer that, with its anatomical fit and roomy toe box, my feet enjoyed going about my day. The Topo ST-5 is my ideal gym shoe: enough foam and flexibility for cross-training on the elliptical, plus a flat base with zero drop that gives me stability and structure for weightlifting afterward. However, like Seth, on the run, the ST-5 is a long way from tempting me to ditch my favored high cushion, bouncy trainers.

Similarly, when it comes to choosing a zero-drop shoe, I’ll again give this a miss in favor of more foam — if you’re zero drop curious, I suggest you do the same and recommend starting out with the Topo Athletic Magnify 4 or Altra Torin 7.

You can pick up the Topo Athletic ST-5 for $115 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

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John Calabrese
Habitual Ultrarunner
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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.

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Seth Epley
Texas Trail Reviewer
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Seth Epley is an ultramarathoner and avid outdoorsman. After graduating high school, Seth struggled with drinking and was ultimately unhappy with the way he was living. Running became a remedy, and 3 years later he ran his first 200-mile race and has maintained a 100% sober lifestyle. In addition to running, he enjoys archery, videography, photography, and all things outdoors.

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Kaleb Kabakjian
Track and XC Reviewer

Kaleb is one of the younger, “both of my knees still work” reviewers on the BITR team. As a high school cross country, track and field, and road racing athlete in Pennsylvania, Kaleb loves hearing about the latest endurance-athletics studies and seeing how everything out there can fit into a well-rounded training program. If you don’t see him drinking a weird health concoction or doing some strange warmup technique, he’s probably already started the race.

All-time favorite shoes: Saucony Ride 14, Nike ZoomX Dragonfly

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Ruby Wyles
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Ruby is an NCAA Division 1 student-athlete, running shoe geek and all-around exercise science nerd, originally from the United Kingdom. An aspiring pro runner, Ruby currently competes on all terrains– road, track, and cross country– from the 3000m distance up to the half-marathon. A true mileage junkie, Ruby has plenty of opportunities to test out different shoes and properly put them through their paces.

All-time favorite shoes: Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, Hoka One One Clifton 6, Nike Zoom Vomero 14

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