Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Topo Athletic Phantom 2 Multi Tester Review

Article by Renee Krusemark, Michael Ellenberger, and Sam Winebaum

Topo Athletic Phantom 2 ($140)

Introduction

Sam: The Phantom is Topo’s max cushion daily trainer. Version 1 (RTR Review) had an all Zip Foam midsole. Zip Foam is Topo’s resilient somewhat bouncy and soft EVA/TPU blend foam. In version 1 the all ZipFoam midsole in combination with the geometry and 5mm dropwas a miss for me with a ponderous quite mushy and hard to move along ride. 


Phantom 2 retains Zip Foam as a central core and surrounds it with firmer EVA. I was eager to see what kind of difference in the ride this big change made. I was very pleased to see that while the overall weight of 10.7 oz / 303 g stayed about the same the overall stack height increased 3mm to a stout 33mm heel / 28mm forefoot with still in the mix Topo usual copious durable rubber. The stabilizing TPU heel overlay/piece is reduced in size to a clip instead of a full external wrap.


Of course one must introduce the upper. Topo consistently delivers a great secure fit for most foot shapes with a roomy anatomical toe box. With the Phantom 2 we get an engineered mesh upper with no overlays whatsoever. 

Pros:

  • Durable, comfortable for long runs Renee/Sam/Michael
  • Well held, overlay free, comfortable big toe box upper, even works for lower volume feet   Sam/Michael
  • Stable and very well cushioned with a touch of central softness and bounce Sam
  • Responsive and fast when pushing the pace up on the big forefoot platform Sam


Cons:

  • On the heavy side  Renee/Sam/Michael
  • Best suited for Topo-shaped feet Renee/Michael
  • Flat and low feeling rear of shoe at slower paces, slow to transition lacks rocker and decoupling Sam/Michael



Stats

Approx. Weight: men’s 10.7 oz  / 303g US9  women’s 8.88 oz / 252g US8

  Samples: men’s 10.4 oz  / 295g US8.5  women’s 8.88 oz / 252g US8

Prior version weight 10.7 oz / 303g US M9.

Full Stack Height: 33mm heel / 28mm forefoot  (plus 3mm from v1), 5 mm drop

Available   May 2021. $140


First Impressions and Fit

Renee: The Phantom 2 is a solid daily trainer/easy long run shoe that may go unnoticed because (for whatever reason) Topo does not get as much love as some other major shoe brands. I ran the Phantom 2 on runs from 3 to 17 miles on pavement and dirt/gravel. I found it to be a comfortable choice and recommend the shoes for runners who keep shoving their feet in narrow toe-box trainers. As for fit, I’m between a women’s 7.5 and 8 in most shoes, typically wearing a size 8. With Topo, I’m always a 7.5. The Phantom 2 has a very generous toe box, even Topo standards, so runners might consider a half size down. Even in a 7.5, I have plenty of room and the upper is overall generous in size without compromising a secure fit. 


Sam: Massive in appearance from its giant toe box and featureless big midsole sidewalls, the Phantom 2 clearly conveys a vibe that you will be well protected and in great comfort. 

The fit for my medium width feet is true to size, very secure, and with of course notable toe box room. The front mesh is soft and pliable with the toe bumper high and long but thankfully also not extending back over the top of the toes. 


Michael: I can’t say I was wowed at first unboxing; relatively heavy and equally plain-looking, the Phantom 2 isn’t quite the I-can’t-wait-to-put-miles-on-this trainer that Topo’s Cyclone was, when we tested back at the turn of the year. Still, I know from last year’s Phantom that the shoe sets itself up with a maximalist ride, appearances be damned, so I withheld my judgement until I got it out on the pavement. 


Upper

Renee: The upper is a now fairly common engineered mesh that is comfortable and allows for air to enter through the toe box. Like all mesh, it may get warm during 90-100 degree Fahrenheit runs. The shoes looks very wide throughout, including a massive toe box. The security and hold are good despite the volume and even for my low volume foot. I found the mid foot and heel security to be good. I used the Phantom 2 for moderate to easy paces, and I’m not too picky about upper security for those types of runs. The sample shoes sent by Topo have a mesh gusset on the tongue, which is not planned for the final version. I do not think this will change the security of feel. 


Sam: Renee describes the upper well. I am struck that this engineered mesh upper has no overlays at all yet works so well. 

