Saturday, July 13, 2019

Topo Athletic MTN Racer Multi Tester Review

Article by Dom Layfield, Don Reichelt, Jeff Valliere, Jeff Beck, and Sam Winebaum

Topo Athletic MTN Racer ($140)
Introduction
The MTN Racer is essentially, on the surface, the Ultraventure (RTR Review) with a somewhat firmer midsole, Vibram Megagrip outsole instead of Vibram XS Trek, topped with a ripstop nylon mesh upper instead of more conventional mesh.


It shares a tri density midsole, 30/25mm stack height and 5mm drop with Ultraventure, and the same general overall fit with an anatomical toe box and secure mid foot and heel hold.


It ends up about 0.5 oz lighter at 9.75 oz / 276 g than the Ultraventure and there is no doubt it is a lot of shoe for the relatively light weight.


Topo calls out the MTN Racer as for “trail racing and speed hiking” whereas we found the Ultraventure to be more an easy cruiser type shoe and a pretty good road trail hybrid.  So what did our testers discover? Please read on to find out,


Pros
Sam/Jeff V: Outstanding front protection and amount of cushion while also remaining stable and flexible
Sam/Jeff V/Dom: Totally secure fit and hold without over constraining with plenty of volume
Don/Jeff V/ Sam: Firm midsole with solid traction. Wide toe box with ample room across the metatarsal arch. Lighter weight than it looks. 
Dom: Stellar traction
Dom: Great foot hold, Comfort
Jeff B: Solid cushioning, fantastic traction, great foot shape


Cons:
Sam/Jeff V/Dom/ Jeff B : Somewhat dull firm ground ride, lacks a touch of bounce
Sam: Overall balance: High 25mm front stack height, while flexible, is not particularly agile, 30mm heel while well cushioned and stable feels low in comparison to forefoot. 
Dom: Poor breathability
Don: Extremely warm due to the lack of venting on the upper. Firm ride is not comfortable for easy miles and has no ground feel. 
Jeff B: firmer foam doesn’t provide much more rock protection than Ultraventure



Tester Profiles
Dom 47, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  
Don is an accomplished ultra runner whose most recent exploits include a 3d place at the notorious extreme temperatures, big climb 2018 Badwater 135 miler. He more recently finished 4th at the Jemez 50 mile. Don trains over 100 miles per week on both road and trail in Colorado.
Jeff  V runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 
Jeff B is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less.  Jeff runs 30 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in North Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach Dave Ames.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the 1:35-1:41 range and trains 40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.


Stats
Estimated Weight: 9.8 oz / 278 g (M9)
Sample Weights:
US 8.5 (men’s): 9.5 oz / 270 g, US 10 (men’s): 10.1 oz / 285 g, US 10 (men’s): 10.3 oz / 292 g  [Dom], US 10.5 (men’s): 10.5 oz/ 298 g [Jeff B]
Stack Height: 30/25mm (5mm drop)
Available: June 2019


First Impressions and Fit
Sam: The MTN Racer intrigued me when I first saw them at The Running Event. I really liked the Ultraventure as a more mellow trails cruiser but found it a bit soft and unstable for my tastes when trails got rougher. The MTN Racer was described as a firmer variant with what was to be a more secure ripstop nylon upper. 

On first try on fit was perfect at true to size with a super secure hold yet plenty of natural foot shaped toe box room. About as good a trail shoe upper in terms of fit as I have experienced and during my runs it has proven as secure and comfortable (if warm) as initial try on.  Once on the foot I thought wait a second yes racing and yes mountain, big mountain but not exactly mellow trail fast and short racing, The Ferrari Red or close with black and red midsole is super classy, loud but not screaming with colors never found in nature.  


Jeff V:  The Topo MTN Racer is very flashy looking in red with premium materials and have a rugged feel to them with a somewhat aggressive Vibram Megagrip outsole that looks quite promising for a wide variety of terrain.  Fit feels true to size and the wider toe box feels comfortably accommodating, perhaps even a touch spacious, yet secure. The “Mountain Racer” name, combined with the eye catching red colorway sets up high expectations for a fast shoe, but initial on the foot impressions do not feel like what I would expect in a race shoe, but feel more like a protective, all day mountain terrain cruiser.


Don: This is a good looking shoe if you love red. It definitely has some flare and looks the part of a legit trail running shoe. I struggle with Topo because of their lack of a size 12.5, which again was the case in this shoe. I opted for the size 12, which is likely a little short for me, meaning this shoe runs fairly true to size. You can immediately feel that this is a more firm trail running shoe and my initial feeling was that this was going to be faster than it looked. 


