Article by Jeff Beck, Hope Wilkes, and Sam Winebaum
Topo Athletic Ultrafly 3 ($130)
Official: 9.6 oz /272 g men’s US9
Samples: 9.45 oz / 268g US men’s 8.5 10.7 oz / 303g US Men’s 10.5
Ultrafly 2: 10.4 oz / 10.9 oz / 310g US Men’s 10.5
Stack Height: 28mm heel /23 forefoot
Available May 2020 at Topo HERE. $130
Jeff/Sam: Upper is nearly perfect, has good breathability and foot hold, is plush without being bulky, zero overlays or hotspots, all paired with a Topo toebox. *chef’s kiss*
Jeff: Zip Foam midsole isn’t mushy like the Phantom’s, and is an upgrade from UF2.
Jeff: Overall shoe feels far more premium than previous versions.
Hope: Pretty sleek look for a foot-shaped shoe, understated colors, run faster than they look
Jeff: Laces come undone if you don’t double knot.
Hope: Somewhat too firm under the arch, can’t crank down the upper too much without feeling pressure from the tongue and ankle collar so a bit of a relaxed fit
Sam: Softer midsole with thin front outsole with less than full coverage is a recipe for a toe oft lacking character or pop.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 63 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 just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 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.
Jeff 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 40 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39. In December he raced his first 50 mile trail ultra.
Hope is in her 20’s and after several ultras is now more on the road. She has a marathon PR of 3:47. She trains about 50 miles per week with many of her runs in the (broad) 8:00-10:00/mile range. She is happy to hit 7:30 miles on tempo days.
First Impressions and Fit
Jeff: My first impression was “WHAT IS THIS?!” because I didn’t remember signing up to review the UltraFly 3, let alone know that it was coming. After I slipped them on, my initial response was to compliment Tony Post and team, because the 3 is a massive leap forward from the 2 (which was a sizable hop forward from the 1 with it’s 2005 inspired upper design). While it’s stack height grew by only 2mm (and lost 0.2 ounces in the process) the 3 feels substantially more cushioned and like it was made for my specific foot, with an upper that might be the best in the business. I know, bold proclamation, but it hits all the right marks of locking the foot down, not overheating, tons of toe box room, soft to the touch while avoiding the bulky nature of most plush uppers - I could go on and on. I know that the UltraFly series has always been billed as a light stability shoe, but as a dyed-in-the-wool supinator, I can run in it just fine. The UF3 fits perfectly true-to-size.
Hope: My first impression: this looks like the Magnifly 3 (a favorite of mine from summer 2019), but with a little stability built in. On foot it’s a slightly different story. Fit is true to size in my men’s 8 (I like the moody black with olive green accents).
Sam: Lighter by 0.8 oz than the prior version had me interested right away. Zip Foam instead of the prior fairly firm and dense midsole and along with upper a contributor to weight loss was also an apparent plus. Finally the upper which moves Topo away from its generally superb well held yet roomy mesh plus overlays to an engineered mesh was an immediate eye opener. Would it maintain that great foothold with roomy anatomical toe box?
Try on demonstrated the upper with its rear heel cip and low but stoutly connected to lacing collars was secure. The foot went in with a clunk lock down reminiscent of some ASICS. Always a good sign if the rear hold is secure and stout when the rest of the upper is light and overlay free. Hold the heel generally the rest of the hold follows. Totally true to size for me with plenty of toe box room and overall hold, almost eerily so given how light and pliable the mesh is with no bootie tongue, no overlays or underlays. .
Jeff: Before I start waxing poetically how great this upper is, let me get into the details. The upper is made from a well-made engineered mesh. It feels like there are at least two layers to it, but they must be relatively thin because the shoe doesn’t hold much heat (even as Phoenix inches close to 90 degrees in my black/white/olive colorway) and it is very breathable. There are virtually zero overlays to speak of, just a few spots with a slightly more built-up mesh, but it doesn’t feel flimsy or formless.
The tongue is cushioned enough to eliminate lace bite, but not enough to feel thick and bulky, and while it is free floating, the pair of lace loops near the top of the tongue keep it planted as if it were gusseted.
