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Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Topo Athletic Ultrafly 4 Multi Tester Review

Article by Joost de Raeymaeker, Jeff Beck, and Alex Tilsely

Topo Athletic Ultrafly 4 ($135)


Introduction


Joost:The Ultrafly is Topo’s mild stability shoe, for those runners who need that little bit of medial support and a little more drop than the traditional Topo models. It’s basically a Magnifly (review here) with a medial post, 5mm drop, a firmer heel counter and a slightly different outsole configuration. The key characteristic of the Ultrafly 4 is comfort and a smooth ride with light support. Changes from version 3 seem to be limited to the upper and heel counter. Weight listed is exactly the same as for that version. List price is $135, in line with last year’s version.


Pros:

Joost/Jeff/Alex: Very comfortable upper

Joost: Great looking on foot in bright red colorway

Joost/Jeff/Alex: Zipfoam is a soft firm for those who appreciate it

Joost/Jeff/Alex: Foot shape and light arch support for wider feet.

Jeff: Support is effectively non-existent for neutral runners

Alex: Great walking shoe


Cons:

Joost/Jeff/Alex: Zipfoam is starting to show its age, feeling a little dull compared to some of the other options around

Joost/Jeff: Ride characteristics. Roll-through and toe off are not very fluid.

Alex: Laces don’t hold as securely as they could


Stats

  Official: M9 272g / 9.6 oz, W7 218g / 7.7 oz

  Samples: men’s10.02 oz  /  284g (US9.5)| 10.58 oz / 300g (US10.5)

Stack Height: men’s 28mm heel / 23mm forefoot :: women’s  heel 28mm / 23mm forefoot

Available May 2022


Tester Profiles

Joost is a Belgian in his 50s living in Luanda, Angola, Africa, where he faces the heat, humidity and general chaos to run anything between 60-100 miles per week. He’s on a mission to win in his age group in the 6 marathon majors and has completed half of his project, with a 2:26:10 PB in Berlin in 2019 at 51. He ran in primary school, but then thought it would be a lot cooler to be a guitar player in a hard rock band, only picking up running again in 2012, gradually improving his results.


Jeff is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup, and 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 on roads and trails around Denver, CO (and sometimes on the treadmill when the weather gets too much for a Phoenix native). Jeff only got into running in his 30s, as a result his career PR's are 4:07 for the marathon and 5K at 23:39. Jeff has finished several ultra marathons, from 50K up to 50 miles, and is still debating if he wants to go down that road again.


Alex Tilsley is a displaced trail runner, currently living in DC and finding dirt wherever she can. Alex discovered running in college and was a happy 3-miles-a-day hobby jogger until her mom tricked her into running a 10k and it was all downhill from there. She has since run several marathons (PR 3:38) and dabbled in triathlons, but her true love is the trails, whether running, mountain biking, orienteering, or long-distance backpacking. When she’s not running or riding, Alex works full-time in education policy and part-time putting on trail races with EX2 Adventures


First Impressions and Fit

Joost: Unexpectedly, a pair of bright red Topo shoes arrived at my door. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reviewing and wearing their shoes, so I was curious what might actually be in the box. The colorway is definitely eye-catching and I can say that apart from running in them, I’ve worn them with great success as a casual shoe. They look equally fantastic with jeans as with a pair of running shorts. Since I recently reviewed the Magnifly 4 (RTR Review), step-in was very familiar. 

The great foot-shaped front of the shoe gives me ample space to accommodate my wide feet and there’s the usual Topo light arch support, which I really enjoy. I could feel the difference in drop (5mm vs 0mm) and the medial post and the more firm heel, but the difference wasn’t that big without actually running in them. 

They fit true to size for me. Let’s dig in.


Jeff: I’m with Joost, it’s a very striking shoe and I appreciate Topo for going with my favorite football team, the Arizona Cardinals, for color schemes. I’ve reviewed the Ultrafly 2 and 3 over the last few years, so I wasn’t shocked with the fit and feel of the 4. On the contrary, this shoe is so reminiscent of the previous model it may usurp the Deja Vu award away from Saucony for the Ride 13/14. 

The fit is pretty standard for Topo, a really massive toebox with a well-fitted midfoot and heel that lengthwise is spot on true-to-size.