The only reinforcements at mid foot are raised thread like areas of knit surrounding denser but not thicker panels of the same material. As Renee mentions, the mesh gusset in our test pairs will be removed and I have some concerns about the change in support for narrower lower volume feet with this change given the lack of overlays otherwise.









That said the lightly padded tongue has Topo’s excellent dual lace loops (yellow above) which, as in all the 2021 models we have tested, does a superb job keeping the tongue in place and helping the tongue wrap the foot.

The rear hold is very secure and also very plush as well given the rear TPU clip and not overdone collar padding. 

All in all a superb upper with great hold and comfort. One of the best of 2021 if not a light upper.


Michael: The Phantom 2 upper is, well, phantom-like in its barely-there presence and lack of overlays - for such a heavy and fulsome shoe, I’m impressed that Topo has kept much of the nonsense out of the upper here. While I had a half-size down from my usual, I found the toebox adequate (in the usual Topo fashion!) and the lockdown to be great. I didn't encounter any issues with the tongue moving laterally (which has plagued some past Topos), either! It’s extremely well-done, and probably the Phantom 2’s best feature.


Midsole

Sam: The midsole is dual density with a central core (bottom above)  of Topo’s lively EVA/TPU blend Zip Foam set in an outer carrier (side walls and directly underfoot) of firmer EVA. This is a significant change from version 1 which was all Zip Foam leading to a ride that was very soft and ponderous for me. Overall the stack height increases a big 3mm without an increase in weight.


With Phantom 2, the overall midsole  becomes firmer, and certainly firmer and also more responsive than Phantom 1.  The sensation is of a firm and stable platform around the outer edges of the midsole with a slight friendly rebounding soft sensation from the central Zip Foam core. This central softness of the Zip Foam can clearly be felt by pressing the blue layer through the window just ahead of the heel. 


The white foam being the more standard EVA as is the blue seen at the forefoot in the picture below which is painted to mask that big 28mm full stack height up front. 

The geometry has relatively little rocker,  is very flat on the ground front to back and is inherently stable. The shoe has a bit of flex up front so it is not a completely rigid rocker profile geometry. As such and with its 5mm drop I found it is best run at faster training paces  ( for me 9:00 minute miles and faster) when one can get off the  heel quicker. 


The feel up front at faster paces is dynamic  with the broad front platform providing lots of response ! At slower paces it is a bit lumbering, flat and low feeling but not mushy soft as v1 was. I think the rear midfoot geometry needs some work with more sculpting of the sidewalls, more of a rear rocker and a more extensive central groove to get the foot moving forward. More drop could also help by removing a bit of the front stack and moving it to the rear. 


Renee: The duel-density ZipFoam is meant to deliver a “cushioned, responsive ride.” I think that’s a fair description. The midsole is firm, but not hard, with some give for cushion. The stack height of 28mm/33mm provides plenty of cushion for long runs. My longest run was only 17 miles on hilly pavement, but my legs and feet were completely fresh afterward. I would not hesitate to run 20+ mile training runs with the Phantom 2. The responsiveness comes from the somewhat firm midsole (firm, not hard). I ran a few miles mixing in 10k paces, and the shoes worked fine for that too despite the weight. Overall, with the midsole and stack height, the shoes work best for me on easy long days on pavement or dirt/gravel.


Michael: I’m generally a fan of firmer shoes, and expected the ZipFoam blend here to really work with me - but I ended up having mixed feelings. While I appreciate that (as Renee put it) “firm, but not hard” composition, I didn’t come away feeling like it gave a lot of energy back in the same way that a New Balance FuelCell, ASICS FlyteFoam, or Nike ZoomX would. Now of course, those are considerably softer materials, and I didn’t go in expecting pure squish here - but even in comparison to some harder midsoles available, I found the ZipFoam EVA combination a bit middling.


What I did like was that, despite knowing that the Phantom 2 was in double-digit ounce range, I never felt as though I was strapping bricks underfoot. The midsole has enough zip (as the name would suggest) to it, but I really only noticed that at quicker tempos. For slower runs, while it’s not the weight that drags the shoe down, I didn’t feel like I was getting the full “zip” effect. A slightly softer blend might be a nice addition here.



Outsole

Renee: The outsole has enough rubber to provide a nice balance underfoot. For pavement runners, this will increase durability and prevent a “bottom-out” feel on long runs. I ran a lot of dirt/gravel with the Phantom 2, and the outsole provides enough traction (not great, but good) and some comfort.


