Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Topo Athletic Runventure 3 Review: A Super Light, Simple, and Pared Down Trail Runner

Article by Dom Layfield and Jeff Valliere

Topo Athletic Runventure 3 ($120)


Stats
Estimated Weight: 8.75 oz / 248g  (US M9)
Samples:
9.2 oz, 261 g  (US M10)
10.4oz, 295 g  (US M12)
Stack Height: 20 mm (6 mm outsole, 9 mm EVA midsole, 5 mm footbed), zero-drop
Available Feb. 20.  $120


Pros:
Jeff V, Dom:  Light weight
Jeff V, Dom:  Comfortable fit/wide toe box
Jeff V, Dom:  Traction/outsole
Jeff V, Dom:  Style


Cons:
Jeff V:  Upper is crinkly
Jeff V, Dom :  Underfoot protection is a bit thin for rocky trails


Tester Profiles
Dom 48, 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.  2019 was a quiet year, with his only notable finish at the multi-day Dragon Back race in the UK.
Jeff  runs mostly on very steep technical terrain above Boulder often challenging well known local FKT's. 



First Impressions and Fit
Dom:   Topo shoes are generally low-drop, with a fairly wide toe box that finds a happy middle ground between Altra’s super roomy fit and the ‘regular’ fit of most shoe brands.  Compared to the Topo shoes I’ve reviewed most recently, the Runventure 3 is (I’m glad to say) a little more spacious. The MTN Racer felt snug and the MT-3 a little too short.  


Dom:   Topo shoes have always been a good match for my foot, and immediately I put on the Runventure 3, they felt familiar and comfortable.   Sizing is true to size, albeit with the aforementioned roomy fit.


Dom:   The Runventure 3 is Topo’s minimal offering, and like its predecessor, it is super light, simple and pared down.   If that sounds like your cup of tea, you’ll love this shoe.  But make no mistake, these ain’t your granny’s plush Stinsons.


Jeff:  Agreed with Dom, as the Runventure 3 is more spacious, and most important to me added room at the front of the toe box, as I found the Mtn Racer and MT-3 to be a bit stubby and while never truly a problem in regard to blisters, I was often aware of my toes touching the front of the shoe in those.  While the Runventure 3 has a rock plate, I get a sense right away that care will need to be taken on rocky terrain. They feel light on the foot and the black accented with blue looks really classy and sleek.


Upper
Dom:  This is a minimal shoe, and in keeping with this philosophy, the upper is clean and unencumbered without needless frippery.   A forefoot rand migrates gently up at the back of the shoe to connect to the heel, with drainage holes on each side of the midfoot.  The downside of a rand is that the stiffening can sometimes create awkward folds at the toe crease, but I didn’t experience any problems with the RV3.  The upside is a hugely increased lifespan of the shoe. There is also a light overlay connecting the heel to the laces and covering the seam between heel and forefoot fabrics.  The front of the shoe is a single piece of dense, inelastic mesh. This fabric is a little crinkly, as Jeff remarks, and not very breathable. On the other hand, dust and snow intrusion is minimal.   


Dom:   As with all Topo shoes I’ve recently looked at, the construction is immaculate. 
Compared to the previous Runventure 2, Topo have ditched the neoprene fabric in the heel, and returned to a conventional padded heel collar.   I notice also that they seem to have given up on their proprietary gaiter attachment eyelets. 


Dom:  Foot retention is decent, but not great.  But I don’t know that any manufacturer (including Altra) has completely solved the conundrum of how to secure a roomy forefoot without needing to grip the midfoot uncomfortably tightly.   On steep downhills, my foot would slide forward in the shoe, and I was aware of my toes pressing against the front. This can be prevented by cinching up the laces tightly, but over long runs this doesn’t feel pleasant.   Personally, I’m fine with this trade-off: I’d rather have the space than super-secure foot hold. But your mileage may vary. If you run super steep terrain or pull high-G turns, you might prefer a snugger shoe.
Jeff V:  The upper of the Runventure 3 is a tight mesh, which I appreciate during the colder months when I tested, is great for keeping out dust and slightly repelling light moisture, but I question how well ventilated it will be in the summer.  
While the upper materials are thin and flexible, I find the flexing of the upper to be somewhat loud and crinkly.  Quality and construction are excellent, with a durable wraparound rand and sturdy toe bumper. Heel hold is excellent,  as is midfoot security, aided by the booty style tongue.  
With plenty of room in the toe box, security is good on moderate to mellow terrain, but I find my foot sliding some at faster speeds, on technical terrain and when steep sidehilling.