The upper part of the heel counter is soft and pliable, while the lower ~60% is a hard TPU collar that wraps around the back. As far as minimal stability goes, I like Topo’s implementation more than any other manufacturers’ attempts at creating stability that only shows up when you need it. Lastly, the toebox. It’s a Topo, so you know it’s going to be good, and this doesn’t disappoint. The upper also has a little bit of stretch, so while the vertical toebox isn’t super massive, it won’t be limiting to you unless you are literally a Hobbit venturing out from the Shire for the first time. Even still, I don’t think Frodo and the boys would have complained a bit.
If I ever get the chance to meet the team that designed this upper I’m going to buy them a round or two of drinks. If I could transplant this upper to virtually every other shoe, I think I would. We’ve seen more and more shoes come out with transcendent midsoles that were amazing, but this is the first transcendent upper I’ve come across. I want to keep logging miles in this shoe for the upper as much as any other part.
Hope: Although Jeff laid it on pretty thick in applauding the Ultrafly 3’s upper, I don’t think he went quite far enough in singing the praises of the toebox. The height is dead solid perfect and that perfection is seemingly accomplished without the aid of a traditional stiffener. Press on the toebox and it’s soft and pliable, but on the run it more than adequately stands tall to give your piggies plenty of room. There’s no extra layer to catch a toenail on. I don’t see how this element could be any better. Bravo, Topo!
That said, I do have a small quibble with the upper. I have basically average-width feet -- true to size in D or B width (depending on if I prefer the men’s or ladies’ colorways), so I don’t have to really crank down on the laces to get most shoes to fit me. And I didn’t have to do so with the Ultrafly 3. But for all of the sublime comfort the upper offers in terms of smooth softness and roominess, it’s still a little fiddly to adjust. If I pulled the laces ever so slightly too tight, the upper would pinch my ankle and top of my foot. Note that my running sock wardrobe includes no-show and mini-crew socks. I was able to resolve the issue easily by pulling the laces only tight enough to remove any slack, but no tighter. The result is a somewhat relaxed fit, but it was secure enough to comfortably handle the uneven and off-camber roads I ran during testing. This happened enough times that I know it wasn’t an issue of breaking the shoe in so RTR readers should be aware of it, but I don’t think it’s remotely a dealbreaker.
Sam: A beautiful, superbly fitting and comfortable upper which works better yet with wider feet. Hands down one of the most comfortable (and effective) uppers of 2020, so far.
To go with the roomy well held toe box Topo did a particularly good job with the molded rear collar which extends all the way into lace up and with the heel TPU clip to insure a great rear hold which helps enable the rest of the upper to be simple, thin and roomy upfront.
Jeff: The midsole is Topo’s third attempt at finding a home for their material, Zip Foam. We’d seen it in last year’s massive trainer, the Phantom, as well as the lower slung and plated uptempo shoe, the Zephyr. In the Phantom it was mushy and soul-draining, in the Zephyr it worked well, but the firmness of the plate lead many runners to proclaim it was a speed day shoe and nothing else (I’m still in the minority who says it’s a great daily trainer, don’t @ me), but here in the UltraFly 3 - it just works. While it isn’t the greatest ride of a daily trainer, it is a massive step forward from the UltraFly 2’s midsole. The UF2 was a tri-density EVA, with a standard density layer throughout most of the shoe, an extra soft layer at the heel and extending through the lateral side, and a firmer layer from the heel to the met heads on the medial side. The 3 has a higher density medial post, and that’s it. As a runner who will never hit that side of the shoe, it doesn’t factor into any of my runs - and that’s just the way I like a minor stability shoe to be. Protection wise the UF3 isn’t an all-day monster, but there is plenty of shoe underfoot to protect your lower extremities. It’s approaching Hoka levels of cushioning, but not quite there.
Hope: I’m in that minority with Jeff -- the Zephyr is a stellar daily trainer. And I think that stance informs my opinion on the UF3’s midsole. It’s not at all bad, but it’s kind of underwhelming. It’s not at the top of the heap among Topo models I’ve tried. The feel is not mushy or bouncy or snappy but rather (mostly) inoffensive and unmemorable. If I land a bit too far back on the midfoot I can feel how firm the midsole is under the arch. In this application Zip Foam feels like yesterday’s mystery meat EVA compounds, not a flagship midsole tech. I put probably 60 or miles in the shoe in testing (including double digit outings) and I stand by Jeff’s assertion that it’s plenty of shoe for medium-distance runs and it could go 26.2 for some people. If it seems like I’m dogging the shoe, I’m not. I expect a lot from Topo since the brand has been pushing the envelope in terms of innovation from the start. Further, there are some excellent budget models available, so I expect something a little more special for $130.