Sam: While I said the slow paced ride is a bit flat and low feeling this is in no way due to the shoe bottoming out due to inadequate rubber. There is plenty of thick durable rubber front to back. Durability should be excellent. 

Michael: No complaints from me with regards to the outsole - I only put about 30 miles on the Phantom 2 (or a morning run’s worth, for Renee) but certainly didn’t experience any wear. There’s rubber where you need it (and then some), and tack on the road is also superb. Like I said - no complaints!


Ride

Renee: The ride is comforting for easy long runs for me, and the stack height works well in that regard as well. The 5mm drop helps with stability and stride, particularly when I am running on country roads. With a low volume foot shape, I do not get a perfect foot landing with the shoe shape, but that’s a personal note. The shoes are a bit heavy for my preference, but with the stack height and cushion, the shoes deliver a fair balance as a long distance trainer.


Sam: We have a tale of two rides here. At slower paces the Phantom is just fine but a bit low feeling, flat and back weighted with the broad forefoot not as easy to “reach” as I would like  


As the pace picks up and I get off the heel things change quite dramatically with a dynamic, stable, and responsive pop off the broad forefoot. It is a shoe that is best run at daily training paces for me and not so much for recovery paces. 


Overall the ride through the combination of firmer stabilizing side walls surrounding the softer center Zip Foam is very stable and consistent. An exciting ride no but reliable and very well cushioned with for all intents and purposes zero road shock transmitted. 


Michael: I tipped my hand in the “Midsole” section, above, but I’ll reiterate - while I think ZipFoam lives true to its name at quicker paces (no small feat, for a higher-stack trainer), in providing a zippy, nimble, and often fun ride… I found it considerably more lackluster at slower paces, without any shaping or rocker to move you forward, and compounded with a slightly firmer-than-desired blend of midsole foam. While admittedly this next point may factor into all of what I’ve just put forth above, I will be the first to say I like the 5mm offset that Topo designed here. I think the low-but-not-zero drop is a wise and practical choice that helps you utilize that wider toebox and more natural footstrike while still avoiding some of the harshness that can come from a zero-drop trainer - especially one designed for high-mileage training.



Conclusions and Recommendations

Road Scoring Rubric


Renee: The Phantom 2 is a solid daily trainer and/or easy day long run shoe and is worth a try. Daily trainers without a “super midsole” might lack flare and excitement, but I need at least one in my rotation, preferably one that can handle long distances on pavement and gravel. 


Between the midsole, stack height, low drop, comfortable upper, and good outsole coverage the Phantom 2 delivers for me. I have no strong negatives for this shoe for what it is. I do not have a “Topo-shaped” foot, so the toe box and roll forward do not perfectly compliment my foot and natural stride. I like a wide toe box, but the Phantom 2 has too much room for me. The shoes are a bit heavy, but not drastically so compared to Other high cushion, durable trainers. I think some runners can use the Phantom 2 for a variety of runs, although for me they work best in the easy, long-run category.

Renee’s score: 8.8/10 

(-.75 weight, -.35 high volume fit/very wide toe box,-.10 best used only for slow, long runs)


Sam: The Phantom 2 is a quite dramatic improvement over the ponderous and soft first version. With a big stack of 33/28, 3mm more than v1 so we are way up there in cushion,  and a now more dynamic combination of Zip Foam and EVA this is a big shoe that likes to move along. Its pace range is somewhat limited for me to faster paces as at slower paces they are flat feeling with the broad forefoot somewhat hard to get up onto. I am a heel striker at slow paces so those who midfoot or forefoot strike at slower paces likely will experience less of that flat feel. At all paces the amount of cushion balances lots of shock free protection with some pop. 


While admirable that Topo kept the weight essentially the same with more shoe underfoot at 10.7 oz, the weight is up there for my daily training preferences. I like to be 10 oz or lower for daily training and given what I experienced at slower paces (say as a recovery run type shoe which it could easily be if it had better slow pace flow off the heel)  the value for me suffers a bit although in terms of durability I expect excellent longevity. I would add they make a supremely comfortable walking and all day wear shoe


The clear highlight is the upper. So much well held foot splay, a secure mid foot, and locked down heel all in an upper with no overlays with the well implemented heel clip and toe bumper doing all the heavy lockdown lifting and with the whole upper delightfully comfortable.

