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Trail Running Shoes • June 3, 2020

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Performance Review

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs 10.1 oz. (286 g) for a US men’s 9.0/ 8.7 oz. (246 g) for a US women’s 8.0
  • The Ultraventure has some serious go-anywhere trail pedigree
  • Turns out Vibram is good for more than MegaGrip
  • The upper is an exercise in utilitarianism, but even Taylor thinks it calls for a makeover

TAYLOR: Is there any better example of a dark horse than Happy Gilmore? Rising through the ranks of the pro golf circuit with “unique” form and a “winning” personality… well, if you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil it. Just kidding, that movie has been out for like a quarter-century: Happy punches Bob Barker in the face and proceeds to win the Tour Championship with an amazing putt, winning enough money to buy his grandma’s house back, and driving Shooter McGavin to a life of madness and despair.

Like the golf world, the shoe game has its perennial performers. But every so often, a shoe or a brand will come out of nowhere and wow everyone. Topo Athletic hasn’t exactly come out of nowhere– they’ve been churning out some great products even though you’re unlikely to find them on the shelves of most local running stores. But unless you’re a serious trail runner or zero-drop fanatic, chances are, you may have overlooked them.

Oh, what a mistake! Of all the options out there, there are few trail shoes that can better balance performance, fit, and feel. The MTN Racer was our 2019 BIG award winner for Best Trail Shoe. In many ways, the Ultraventure likens itself to the MTN Racer,but in a much less aggressive package. And that is A-okay with me.

The Ultraventure is slated for long-distance and rugged terrain. I’d say this shoe can run just about any trail and any distance, but it definitely comes into its own when the going gets a little rough.

ERIN: Before I start this review, I just want to know: Does anyone else have trouble remembering which Topo Athletic trail shoe is which, or is that just me? They all end in “venture” and it’s so hard to keep track! Anyway, this is a review of the Topo Athletic Ultraventure (I think).

Topo Athletic Ultraventure - heel

The Good

TAYLOR: Ultra is in the name for a reason. Every detail is oriented toward comfort and performance over the long-haul.
Take the three-piece EVA midsole. With multiple foam densities, it gives a solid amount of cushion, a smooth ride, and some added stability. Although the foam leans toward the softer side, it’s certainly not cushy.

Even with a bunch of foam, the Ultraventure has a below-average weight (11.3 for size 10.5) and a moderate stack (25 mm heel, 20 mm toe) compared to most other highly cushioned trail shoes.

Unlike another company that focuses on foot-shaped, low drop shoes *cough* Altra *cough*, Topo Athletic is not afraid of putting a lift kit in. The 5 mm drop seems to be a near-perfect amount for a trail shoe finding home in the mountains. The Ultraventure is primed and ready to go far, even if that means technical terrain. It’s a pretty nimble shoe.

Like the MTN Racer, there’s no rock plate (seems a little crazy for a shoe that’s built to handle rugged trail and off-trail excursions), but the midsole is dense enough to offer plenty of protection.

Although I’m something of a MegaGrip snob, it turns out that Vibram has other worthy options. The Ultraventure features Vibram XS Trek and 6 mm lugs, which is a capable combo across a variety of terrain– from dry, buffed-out trail to saturated, slushy bushwacks. XS Trek might be a bit more flexible than Megagrip, but I likey.

Where the Ultraventure distinguishes itself from any other Topo Athletic that I’ve reviewed is in the upper. The MTN Racer, Runventure 3, and Hydroventure all have an abrasion-resistant/waterproof upper that sounds as plasticky as it feels. The Ultraventure still has an abrasion-resistant mesh upper as well, but it’s way softer, a lot more breathable, and much improved in terms of overall fit.

As an added bonus, the softer upper keeps you from feeling like some plastic-bottle-squeezing kid is following you through the woods.

ERIN: I received two Topo Athletic trail shoes at the same time: the Ultraventure and the Runventure 3. Two very different shoes. I’m writing my Ultraventure review first, because I like this shoe better.

Topo Athletic came out of the gates strong with the Ultraventure. What a great shoe! The Ultraventure is a fairly lightweight trail shoe designed for, well, ultra adventures (talk about word math). It has a toebox that I’d consider roomier than a Speedgoat but less so than any Altra. The engineered mesh upper is tough and durable, and the gusseted tongue helps keep trail debris out. Given that the trails around here are packed on nice days, I’ve made a bad-weather-only policy for my trail running. In other words, I’ve put the Ultraventure through the wringer. I’ve found the drainage gills help keep them from becoming water-logged, and the mesh upper is more breathable than I’d have guessed.

The midsole is actually three pieces of multi-density EVA, and I won’t pretend that I can tell you what sort of effect that has on the ride. What I can say is that these have the perfect amount of cushion (for me) for a trail race anywhere from 50k to 50 miles. They’re not fast enough for a shorter race, and I’d probably choose something cushier for longer than 50 miles.

The outsole is Vibram XS Trek and I can’t say enough good things about it. While you’d be hard-pressed to find a trail shoe that has great traction on wet rock, some are better than others, and I think the Ultraventure does a great job in the traction department.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I love the sweet navy blue and dark purple colorway.

Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure – Men Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure – Women topo athletic ultraventure - outsole

The Bad

TAYLOR: I’m just scrounging around trying to find something to put here. I guess here’s something– Topo Athletic’s trail line needs to make some new friends. Spice up the colorways and take a couple of steps away from the hiker vibe, because let’s be honest, most people are drawn to a shoe purely based on how it looks. The Ultraventures aren’t ugly by any means, and they actually match my earth-toned attire, but c’mon! Make ’em look as good as they feel!

ERIN: Is there anything bad about the Ultraventure? Hmm. Well, they come with a gaiter attachment that I *think* is only compatible with a Topo Athletic-branded gaiter. I don’t wear gaiters so I don’t really care, but someone might.

Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure – Men Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure – Women


Topo Athletic Ultraventure Conclusion

TAYLOR: If you’re looking for a foot-shaped, low-weight, low-drop, low-key crusher, don’t miss out on the Ultraventure. It’s another prime example of how well Topo Athletic brings those key aspects together. FWIW, the Ultraventure makes my list of top five all-time trail shoes based on fit and overall performance. Use it as a daily trail trainer or as a racer for your longer adventures/ultras– whatever you do, it’ll meet your needs.

ERIN: The Topo Athletic Ultraventure is in the running (you’re welcome) for one of the best trail shoes of 2020. Don’t sleep on this one!

You can pick up the Topo Athletic Ultraventure for $130 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop links below.

Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure – Men Shop Topo Athletic Ultraventure – Women

Have something to say? Leave a Comment

  1. JD Dallager says:

    Love these things….and the MTN Racer too! Ultraventure is a bit softer and forgiving. MTN Racer a bit warmer due to the ripstop fabric. Both winners! Topo rocks!

  2. Tom Higgins says:

    The last 4 Topo pairs, including 2 Ultraventure and 2 MT-3, are 1/4 inch narrower in the forefoot than my perfectly fitting Magnifly 2. I thought Topo was going to be my new go-to brand, but the narrower forefoot is a deal breaker.

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