Monday, November 05, 2018

Topo Ultraventure Multi Tester Review: Accommodating, Softly Cushioned & Versatile Trail Cruiser

Article by Dominck Layfield, Jeff Beck, David Henry, and Sam Winebaum
Topo Athletic Ultraventure ($130)
Introduction
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.

Stats
Final Production Weight: approx. 10.2 oz /292 g US M9.
Sam’s sample US M 8.5 at 9.9 oz
Dom’s sample US M10 at 10.7 oz (303 g) per shoe.
Jeff’s sample US M10.5 at 10.7 oz (303 g) per shoe.
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 October 2019 at REI, elsewhere November.


First Impressions
Sam: 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 so 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. The fit was true to size roomy up front but secure all over. The look could go everywhere and as I wore them around the first day or so before running concluded they would be a just about ideal adventure travel shoe.
Dom: Nice-looking and understated, the Ultraventure could be mistaken for a light hiking shoe.  It doesn’t advertise its branding, nor is its ample cushioning conspicious like a Hoka. On my feet, they felt immediately familiar, consistent with the shape and sizing of other Topo shoes. For those not acquainted with the brand, that means a roomy toe box, slightly narrower than most Altra offerings, with snug midfoot fit, and relatively low heel-to-toe drop (5 mm in the Ultraventure, typically lower in other shoes from Topo.)   Despite the substantial amount of material underfoot, the shoe didn’t feel spongy or unstable. It provides plenty of rock protection without losing too much ground feel. The name “Ultraventure” implies that the focus of this shoe is ultradistance trail running, and it well-suited to this purpose.
Jeff Beck: Dom nailed it. This is a very understated shoe. I have the orange and gray variant, and somehow that isn’t flashy at all. Over the last few months I’ve worn the Topo Ultrafly 2 on a number of runs and the Topo Ultrafly 1 casually (trying to prevent pinch blisters on my small toes), and it is very clear that this is their off-road brother. I’m constantly impressed by Topo’s fit and finish, and it feels like this shoe punches above its weight class relative to its price. The midsole is a little firmer than it’s road-based brethren, but it’s much more plush than a Mizuno shoe. The actual foot-shape of the shoe impressed me from the get-go, with the great toe box and solid midfoot lockdown.