Sam’s Score 8.89 / 10

Ride: 8.5 (50%) Fit: 9.8 (30%) Value: 8.5 (15%) Style: 8.5 (5%)


Michael: Last year’s Phantom had its benefits, to be sure, but was ultimately a bit of a middling performer for me. We’ve seen Topo Athletic absolutely hit a home run with its 2021 Cyclone, so my hopes were high, but my expectations in check with the Phantom 2. And ultimately, what I got was a shoe that is better than its predecessor, but once again hard to choose in the already-crowded max cushion category. A softer, more dynamic midsole may benefit the Phantom here, if it’s achievable - but the Phantom should still have a place in the lineup for Topo fans seeking a cushioned, supportive ride for the long haul.

Michael’s Score: 8.8 / 10


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Topo Phantom 1 (RTR Review)
Sam: Phantom 2 is firmer, more responsive, more cushioned and a faster shoe. While the geometry doesn't change much, expect for 3mm more stack height at the same weight as v1, the ride does and for the better for me as I found v1 ponderous and overly soft. Both feel flat at slower paces back on the heels with v2 definitely improved in that regard and with said in v2 once off the heels or at faster paces things move along far better than they did in v1. Nothing wrong with v1's upper but v2 with approximately the same fit is more comfortable and softer on the foot.

Topo Zephyr (RTR Review)

Sam: An ounce lighter with a lower 28/23 stack height the Zephyr has a similar Zip Foam core outer EVA midsoles construction, it adds a hardened Pebax stabilizing shank (I think unnecessary and in the way of transitions at all but fast paces for me as a heel striker at slow paces).  The ride is similar in that this is a shoe that favors faster off the heels running as Zephyr also feels low and flat at slower paces. If you like the Zephyr and want a more cushioned version of the same ride the Phantom can make a good pairing. 


Topo MTN Racer 2 (RTR Review)

Renee: The MTN Racer 2 makes a good trail companion to the Phantom 2. The Phantom 2 has enough rubber on the outsole for buffed, even surfaces (off pavement), but the MTN Racer 2 is obviously a better technical trail choice. Both have the Topo fit, with the MTN Racer 2 providing better ground feel and a more secure upper. I wore a women’s size 7.5 in both, having more space in the Phantom’s as compared to the MTN Racer 2. 

Sam: I am going to take a different tack and say while yes you will notice the MTN Racer 2 Vibram MegaGrip in the mix on the road and a touch less cushion as we have a 30/25 stack vs 33/28 for Phantom and a somewhat more secure if not as plush upper,  the MTN Racer 2  is the first Topo I have run with a nice front rocker (missing from Phantom) and is clearly in the mix on the road, with a considerably easier transition from the heel even on road and even weighs a bit less. Given its versatility for both road and trail with of course a trail focus it is a better value and a more fun shoe to run on both road and trail.


Topo Cyclone (RTR Review)

Michael: Like Sam said with the Zephyr, I think the Phantom and the Cyclone do make adequate training companions - the Cyclone for quicker runs, the Phantom for anything easier - but the middling performance of the Phantom 2 where it should excel (slow running) make me question that paradigm slightly. While Topo fans will no doubt be happy with the Phantom 2’s improvements over last year, I think a lot of runners could get away with only using the Cyclone.


Saucony Endorphin Shift (RTR Review)

Sam: Very similar in cushion feel, the Shift has yet more stack height at 38/24 of PWRRUN a TPU EVA blends and ends up a touch firmer overall. Its extended external medial heel cup and almost as substantial lateral one as well as midfoot  rubber has them more stable than Phantom and that is saying alot as Phantom is very stable. The rocker geometry of the Shift and final Speed Roll has them handling all paces t better than Phantom for me despite a slight 0.3 oz weight penalty. In terms of upper nothing wrong with Shift’s, but overall and especially if you need a broader toe box no contest Phantom.


Michael: This is a foregone conclusion, but it’s not so much the faults of the Topo that doomed it, but rather the excellence of the Shift. Seriously, the Endorphin Shift is, for my money, the best “maximalist” cushion trainer yet, and an exceedingly fun shoe for both slow and fast running. The rocker technology through the midsole means you can maintain a higher cadence at any pace, and the PWRRUN midsole is superior to the Zipfoam blend inside the Phantom 2. Get the Saucony.