Alex: The mint/green women’s colorway seems to have been a miss for many, but I actually love it – it’s understated enough to wear with jeans but still has some color to it. Looks aside, stepping into the Ultrafly 4 felt like stepping into virtually every other Topo shoe I’ve tried. The length (women’s 6.5 for me) is right, the toe box generous, but the hold still secure through the midfoot. Like Jeff, I had run in earlier versions of the Ultrafly, and putting on the 4 felt very familiar. Having liked but not loved the Ultrafly 2, I was interested to see if anything would feel different on the run. 


Upper

Joost: I didn’t get to test the previous version of the Ultrafly, so I can’t tell you if the upper, which Jeff found fantastic, improved or not. It is a very flexible and soft double layer engineered mesh with ample holes for breathability in the top part of the upper. 

There is toe lift providing ample volume in the toe area. 

Midfoot hold is good with a slightly reinforced thin flexible plastic eyestay arrayed on either side but not across the bottom as shown above. 

One for the bottom 4 eyelets and another triangular one that’s part of the collar. This aids with flexibility in that area, while adding enough support for the flat, somewhat flexible laces. The tongue is softer than in the Magnifly and lightly padded. I had no issues with hot spots here or in any other part of the upper. The usual 2 small loops in the tongue help avoid slippage. 


Towards the heel, the collar is sufficiently padded and reinforced with thicker, ribbed fabric in the heel. 

The bottom of the heel counter is a firm, but still somewhat flexible TPU piece that replaces the shiny piece of last year’s model. It offers a nice amount of heel stability without being too rigid. 

Jeff: Joost isn’t wrong, in the Ultrafly 3 review I called the upper one of the best in the game, and the 4 isn’t a disappointment from that legacy. It’s still a very comfortable mesh that is plenty breathable and borderline plush while still being pretty thin. 

The 4’s tongue is slightly thicker, which is nice, and the tongue extends just a little bit higher. 


Both tongue changes are subtle, and really only noticeable when worn A/B against the UF3. I’d still say this is one of the most comfortable uppers around, with virtually zero drawbacks or flaws.


Alex: I also love this upper. It’s flexible, light, breathable, but still secure. It doesn’t crease in any weird places, but it’s not sloppy, either. The padded heel and tongue add to the plush feel without creating unnecessary rigidity. My only nitpick is the laces – they’re a little thin, and I found that out on the run I’d have to occasionally stop and retie my shoes to keep the tight hold that I like. 


Midsole

Joost: By now, very familiar Zipfoam, and not too different from the Magnifly 4. That shoe has a 25mm stack in the forefoot and the heel, while the Ultrafly 4 has 28mm in the heel and 23mm in the toe area. The 5mm drop doesn’t feel like too much for people who prefer low-drop shoes. 

The main difference with the Magnifly is the firmer red medial piece of foam which is, apart from the heel counter, the only added stability element. Topo shoes, with their wide toe box and base are inherently stable, but some runners might need a little bit extra medial stability for their daily grind or their long runs. 

Zipfoam itself is ok, but compared to the more reactive foams out there on lots of modern shoes like Zoomx, Hyperburst, Flytefoam FF, Nitro to name a few, it is starting to show its age. It doesn’t feel all that zippy compared to those other foams. Still, it’s soft enough without bottoming out. There’s enough decoupling in the heel to make the stability element work well, without being too much. The front has grooves going across the forefoot for flexibility. 

Jeff: Another element of the shoe that hasn’t really changed, the midsole is unchanged from the UF3. Joost is absolutely correct. It’s not a terrible midsole, but compared to the incredible options out there, just coming in as “okay” is underwhelming. Even sticking with the more pedestrian bigger cushioned trainers that aren’t usually lauded for their responsiveness (Brooks Glycerin 20, New Balance 1080v12, adidas Adistar, ASICS Nimbus 24) Zipfoam pales in comparison. But, runners who prefer a firmer-yet-still-cushioned ride and minimal bounce will appreciate the UF4.


Alex: I agree with Jeff and Joost here. The Zipfoam midsole is fine. Some of the more innovative midsoles lately can be very hit or miss, working for some runners and strides and not for others. The midsole in the Ultrafly 4, in contrast, seems like it could work for anybody, but it’s not going to wow anybody, either. It falls into that firm but cushioned category – certainly not a plush ride, but you’re protected from the ground, and it’s not too harsh. The word that came to mind as I was running was dense — it feels like there’s a lot there, and you don’t really sink into it but you don’t really bounce off of it, either. The medial post is noticeable while walking, but fades away on the run, making the midsole a fine option for neutral runners who want a little more stability from time to time. 