Fit and Upper
Sam: The fit was true to size for me with no issues and that much appreciated Topo 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 for me.
Sam: 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 breathability.  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 relatively high 25mm 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.
Sam: As far as its “Ultra” naming and purpose this is one fine balance of security and comfort up top. I suspect this upper and ride will be very popular with through hikers on the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails if the thin pliable overlays prove durable and there is enough rock protection. More on that later.
Dom: Like Sam, I found the Ultraventure true to size.  My feet are slightly wide, and I always appreciate the extra forefoot width of Topo shoes.  There is plenty of height in the toe box, provided by stout toe reinforcement that protects your toes against accidental kicking of rocks and roots.
Dom: The upper construction is quite elaborate with two layers of fabric (an engineered mesh over a finer liner) and at least three distinct types of overlay.  
In addition there are drainage “gills” set into the forefoot to enhance water drainage.  (I initially mistook this feature for a metatarsal window to accommodate the local bulge of the lateral metatarsal-phalangeal joint, but then was confused to discover its mirror image on the medial side.)  The finely woven liner fabric kept out dust in dry conditions.
Dom:  In testing, I found the upper performed well, striking a nice balance between stretch to make the shoe comfortable while still providing foot retention.  As Sam remarked, it is surprising that the overlays in the midfoot do not route directly to the sole, and one suspects that midfoot hold might be improved if they did.  However, the change would also make the upper feel stiffer. Given the (presumed) role of the shoe as a long distance cruiser, it makes sense to prioritize comfort and ability to accommodate foot swelling above vice-like hold on steep descents and high-speed cornering.
Dom:  I like the fact that the Topo heel cup is not too high or stiff.  Much of the rigidity is accomplished with a stitched-on overlay at the rear of the shoe that also provides anchor points for Topo’s gaiter system.
I’ve tested and discussed the Topo gaiters before, and found that they work well as long as you don’t want to take them on and off frequently, as inserting the gaiter hooks through the eyelets in the shoe can be tricky.
Dom:  Another area where I feel like Topo nailed construction is the tongue.  
In the Ultraventure, the tongue is well-padded, but falls short of ‘plush’  This is in keeping with the business-like, spartan execution of the shoe..
The tongue is fully gusseted, and I found it stayed in place and stayed comfortable during long runs.
Jeff Beck: I went true to size as well, and would not recommend sizing up or down. The Ultraventure felt custom made for my foot, with zero effort to make it fit me. Some shoes need to be re-laced, either skipping eyelets or using a runners loop, but out of the box the fit was spot on.
Jeff Beck: The upper is a continued evolution of Topo design. Their Ultrafly 1 upper looked like a trail shoe from a few years ago, even though it was clearly made for the road. The Ultrafly 2 simplified things, dropping some weight, and using slightly more premium materials. The UltraVenture feels like the next step. The upper isn’t overly complicated, and feels even better than the UF2. It definitely strikes the balance of soft and supple while still keeping your foot locked down. More and more shoe manufacturers are over-complicating their uppers, while Topo seems to just refine things down. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, and a well-shaped upper certainly ain’t broken.
Insole
Dom:  The insole of the Ultraventure is worth mentioning as Topo have switched to a Ortholite-branded footbed.  I’ve complained before about the footbed in previous Topo shoes, which had a disappointing  tendency to permanently compress, or “pack out”, so the shoe lost cushioning over time.  
The new insole has a little more natural shape to it, but more importantly, appears to eliminate the problem of long-term volume loss.  Certainly Ortholite footbeds have proven to be be very durable in my personal experience. The only complaint I’ve ever heard about them is that they absorb more water than other types.  This is not something I’ve noticed, but perhaps is worth considering if you live somewhere exceptionally wet.
Midsole
Sam: 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 lateral heel is compression molded EVA for easy landings 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.
Sam: In a clever move, as in the UltraFly, the medial midsole has a low insert of dark gray foam which is firmer than the light gray main midsole compression molded EVA 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. Here we just have 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.
Sam: 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 for me 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 and more protective up front than the Ultraventure but I find more of a chore to run than Ultraventure particularly on smoother terrain.
Sam: 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.
Dom:  It is worth noting firstly that there is no rock-plate in the Ultraventure.  This is to my liking, as for the most part, I feel that rockplates accomplish little, while making a shoe heavy and expensive to manufacture.  During my testing, I made a point of trying to stomp on prominent rocks and didn’t experience any discomfort. That said, the moderate rock protection of the Ultraventure is a far cry of the bulletproof sole in the Hoka Speedgoat.
Dom:  Secondly, the midsole is quite sophisticated in construction, incorporating three durometer of EVA foam as shown in the Topo YouTube below presenting the shoe.   
These are all exposed and can be felt by hand around the perimeter of the shoe.  As with the upper construction, my gut feel is that this is over the top: whereas the medial EVA felt noticeably firmer, I couldn’t discern any difference with the heel insert.  That said, I really enjoyed the overall feel and runnability of the Ultraventure, so whatever Topo is doing works just fine.
UltraVenture (Left) vs Ultrafly 2 (Right) Medial Firm EVA comparison
Jeff Beck: While I see both Sam and Dom’s points, I think I am in Sam’s camp. The different density midsole is more apparent in the Ultrafly 2 than the UltraVenture. The Ultraventure’s orange midsole is soft, while the slightly firmer gray isn’t much different. In my Ultrafly 2, the white midsole is soft, and the orange dense portion is much firmer. As a dyed in the wool supinator (who is also a midfoot striker), the dense portions in the medial side and at the heel do nothing for me in either shoe, but they are noticeably different from shoe to shoe. All that said, I would prefer a rock plate in the UltraVenture. I ran a very rocky trail near me, and I found that I had to be very careful with my foot placement or the many, many rocks would beat my feet up. I don’t think a little more cushioning would do the trick either, I tend to think that would just make the shoe less stable, and it doesn’t need that. Unlike the Saucony Xodus ISO 3, the EVA midsole just doesn’t have the same density to protect the foot without a rock plate. However, the UltraVenture’s midsole feels better cushioned and more plush than the Xodus, so you can’t always get what you want.