Midsole:
Dom:  There’s not much midsole to speak of here.   Between the 6 mm outsole, and 5 mm footbed, you’re left with 9 mm of EVA foam with a rockplate sandwiched in there.  On the subject of that plate, let's be clear that this is not a “I can stomp down on sharp rocks with reckless abandon” kind of rockplate.  It’s more a “how do we achieve any rock protection at all in a shoe this low and flexible” sort of solution. You still get to feel every pebble on the trail: the plate just makes you wince less! 
Jeff V:  The midsole at 20mm front to back as this is a zero drop shoe feels a bit on the minimal side, adequate for moderate to mellow softer terrain, but is a bit thin on rocky terrain or for any appreciable distance on hard surfaces.  Response is moderate.


Outsole
Dom:  Topo shoes generally have excellent all-terrain outsoles, and I had no complaints about the Runventure 2, which has widely-spaced, but relatively shallow lugs.   It performed well, on both road and trail, in all the limited conditions that I was able to test in. The rubber is Vibram XS Trek, which is not quite as sticky when wet as the Megagrip compound used in e.g. the Topo MTN Racer.  Instead it promises a softer ride and greater longevity.


Jeff V:  The Vibram outsole provides excellent grip on a wide variety of surfaces, packed trails, snow, rock and good in the wet.  Traction is good in loose terrain, but struggles a little when steep and loose.
Ride
Dom:   It is a matter of personal taste whether you regard the Runventure 3 as light, flexible, and low-to-the-ground, or as harsh and underprotected.   Personally, I really enjoy the stripped-down, terrain-sensitive feel of the shoe. Nevertheless, for long runs and high-volume training, I want a shoe with more support, more rock protection, and more cushion.  For daily and shorter training, the Runventure 3 is superb.


Jeff V:  The ride is smooth, though a bit harsh on rocky terrain and hard surfaces and can feel a bit thin underfoot.


Conclusions and Recommendations
Dom:  This is a standout shoe that has a clear philosophy.   I was underwhelmed by Topo’s somewhat forgettable MT-3, which was heavier and overbuilt compared to its predecessor.  The Runventure 3, on the other hand, is everything I wanted it to be. It’s light, flexible, simple, and thoroughly beautiful. But this shoe is not a mainstream choice: it has a wide toebox, is zero-drop, offers meager support, and is lacking in both cushion and rock protection.    I wouldn’t pick this shoe when I’m pushing training volume to the limit of what my body can withstand; but for off-season, casual running, when I'm running for pure enjoyment and want to feel the trail beneath my feet, it is near perfection.

Dom:  Greater than the sum of its parts, this shoe is so good that I almost gave it a 10/10.  A classic.  
Ride 10, Fit 9, Value 8, Style 9, Grip 9, Rock protection 7.  Overall 9.5/10



Jeff V:  The Runventure 3 is a great shoe for those looking for an alternative to Altra, with a wide toe box and zero drop and for me with a more “normal” foot, fits better than an Altra.  It is best suited to moderate to mellow terrain.
Jeff V:  8.2/10

Comparisons 
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Altra Superior 4  [RTR Review]
Wet-grip testing: Topo Runventure 3 (left), Altra Superior 4 (right)


Dom:   Both of these are really great options if you are looking for a minimal, flexible trail shoe that will improve foot proprioception and encourage forefoot striking.   With the Superior’s removable rockplate inserted, the shoes have identical (and very light) weight.  Protection underfoot is comparable, although Runventure is better around the periphery.  The Superior 4 is softer, with a conforming glove-like upper that feels like a slipper. Runventure has a more conventional construction with a real heel counter.   Traction from the Runventure 3 is better, largely because the outsole rubber of the Superior is so soft that the lugs buckle under load. The feel of the Runventure is a little firmer; the Superior a little squishier.   I find it hard to call a winner, but if pressed would give the nod to the Runventure as a slightly more mainstream choice. That is high praise indeed given that I chose the Superior 4 as my shoe of the year. 


Topo Runventure 2:  [RTR review]
Dom:  Compared to its predecessor, the Runventure 3 is, in my opinion, a clearly better shoe.  Most notably, it is lighter, and has improved heel retention. It also features Topo’s newer Ortholite footbed which should perform better than the old (EVA?) version, that quickly packed out and  lost thickness.