Dom:  I’ve long enjoyed Topo’s MT-2 shoe, which I reviewed in early 2016.  The first version had some issues with durability, but I liked the shoe enough to go back and purchase a second pair and was pleased to find that Topo had made small improvements that remedied many of my criticisms.  I’ve worn the MT-2 in many trail races (up to 100 km distance). Consequently, I was intrigued to understand what sort of shoe Topo would name “MTN Racer”, since in my opinion they already made a great shoe for trail racing.


Dom:  The MTN racer clocks in (in US Men’s 10) at 10.3 oz / 292 g per shoe, with a 30/25 mm stack height.  Those specs, in my opinion, summarize the shoe. That’s the same stack as Topo’s heavily cushioned ‘Ultraventure’ shoe, but with about ½ oz per shoe shaved off. I see this is as a slimmed-down version of the Ultraventure.
Jeff B: I appreciate a red shoe more than most (my red car, mountain bike, cell phone, PlayStation 4, and numerous others regular use items likely gives that away), but visually I get more Friend of Grimace the weird purple mascot for McDonald’s than Racing Red - the yellow/orange laces are the most likely culprit. That said, it’s a Topo trail shoe, so there’s certain aspects that are a given - mostly the great fit and traction of the outsole. I have a slightly wide forefoot and Topo shoes fit better than anybody, Altra included, and this shoe fits me perfectly at a true-to-size 10.5. 


Upper
Sam: The upper is made of a very thin dense decently pliable ripstop nylon with overlays well matched to the pliability of the upper, always something I look for. The upper is about as foot conforming, secure, and light on the foot as any recent trail shoe I have tested. 


The thin tongue ties into what I would call more a gusset than a bootie. 
The gusset dips down then comes back up to fold when laced and is sewn near the eyelet area instead of extending to the midsole in a band as often seen. This design is very secure and allows the lace stays to remain pliable while providing lace padding and lock down over the top of the foot without resorting to an arch band to secure the mid foot. 
The upper includes drainage “breathing” ports on either side of the forefoot.
Through holes to attach the metal bails of the Topo Trail Gaiter are at the heel.
Jeff V:  The upper is a mixed bag for me.  On one hand, I very much appreciate the rugged durability and protection the upper offers, with a sturdy toe bumper, thick overlays and a very tight mesh that does not allow for much to penetrate. I can rock and roll through the roughest talus fields, rock gardens and off trail chaff with confidence, without feeling a bumps and bangs.


I found fit to be true to size, though when first trying on and wearing casually, am cognizant of the less pointed and more foot shaped toe box, feeling the front of the shoe with my toes, however when running, I never actually thought about it and it was never a problem.  Foothold and security are excellent, not just for a more footshaped, wider toe box shoe, but very good for any shoe. I can cruise steep, technical, off camber, rock hopping terrain with speed and confidence with very little, if any give.
The heel counter/collar is well padded, protected and secure.
The laces are very good, providing a very snug and secure cinch on the first try without having to adjust or use excess force.


The tongue provides a gusseted, booty style design that helps keep out debris, provides and easy entry and adds to the stability, security and comfort of the shoe.


My only concern with the upper is that it is not very breathable and is a bit stiff.  It becomes a bit more flexible over time as it breaks in, but is also on the warm side.  I guess it can be a challenge to balance all this much protection and security while still being airy, light, flexible and breathable.  I don’t really notice breathability as an issue in temps under 75, but over 75 start to notice it more and more.
Don: I really struggle with rip-stop uppers with zero breathability. This one might be one of the hottest (and not in a good way) shoes I’ve run in for a long time, due primarily to the upper really not being breathable AT ALL. The other concern with rip-stop is the lack of flexibility. I found this upper not to be very forgiving at the metatarsal heads during toe off. The overlays are well thought out and didn’t cause any issues. 


Jeff B: Unlike my counterparts, I didn’t have any issues with upper breathability. My first run was a pre-dawn trail loop, and even though the sun had yet to make an appearance it was closer to 90 degrees than 80 (hooray for the Phoenix heat island that stores heat through the day and releases it throughout the night!), the shoe felt great - at least heat wise. The upper is a little more constraining than its brother UltraVenture, which is a little more everything - breathable, plush, and relaxed in fit. That last aspect is what sets the Mtn Racer further apart than its sibling than anything; the UltraVenture is a great trail cruiser but the upper doesn’t give confidence to tackle really technical stuff (similar to the Skechers Performance goRUN Max Trail 5 Ultra) while the Mtn Racer feels completely at home when the trails get super rocky.
Another big departure is the tongue, which I love. It has a little padding, but is still pretty thin, and helps contribute to an all-around more agile feeling. 