Outsole
Sam: 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 side logo right above and below) for some mid foot stability and support there.
Sam: This outsole is softer than Vibram MegaGrip, such as found in the Hoka EVO Mafate and Speedgoat, 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 according to Vibram, but is less abrasion resistant than XS Trek. Topo will use MegaGrip in its wet conditions focused Hydroventure 2 and more technical terrain focused Terraventure 2 (RTR preview of both here review of Terraventure soon).
Sam:  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.
Dom: The outsole is pleasingly soft, and as Sam remarks above, helps provide cushioning and rock protection in addition to traction and wear protection.  The footbed + midsole + outsole stack works harmoniously and feels well thought out. I wasn’t able to test the Ultraventure grip in wet conditions, but I did use the (forthcoming) Topo Terraventure 2 in early snow in Park City, and found it worked at least as well as any other shoe in the wet slush and mud.  Given the almost identical construction, I would expect the Ultraventure to perform similarly.
Dom:  That said, I’d like to relate one particularly interesting episode.  I wanted to compare the Ultraventure to to the original Topo Terraventure, so went for a run wearing one shoe on each foot.  On trail, I didn’t notice a huge difference (although I will detail the differences in the comparisons section below.) However, on a section of paved road, I happened to cross a stream of water running down the hill and felt my foot slip. It occurred to me that I this might be a good opportunity to if the traction on wet asphalt differed between the shoes.  The result was shocking: the (old) Terraventures had almost no grip, and the surface felt alarmingly slippery; the new outsole on the Ultraventure had excellent traction. The difference was so startling that I ran back and forth over the wet patch several times to confirm that I wasn’t delusional. It turns out that the new Vibram XS trek rubber is excellent in the wet!
Jeff Beck: Not to reiterate Sam and Dom, but this shoe has plenty of grip. Shockingly, I actually got to run in some wet conditions here in Phoenix, and the UltraVenture was everything I wanted and more. I am lucky enough to live a quarter mile from a well-maintained dirt neighborhood path that leads to the aforementioned rocky trail a mile later. As a result most of my trail runs have about a half mile of road running and the rest on the dirt, and the UltraVenture was great in both places. I did find that I enjoyed the dirt trail more than the rocky singletrack, but it wasn’t due to lack of grip. One of my runs took place a day after a storm, and I purposely got them a little muddy with zero slips. The lugs have plenty of grip, but if you are running to the trail, don’t worry about a bad time on the pavement. Lastly, the durability seems phenomenal. After twenty plus miles, I had to look closely to find any wear on the outsole. This rubber is meant to last.
Ride
Sam: 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 but it can do both well unlike most road or trail shoes. 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.
Dom: My opinion about the Ultraventure is more positive than Sam’s.  I really liked the neutral but well-cushioned, forgiving nature of the shoe.  I’m not sure whether the shoe is really intended to be a “road-trail hybrid’: I evaluated it principally as an ultra distance trail shoe, and found that it was very well suited to that purpose.  I did, however, also run several miles on road with the shoe, and found that it performed solidly there too. I received the shoe just days ahead of the Bear 100 race in Utah, and my first impressions of the shoe were so good that I was tempted to race in it out of the box.
Jeff Beck: And when it comes to the ride, I’m Team Dom. I really liked how the UltraVenture felt on every run. Sure, there are literally a dozen shoes that I’d grab first if I was running intervals or a tempo run, but the UltraVenture has become my goto trail shoe for nearly anything. I was surprised to find the shoe felt great when I picked up the pace. During a four mile loop on the neighborhood dirt trail I spent the first two miles at my easy pace around ten minutes per mile. Coming back I decided to push pace a little, and running upper eight and low nine minute miles this shoe felt great. Even though it has plenty of cushioning, the shoe is lightweight enough not to get in the way when the run gets faster.
Conclusions
Sam: 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(age), 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 provide better more front of the shoe outsole coverage or a plate for rock protection and stability.
Sam: 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 trail shoe 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.
Sam's Score 9.75/10
-0.15 for lack of front rock protection and forward stability for rougher terrain. A slightly less spaced out outsole lug design with potentially lower lugs to keep weight down or rock plate would be helpful as long as they do not compromise flexibility.
-0.1 while its versatility and comfort is welcome, a deduction for being between trail shoe and road trail hybrid for me. A firmer stand in either direction, mostly likely towards trail would be welcome.
Dom:  This was another strong shoe from Topo.  I’ve always appreciated the shape and ride of their shoes, my favorite still being the lightweight MT-2.  I have found however, that the MT-2 can be insufficient for long (>50 mi) races. For something longer like 100 km - 100 mi, I need more shoe to be comfortable, and the Ultraventure fits the bill nicely.  It provides a comfortable, well-cushioned ride with no obvious downsides.
Dom's Score 9.7/10
- 0.2  In a perfect world I would like a smidgen more cushion up front for long ultramarathons.
- 0.1  Ultraventure is nice and light, but still heavier than cutting edge e.g. Hoka Challenger ATR 5
- 0.1  It seems slightly churlish to say this about such a well-rounded shoe, but Ultraventure lacked a bit of "wow" factor.