Outsole

Joost: At first, I thought the outsole rubber under the medial post was harder than the rest of the midsole, but I’m convinced that was just an impression because of the harder underlying piece of midsole. There is 3mm of rubber in the most critical areas with good traction. 

My only comment is that the middle of the toe-off area hasn’t got any rubber. 

As Sam said in his review of the previous version (RTR Review), this makes for a more difficult toe-off.


Jeff: The outsole is also unchanged from the UF3, with ample rubber providing both durability and grip. The channels in the rubber make sure the outsole doesn’t make the shoe any stiffer, and allows some flexibility. While it isn’t specifically a trail shoe, I’ve logged some decent miles over the years on dirt in the Ultrafly series, the outsole is plenty for tamer trails.

Alex: The rubber on the outsole has great grip (this is one of the shoes I grab when it’s rainy and slick), and the outsole seems designed to add a little flexibility to the shoe (or at least, not make it any stiffer) with a break in the rubber right around the metatarsal. This seems to work fine, though this is fundamentally not a flexible shoe, and the outsole can’t change that.


Ride

Joost: The Ultrafly 4 does exactly what it sets out to do: offer light stability in a comfortable package. Ride quality is a bit of a mixed bag for me. This is only my second ever pair of what used to be called motion control shoes and I can say that they don’t really sit well with my stride. I always feel like there’s something in the way of moving the way I want to, so the combination of the not very reactive Zipfoam and  the medial post makes the ride feel a little unnatural. I pronate quite a bit, but have never felt the need to limit that in any way. Still, the control characteristics of the Ultrafly are quite subtle, so I can imagine that for those who actually need to control their pronation a bit, or just add some stability in the heel area, this might actually be the right shoe for their daily grind or their long runs. 


Jeff: We touched on it in the midsole section, but the ride is lacking by 2022 standards. While many shoes have found ways to be both soft and bouncy, the Ultrafly 4 doesn’t hit either mark. While it runs virtually the same as the UF3, which I called “smooth and bouncy” but nearly two years later benchmarks have changed, and I wouldn’t say the same for the 4. However, I know many runners are strongly against the soft-and-bouncy shift we’ve seen in running shoes over the last few years, and the UF4 proudly bucks that trend.


Alex: I had to run in this shoe a lot to figure out what I was going to say about the ride because nothing really stood out to me. It’s not bad or offensive in any way, but it’s not memorable, either. As noted above, the midsole feels sort of dense and not particularly zippy, making for a ride that can feel a little heavy and plodding. During  pickups/strides this shoe definitely runs heavy, and you don’t get much pop out of it. The lack of flexibility around the forefoot makes for a labored toe off and is noticeable at faster paces. For slower recovery runs or runs where I was back on my heels a bit, the ride was fine, though I might opt for something a little more plush. 


On the positive side, though, I love the Ultrafly 4 as a walking shoe. The same thing happened to me with Ultrafly 2. The upper is for sure comfortable, the toebox so accommodating, and the midsole is just the right amount of protection and support for walking all day. I end up wearing these to walk to work (about 3 miles), and the bonus is I can jog home in them if I decide I want a few more miles. (And none of the negatives about the ride really matter when you’re plodding 3 miles home with a backpack at the end of a long day). 


Conclusions and Recommendations


Joost: Resuming: foot shape shoe with nice wide toe box, very comfortable luxurious feeling upper, low drop without being 0, medial and heel support, decent traditional feeling midsole. If that ticks your boxes, this is the shoe for you. If not, and you’re curious about Topo, look at the other Topo shoes I reviewed for RoadTrailRun. 

Joost’s Score: 8.4/10

Ride: 7.5 (50%) Fit: 9.5 (30%) Value: 9 (15%) Style: 9 (5%)


Jeff: Topo leaned into the strengths of the UF3 and made an incredible upper even better, but nothing else really changed. And while we’ve seen other shoes barely iterate from one version to the next, between the two year release gap and trends shifting, the UF4 feels underwhelming underfoot. The dull ride and decent, but not great, cushioning make it hard to want to log big miles in the UF4, but the supremely comfortable upper makes me want to wear them - even if just for walks or casual wear. I look forward to what the UF5 brings, and wonder if they can make the upper better than perfect.

