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Trail Running Shoes • October 19, 2023

Topo Athletic Traverse Review: The One True Hybrid

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What You Need To Know


10.6 oz. (300 g) for a US M9

8.7 oz. (246 g) for a US W7

Stack Height / Drop

30 mm in heel, 25 mm in forefoot (5 mm drop)

Best For

Hybrid running and hiking

Key Features

Two-piece ZipFoam midsole, tightly woven mesh upper, Vibram MegaGrip outsole

On The Run
Excellent grip (of course, it's a Topo) Comfortable shaping through the midfoot and toebox This ZipFoam is missing some... zip


Introduction to the Topo Athletic Traverse

MICHAEL: I was recently asked by some friends about the most surprising brands I’ve had the chance to review at Believe in the Run. You know, the sleeper picks — brands I would probably never have tried if it were not for their shoes showing up on my doorstep. Without a doubt, the brand at the top of that list is Topo Athletic. Between the Terraventure 4, the Mtn Racer 3, and the Fli-Lyte 5, every Topo shoe I’ve reviewed thus far has been a prime example of quality construction, thoughtful design, and solid value.

Enter the Topo Athletic Traverse, a shoe that brings together aspects of several successful models to create a product that specifically addresses the requests and concerns of thru-hikin’ Topo fans. The formula is pretty much as follows: Topo took a tried-and-true chassis indicative of its award-winning trail lineup, added some stack, beefed up the toe protection, and threw in a beaded TPU insole that absorbs less water than Topo’s standard Ortholite offering. All of these changes make the Traverse ever so slightly suited to the specific demands of thru-hiking while still keeping things light (relatively speaking) and runnable (or power-hikable if we’re being honest). After all, Topo may have an equally large, if not larger, following in the hiking and backpacking market when compared to the trail running space.

Also, Taylor is back! Coming off a long summer of injury, our favorite school-teaching, family-loving, picture-taking friend is back to rocky-mountain-running and shoe-reviewing. Long-time readers know Taylor is really good at this stuff, so keep on reading to hear some more well-communicated thoughts and see some good photos of the Topo Traverse.

TAYLOR: Similar to Michael, I, too, remember my jolted reaction to Topo Athletic. It took me way too long to give the official nod. I was skeptical of every shoe because, at the time, Altra was slappin’ on most shoes they made and had created an ego around the whole zero-drop natural foot shape movement. Topo Athletic was unfairly deemed a lesser-known copycat by many… including myself.

Time and time again, Topo Athletic showed up at the door and threw down consistently very good performances. We could shell out the laundry list of positive remarks for the many shoes over the last few years, but really, there’s one thing that needs to be said: Topo Athletic is the standard for low-drop and foot-shaped performance footwear.

Such an asterisk doesn’t mean it lacks performance compared to other brands. Especially in the trail running world, Topo can stand its own ground.

So, here we are in late ‘23 with a new shoe joining the Topo Athletic family. The Topo Athletic Traverse was born from a crossing of the trails. It’s a shoe that mixes the lesser profile of a trail runner and the rugged dependability of a hiker. If this sounds like a familiar storyline, check out our review of the Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro.

The Traverse is effectively the update to the Ultraventure Pro. A new name is helpful to distinguish the shoes because of how each has branched off in its own direction. The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 is a lightweight but highly cushioned trail runner, whereas the Traverse remains a little lower to the ground with the more classic protective feel of the original Ultraventure.

With a 30/25mm stack and a two-piece ZipFoam midsole, tightly-woven engineered mesh upper, and their textbook full-rubber deep clawed Vibram Megagrip outsole, the Traverse, on paper, is a classic Topo Athletic shoe. I have no qualms about that.

In our highly honest fashion, we’ve properly torn this thing apart and have some things to say.

What we like about the Topo Athletic Traverse

MICHAEL: After reviewing the Topo Athletic Terraventure 4 earlier this year, it’s easy to draw comparisons between that shoe and the newly released Traverse. The balanced feel, versatility, and fit of the Terraventure are all present here, and if you’re looking for more general praise for this shoe, check out our review of the Terraventure 4. Here, I’m basically just going to focus on the slight differences between the two models.

Perhaps most noticeably, the Traverse has a bit more stack than the Terraventure 4. This adds protection and cushion to the shoe but doesn’t seem to sacrifice nimbleness when running. This shoe is no clog and still has the flexible versatility we loved in the Terraventure. As Taylor said, the midsole here is nothing to write home about but will no doubt last for many, many miles. The design is finished off with a light rock plate, which I absolutely love, and Topo’s classic Vibram mega grip outsole with — you guessed it — the exact same lug configuration they’ve included on nearly every other trail shoe they’ve made. This outsole ain’t broke, folks, so Topo isn’t fixing it.

