Sunday, April 30, 2023

Topo Athletic Phantom 3 Review: Softer More Energetic Zip Foam, Elegantly Effective Roomy Upper & Big Weight Drop - 11 Comparisons

Article by Jeff Beck and Sam Winebaum

Topo Athletic Phantom 3 ($145)


Sam: Topo has been on a tear in 2023 with multiple great shoes for road and trail including the Specter, Cyclone 2, MTN Racer 3 and Ultraventure 3. It's early in the year but Topo, comparatively a tiny brand is on my short list for brand of the year 2023.  

All feature updated geometries and foams, lighter weights, yet more elegant and excellent uppers, and super fun rides.  A key highlight has been Topo’s new Zip Foam 2 which is in the Ultraventure 3 and MTN Racer 3 and now comes to the Phantom, delivering far more energetic and lighter rides than the earlier Zip Foam which quite frankly had little zip. Now it is well named!

The Phantom 3 is a road trainer with a 33mm heel / 28 mm forefoot stack so I would say at the lower edge of what I would call max cushion. It is a neutral shoe but its broad 90mm midfoot platform and quite vertical medial side walls give it some inherent stability. In the Topo line, only the Specter with a 35mm heel / 30 mm forefoot is higher stacked with an EVA outer frame with a PEBAX insert whereas the Phantom 3 has all Zip Foam in 2 densities. 

It sees a dramatic 1.2 oz / 35g drop in weight from its predecessor to about men's 9.43 oz  / 267g (US9) mostly due to the use of Zip Foam 2 which is of course lighter but also softer and with more energy return. The midsole is dual density Zip Foam 2 with the softer foam closer to the foot.

The Phantom 3’s upper is simplified and lightened as well. It certainly retains Topo's signature natural shaped and broad toe box. 

The thin, very pliable upper upper is almost miraculous in its simplicity and smooth secure fit having no overlays or underlays and no gusset tongue (as in v2) and with only a rear TPU plastic external  clip. 

Phantom 1 was a miss for me for its ponderous, stiff ride, v2 was better but heavy and still flat feeling. Now with a much lighter Phantom I was very curious to find out how it would run.


Versatile: most daily mileage paces to long run to recovery Sam/Jeff

Dual density Zip Foam 2 and geometry: a highly cushioned, reasonably soft, energetic, well weight balanced, quiet and never ponderous ride: Sam/Jeff

A highish 28mm forefoot stack, non plated, 5 mm drop shoe that actually flexes and works at all paces: Sam/Jeff

Big1.2 oz / 35g drop in weight to a light 9.18 oz US8.5 is for sure felt on the run: Sam

Vertical medial side walls and quite broad 80mm midfoot platform add a bit pronation support to this neutral: Sam

Yet another wonderful Topo upper: elegant in its simplicity, broad toe box, well held, and smooth fitting even on my narrower feet: Sam/Jeff

Great walking shoe to rival the Hokas: Sam


A bit of sides heel looseness  for my narrower low volume foot Sam

Topo likely will never do it, wish it was an 8mm drop to more easily roll forward at slow paces: Sam

Pronounced arch support dug into the foot on longer efforts: Jeff


Estimated Weight: men's 9.43 oz  / 267g (US9)  /  women's oz / g (US8)

  Samples: men’s  9.18 oz  / 260g US8.5, , 10.01 oz / 284g US10.5

  (v2 10.4 oz / 295g US8.5)

Stack Height: men’s mm 33 heel / 28 mm forefoot, 5mm drop

$145 and available now at Topo HERE

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Sam: A spectacular looking shoe in my blue and yellow. The design with no overlays and only 2 colors conveys an elegant simplicity and  care in including only what is necessary with no frills.

I was worried that in an upper with such a pliable soft mesh with no overlays or gusset tongue I would be swimming around. Not the case.

Of course one’s eye is immediately drawn to the broad anatomical toe box Topo is known for. It is broad but for my narrower feet the front hold, helped by a fairly stout toe bumper, is just fine with notable splay for my toes which feels great with no only room but a wonderful feeling of drive off the front with the breadth of my foot fully in the action.

Holding the shoe in hand everything is super soft and pliable from the toe box through lace up. 

Lace up is easy and secure with Topo excellent top of tongue lace loops seen in almost all their shoes keeping the moderately padded tongue anchored. 

Foot hold at midfoot is secure if higher volume and is more comfort oriented than high performance. The Ortholite sockliner with gently rising substantial medial side walls sure helps with lockdown and a touch of stability. 