Jeff Beck: This is my first experience with Topo trail shoes, and that’s no coincidence. I really prefer a well-cushioned shoe, and their previous models just didn’t have enough there. That’s not a knock on their design philosophy -- not everyone has to like every shoe, but I certainly like this one. I had planned on using it for the 25K Javelina Jangover, but I ultimately DNS’d due to some bruised ribs from falling on a training run. Would I have fallen had I been wearing the UltraVentures on that training run? Probably, they’re great shoes but they can’t make up for bad decision making of running too rocky of a trail at night. As long as the trail isn’t incredibly rocky, I’ll be reaching for the UltraVenture for some time. Camping, hiking, volunteering at an upcoming ultra - I’ll have the UltraVenture on my foot. This is my Goldilocks shoe: lightweight with lots of soft cushioning, a soft and comfortable upper that locks my foot down, and a toe box that tell me know matter how far I go toe blisters aren’t going to be my problem. Under the radar aesthetics are just gravy. 
Jeff's Score: 9.9/10 -.10 for no rock plate This shoe is an absolute slam dunk for me. On paper it looks great, and out on the trail it is even better. My only knock would be for a lack of rock plate, and I can't knock it too hard because the law of unintended consequences means adding a rock plate might make it much worse (I don't know - I don't design trail running shoes for a living). The midsole is comfortable without being heavy, the upper is comfortable while locking down the foot, the outsole has plenty of grip and durability, and aesthetically this shoe doesn't scream for attention - but I think it will get it anyway. Topo really nailed every aspect of this shoe and someone will have to literally pull it off of my feet, kicking and screaming, to get it out of my regular rotation.
David Henry: All in all, I think Topo has a winner here with the Ultraventure. It checks a lot of boxes for a modern trail shoe and comes out with a versatile, well rounded experience.  The Ultraventure fixes almost all things that I have issue with, or wish would be better with Altra’s trail lineup (particularly the Lone Peak).  The upper, fit and traction are all superior in my view with adequate protection at a decent weight with the right drop for the stack height. Great work Topo!
Comparisons
Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 (RTR review)
Sam: 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.
Dom: The Ultraventure and SpeedGoat 2 are right around the same weight, and both provide a lot of cushioning for long trail events.  The SG2 definitely provides more rock protection (the most I’ve ever encountered), but trades this for diminished trail feel, where the Ultraventure has the edge.  The fit of the Ultraventure is more spacious, particularly in the forefoot and its upper has a little more ‘give’ to it, which could be a positive in terms of comfort, or to accommodate some foot swelling, but makes the shoe a little less secure.
Hoka One One EVO Mafate (RTR review)
Sam: 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 sheer 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.
Dom: I agree with most of what Sam says above, and would dispute only that the Mafate EVO is more stable.  I found the high stack of the EVO felt a little ‘tippy’ in technical terrain, and thought it performed best on mellow trails.  However, the EVO definitely has a much plusher ride. The Ultraventure has a wider fit, and a more compliant upper. It also is going to protect your toes a lot better if you happen to kick a rock!
Altra Lone Peak 4 (RTR review)
Sam:  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 0.6 oz more for my size 8.5, despite a 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.
Dom:  As Sam says, this is a tough call.  I too thought the midfoot retention in the LP4 is superior, as is ground feel.  On the other hand, I felt that rock protection is slightly better in the Ultraventure.  The Ultraventure also has the edge in weight, lighter by 21 g (0.7 oz) per shoe in my size.  Personally, I prefer the LP4 for daily trail running, but would select the Ultraventure for long races.
Topo Terraventure (RTR review)
Dom: I believe that Topo have stopped selling the original Terraventure ahead of the imminent release of the Terraventure 2 which we will also be reviewing soon.  However, the Ultraventure is so similar in character to the old Terraventure that I felt I needed to run in them both (one on each foot) to compare them. Although the ride was similar, I noticed that rock protection was better in the Ultraventure, as was midfoot hold.  The Ultraventure felt like a more refined, next-generation shoe. The Ultraventure also has the new Ortholite insole, which I feel is an important upgrade. Apart from that, as I describe in the main review above, I noticed that the Vibram XS Trek rubber used in the Ultraventure outsole was astonishingly more grippy on wet asphalt (and so, one would assume wet rock).
Saucony Xodus ISO 3 (RTR review)
Jeff Beck: The Xodus brings a more underfoot protection than the UltraVenture, but the Ultraventure is more comfortable to run in, and much easier to run quickly in. Weighing nearly three ounces less, the Ultraventure has nearly as much grip as Saucony’s monster shoe, and would be my preference for almost any run. Slow, rocky, and technical runs favor the Xodus, otherwise, treat your toes right and pick the Topo.
Brooks Caldera 2  RTR review)
Jeff Beck: The Topo Ultraventure and Brooks Caldera 2 are the most similar two shoes I have compared in some time. They weigh about the same, but the Brooks doesn’t have quite as much traction as the Topo, has a more traditional (if somewhat wide) toe box, and very similar cushioning, though it may offer slightly more rock protection underfoot via more dense cushioning. Until the UltraVenture, the Caldera 2 was my Swiss Army Knife trail shoe that did everything pretty well, but the Ultraventure just outdoes it across the boards. Well done Topo.
Dom: This is a good comparison that I hadn’t previously thought of. The shoes are right around the same weight, and provide similar go-anywhere strengths.  The Caldera sole is stiffer, and provides better rock protection, but at the cost of ground feel. Like most Brooks shoes, the Caldera is a decent width, but the Ultraventure is wider and has room to wiggle your toes. Similarly, the upper of the Caldera is a little stiffer and more restrictive, with more of a ‘performance’ fit than the comfy Ultraventure.
Sam: I found the Caldera 2 very stiff, far stiffer than the Ultraventure with more rock protection and a more labored ride on smoother terrain but with more stability and security on rocky terrain, if, as Dom says less ground feel. The Caldera upper is very secure but not quite as comfortable and accommodating. It is not a shoe I would wear all day as I do the Ultraventure.
Topo Athletic UltraFly 2  (RTR review soon)
Jeff Beck: This may seem crazy, but hear me out. While the Ultrafly 2 is clearly a road shoe, it has more than enough rubber coverage and traction to run most trails. I had considered using it for the Jangover, and I have put a number of desert miles on my UltraFly 2 with no issues. Much like the UltraVenture, I wouldn’t wear it if the trail was going to be rocky or technical, it has plenty of cushioning and support for the majority of trail runs. If you were only going to own one pair, I might lean toward the Ultrafly 2 - I think it runs on trails better than the UltraVenture runs on the road. Both great at what they are designed for, and really good at the other side.
Women's Colorways