Saucony Axon (RTR Review)

Sam: Well over one ounce and $40 lighter, the Axon relies on a well (better executed) rigid rocker to move along handling slower paces better than Phantom for me and faster paces quite close if with less pop and response. Cushioning is about equal with the Phantom firmer overall. It’s upper while fine does not have the polish and combination of roominess and solid hold of the Phantom. While Phantom out does Axon a faster paces in terms of pop and response and likely longevity it ends up less pace versatile and heavier feeling with a less effective geometry.

 

Saucony Triumph 18 (RTR Review)

Sam: With about a 33/25mm stack height and a 8 mm drop vs the 33/28mm here the Saucony is easier to transition and run at slower paces but lags the Phantom as the pace picks up. 0.4 oz heavier (and felt) It has a softer all TPU PWRRUN+midsole with some springy bounce with its outsole providing some stability.  The higher drop of the Triumph is clearly felt as a positive at slower paces vs. the Phantom but as the pace picks up its softness and weight becomes cumbersome in comparison. For me it is a slow days shoe whereas the Phantom leans and performs best for me at faster paces. The rear of its upper is very similar in its hold, a bit more secure while upfront its toe box is for sure narrower and shorter than Phantom’s. 


Nike Invincible Run Fk (RTR Review)

Sam: The Invincible has a way bouncier and softer (and more fun and dynamic) ZoomX ride on about one ounce lighter platform with equivalent cushion. The Phantom is more stable (an important consideration as the Invincible is not the most stable) , has a more durable outsole, and a roomier more polished upper.  The Invincible is more flexible with a final distinct toe off effect off its soft front while the Phantom has a longer flex and more front snap at faster paces although not it is not as agile and quick feeling due to its geometry and additional weight.


New Balance Fresh Foam More v3 (RTR Review)

Sam: The More v3 checks in at 0.7 oz less than the Phantom on a 33/29mm stack height so almost exactly the same stack height as the Phantom with 1mm more upfront. The ride is softer and bouncier overall as unlike Phantom there is no outer carrier of firmer foam and as such it is slightly less stable as well. The More v3 pulls off the low drop transition better than the Phantom at slower paces with a smoother easier less flat feeling if a bit wobblier flow.  At faster paces while the Phantom forefoot has a decisive responsive feel the More v3 has a bouncier impulse. Due to its lighter weight and wider pace range for me the More v3 is a more versatile if shakier riding choice. Both uppers are excellent in their hold with the Phantom a bit more luxurious in feel and with more toe box room. 


Skechers GO Run Ride 9 (RTR Review)

Sam: The May releasing Ride 9 has an excellent smooth flow at all paces on a somewhat firmer riding but springier midsole with plenty of front flex. Ride 9 is a more versatile any pace daily trainer. A closer comparison might be the Ride 8 with its stiffer flexing front and somewhat more stable geometry than Ride 9 and which in the 8 is much like Phantom's. In that match up the Phantom’s stronger front response  at faster paces  with equivalent cushion and a far superior upper pulls it ahead of the Ride 8 for sure. 


New Balance 880v11 (RTR Review)

Renee: Both the 880v11 and Phantom 2 occupy a place as daily trainers that work best for me on easy long runs. The 880 is lighter and runs lighter, and it has a narrower fitting upper. I do not find the toe box of the 880 constricting, but wide footer runners might. Overall, with a low volume foot, the 880 fits me better and more securely. I like lighter shoes too, so between the two, the 880 is my choice. That said, if I need more stack height on uneven surfaces, I’ll choose the Phantom 2 for its lower drop and greater height. I wore a size 7.5 in the Phantom and size 8 in the 880. Even in a half size smaller, I have much more room in the toe box in the Phantom. 


Nike Zoom Pegasus 37 (RTR Review)

Renee: As a daily trainer and performance shoe, most runners will likely prefer the Pegasus 37. The Pegasus is much lighter too. Unfortunately, the Pegasus did not work for me between its firm, inflexible ride and high drop. For runners who need more room in the upper/toe box, need more stack height, and like a lower drop with a more natural feel, the Phantom 2 might work best. I wore a size 8 in the Pegasus as compared to a size 7.5 in the Phantom. 


Michael: This is a close call for me; the Topo Phantom 2 and Pegasus both run a little firm (for different reasons - the Nike’s being the Air Zoom units underfoot). I think ultimately I do prefer the Peg 37, though, because it’s more lightweight profile and terrific upper (not to knock the Topo!) lend it a more dynamic feel than the Phantom 2. 



1 comment:

Jesper said...

Thanks for the review! How would you say it compares to Altra’s high cushion road shoes (Paradigm and Torin Plush)?