Also, and it’s a very little thing, but I think it is done very well - the lace loops on the tongue are different in a clever way. Instead of having a single loop in the center about halfway down, Topo uses two loops near the top, both off-center, and as a result I can’t imagine how this tongue moves from one side to the other. Completely minor element, but nice attention to detail.


Dom:  For the most part, the MTN racer’s upper is highly competent and well executed.  Foot retention is excellent, as is comfort. However, the dense weave of the upper fabric means that breathability is disappointing.  This shoe feels hot. On the other hand, dust penetration is negligible, so somewhat paradoxically this may be a killer shoe for long desert runs (particularly when combined with Topo’s lightweight gaiters).  I also expect mud and snow to be quickly shed from the slippery surface.


Dom: Like Jeff V, I could feel my toes pushing on the end of the shoe, and would have liked another millimeter or two of length.  Also mirroring Jeff V’s experience, this hasn’t proved a problem so far in my test runs. However, it does give me concern: the MTN racer is a shoe I might select for a 100-miler, but the slight shortness of the shoe is a potential red flag.
The MTN Racer has eyelets sewn into tongue that hold it securely in place.


Dom:  To echo Jeff B, I also noticed the excellent tongue, which is relatively thin, but nicely padded under the laces, fully gusseted, and with two eyelets sewn in that keep the tongue centered in the shoe.  A little innovation that will be welcomed by runners who have problems with tongue migration. Otherwise, the upper is typical Topo excellence in design and manufacture. I particularly appreciated the size and feel of the laces and just-right friction through the eyelets. 


Midsole
Sam: The MTN Racer has a tri density injected EVA midsole with the softest area at the lateral heel landing (red above) with firmest density, but in no way with a support shoe firm feel on the medial side below with the black midsole-which is between the other two in firmness.
The midsole foams are dense and stable with great cushioning. I was sort of left wanting and expecting a touch more bounce and squish (but not as much as say a Speedgoat). The MTN Racer is called out for trail running and fast packing by Topo and the firm stable density of the midsole has somewhat of a hike shoe feel but fortunately not all the way to that usually not inspiring to run hike shoe feel. Did Topo go to far towards the hike side here for faster more lively trail running, maybe, but with a pack or on rough terrain things are about right.


Jeff V:  I agree with Sam on the above.  The midsole of the Mountain Racer provides excellent cushion and protection in a very supportive manner, but it lacks any propulsive pop on toe off.  With the name “Mountain Racer”, I instinctively expect a shoe to feel responsive and zippy, however this shoe is not. Despite not being particularly responsive, it does provide a very steady, stable and predictable ride and although ground feel is muted, I find it to be a fair trade for the protection this shoe offers.  Though there is no rock plate, it is hard to decipher this while running (though if it had one, could possibly add a little more snap?), as I can run fast on just about any rocky terrain without having to think about what I land on.


Don: I ditto Jeff on the lack of pop in this shoe. It feels firm, but not that zippy firm you might get out of a true racing shoe. I also felt like the ground feel of this shoe was compromised by the high durometer; which will definitely be a positive for some people but was a bit of a disappointment for me because I enjoy the ground feel on trails. Overall, I think this shoe found itself in a weird middle ground; not soft enough to feel comfortable, and not firm enough to really provide that race shoe pop. 


Jeff B: There’s a lot to like about the Mtn Racer, but I think the midsole is the main problem area. I’d agree with my much, much faster counterparts that this shoe should have more zip and pop to it, but it seems to lack that. The ride is very dull and feels dated, while not providing enough foot protection to balance that out. I don’t mind the lack of ground feel in a beefy trail shoe, as long as I don’t get a sharp jolt in the forefoot when I’ve landed on a small rock, and the Mtn Racer continually let me down in that respect. And while I had similar gripes the UltraVenture, at least the UV had a plush ride to enjoy when the trail mellowed out a bit. I didn’t enjoy the Mtn Racer’s ride during any part of the run. The upper had my foot locked down, and the outsole keep the whole thing planted, but the midsole felt like a big miss.


