Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Topo Athletic Ultraventure Initial Review: Accommodating, Softly Cushioned and Versatile Door to Trail Runner

Article by Sam Winebaum
Update read our full multi tester review of the Ultraventure here.

Ultraventure ($130)
The Ultraventure represents Topo's first trail oriented more maximally and softly cushioned shoe. It adds 2mm front and back stack to the road focused Ultrafly 1 (RTR review) and like the Ultrafly features a tri density midsole. The midsole of the Ultraventure combines higher rebound injected EVA for the main body of the shoe with a softer compression molded heel insert to ease transitions and a firmer medial side compression molded area for a touch of guidance.  The Ultrafly 1 was all compression molded foam.

The upper is a simple, fairly dense and thin engineered mesh with a multitude of pliable overlays. The outsole is Vibram XS Trek rubber, a tacky fairly soft all terrain outsole material. And of course we have Topo's roomy yet secure wider toe box. I have always loved the room and security of Topo uppers but have found their rides on the firm rough side when combined with the low drops, even somewhat in the Ultrafly. So I was very curious how the Ultraventure would run and suspected it would also be versatile and equally at home on many trail types as well as roads.


Stats
Final Production Weight:  approx. 10.2 oz /292 g US Men's 9, 8.04 oz/224 g US Women's 7.
My production sample US M8.5 at 9.9 oz
Stack: 30 mm heel/ 25mm forefoot, 5mm drop. (incl. 5mm Ortholite insole and 6mm Vibram XS Trek rubber outsole.
Construction: tri density midsole: main body injected EVA, softer heel insert and firmer medial insert compression molded EVA
$130. Available early October 2018 at REI, other premium independent retailers and the Topo website November 2018,
Fit and Upper
The fit was true to size for me with no issues and that much appreciated toe box room.  The fit is secure but accommodating, the upper and overlays softly and easily wrapping the foot, a touch to easily and thinly (the overlays) at midfoot and from lace up towards the heel for hard fast downhill running on technical terrain. I will next test on some rough bouldery White Mountain of New Hampshire trails.

Commendably the overlays run up a 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch from the lace up around the toe to protect the upper and provide some water resistance and include ports for water release and breathablity.  Unlike many such overlays at the flex point if they are even included, they are nicely pliable there making the Ultraventure easy flexing for such a big front stack. More testing will see how durable they are at the flex point but they seem well matched to the upper.  As of yet I have not tested in wet conditions but have on hot very humid runs finding the upper adequately breathable.


As far as its Ultra naming and purpose this is one fine balance of security and comfort up top. We suspect this upper and ride will be very popular with through hikers on the Applachian and Pacific Crest Trails if the thin pliable overlays prove durable and there is enough rock protection. More on that later.

Update: I just received the Topo Trail Gaiter($20)

The two rear heel hooks are easy to attach through the tubular channels molded into the rear overlays on either side of the heel with the front hook well reinforced with a dense patch.
The material is thin and stretchy and maybe a bit loose at center foot, always a tricky place for gaiter coverage. They definitely will stay put and down at the heel.
The Trail Gaiter is designed to work with the current Runventure 2 and the upcoming Ultraventure, Terraventure 2, and Hydroventure 2.

Midsole
The midsole is tri density EVA. The gray above is an injection molded EVA and as such has nice rebound. It is a distinct improvement in feel over the compression molded similar firmness UltraFly midsole which I found a bit firm and dead feeling. The blue foam at the heel is compression molded EVA and is slightly softer than the gray body foam.  It feels great on trail but for my tastes could be touch firmer especially for firmer even surfaces such as roads as there is a slight early sense of bottoming out on landings. On trails this is not noticed.
In a clever move, as in the UltraFly, the medial midsole has an insert of compression molded EVA (black above) which is firmer than the gray to provide a touch of guidance support. There is no sense of a firm post or really anything extra there, thankfully, as I can't stand most posts, just good support medially which with the relatively soft midsole is important as one tires and on rougher terrain. The landings at the rear of the shoe is mighty fine, and stable, and the transitions easy here.

There is no rock plate in the mix and with the softer midsole rocks were noticed and  things got somewhat unstable on uneven terrain although the commendable 25mm front stack helps  The soft forefoot combination of midsole and fairly widely spaced softer lugged outsoles makes for a very cushioned ground conforming platform but not a particularly stable one as terrain gets more uneven as along with no rock plate and the lugs the shoe end up also not particularly stiff torsionally.  By way of comparison the Hoka Speedgoat 2 has a 27.5mm forefoot stack and no rock plate but has a somewhat firmer more extensively plated Vibram Mega Grip outsole which inherently provides more protection, torsionally rigidity and stability but less flexibility. Overall, the SpeedGoat is far stiffer than the Ultraventure and I find more of a chore to run than Ultraventure particularly on smoother terrain.

Overall this is one fine midsole design and as always the upper and outsole play a role too. The platform is softer than most trail shoes with an easy softer landing, some medial support to keep things aligned, a touch of rebound, an easy although not particularly snappy transition at all paces, and very decent flexibility. I do wish the rear softer insert was a touch firmer and quite frankly may not be needed with the forefoot foam made firmer for better rock protection and stability. 

