Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 Review: Love at First Zip(Foam)
Weighs 10.2 oz. (289 g.) for a US M9 / 8.3 oz. (235 g.) for a US W7
Get ready for ultra adventures in the Ultraventure
Updated ZipFoam ups the zip, for sure
Topo is goin’ green with three recycled water bottles per pair
Available now for $150
EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier versions of this review noted bad laces that were too long and became untied. Topo Athletic let us know that our review pairs were pre-production and that the issue was recognized and resolved before final production.
TAYLOR: New shoe, who dis? The brand new Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 just strolled up with an all-out overhaul. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise for fans of the series — overhauls are par for the course on this ever-evolving shoe.
The first Ultraventure grabbed a lot of fans with its top-notch fit and rugged durability. To this day, it remains one of my all-time favorite shoes thanks to its comfort and overall ride. The second Ultraventure took a deep dive into the world of max cushion with an overall softer feel. It was a good showing, but it left plenty of OG fans wanting more.
Now, we have the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3. It brings a similar but slightly altered upper, an all-new formulation of ZipFoam, and a newly configured Vibram outsole. All of these changes amount to an entirely new experience, but one that I think people will enjoy.
SAM: The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 showed up on my porch on a rainy morning in October. A week later, with just two runs to my name, I laced it up for the Patapsco Valley 50k just outside of Baltimore.
We all have our own criteria for a race day shoe, but there’s generally some overlap. We want comfort across the mileage and a shoe that makes us run (or at least feel) fast. For trail races, a shoe has to keep us upright — no turned ankles or lost grip allowed. Even with minimal miles on the Ultraventure 3, I knew it checked the boxes. Now, over 31 miles later, I’m anything but disappointed.
TAYLOR: This year’s version of the Ultraventure is worthy of a place in the conversation with shoes like the Hoka Mafate Speed 4, Nike Zegama, and Brooks Caldera 6. All of these high-stack shoes take unique roads to give solid all-around performances. One of the aspects that makes all of the aforementioned shoes unique is their midsoles. Foams are where the magic is these days.
Topo Athletic’s new recipe of ZipFoam is pretty spectacular for a high-stack (35 mm/30 mm for a 5mm drop) trail shoe. It will give runners some of everything: cushion, protection, and energy to go a long way. The medium-soft density foam feels airy underfoot, like what you would get from a nitro-infused midsole. It feels crisp, light, and well-cushioned, somewhere in the ballpark of the Brooks Cascadia 6, Hoka Mafate Speed 4, Altra Mont Blanc, and even Hoka Tecton X (minus some poppy pop). All have that soft-ish feel that doesn’t completely abandon the responsiveness.
A noticeable toe spring (curved forefoot) allows for a smooth transition from the initial foot strike through toe-off. Because of the anatomical toe box, the toe-off feels more significant than most trail shoes, even those with full rockers. Topo found a way to ensure that toe-off happens at a prime spot: right at the big toe, which research tells us is where the power lies. You feel it with the Ultraventure 3.
The upper gives off a similar vibe of being soft but not too relaxed. This is the most familiar aspect of last year’s Ultraventure with a planet-loving recycled mesh. It’s comfortable and appropriately structured around the heel and midfoot. That’s where you’ll find the best lockdown points within the shoe. It’s a classic Topo move. Lockdown is helped by a modestly padded gusseted tongue.
Any overlays are pretty much chucked to the wayside. There’s one around the heel for structure, another around eyelet chains, and another around the toe box for protection. Simple and practical. I’m all about it.
Back to the foot shape. Topo Athletic is famous for having a secure heel and midfoot and having room in the forefoot for natural splay. I feel like this particular last, and the one that the Topo Athletic Pursuit was made on, is the money maker. Even though I have an average width foot, I feel like you get benefits of both comfort and performance with this shape. You don’t need a wide foot to appreciate this shoe.
Something small, but I also appreciate the noticeable medial arch bump. It’s not something I particularly notice in shoes, but I’d say it feels comfortable rather than obtrusive.
Even though the Ultraventure 3 is marketed for smooth to moderate trails, like the Mafate Speed 4, it can handle a bit more because of the overall fit. I found that it could take some decently technical trails and some speed. Hard turns on switchbacks did come with a little bit of slippage.