Sam: The Zip Foam midsole is solid. Its combination of softer Zip Foam (white) with a medial firmer (green) section delivers a great landing with a touch of support/ stability. Things start to fall apart up front for me where, while not overly flexible, the thin rubber outsole coverage with deep flex grooves and major gaps in coverage towards the toe makes for a soft yes well cushioned forefoot but one lacking in pop and response. Might thicker rubber in a more effective pattern and/or a mini version of the Zephyr’s plate help liven things up?
Jeff: The outsole of the UF3 is a very segmented rubber that allows for lots of flex, while still keeping good rubber in place on the high wear areas. Or at least, most of them - I’m already showing wear in ~30 miles on the exposed foam just in front of the ball of the foot. Also, there are several channels that run in between the rubber segments, and the channels might be a little too wide. I’ve seen more wear than expected in the channels. Not the end of the world, but could be a point of failure in another ~200 miles. I did not get to experience any wet runs in the course of UltraFly 3 testing, but I did spend some time on some mild dirt trails, and the traction was fine. Not a shoe for technical running, but good enough traction and protection for some mixed use running.
Hope: I took these out in the rain a few times and they were solid (the upper drains decently, too). Topo gives you plenty of rubber to enhance cushioning, grip, and durability. If this shoe hits the sweet spot for you, it’ll soak up tons of training miles. No news in this department is almost always good news!
Sam: Most outsole rubber these days has good durability and grip and that is the case here. This said, and as stated in midsole, the forefoot rubber configuration up front is thin, partial and deeply grooved yet not particularly flexible. This is a recipe for a dull softer toe off. I prefer a snappier, more responsive toe off than what I experienced here.
Jeff: There isn’t much pop at toe-off of the UF3, but it does have a smooth-yet-bouncy feel. This isn’t the shoe you grab for a tempo run (or even hill repeats), but if you want a well-cushioned daily trainer there are many worse options. In head-to-head testing with the Nike React Infinity, there’s a similarity in cushioning between the two. I don’t think the ride of the UF3 is going to blow anyone’s socks off (that’s the upper’s job), but it is a very solid effort.
Hope: The UF3 is faster than it looks. Despite the clear differences in forefoot pop and heel-toe offset, I think the UF3’s closest analog is the Pegasus 37 (the Peg 34 might even be closer), another workhorse model. It’s not your speedwork shoe, but it can still fly, it just won’t seem like it’s giving you much help since the tech you can feel is limited to the upper. I didn’t notice any foot or calf fatigue, but runners transitioning from higher drop shoes should watch out for that.
Sam: I agree with Hope that it looks faster than it is. I agree with Jeff that it has a smooth but bouncy feel but one that lacks dynamic pop at toe off with a sinking overly “comfortable” feeling whereas I prefer more pop and response in a daily trainer and even in a slow recovery type shoe.
Jeff: Huge thumbs up to Topo for what they’ve done to the UltraFly. I don’t think there’s another shoe with a more dramatic shift from version 1 to version 3, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go from here. Neutral runners to runners who need a little bit of stability will be doing themselves a disservice if they continue to overlook the UltraFly. It doesn’t have the pizzazz of a lightweight carbon-fiber plated super shoe, but it’s a great shoe to eat up the majority of your weekly mileage with Topo’s signature toebox - only this time with the best upper around.
Jeff’s Score: 9.5/10
Ride: 9 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 10 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)
Hope: I think if you want that sweet Topo upper but need a touch of support, this is your shoe. I wasn’t dazzled by the UF3 like I was by the Zephyr and Magnifly 3, two shoes I ran in again to prepare for this review and two shoes which I think have a lot more personality than the UF3. I’m not sure what makes this an “ultra” shoe. My expectations may have been a bit high coming in.
Hope’s Score: 7.85/10
Ride: 7 (50%) Fit: 9 (30%) Value: 8 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)
Sam: A lot about the shoe is superb and especially the upper (one of the very best of 2020), the heel landings and transitions but… things fall apart at toe off with a lack of response and pop I think is mainly caused by the outsole’s design in combination with Zip Foam softness. It is a fine slower pace trainer with just enough stability and plenty of cushion, but then at the last part of the stride it lacks get up and go and is overly soft (if stable). Too much work to do up front to move along for me. I score it high except for Ride. I don’t mind a soft bouncy forefoot as we have here but please back it up with sufficient rubber (or a mini plate) to get me moving along more decisively.