Jeff’s Score: 7.55/10

Ride: 6 (50%) Fit: 10 (30%) Value: 7 (15%) Style: 10 (5%)


Alex: My personal use case for the UF4 is as a walking shoe that can also handle the occasional run. If you want a foot-shaped toe box and a non-zero drop with a firm cushion, the UF4 is a great choice. For me, that combination of factors is better suited to walking than running, but others may find it’s what they like out on the run or may benefit from the added stability. If you prefer a zippier or softer ride, I’d lean toward some of Topo’s other fantastic options, but I think the UF4 could be a good every day shoe for a certain type of runner. 

Alex’s Score: 8.4/10

Ride: 7.5, Fit: 9.5, Value: 9, Style: 9


9 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE


Topo Athletic Ultrafly 3  (RTR Review)

Jeff (M10.5 in both)

Truly they are effectively the same shoe. Under foot is completely identical, while the upper is slightly redesigned, but not much has really changed. The slightly improved tongue is nice, but the last version didn’t suffer from any tongue issues.


Topo Athletic Magnifly 4 (RTR Review)

Joost (M9.5 in both):

The Ultrafly 4 is the stability version of the Magnifly 4. 5mm drop instead of 0mm, comparable average stack height, similar upper. If you want to go 0 drop for your grind and long runs, go Magnifly. If you need a little drop and some added stability, go for the Ultrafly 4.


Saucony Guide 15 (RTR Review)

Joost (M9.5 in both):

The Guide 15 is the superior shoe for me because of its midsole and ride, but I do prefer the upper and foot shape of the Ultrafly 4. Topo is just the best fitting brand I’ve tried for my wide feet. I hope they update their midsole material for the next version.


Brooks Glycerin 20 (RTR Review)

Joost (M9.5 in both):

I tested the non-GTS or non support regular version of the Glycerin. Another case of a better midsole foam in the Brooks. DNA Loft v3 is a really nice-riding foam. The knit upper of the Glycerin 20 is a bit too warm for the tropics, though. When going for an easy or recovery run, I would probably go with the Glycerin.


Jeff (M10.5 in both)

I tested the non-GTS and standard upper of the Glycerin 20, and Joost is correct, the midsole makes a world of difference. The standard mesh upper is plenty breathable, and might be the closest upper I’ve run in that can hold a candle to the Ultrafly 4’s masterpiece. But underfoot they are two different stories, with the Brooks winning handily.


Diadora Equipe Atomo (RTR Review)

Joost (M9.5 in both)

On looks only, the Diadora is the uncontested winner. It’s not really a stability shoe, but rides a bit like one. The Ultrafly is definitely more comfortable for my feet, so I would pick it for anything over 30 minutes. It is also a lot better value for money. 


New Balance 1080v12 (RTR Review)

Jeff (M10.5 in both)

New Balance has been sticking with Fresh Foam, their EVA based less exciting midsole (compared to the more dynamic FuelCell) in their big cushioned daily trainer, and the 12 was a home run giving a soft cushion to land on with a wide and stable platform. The heel issues of the past had been resolved, and the upper has some nice stretch in all the right places. Hands down softer and more runnable than the UF4.


ASICS Nimbus 24 (RTR Review)

Jeff (M10.5 in both) 

Historically one of the more underwhelming-but-well-cushioned shoes on the market, ASICS nailed it with the 24 blending soft and bouncy very well, and pairing it with an improved upper. While it doesn’t have the toebox width of the Topo, the ASICS wins in all other categories.


adidas Adistar (RTR Review)

Jeff (M10.5 in both)

A new model this year from adidas, the Adistar went with a similar multi-density midsole electing to go super firm in the heel to provide some extra stability. The shoe had some issues from that ultra-firm material, but the rest of the midsole was a standard EVA that has much more give than Topo’s Zipfoam. Heel strikers may have issues with the adidas, but it’s extra cushioning and squish is very appreciated.


Altra Paradigm 6 (RTR Review)

Jeff (M10.5 in both)

Probably the closest parallel on this list, the Paradigm is Altra’s big cushion road shoe - making it and the Ultrafly the two big toebox big cushion trainers. Their uppers are similar, both a breathable mesh, while the Topo midfoot and heel fit are much more dialed in, the Altra midsole, Ego Max, is much more pleasant to run in at all speeds.

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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7 comments:

  1. Thanks very much for the review-what other releases is Topo planning? My understanding is that they didn’t display during some of the trade shows- can you guys share any info. Thanks

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