Dom:  We’re basically unanimous here: I too thought that the midsole was the biggest weakness of this shoe.   I struggle to know how to think of the MTN Racer: is this a shoe for ultradistance racing? For daily trail runs?  Optimized for a particular type of terrain? It certainly seems like a mediocre match for short, fast races. Given the stack height and protection, I lean towards ultra distance use, and for this case I want just a bit more squish.  As with the Topo Ultraventure, the overall feel of the shoe is somewhat inert and characterless. There’s not much fun here: the ride might be described as strikingly neutral.


Outsole
Sam: The outsole is Vibram's MegaGrip compound and differs from the Ultraventure’s Trek XS Vibram in having a touch more wet traction performance by spec and also a touch less bounce as it has a firmer feel and more response, see also midsole section above. I wonder given the midsole here if XS Trek here would have livened things up overall, underfoot.  Traction from the outsole was excellent on a wet day after rain on my test loop which included some tacky mud, wet rocks and roots. I do wish for a more continuous and lower lug pattern to improve firmer ground feel. 

Don: I felt the outsole provided quite good traction across multiple trail surfaces. I spent a lot of time on wet and muddy trails, and I don’t have a single complaint about how the Megagrip outsole tackled everything I threw at it. 
Jeff V:  Agreed with both Sam and Don above.  The Vibram Megagrip outsole has been outstanding for me, providing consistently confidence inspiring grip over a wide variety of surfaces and a wide array of conditions (have not run in very much mud and not on snow, but essentially everything else).  Wet traction is excellent as well and durability thus far is indicating above average, with hardly any visible wear after 40 or so rough miles. These particularly excel on rough terrain and even while running off trail on loose dirt, rocks and scruff, the lugs, while not the most deep or aggressive, hold surprisingly well.
Jeff B: Topo has stuck with what works, and it’s clear when you compare the outsole of the Mtn Racer to the UltraVenture or HydroVenture. The lugs are pretty aggressive, and though I didn’t spend any time in the wet, I was in very hard rocky terrain in Phoenix as well as softer, dusty terrain up north in Flagstaff, and the outsole was perfect in both cases. Even though I spent some time on some really rocky trails, the wear is almost negligible thus far, and I have no doubts that the outsole will hold up with the more durable trail shoes. Maybe I’m alone, but I’d kill for Topo to slip the same rockplate in the Mtn Racer that they included in the HydroVenture.
Comparing wet grip of Topo Ultraventure (L) to MTN Racer (R)
Dom:  Again, we’re basically unanimous.  Like the other reviewers, I thought the outsole was excellent.  I’ve only been able to test in limited conditions: mostly dry, dusty trails.  But I also tried sliding around on wet, algae-coated asphalt, and I dipped my feet in a creek and was very pleased with the traction.  (I should note that the Vibram “Megagrip” outsole rubber performed noticeably better in the wet than Topo’s Ultraventure, which uses “XS Trek”.)   Unlike Jeff B, I definitely don’t feel the shoe lacks a rockplate: Topo’s Terraventure 2 already fills that niche, and in the MTN Racer the outsole itself provides adequate protection without killing ground feel.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Scores weighted: Ride 30% Fit 30% Value 10% Style 5% Traction 15% Rock Protection 10%
Jeff V:  I will confess to the name “Mountain Racer” throwing me off at first, as I have come to expect more response and pop in a race shoe.  I guess for longer races over more technical terrain, where maximum traction, protection, support, security and durability are paramount and flat out speed is less of a factor, then I would have no trouble fitting them into the category of race shoe.  While the Mountain Racer does not necessarily inspire me to go fast or give me that extra boost on the days I am feeling flat, I find that on the days I am feeling particularly good, they can rise to the occasion, but definitely not my first pick when I am feeling sporty.  Most specifically I find them faster on technical terrain, where I really appreciate all of the positive attributes listed above and overlook the less than peppy response. This is a lot of shoe for such a reasonable weight.
Jeff V’s Score:  8.3/10
Ride: 8, Fit 8, Value 8, Style 9, Traction 9, Rock Protection 9
If Topo could increase response and add ventilation, the Topo Mountain Racer would be one of the best shoes I have tested this year.  At $140, I think that is a tad high, slightly more than the competition, but these shoes are built to last and in the long run, the price may not be all that out of line.
Don: I was expecting more from this shoe. I’ll admit that some of my view might be coming from wearing a shoe that might have been a ½ size too small (time to make a 12.5 Topo!). It was missing a lot of what I love in a trail shoe. Limited trail feel and limited pop overall left the ride on this shoe lacking a bit compared to other options on the market. I found the ride to thrive on extremely technical terrain and off camber sections due to the strong grip. I never felt my footing would be compromised and thus was able to roll from step to step fairly smoothly overall. 
Don’s Score: 8.6/10
Ride 8, Fit 8, Value 9, Style 9.5, Traction 9.75, Rock Protection 9.75
Points off for too firm of a ride without any perceived speed advantages and lack of ground feel. Also taking off points for not offering up a size 12.5 or anything over 13. $140 isn’t terrible but with shoes from Hoka, Nike, and Altra all coming in less, $140 is a tough bullet to bite. 