Topo MT-3:  [RTR review]
Dom:   In a way, the Runventure 3 is the shoe I wanted MT-3 to be.   Most notably, it is significantly lighter, and skips the lateral overlays on either side of the toe crease that made the MT-3 toebox feel a little constrictive.   MT-3 is heavier and more cushioned. I liked the MT-3, but the Runventure 3 is better still.   


Jeff V:  Agreed with Dom, the Runventure 3 is for me a better fitting shoe, lighter, but part of me appreciates the added cushion/protection of the MT-3
Saucony Switchback ISO:  [RTR review]
Dom:   A good comparison here, suggested by Sam.  Both shoes share a similar philosophy: light, simple, minimally-cushioned.  The big difference is that the Runventure has conventional laces, whereas the Switchback uses the Boa turn-to-tighten system.   I had to dig out my Switchbacks and do a side-by-side test to refresh my memory. The Topo is undoubtedly a better anatomical fit for my foot.  Putting on the Switchbacks again, I was struck by how narrow and pointy the toebox felt in comparison. Once running, however, the difference felt slighter, and there was less slippage in the narrower shoe.  Grip was comparable. Protection was comparable (both shoes offer a bare minimum). Topo is lighter, more comfortable, and offers a more barefoot-like running experience. I prefer the Runventure, but would recommend Switchback if you have narrower feet.


Jeff V:  Agreed, a good comparison.  The Runventure 3 feels a little wider in the forefoot, though the Switchback ISO is by no means narrow.  Performance and use is similar, though the Runventure 3 has a more substantial outsole. I do really like the BOA on the Switchback and use it often as an everyday shoe due to on/off ease.


Brooks Pure Grit 8:
Dom:  The Pure Grit 8 is as light and flexible as it gets from Brooks, but is a little heavier (½ oz per shoe) and more cushioned than the Runventure.   I loved the underfoot feel of the Pure Grit 8, but its biggest weakness was heel retention: I couldn’t escape the sensation that the back of the shoe was falling off my feet.   If you have wider heels this might not bother you so much. The PG8 offers a snugger, more conventional forefoot fit than RV3.
The Runventure 3 Released February 2020

Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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13 comments:

Steven said...

Nice, thorough review, thanks. Dom wrote that the RV3 is in a way what the MT3 should have been. If I recall correctly, Dom also wrote that the MT2 was suitable up to a 50 mile or 100K. Would you push the RV3 that far on suitable terrain? After reading your reviews for the RV2 and MT3, I went with the MT3 and like it a lot through 20+ mile runs, intending to use it for backpacking and a 100 miler and 50 miler though I will get a new pair, so I’m comparing the MT3 to RV3. I’m well covered with the MTN Racer to bail my feet out if needed, but I share your views with wishing the MT3 were lighter.

Curt said...

Can you speak a bit more about how it compares to the Runventure 2? I found the R2 to be overly stiff and insensitive compared to other zero drop models and almost a chore to run in. Alternatively, how might it compare to the Altra Superior 2->3.5?

Dom Layfield said...

@Steven,

I wish there was a better answer to your question than "it depends". It depends on how strong your feet are. I have a friend who wore the Montrail Fluidflex (a very light, soft shoe) for the Hard Rock 100. Twice. Personally, with my wimpy feet, I wouldn't choose the RV3 for anything longer than a 50k.

-- Dom

Dom Layfield said...

@Curt,

The RV3 and RV2 are similar in stiffness. The RV3 gains a mm of stack, and that tiny bit of extra cushion (and/or other changes) made the ride feel a little more forgiving than RV2. However, if you thought the RV2 was stiff and insensitive -- which surprises me -- my guess is that you'll feel similarly about RV3.

My recollection is that the feel of the Superior 3/3.5 with rock plate removed is about the same as the RV3. They never seemed very "barefoot-like" to me. With the Superior 4, Altra changed everything. If you're after a natural, barefoot feel, and thought RV2 was stiff, I'd point you towards the Superior 4, which is softer and squishier than RV3.

Curt said...

@Dom,

Thanks Dom. I seem to want contradictory things in shoes in that I prefer firmish, low or zero drop, and flexible. Really I'd like my OG Trail Gloves back, but those are gone and the newer editions have devolved into weird, stiff, arch-supporting mutants. The Superior 4 feels lovely but almost too soft in store. This might change over time, but I haven't purchased yet.

I am curious though, what zero drop shoe would you design if you had the option? You might also be curious in the now ancient (possibly defunct?) Carson Footwear, which uses a single density polyurethane footbed that is likely very firm in character.