Topo Athletic has clung to its clawed Vibram Megagrip outsole for all its worth. Nearly every trail shoe from the brand over the last five years had almost the exact same outsole. I’m glad they’re branching out with a complete redesign here.
First, there’s less rubber and more flex. That plays into the crisp feeling while running — it feels natural. The outsole is also less aggressive. Some will be upset about that, but I think it’s a good move for the series. You don’t often need 5mm claws to dig into the ground. These moderate rectangular lugs are lighter, smoother, and simply more versatile. The Vibram XS Trek rubber still gives a solid amount of grip. Another thing to note is that the Ultraventure 3 comes in as the lightest of the contenders in the high stack category (10.9 oz. for a US M10.5).
SAM: Taylor isn’t wrong when he says that the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 needs to be considered among the very best high-stack trail options on the market. He’s done a great job at covering the technical shine that seems to leak out of this shoe’s very breathable and durable mesh, so I’m not going to rehash all of that. Instead, I’m going to err toward talking about performance, fit, and durability at distance.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give this shoe post-race is that I barely thought about it at all. Sure, I spent a couple of miles fixated on my left foot after plunging it fully underwater in a stream crossing in mile one. My right foot was subjected to a string of curses after catching a rock hidden under leaves at mile 26, which yardsaled me down the trail, but for the most part, this shoe served as an extension of my legs. It gripped when and where I needed it to, and the chunky ZipFoam Midsole served up protection and comfort without fail for the whole 31 miles.
The fit was one of my biggest reasons for choosing this shoe on race day. I’m partial to the foot-shaped uppers that Topo Athletic and Altra focus on — I’ve had a few too many blister-producing long-mile days in narrow shoes. There’s often a delicate balance to be struck between the wide toe box and a secure lockdown. The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 fits securely in the heel and midfoot. If you peek inside the shoe, there’s a low profile underlay beneath the mesh around the midfoot that attaches to the overlay that braces the lace eyelets. This results in a solid lockdown in a paired-down package. Everything feels structured but not stiff. The recycled mesh is durable, breathable, and dries out fast when wet. In the toebox, the shoe opens up to leave room for toe splay. The whole upper package conveys simplicity without sacrifice. This is an upper — and a shoe — with only the things you need for big miles and nothing extra.
I can’t say enough about the combination of ZipFoam midsole and Vibram XS Trek outsole. Underfoot there is a little pep, lots of protection, and grip for days. With a 35mm heel and a 30mm forefoot, this shoe has the stack of some cushy daily trainers (although it’s more on the firm side), but you wouldn’t know it from the underfoot confidence it inspires. I was truly surprised when I saw this shoe was recommended for moderate terrain — it gave me some of the better technical performance of any shoe I’ve tested this year. Considering its high stack and wider platform, this midsole/outsole combination is tuned to deliver those results. I’m going to go out and claim this, but I think 5mm is the ideal offset drop for a trail shoe. It’s a sweet spot between too much forward lean and a sharply strained Achilles.
As for the Vibram outsole, I agree with Taylor: the lug pattern on the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 doesn’t sacrifice any grip, and the midsole rocker geometry works well with the sparse lugs to result in a tight toe-off that helps your stride stay consistent.
ALEX: I like the new colorways of the Ultraventure 3 — no pink or purple to be found on the women’s version. To be clear, I have no qualms with either of these colors, my issue is that gendered colorways exist at all. I digress. This shoe looks sweet.
For a max cushion, high stack height shoe, these feel surprisingly lightweight, weighing in at just under 9 oz. for a US W8.5.
Apart from my heel collar complaints (see next section), I found this shoe to be extremely comfortable. They kept the design of the upper simple, with no complex, heavy overlays or problematic flex points. The toe bumper is highly protective and well-matched for the type of terrain this one was made for. Other than that, the material is soft and breathable.
The fit is secure through the heel and midfoot, and, combined with a very roomy toe box, feels adequate for smooth and more moderate terrain. The Ultraventure 3 also feels great hiking. I was able to feel more surefooted on technical trails when moving slower.