Sam: Topo’s first heavy duty mountain-focused shoe packs a lot into less than 10 oz: a copious protective and cushioned 30/25mm overall stack, stout Vibram Megagrip outsole, and a secure roomy if not particularly breathable upper. The sum gets close to a great shoe in this first version and it is a rare shoe that can handle easier forest paths and rocky mountainous terrain which the MTN Racer can both if leaning towards the mountainous rather than the smooth and easy.

My main issue and the element from keeping it from being a great shoe: a muted somewhat dull ride feel on firmer smoother terrain and not much trail feel up front on more technical terrain (that protective 25mm front stack a big factor). On the flip side that firmer dense ride strengthens the shoe’s potential for fast packng. 


They move along just fine on all kinds of terrain, have plenty of cushion and are super secure and stable but the ride lacks pop and a smile factor for me. As said above, I wonder what the more bouncy Vibram Trek XS outsole would do to the MTN Racer or even a somewhat softer midsole but not one as soft as Ultraventure combined with the existing firmer more responsive MegaGrip. Its softer midsole cousin the Ultraventure sure had more bounce from its XS Trek. If the outsole tradeoff was a touch wet traction I would take it, 
Sam’s Score: 8.6/10
Ride 7.5, Fit 9, Value 9, Style 9, Traction 9, Rock Protection 9


Jeff B: The Mtn Racer is another Topo shoe that I really want to like a lot more than I actually do like it. The upper and outsole are absolutely top notch in my mind, but the midsole misses the mark in a big way. The stack is high enough to mute ground feel that my much more accomplished reviewers lament (seriously, don’t look at their UltraSignup results - it’ll make you feel bad about yourself), while it isn’t protective enough for me to cruise on trails (and seriously don’t look at my UltraSignup results - it’ll make me feel bad about myself). I wanted to love the UltraVenture, but the midsole was so plush that every single stone could be felt through it, so the firmer midsole of the Mtn Racer had me enthused for months leading up to its release. Unfortunately they made the midsole firmer in a way that took the smooth and plush ride out, but rocks could still be felt the whole time.
Jeff B’s Score: 8.25/10
Ride: 6, Fit 10, Value 9, Style 9, Traction 10, Rock Protection 6


Dom: Like Jeff V, I found the “racer” name to be something of a head-scratcher, but there’s a lot to like here.  As with everything I’ve recently tested from Topo, the MTN Racer is carefully designed and immaculately executed.  This shoe has a moderately wide (Goldilocks for me) toe box; a last that actually feels foot-shaped (unlike many trail shoe brands); foot hold and comfort are excellent; traction is great.  The balance of rock protection and ground feel seems weighted slightly to the former, but arguably this is appropriate if the shoe’s focus is on long efforts. To my mind, there are only two minor flaws.  Firstly, breathability is limited, and the shoe felt hot. Secondly, despite the unarguable across-the-board competence of the MTN Racer, I felt that the shoe was somewhat inert and lacking in character.  
Dom’s Score:  8.5 / 10
Ride 7, Fit 10, Value 8, Style 7, Traction 10, Rock Protection 7

WATCH OUR TOPO ATHLETIC MTN RACER INITIAL VIDEO REVIEW

Comparisons
Topo Ultraventure (RTR Review)
Sam: Both fit true to size with the MTN Racer more secure mid foot to rear of the shoe in particular. While the Ultraventure is super cushy and more fun to run, for more technical terrain, mountain running, let’s just say trails as opposed to forest paths the MTN is more versatile and a better choice for me.


Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size 10.5. While the Mtn Racer’s upper fit is a little more dialed in, the UltraVenture has a plush ride to it (though suffers from the same lack of ground feel paired with not enough rock protection) that it’s faster sibling doesn’t have. Between the two I’d recommend the UltraVenture for most runners, unless you are getting into super technical stuff.
Dom: To my mind, these two are very similar indeed, with the MTN Racer being lighter and having a slightly snugger, less stretchy upper.  The MTN Racer upper is less breathable, but admits less dust and sheds mud better. Outsole grip is excellent with both, but wet traction is noticeably better with the Vibram Megagrip rubber used in the MTN Racer.  Both are very competent shoes for long days in the mountains. Personally, I’d opt for the all-day comfort of the Ultraventure, but it’s a close call.