Additional derivations from the Terraventure that I really enjoyed include a more robust toe bumper, a PU insole that absorbs significantly less water than Topo’s standard Ortholite offering (perfect for frequent stream crossings), and a 5 mm drop (instead of 3 mm) to take a slightly more strain off of the ol’ Achilles.

Like the Terraventure 4, the Traverse is a bit of a mashup between the Brooks Cascadia and the Altra Lone Peak, two models that are beloved in both the hiking and running markets. Basically, it brings in the best qualities of both shoes and increases overall build quality with a better fitting upper, better outsole, and a few little refinements and features to help it hold up to the specific demands of thru-hiking.

So, while I haven’t had the chance to hike the AT in my testing period, I can say that these little changes from the Terraventure (or Ultraventure of old) result in a seriously well-thought-out product for the hikin’ crowd. Like I said earlier, though, this shoe is no slouch, and I was able to comfortably run my normal training paces in this shoe as well as any other daily training model. Yet, again, Topo Athletic has produced a really interesting, fun, and versatile model in the Traverse.

One last note on this shoe. I love that Topo is attempting something new here. Sure, companies like Hoka and Altra make mid-cut models of their popular trail runners that are supposed to be more geared toward thru-hikers, but this is the first time I think we’ve seen a hybrid that can truly do both. Sure, there are low-cut hiking shoes, and there are trail running shoes, and of course, no one is stopping you from hiking in your Speedgoats or running in your Moabs.

I’m just saying it’s cool to see a company innovate by taking a trail running design that works great for hiking (like the Terraventure or Ultraventure) and adding little tweaks that were clearly brought about by listening to their customers, who have (literally) put thousands of rugged miles on these shoes hiking through some of the most incredibly epic terrain the US has to offer.

We’re talking the AT, the CDT, the AZT, you name it, and instead of going on their merry way designing XYZ trail running shoes and selling them to thru-hikers, Topo is clearly listening to what hikers have to say after using these shoes and solving problems hikers are experiencing. The Ortholite insole absorbs too much water? Let’s change it to a PU insole that absorbs none. The upper material is blowing out? Let’s change it to a durable and long-lasting mesh. The toe bumpers aren’t quite substantial enough for the endless rocks and roots of the AT? Let’s add a more robust toe bumper. Topo is keeping its finger on the pulse of what its athletes are looking for, and you have to appreciate that.

TAYLOR: In so many ways, the Traverse is a quintessential Topo Athletic shoe. It has all the ingredients and quality we would expect from the brand.

Without fail, the most forward aspect of any Topo Athletic shoe is the fit. In general, the Traverse fits most like the original Topo Athletic Ultraventure, Ultraventure Pro, and the Pursuit. The whole heel surround and midfoot provide a comfortably secure feel while the toe box gives the appropriate amount of wiggle room via the rounded anatomically shaped toe box and extra volume.

What was most appreciated about the forefoot was that it provided one area of movement for control. The forefoot and toes are the optimal place to make that happen. It’s solid science about the foot’s anatomy that informed design and provided improved performance. It’s what “they” say, and I feel it on the trail too. There’s not much more to be said.

Even some of the high-end shoes for the trails have stepped away from the traditional road shaping in favor of a more anatomical and/or roomier toe box. Some examples are the Speedland GS:TAM, Nike Ultrafly, Merrell Agility Peak 5, and The North Face Summit Vectiv Pro.

Outside of fit, the upper is also on-brand for Topo Athletic. It’s a burly, tightly woven engineered mesh. What that means for runners is that there is no chance of blowing out. Topo Athletic has found a way to make the upper non-abrasive and very comfortable with the inner liner. There are a few potential negatives that we’ll get to, however, this upper was made for any trail scenario. Protection and durability are undoubted.

As with most Topo Athletic offerings, the midsole wasn’t something to gawk about in the Traverse. The proprietary ZipFoam here is fairly dense and focused on the protective side of things. Even with a thin rock plate, the 30/25mm of stack is adequate for protection and gives a fair amount of ground feel — just enough, in my opinion. Again, this formula reminded me a lot of some of their first trail running shoes, like the Ultraventure, Ultraventure Pro, and the Runventure 4.

When thinking of this shoe as the updated Ultraventure Pro, the Traverse showed to be much more keen to trail running. The midsole geometry felt much smoother than its predecessor. The former model felt a lot more like a hiker and resisted running (i.e. Brooks Cascadia 1). The Traverse feels like it maintained a basal character but flipped the equation at the same time. Running felt a whole lot more encouraged this time around.

A TPU beaded insole, much like you’d find in the Inov-8 Trailfly G 270 v2, is a very welcome addition. I had nothing against the previous insole, but these are the types of simple adjustments within shoes that make a big difference. Additional comfort was noticed and is a no-brainer for trail running and thru-hiking.