Outsole
The outsole is Vibram XS Trek  rubber in what looks like a single piece design. Tony Post, Topo founder and CEO was formerly CEO at Vibram USA and took special care in the design of this outsole. He highlighted the spacing of lugs for mud and snow clearing, the surface areas and through the lug surface areas' design and coverage the intent to make the edge angles hold up over time. So far so good at 25 miles in I see no wear and more than half of my running has been on road. The outsole wraps up on the lateral side (Vibram logo right above) for some mid foot stability and support there.

This outsole is softer than Vibram MegaGrip from what I can tell with more bounce and less of a firmer hard response.  Vibram and Topo confirmed that MegaGrip has more of a "dead feel" with  XS Trek having more resilience which I interpret and feel as softer with more bounce but less snappy responsive pop. Mega Grip has somewhat better wet conditions traction, but is less abrasion resistant than XS Trek. Topo will use MegaGrip in its wet conditions focused Hydroventure 2 and XS Trek for more technical terrain focused Terraventure 2 (RTR preview of both here).

Traction has proved excellent, although so far all in dry conditions, and while a touch noisy the outsole feels very good on roads as well with none of the dead hard feel of most trail outsoles but.. also less snappy response than experienced in the Vibram Mega Grip shod EVO Mafate, a close comparison shoe, see my comparisons below. The outsole clearly also contributes to cushion as on road there is no sense of a rough, firm slappy ride as is often the case with trail shoes taken on pavement. The relatively huge lugs are almost un noticeable on road in terms of feeling they are there but there is a slight sense of weight low in the platform at the ground.
Ride
The Ultraventure is a do anything in the middle type of ride. By this I mean it would not be my first choice for hard technical trails taken fast (something I don't do much of anymore), or for road running tempo workouts. This said, the ride is comfortable and relatively soft with easy if not exactly snappy transitions at all paces and for all terrains so far. These terrains  have included moderate but rooty rocky NH trails and some road running. It is stable enough, underfoot and from the upper, if a bit soft and unprotected up front, for moderate terrain taken on the run at any pace and for more technical terrain taken at hiking or slower run paces with in the mix that superb traction that doesn't get in the way on smoother harder surfaces including roads. 

Early Conclusions
Topo has finally softened and livened things up with a shoe with adequate (for me) 5mm drop, plenty of cushion, some welcome non jarring rebound, plenty of aggressive 6mm lug but not in the way when not needed traction, all in a smooth easy to run geometry with a very comfortable, adequately secure roomy upper. And they have gotten the weight down to close to 10 oz.  I do think they could make the outsole a touch less aggressive to save some more weight or to provide better more front of the shoe coverage for rock protection and stability.

How durable that comfy upper and its pliable overlays are remains to be seen. Ultraventure is not exactly snappy, taut, and agile but it has gotten the job done very well so far for me with great top to bottom comfort on moderate terrains. It clearly is a great road and trail hybrid with relatively few compromises on trail except on more technical and rocky terrain due to the soft forefoot. It likely will  be a popular choice for ultra runners and long distance hikers. It is a single shoe in the quiver kind of offer that competes well against both trail and road specific shoes and is a great choice for those who favor wider more anatomical toe boxes.
Stay tuned for our full multi tester review.

Early Quick Comparisons

Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 (RTR review)
Both of these shoes share a softer bouncier ride. The Speedgoat is clearly more stable up from and also very stiff, relying on its rocker profile. The Ultraventure clearly has a far more roomy and accommodating upper but one with no quite the support of the Speedgoat. For all terrain versatility with a focus on easier terrain for sure the Ultraventure. For big steeps and long miles in rough terrain the Speedgoat. 

Hoka One One EVO Mafate (RTR review)
With 3mm more heel stack and 4 mm more forefoot stack and a Vibram Mega Grip outsole the EVO is firmer, more stable and more responsive yet only weighs 0.2 oz more. It high tech Matryx upper drains better and absorbs less water than Ultraventure but is somewhat narrower and stiffer. For shear comfort the Ultraventure upper wins out. On the run the racing focused EVO is snappier and more high strung less of an easy going trainer as the Ultraventure is.

Altra Lone Peak 4 (RTR review)
Both share wide toe boxes and a softer midsole feel. The Altra includes a somewhat minimal toes shaped rock plate.  While I prefer the more secure hold of the Ultraventure's toe box the Altra is more stable underfoot upfront. The Altra has a superior mid foot hold but an inferior rear of the shoe hold despite having more overlays all over. The Altra weighs  0.3 oz more despite 5mm lower stack in back and identical stack in front. My call... if on moderate terrain with some road and you are not a fan of zero drop heel to toe the Ultraventure.  If on rockier terrain at moderate paces or hiking the Altra. 

The Ultraventure arrives exclusively at REI in October and at other retailers in November.

Women's Colorways
2nd Men's Colorway

Reviewer Bio
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running and shoe geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half and as he turned 61 a 3:40 marathon to qualify for Boston. Sam runs his roads and trails in coastal New Hampshire and Park City, Utah.
The product reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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