Nike Zoom Wildhorse 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff Beck: Both fit true-to-size 10.5. The Wildhorse has a decent toebox to the Mtn Racer’s world class toebox, but the WH5 wins almost every other category. It is a lower stack, and has about the same ground feel, but it is more plush, more responsive, and has better rock protection. Unless you have a massively wide forefoot, I’d favor the Wildhorse 5.


Nike Terra Kiger 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  I reviewed a size 9.5 Kiger 5 vs. a size 10 Mountain Racer.  The Kiger 5 runs a touch large and even though a half size less than normal, fit me perfect.  The Kiger 5 is lighter and much faster, nimble and more responsive. Traction, protection and all day functionality however makes the Mountain Racer more appropriate for longer outings on rougher terrain.
Sam: The Kiger 5 is less shoe overall but much more fun to run on most trails. Lots of trail feel, decent protection with not as stout traction as the MTN.  In the end, unless your trails are mostly super rugged Kiger is a more versatile choice. The Kiger has a broad but low front toe box. I was true to size but might have chanced a half size down.
Jeff B: Both shoes were true-to-size 10.5, the Mtn Racer toebox makes the Kiger 5’s very adequate toebox look terrible. Kiger 5 upper is more breathable, and I’m with Sam, it is much more fun to run virtually any trail on. Mtn Racer has the traction advantage, though I didn’t find the protection to be very different from each other. In subsequent weeks I ran the same trail system in Flagstaff, and 14 miles in the Kiger left my feet feeling about the same as 11 miles in the Mtn Racer. Unless toebox and extreme traction are your major sticking points, I’d favor the Kiger 5.
Dom: I was anomalous among the RTR reviewers in that I hated the heel of the Kiger 5, which I found unstable on steep descents.  Otherwise, I liked the shoe. The MTN Racer is a more balanced, generally competent shoe. Both my sample shoes weighed precisely the same.  The TK5 is notably more breathable and more entertaining. That said, I can’t help but observe that the Topo MT-3 (review forthcoming) is closer in character to the TK5.


Nike Pegasus 36 Trail (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Pegasus has a softer feel, better cushion/comfort and more response, however is not as protective and supportive for longer adventures.  The Mountain Racer is superior in rough and technical terrain with better traction, protection and rugged durability.
Sam: Jeff is spot on. Peg 36 Trail for sure leans road to trail while MTN leans… mountain and technical. This said overall for all trails running the MTN is a better choice.  I was true to size in both but fit more securely in the MTN.


Salomon XA Elevate (RTR Review)
Sam: Very similar rides here, both quite firm but forgiving. The higher drop Elevate has a smoother firm ground ride due to its greater stack height and more pronounced rocker but is stiffer and doesn’t climb steeps as well. Its lower stack forefoot is stiffer and firmer leading to slightly better response.  The MTN Racer has a superior more comfortable higher volume upper. I was true to size in both with the Topo providing a wider toe box.


Jeff V:  I find the Elevate and MTN Racer to provide a very similar ride as Sam notes above.  The MTN Racer has a more spacious upper, but personally prefer the more precise upper of the Elevate. I also find the Elevate to have better all around traction and slightly better stability.


Salomon Ultra Pro (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  Neither are particularly responsive or fast, but provide great protection, traction and all day comfort.
Sam: I agree with Jeff and also found the Ultra Pro forefoot thinner in cushion ( and it is at 19mm vs 25mm for the MTN).


Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The S/Lab Ultra 2 is a bit more responsive and has a more agile, nimble feel, but the Mt. Racer has a more accommodating fit for longer outings, plus better protection and enhanced durability.


La Sportiva Akasha (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Akasha is heavier, but more responsive and nimble, with better traction for more spirited running, however the fit, comfort and protection of the Mt. Racer is an advantage.


Brooks Cascadia 14 (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Cascadia 14 is much more responsive with a lighter feel despite weighing very close to an ounce more, is more agile, but still retains excellent protection, traction and durability.