Michael already touched on this last point, and I’ve decided long ago that I don’t need to be too descriptive. Let’s just say Michael and I could occupy a porch with some whiskey and blab all day about the Vibram Megagrip outsole. The six-millimeter, multidirectional, claw-like lugs have always been a favorite ingredient in Topo Athletic trail shoes, and, by golly, it ain’t no different on the Traverse.

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What we don’t like about the Topo Athletic Traverse

MICHAEL: While I would absolutely love to crack a cold one with my friend Taylor on a cool fall evening, I’m unfortunately sitting in a desk chair on my lunch break at work. So while there’s a lot to love about the Topo Traverse, here comes the part of the review where we snap back to reality and point out some aspects of the Traverse that could use some fixing up. First off, while the weight isn’t horrible for what this shoe is, it does limit its running potential to slower paces when compared to the Terraventure 4.

Also (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing), it’s important to note that not all ZipFoam is created equal. ZipFoam in the Traverse is much more akin to the regular ‘ol EVA used in the Terraventure, whereas the ZipFoam used in the Mtn Racer 3 seems to be softer and more responsive underfoot. Each midsole material, of course, has its roses and thorns for the application, but just don’t be surprised if the Traverse doesn’t necessarily feel as lively as Topo’s ultra-distance racing models.

While the fit of the Traverse is still classic Topo, this upper has a few spots that are difficult to lock down. Fit through the midfoot is great, but the collar around the ankle still proves to be tricky. The tongue is super wide and kind of unwieldy, so on multiple runs I would go back and forth between tightening up the laces to my preference for descents, and then subsequently having to loosen them because one part of the tongue dug into some tendon or nerve on my sankle (side + ankle = sankle…shout out to the drop for that one). But like Taylor mentions, sock choice matters people! If you’re wearing thicker socks (like darn tough hikers) you should have no problem with this.

TAYLOR: The Topo Athletic Traverse is somewhat of a tricky shoe to review. Being that it is meant to be a combo shoe, I would flip-flop the category while testing. When thinking of this as a trail runner, I thought this was a little heavy, and the underfoot sensation was lacking character. As a hiker, though, my mind was switched as the Traverse really is a light and protective hiker.

So, my point here is less of a negative one and more of one to consider what your purpose for such a shoe would be. If it’s most specifically trail running, great! I think there are a few better Topo Athletic running shoes that I would recommend first. If it’s truly for both hiking and mixing running, great! The Traverse could be a very solid choice.

More recent trail running offerings from Topo Athletic had a common negative point. Even though the shape of the heel and midfoot are wonderful for me, the inner liner feels slippery. Just like on the Ultraventure 3, Pursuit, and most prominently in the MTN Racer 3, there was a subtle slippage. I was able to take care of it with the right pair of socks (either thicker or grippy) or by synching the laces quite tightly. This isn’t an all-out make-or-break — it’s simply worth noting, especially for technical terrain and long days.

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Topo Athletic Traverse Conclusion

MICHAEL: Typically, hybrid shoes I get to review leave something to be desired in one or both of the applications the shoe is designed to handle. Like, an El Camino is technically both a car and a truck, which is great, but it doesn’t actually perform well in either category. Such is not the case with the Traverse. This shoe really does hold its own both as a daily trainer for running over technical terrain and, with the addition of a few smart features, performs even better as a lightweight yet protective hiker.

I often joke that ultrarunning is really more like ultra-traversing, and that’s exactly what this shoe does best. A trail runner at its core, yet designed with the thru-hiker in mind, Topo has created a fun, interesting, and unusual hybrid that handles a wide variety of terrain and pace with surprising excellence. Then again, should we ever really be that surprised when Topo releases yet another great trail shoe? Probably not.

TAYLOR: For its intended purposes, the Topo Athletic Traverse is right on the money. This is a good shoe to handle a mix of terrains and paces. It could do really well as a hiker itself and hold its own as a rugged runner. Yes, this is technically a new shoe, but, really, this is a more runner-friendly Ultraventure Pro. It’s meant for the same thing, except this time around, running feels more encouraged. Me gusta mucho.

You can pick up the Topo Athletic Traverse for $150 in early November at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) using the buttons below.

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Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. scott scott says:

    Excellent and thorough review, I found it very helpful.
    As a wearer of Topo Terraventure 1st thru 3rd models, I may now, after reading this, purchase a pair. I’m a up-tempo hiker, local mt climber and scrambler, and the Topo’s are the best addition to may gear in the 30 years of being a pro guide. Thanks Scott

    1. Robbe says:

      Very cool, enjoy the shoe!

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michael bio photo
Michael Loutzenheiser
Southern Trail Reviewer

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.

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Taylor Bodin
Lead Trail Reviewer
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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.

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