Reviewer Bios
Dom Layfield  lives in Southern California after several years in Park City, UT.  He is an avid trail runner who likes to race. He holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from MIT, and has worked as a researcher in orthopedic biomechanics. 
His 2017 achievements include first place in the dead of winter 2017 108-mile Spine Challenger race in the UK, breaking the course record by an hour, first place in the Quicksilver 100K in California, and 14th at the Western States Endurance Run. In 2018 he ran 2:46 at the Los Angeles Marathon and then coming back from foot surgery finished 50th at UTMB
Jeff Beck is the token slow fat guy runner. Wasting his youth on such endeavors as playing golf and writing, he only started running in his thirties, and has a marathon PR of 4:15 to prove it. A full-time property manager, this part-time author and cold brew coffee maker lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife and daughter. He enjoys running desert trails as well as the road, and is trying to get his 5K time to sub-twenty. 
David Henry is an entrepreneur, endurance coach with CTS (https://trainright.com/coaches/david-henry/), husband and dad to 3 children.  He has run distances from short road races up to mountain 100 milers totaling around 40 ultramarathons over the last 8 years.  Searching for the best tools for the job, his interests turned to shoe design and real-word application of that design in many conditions, including those as harsh as winter in Alaska.  
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.
Photo Credits: Dom Layfield, Jeff Beck, and Sam Winebaum
The product reviewed in this article were provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.
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9 comments:

Anonymous said...

this website is now my main shoe review reference. well this and believeintherun.com.
great reviews with much details and indepth analysis. perfect for a shoe nerd like me ��

anyway, I'm a pure road runner, but am now very interested to try trail running. could I ask for your advise on what would be a good trail shoe for a newbie like me?

for info, i don't think the topo brand can be found here in my country. for road shoes, i've had success before with the likes of adidas supernova glide 8, skechers gorun ride 7, and NB Beacon. for speed shoes i had success with adidas boston 6 and NB Fuelcell impulse. So I think i prefer a soft cushioned shoe but still responsive and bouncy. I bought a brooks ghost 10 early this year, but never felt good about it. after 300km I couldn't take it anymore and degrade the shoe to walk/play shoe. I don't know why, but I think the heel drop is too high for me and it's just not fun running in them. bit clunky as well..

so anyway, based on this info, would be grateful if you can advise me some trail shoes. I'm interested in the hoka torrent, but I read somewhere that the midsole flattens out after 100mile. is this true?

thank you!!

awan

sam winebaum said...

HI Awan, Thanks for your kind words! The RTR crew is going to keep at it. As for trail shoes and I would highly recommend the Topo here, Torrent would be a fine all around shoe. A big part of deciding on trail shoe is terrain. What kind of terrain do you run, distances, and your weight. Torrent should hold up as well as any over the miles but maybe a touch less than say a denser midsole Salomon. You might also look at the Salomon XA Elevate, (our top all around shoe in 2018 with Torrent close behind) if your trails tend to be rough and rocky as well Brooks Caldera 2 and Saucony Peregrine 8. If you want a fast shoe for shorter trail runs consider the New Balance Summit Unknown, basically a 1400 for trail. If you want a fast shoe with lots of firmer cushion the Hoka EVO Mafate is a wonderful choice.
Sam, Editor
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Σπύρος said...

The upper of the Terraventure has a black lining inside that covers most of the inner, except the toebox. Does the Ultraventure has the same lining inside?

Anonymous said...

thanks for the suggestions, sam. well noted. as I'm new on trail run, so I don't know what kind of terrains I'll try, so yes, versatilty is key here. I'm a 36 year old with about 169cm in height and 66-67kg in weight. I've tried the 1400 before and it's a bit too firm for me as I usually prefer longer distance runs. So I think I'll pass on the summit unknown.
I'll try the shoes you've listed (at store, that is), and hopefully I'll find the best fit for me.
thanks again. much appreciated.

awan

fstr said...

I bought the Ultraventures the first day REI showed them as available and have already put ~80 miles on them while training for an ultra. Overall I am happy with the shoes but will share a few things I have noticed:
First, as mentioned in the review, I feel they bottom out on the heel.
Also even though their wet traction is great, it all goes south when encountering wet wood like a tree stump or bridge. Even on my regular routes where even my road shoes grip OK on the wooden bridges, the Ultraventures is more of a skate than a shoe. Maybe it is just due to less contact surface with the widely spaced lugs?
Which takes me to my last observation. The bulk of the heel strike falls on only 2 lugs. And those 2 lugs are separated from the rest of the outsole with some unneeded exposed midsole. I am seeing some premature wear on those 2 lugs. Probably from doing the majority of gripping on downhills.
I think the upper will hold up fine even if there may be some separation of the overlays.

sam winebaum said...

Σπύρος
From what I can tell the Ultraventure is fully lined including the toe box with a black soft mesh bonded I assume to the outer mesh.
Sam, Editor

Anonymous said...

Hi Sam -

Great review. I also LOVE this shoe.

One question on the outsole - are you sure XS Trek is softer than Megagrip? I thought Megagrip is actually softer which is what gives it the better traction in the wet. The outsole arrangement and size of the lugs certainly plays a part as the Megagrip lugs int he Speedgoat are small in comparison, but I don't see how the outsole can be softer, better in the wet, and more abrasion-resistant at the same time. That's like when a yoga instructor says "flatten your back and arch it at the same time". Those are opposing instructions and not possible ;)

sam winebaum said...

Hi Anonymous,
Glad you are enjoying them and thanks for kind words. It seems counter intuitive but I have it from both Topo and Vibram directly that XS Trek is more abrasion resistant and a touch slip resistant in wet conditions than Mega Grip. I also think it is touch softer at least when compared to Speedgoat and EVO Mafate Vibram when pressing. Of course as you also say the size of the lugs also plays a big role.
Sam, Editor

Fredrik said...

Hi! advice please: Would you pick this shoe before La Sportiva Akasha, New Balance Leadville 3 (or similar Revlite trail shoe)or Scott Supertrac Ultra for Mont Blanc Marathon 90km? Best regards /Fredrik