Brooks Caldera 3 (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The Caldera is more cushy and responsive, great for long runs on less technical terrain, but on rougher terrain, the Mt. Racer is superior.
Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size 10.5. 100% agree with Jeff. Caldera 3 got a nice traction bump from the Caldera 2, but still doesn’t hold a candle to the Mtn Racer’s outsole. If you are running groomed trails and super easy stuff, go Caldera 3, but anything technical go Mtn Racer. I’d agree with Dom, a hybrid of these two shoes would be incredible.
Dom:  For sure it’s a matter of taste, but I like shoes with plenty of squish underfoot.  I loved the midsole of the Caldera, which (as Jeff V observes) is much more cushy that the MTN Racer’s firmer ride.  The upper of the Caldera is more breathable, and the shoe is overall slightly lighter. But the Topo is more protective, has much better foot retention, is built on a more anatomically-based (i.e. foot-shaped) last, and has a superior outsole.  For all day cruising on mellow terrain, Caldera wins, otherwise go with the Topo. (However, I can’t help but observe that a Topo with the Caldera midsole would make me very happy!)


Hoka One One Speedgoat 3 (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  Similar to the Caldera above, Speedgoat 3  is quicker and more responsive with better traction while having 3mm more forefoot cushion than the MTN.  The accommodating fit of the Topo however will be an advantage for many over the narrow, tapered toe box of the SG3.
Dom:  These are entirely different beasts.  The Speedgoat 3 is built like a Humvee, and will roll over anything.  It’s bulletproof, absolutely reliable, but offers negligible groundfeel.  I have a love/hate relationship with the shoe: I don’t like running in them, but when facing very long runs in unpredictable weather and difficult terrain (e.g. UTMB), I keep coming back to the Speedgoat.   The Topo is more comfortable, has better ground feel, but is altogether more flimsy. I could run every day in the MTN racer, but not in the Speedgoat.


Hoka One One Evo Mafate 2 (RTR Review)
Jeff V:  The EVO Mafate 2 is the best all day fast race shoe out there, so a tough comparison, however the Mt. Racer is a bit more stable and predictable in rough terrain. 
Sam: Agree with Jeff here. EVO Mafate also manages to better pull of a combination of great firm cushion and snappy fun response with a truly massive stack 3mm more at the heel and 4mm at the forefoot while adding only 0.5 oz more in weight compared to MTN. The EVO’s upper is definitely more breathable while not as secure as the MTN’s
Jeff B: Both fit true-to-size 10.5. The EM2’s existence is one of the biggest issues with the Mtn Racer - it is so much more fun to run, while still having great traction, and substantially more foot protection (and they mostly solved the tight toe  box issue of the first Evo Mafate). I would agree with Jeff and Sam, Mtn Racer’s upper is more dialed in for technical running, and while the EM2 toe box is a massive step forward, it still pales in comparison to the Topo. Even still, I’d strongly consider the EM2 as your trail monster.
Dom:  Another different beast.  I recently wore the EVO Mafate 2 at the Dragon’s Back Race, and was cursing my shoe choice.  The EM2 is stellar (unparalleled, even) at soaking up the impact of running really long miles on mellow trails.  But in extremely technical terrain, that huge sole stack is terrifying. And traction from the partial-coverage outsole is unreliable.  The Topo has far more consistent grip, and is much more stable, being a lot closer to the ground and with a firmer sole stack.  


Hoka One One Torrent (RTR Review)
Don: I think the Torrent is across the board the better shoe here. Better trail feel and better overall toe off and ride. Not sure if I could justify anyone spending $20 more on the Mtn Racer. 
Sam: Agree Torrent is a better shoe for faster shorter runs, at least for me. It’s upper is not nearly as secure but works fine, Underfoot the ride is lively on all surfaces and it has great agility but is less forgiving as is has 6mm less cushion up front and 6 less out back. All of this said for all around heavy duty all trail leaning rougher I think the MTN is a more protective and reliable choice.
Dom:  I don’t see much sense in the Speedgoat and EVO Mafate comparisons above, as they are so different in character to the MTN Racer.  The Torrent comparison, on the other hand, seems much more appropriate. Both shoes are relatively firm underfoot (and both would be improved by a couple of millimeters more midsole, in my opinion).  Both are relatively lightweight, and both have great traction. Foot retention is superior in the Topo, and I prefer the overall shape of the shoe. The Hoka is more breathable, and slightly lighter (½ oz per shoe).


Newton Boco AT
Don: I’m going to compare this shoe a bit to a from a bunch of years ago, because I think it’s about the best comp I can come up with. The original BOCO AT from Newton had a ripstop nylon upper, a lower drop, and a wider toe box. It’s been a few years since I’ve run in that shoe, but the Mountain Racer screamed like a lighter weight version of that shoe to me. 