Sam’s Score: 8.3/10
Ride: 7.8 (50%) Fit: 9.5 (30%) Value: 8.5 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)
Index to all RTR reviews: HERE
Topo Athletic UltraFly 2
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size. A shoe I ran in quite a bit, I always liked the idea of the 2 more than I actually liked it, and the 3 finally lives up to the hype. Massive upgrade in every way (except maybe the outsole), the 3 is lighter, more comfortable, and has a markedly better upper. Even if you can get the 2nd version for a song, go for the 3.
Topo Magnifly 3 (RTR Review)
Hope: Bouncier, lighter, more flexible, and with an even more perfect upper, the Magnifly 3 is what the Ultrafly 3 aspires to be, but with a touch of stability. Unless you need that feature, go with the Magnifly 3 and thank me later. This shoe made long runs in heat and high humidity joyful and comfortable last summer. Quite possibly the best low-drop trainer ever.
Topo Zephyr (RTR Review)
Hope: Picture a trainer version of the Next% and you’re on track for understanding what the Zephyr brings to the table. A plastic plate (as opposed to carbon fiber) up front adds snappy responsiveness and Zip Foam adds welcome softness. Some consider this shoe too harsh to be a true trainer, but I find it fast, smooth, and plenty forgiving. Give it five miles to break in, then you’ll have a monster of an uptempo training partner. The UF3 doesn’t aim to go quite so fast or deliver the snappy feel so it’s a bit unfair to compare these models, but I think runners who can make do with a bit less shoe and no added stability features will have more fun in the Zephyr.
Moving over to the women’s which I have in the D width. The React midsole is softer than the men’s and the airbag has lower PSI. The extensive rubber coverage remains the same. The result is a heel of about the same softness as Ultrafly with a somewhat thinner but still well cushioned (by the 10mm air bag) forefoot. The result is superior to the men’s Peg in ride as it is more forgiving and more flexible and smoother and far more versatile at all paces than the Ultrafly but maybe with a touch less stability than Ultrafly if you need that. Oh and the Peg 37 women’s upper, still relatively snug upfront compared to the men’s is thinner and more accommodating but does not quite the Topo’s in overall comfort. Overall I give the nod to the women’s Peg over the Ultrafly unless you have wider front of the foot or you can’t find the women’s in comparable men’s sizing and width.
Hope: I have the Peg 37 in a men’s 8 and have found it to feel a bit heavy (especially for longer efforts), but gosh can it still get up and go! I agree with Sam that the Zoom air bag up front delivers the most pop when landing on the forefoot (more so than just rolling through the gait) and I noticed that the shoe performs better after the first run — small break-in period required to soften things up. These models are similar in that they both will soak up tons of mileage (lots of rubber underfoot attests to that). I think the Topo feels better for double-digit runs, but the Peg 37 is more fun for tempo or fartlek workouts where the responsive forefoot can show its stuff. The Topo upper is more comfortable. I found the Peg 37’s (admittedly strong) heel hold to be a bit distracting as it felt like my sock was folded down. Close to even money here. Pick based on your needs.
Nike React Infinity Run (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size. The Nike is very similar in cushioning profiles, and has a very nice upper (though my pair needed some surgery with a leather punch to stop the rampant heel slippage), it ultimately has a smoother ride. The Topo’s upper is vastly superior with a toebox that puts the Nike to shame. While there is a $30 price difference, I might lean slightly toward to the Nike for the improved ride, though if you like a larger toebox (and you appreciate the craftsmanship of the best upper around) you wouldn’t be amiss to go Topo.
Sam: The Ultrafly 3 upper is light years more polished and comfortable than the Nike and especially so if you have wider feet which I don’t.. I am not a fan of React Infinity’s rails particularly the lateral ones, designed to stabilize the knee more than control pronation where the Ultrafly gently focuses on the medial side having a touch more actual pronation control than Infinity. I still lean towards the Nike for its smoother toe off and more consistent integration of outsole and midsole at the forefoot but both need work for my needs.