Unknown said...

Would you mind to afding a comparison against Terraventure 2 and king mt2?

Unknown said...

Would you mind to adding a comparison against Terraventure 2 and king mt2?

Unknown said...

Hello. Thanks for the review. Really appreciate all of your content!

You mentioned it's lighter than the previous model several times. And that it's a super light shoe.

The Mt3 gained weight and so did the Rv3. According to Topo, .3 oz heavier. I can't say 9.5 oz for such a minimal and low-stacked shoe is by any means light. Seems heavier than most mid-stacked trail runners.

Enjoyed the Rv2 and I think I'll replace mine with the now discounted model.

Kind regards,
Carl

Anonymous said...

Great review, and while the RV2s have been excellent for me I’ve tended to replace them a bit more often than I would have preferred due to compression of the sole. The RV3s look great EXCEPT for the loss of the gaiter holes. Those Topo gaiters were fantastic, and now will be next to useless on the RV3s - this is a real shame.

Dom Layfield said...

Lots of people to respond to...

@Curt, I'm not a zero-drop zealot. I don't think it matters too much that you hit that magic number. But I do have a preference for low drop (perhaps 6 mm as upper limit). The exception might be when you're giving up comfort and/or natural gait for a mechanical advantage that enables you to go faster: and obviously, I'm thinking of Nike VF4%/Next%.

@Unknown: I dug out my King MT2's yesterday to refresh my memory. Again I was struck that they felt like Merrell Trail Gloves on steroids. It's a very barefooty type of ride. Rock Protection is similar to RV3, but the ride feels firmer: whether you regard that as 'harsher' or 'more natural' is a personal preference. I'll try to track down my Terraventure2's. Stay tuned. BTW, @Curt, if you're a Trail Glove aficionado, you might want to give the King MT2's a try.

@Unknown (second one): RV3 is 46 g per pair lighter than RV2 (in size US M10). My pair weighed 9.2 oz per shoe, so I imagine around 9 oz for standard reference size US M9. That may not seem light to you, but I have a spreadsheet with weights of ~70 pairs of shoes that I've tested, and the only trail shoes that are lighter are Skechers Speed TRL Hyper (8.6 oz) and Altra Superior 4.0 with stone guard insert removed (8.7 oz). (Also the Montrail FluidFlex II, but sadly, you can't buy those any more.)

@Anonymous: Completely agree about the loss of the gaiter holes. I thought the Topo gaiter system was excellent. Not perfect (hard to thread dirty holes with numb fingers in the field), but once installed, they worked really well. I don't know why they decided to ditch this system.

Curt said...

@Dom Thanks again Dom. As always, I appreciate your approach to shoe reviews. And it's not too late to drink that zero-drop Koolaid! I don't think it ever goes bad.

Unknown said...

I just want to say thank you for the excellent shoe reviews. The depth of your coverage is never too much and addresses all parts of the shoe which makes it easier to buy.

Because I have a curved foot shape, I need a wider toe box. I was pushed into Altra's, then discovered Topo, which I like better, as they last longer and fit snugger. I'm curious if you know if any other company that has equal toe boxes to Altra and Topo?

As, both the Superior and MT3 need replacing, I was looking to pare down to one shoe. I'm happy with the MT3 but feel I need a rockplate. Curious for your opinion, though, on which Topo Shoe: Trail running is part of my weekly running, but not exclusive. I mild - moderate terrains and tend to hike the technical. I may get 20 miles/week on trail. Currently, tend to only trail race 1/2 marathons. I am not an ultra runner.

My history: I have been in the Altra King Mtn (stopped using because my foot slid around too much). Altra Superior works, but prefer a built-in rock plate. I bought the MT3 for a little more cushion over the Superior 4 to use to hike the R2R and on longer runs on mellower trails - it's been perfect for that from the get go.

Thanks so much! Appreciate you!
Sheri

Dom Layfield said...

Hi Sheri,

If you like the shape of the MT3, the Topo Runventure 3 is very similar, but with a rockplate and a little less cushion. It is by far my favorite Topo. If you don't care about the rockplate part, the Topo MTN Racer is like a more cushioned, more protective MT3.

You might also consider Altra's new Timp 2. The fit is much snugger than the previous version, so your foot may not slide around so much. This has tons of cushion. (In my personal opinion, probably an excessive amount for everyday training, but YMMV)

Hope you find something that works for you,
-- Dom