Saucony Peregrine ISO (RTR Review)
Jeff B: This may seem like an unlikely comparison, but the Peregrine has been my go-to shoe for technical runs that solid footing and monstrous traction outweighed a plush ride. Mtn Racer has a major toebox advantage, but while it has a higher stack height the Peregrine holds an advantage in rock protection. Both have a very dialed in fit, and both have more traction than they know what to do with. If you’re looking for a technical running shoe either will work, though I’d favor the Peregrine unless you need the extra room up front.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
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6 comments:

Jeff Valliere said...

Following

Will said...

I’m sad now, I wanted to find this to be the answer after Dom turned me on to the awesome MT 2, just I wanted a little more protection. I don’t have long on the MT 3 so could be wrong but feel the extra 2 mm isn’t any different, if anything a touch less stable, and the ripstop unnecessary and hotter, plus I feel I may have even more toe bunching. I’m a 13 and am banging my toes badly with no option to size up. But I love the agility, feel and pop, while I want a little more protection but not the apparent instability of the Ultraventure. Thought the Racer might be the answer for the really, really rocky and technical (and hot) race I’m doing. Alas it doesn’t seem so. Thanks so much for the review, so insightful compared to other sites

Anonymous said...

Being as I am not an expert in biomechanics,forgive me if this is incorrect. I have read often about a shoe being "firm" vs "plush". My question is about what effect this has on a heavier runner. Being as I stay around 200lbs and am not exactly light on my feet I was wondering whether a heavier runner would actually do better in a firm shoe such as this MTN racer. The thought is that a heavy runner is more likely to "bottom out" in a plush shoe causing more shock forces to the joints while a firmer shoe might actually provide more protection. So the question is for an ultra distance race, would a firmer shoe like this actually leave me feeling fresher than a soft and plush Hoka? Thanks

Jeff said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm not an expert in biomechanics either, but I am in a very similar boat to you. As a 200 pound trail runner that was my main gripe about the UltraVenture (or really my only gripe, it's a great shoe) that I would bottom out easily in it, especially when it came to rocky trails. While the stack is substantial, rocky trails left my forefoot pretty beat up, I figured it was because the midsole was so plush - which is why I've been anticipating the Mtn Racer when I heard it was effectively the UltraVenture with a reworked upper and a firmer midsole. Unfortunately, the Mtn Racer midsole was still soft enough to have a similar feel; at least for me. If you look at the comments from the other reviewers, they felt that the rock protection in the forefoot was somewhere between solid and great, so clearly, to each their own in that regard.

As for your firm vs soft for an ultra marathon, I know a lot of people have a lot of opinions there. Overwhelmingly I've heard (from people with more knowledge and experience than me) that softer shoes are easier on the feet and harder on the hips and firmer shoes beat up the feet more but are easier on the hips/joints. Just a matter of what you prefer or have issues with.

Anecdotally I volunteered at an aid station at the McDowell Mountain Frenzy last December, we were deep in the desert at a station only visited by the 50M and 50K racers more than halfway through the race, and being the shoe geek I am I was always looking to see what everyone was running in. The overwhelming majority was wearing a high stacked shoe, be it one of a variety of Hoka models, Altra Olympus or a few Timps, and a number of UltraVenture. So firmer is better may be a common philosophy, when the rubber meets the road most ultra runners seem to favor a lot more squish.

If you really wanted to go with a firmer trail shoe, I'd look at the Topo Athletic Terraventure 2. Its stack is just a bit lower than the UltraVenture or Mtn Racer, but features a much firmer ride that could put the wear on your feet instead of hips. At least theoretically. :)

I hope that helps,
Jeff

Dom Layfield said...

Hi Will,
I don't have long on MT-3 either, but my initial thoughts seem to be in line with yours: I don't see it as an upgrade over the MT-2, which Topo is sadly discontinuing. There wasn't much wrong with the MT-2, and all I really wanted was a variant that had a little more protection. The MTN racer doesn't quite fill that niche, and the MT-3 feels very similar on foot to the MT-2 (although that's based on memory: I've yet to do a side-by-side run). For what it's worth, I haven't found Ultraventure to be unstable at all.

pug said...

Many of the new Topo shoes (FLi-Lyte 3) have been a disappointment. Topo has churned out so many shoes, going with quantity over quality. I do like the MT3, however it is a warm shoe, especially running in the Northeast summer weather. Currently I'm looking at other shoes (Enda, Inov8) to replace my Topos.