The high stack height (higher than my beloved Hoka Speedgoat 5) and updated foam midsole of this one made it immediately intriguing to me, and I was excited that they were able to execute it in a well-balanced package. The ZipFoam midsole feels plush, responsive, and super comfortable underfoot. It also maintains a surprising amount of ground feel. The Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole is equipped with 3.5mm broad, relatively shallow lugs. The grip is adequate, although this outsole design would not be my first choice on wet technical terrain.Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 – Men Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 – Women
TAYLOR: I’m not sure if all foot-shaped low-drop shoe companies source their shoelaces from the same place, but, like most Altra shoes, these laces are way too long. There’s enough lace to tie your shoes and your neighbor’s. Without a lace garage of any sort, they became pretty cumbersome to stuff back through. If you don’t, you’d be at the risk of lassoing your other foot with every stride.
One thing that will be interesting to see is how long this shoe stands up. The XS Trek is less gritty than Vibram’s Megagrip compound. The lighter midsole hasn’t given me any hints that it is starting to break down yet, but we’ve found that many newer airy midsoles do tend to lose their pop sooner. Time will tell. Hopefully, we can give you a 50 or 100-mile update.
SAM: I previously complained about the laces, but I’ve been told the production models don’t use those and the issues have been fixed. So otherwise I have no complaints.
ALEX: Similar to some other Topo models I’ve tested in the past, the heel design is not my favorite. The height of it is relatively short, and it curves in. Dear every shoe company, please stop making curved heel collars.
The toebox on this one is very roomy, and I found my foot sliding around quite a bit on steep descents and when moving quickly across technical terrain. I feel like they tried to counter this with the heel lock, which, even though uncomfortable, is secure. It just doesn’t come together for me.Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 – Men Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 – Women
TAYLOR: As for the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3, it’s reclaiming a top spot in my book. It’s likely one I’d choose for those long (50 to 100-mile) ultras or everyday miles. It feels modern and performs to the standard that Topo Athletic claims and then some. This shoe could be for anyone looking for a solid performer over any ultra distance, a smooth ride on most terrain, or simply a training alternative to the Hoka’s of the world. This will be on par with or exceed expectations if this is your first time in a Topo Athletic shoe.
The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 is easily one of the top high-stack trail shoes of 2022. That is saying a lot because this has been the most competitive category this year.
SAM: I like to think of myself as a simple person. Give me a beautiful trail stretched out before me and a shoe that just works, and I’m happy. The Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 is that shoe. With 50 miles on it, I can confidently say this is probably one of the best high-stack trail shoes you can buy right now. I have very little midsole degradation and even less outsole wear (Taylor, there’s your 50-mile review). This is a shoe that will take you through any distance, from massive miles to daily trail wear, and it should last. It served me very well as a race day shoe and will stay in my rotation for daily miles. Because of its high stack, durability, and low weight, this would also be an excellent option for thru-hikers tackling long-distance trails like the AT or PCT.
ALEX: The Ultraventure 3 has earned its spot in my long run lineup. The high stack height, roomy yet secure fit, and durable protection make this one a great choice for long days out on moderate terrain. Similar to many of the Altra shoes, it feels great for days and races involving a mix of hiking and running, making it versatile for long trail or mixed surface adventures.
You can pick up the Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 for $150 at Topo’s website by using the shop link below.Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 – Men Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure 3 – 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
Do you think those of us that loved the ultraventure 1/2 or mtn racer2 will miss the medial post those shoes have?
Hi Tim. I don’t think you’ll miss the medial post that much. The foam is a little more rigid, wider platform, and arch support take the place really nicely with a lighter feel.
I really like this shoe but I have found that I had to size up by a half size; same for the Phantom. I have bunions on both feet that accentuate the need for room esp at the big toes. I wear custom orthotics that help a lot. Lately I’ve had to abandon my 9.5 phantoms because my toe is pushing against the top of the shoe. I have size 10 now in both shoes. They feel great. There is a little bend in the upper foot fabric from perhaps a little extra space—but they don’t feel big at all. Do you think it’s okay to stick with this bigger size despite that slight bend in the toe box? I’m not sure I have a choice but just curious— age has not been kind to my already compromised foot structure, which is otherwise fairly narrow.
Hi,. My feet were hitting the top of several different Topo styles so I had to size up .5 There is a little bend in the upper foot fabric from perhaps a little extra space—but they don’t feel big at all. Do you think it’s okay to stick with this bigger size? I have prominent bunions and wear custom orthotics.I’m not sure I have a choice . Feet are otherwise fairly narrow.