Brooks Levitate 4 (RTR Initial Video Review)
Sam: I had high hopes for the considerably lighter than predecessors Levitate 4 but… along with its pneumatic very measured rebounding DNA AMP midsole as with the Ultrafly it suffers from a thin outsole which is also continuous and barely segmented unlike the Ultrafly’s. Less pop than the Ultraflly and a knit upper which is similar to the 1080 from New Balance with a snug low over the toes fit, neither my preference, while the Topo’s blows them both away. Slight nod to the Ultrafly for its softer bouncier ride and lighter weight.
Brooks Ghost 13 (Initial Video Review)
If you are going soft, and the Ghost 13 now has soft DNA Loft all the way up the lateral side, give the shoe a solid thick rubber outsole and flexibility. That is what the Ghost delivers with copious amounts of thick, well segmented forefoot rubber. The difference in pop and toe off is notable and clearly felt in comparison to Ultrafly. Its upper is quite low over the midfoot and voluminous over the toes. So voluminous, or maybe not as foot conforming upfront, that there is a sense of the toes rising more than I would like which is not felt in the wider Ultrafly’s toe area. The Ultrafly’s upper is light years better in front hold while having equally if not more room. It is a close match between these two with the Ghost only getting the nod because of its superior forefoot rubber arrangement which makes an equally soft ride more dynamic.
Brooks Glycerin 18
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size. While it isn’t a Topo, the Brooks has a really nice sized toebox, and it has a comfortable upper paired with a well designed midsole. But up against the UltraFly 3, it doesn’t run as smoothly and the upper really pales in comparison. Unless you have a Brooks gift card, go UltraFly.
Brooks Transcend 7 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size. Very similar to the above comparison against the Glycerin, with the caveat that the Transcend is far more invasive when it comes to stability - so if you are a borderline neutral runner I’d stay away even moreso. No question, go with the lighter and more fun UltraFly.
New Balance 1080v10 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size. It’s funny how some shoes feel a certain way, then when worn against another shoe you can really spotlight an issue. For example, the upper of the 1080v10 is very comfortable and has the right amount of stretch, but when worn against the UltraFly the upper feels adequate and very stiff in the heel. Very similar ride between the two, with a smooth and bouncy ride, ultimately I’d break this down to the toe box - if you have narrow feet go New Balance, otherwise, give the Topo a shot.
Hope: I don’t know where Jeff is getting “bouncy” for the UF3. It’s a fine shoe, but the 1080v10 is much more dynamic, so it’d be my choice. I agree that the UF3 upper is more comfortable and accommodating to a wider variety of foot shapes.
Sam: Not a fan of the 1080’s knit upper particularly its toe box which presses too much on my dodgy big toes. Clear, clear win for the Ultrafly for me up top especially if you have a wider higher volume forefoot. Many found the 1080 a fantastic trainer, me less due to its thick and quite inflexible feeling forefoot and its upper. Firmer, more dynamic but also less bouncy than the Ultrafly, I would choose the Ultrafly over the 1080 for easier paces and the 1080 over Ultrafly for faster paced daily training.
Salomon Sonic 3 Confidence (RTR Review)
Jeff: UltraFly fits true-to-size, Confidence runs large. The Topo has the advantage in the upper, midsole, outsole, and ride, while I think the Confidence color scheme is better (not a big fan of black and white shoes), so obviously go Topo without hesitation.
Saucony Triumph 17 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size. My shoe of the year from last year, the Triumph 17 has an ultra-plush upper (and midsole) that makes the miles just tick by. Ultimately, I think the Topo upper is better (not quite as plush, but not nearly as bulky), while the PWRRUN+ midsole from Saucony is better than Topo’s Zip Foam. The Triumph toebox is great, but not Topo great. It’s close, but I’d still go Triumph - which should go to show how much I like the UltraFly.
Hope: Very different rides here! T17 is soft and bouncy, maybe verging on mushy. I think the T17 is more fun, but those needing a touch of stability might favor the UF3. Again, UF3 upper outclasses the competition.
Sam: Generally agree with Hope here on the stability and upper and would also say both are on the soft and mushy side, Triumph less so than Utlrafly particularly up front. Both have softer bouncier midsoles with the Triumph having a more effective integration of midsole and outsole and a touch more bounce than mush combining to give it more toe off pop. As Jeff says if you need the Topo room up front go that way. If you want a somewhat more dynamic ride head to the Triumph.
EUROPE Men's & Women's SHOP HERE
AUSTRALIA Men's & Women's SHOP HERE