Towards the rear things get stouter and this is where hold is key. 

The collars are relatively rigid and very decently padded if less so than in v2. I did note some minor side to side slip at the heel. My sense is a bit deeper achilles and just forward padding might help better secure my heel.

The heel counter is rigid down low and backed by an external TPU clip or collar (where the branding is above) to stabilize landing.  It is somewhat more pliable than the v2’s clip which was very rigid.

The fit is true to my size (US8.5) and as said above on the comfort side rather than performance. 

I am always amazed Topo pulls off both a broad toe box with such soft pliable mesh with no “add ons” so well. Actually no one except Topo pulls off such uppers off in my experience!

Jeff: Last thing first, I’m 100% with Sam on the upper. Topo almost reinvented the engineered mesh wheel a few years ago with Ultrafly 3 upper - and they’ve only made things slightly better since then. My foot is on the opposite side of the spectrum from Sam’s narrower lower volume foot, and as a result Topo’s fit usually works well for my feet and the Phantom 3 is no departure from the norm. I wouldn’t mind a heel pull tab, but that’s my only gripe about the upper. It’s one of those examples where it does everything some level of right, and nothing any type of wrong.

Fit-wise is true-to-size for length, and it’s a Topo, so it’s a given that the toebox is great.  As Sam mentioned, the midsole platform is a little wider than many other shoes in this space, but I don’t think you’ll need a wide foot to appreciate the space. I’m also on board with the “elegant simplicity” description, both in color and design.


Sam: The Phantom 3 is updated with dual density softer and much lighter Zip Foams with the layer directly under foot and in the center somewhat softer than the lower layer and side walls surrounding it, so it has a softer core.  You can see the softer central area through the outsole at the heel with the window to the inner core the start of the effective decoupling groove running to the front.

The actual dual density construction is unchanged as far as I can tell. It is just the foams that are changed to the new lighter and softer Zip Foam 2’s.

The new foam and its construction is a very reasonable blend of shock absorption, softness, rebound and some response. Think of a livelier, more airy feeling Saucony PWRRUN or a bit more quicker responding ASICS FlyteFoam Blast +. It has shades of a supercritical foam but it is not, as far as we know. 

The outsole and midsole are all of a piece in feel with a notably “quiet” ride for such a big shoe.  A quiet big shoe to me usually indicates well designed flex and good integration of outsole and midsole firmness.  

Contributing to the quiet ride and to the easy smooth toe off is a more flexible front of the shoe than v2 and certainly v1. As a heel striker at slower paces, I found v1 particularly ponderous to transition and toe off and while v2 was improved in that respect v3 is significantly smoother and easier to move along at all paces.

As noted above, we have a 5mm drop and it is an “honest” 5mm. By this I mean the rear of the shoe is not so soft or unstable that it feels lower as some softer low drop shoes can at slower paces with difficulty to transition. This is achieved by the geometry including the crash pad and decoupling, the rear clip and enough rubber to keep the heel from bottoming out before you can get forward.

I do wonder what the Phantom 3 would feel like with an 8mm drop especially for slower paces. Yet better I suspect.

The midsole geometry is quite stable for a neutral shoe. The rear TPU clip is substantial and somewhat pliable but fortunately (for me) it does not extend far forward as a “rail” as with Brooks GuideRails or Nike’s Infinity Run's plastic clips. I can’t stand those approaches. 

The platform width is reasonably wide at the heel (85mm) and midfoot (80mm) but not so wide to make the heel blocky as say the Nimbus 25 is for me even with its higher 8mm drop. As with everything else about the shoe Topo did not go to extremes to make the Phantom 3 either giant in stack height, overly broad in platform, or overly soft..just because everyone else is doing. They strike a happy and effective medium here with plenty of forgiving cushion and a smooth flow even with its relatively low drop.

Jeff: The Phantom 3 midsole is a bit of a Goldilocks situation - it’s very soft without being too soft, something the first Phantom didn’t pull off. While the various Topo Ultrafly (I’ve reviewed the 2, 3, and 4) were all well cushioned and versatile, the Phantom 1 in 2019 went too deep into cushioning, making the shoe hard to run anything but the easiest paces for me. But fast forward to the Phantom 3, somehow we’ve got even more cushioning and it’s soft, but not too soft. The two types of midsole foam work well together.

Considering how high the stack is, and how wide the platform is, I’m surprised by how flexible the forefoot is, which likely plays a part in making the shoe as runnable as it is. There’s nothing plodding about the shoe. I wouldn't completely disagree with Sam’s take on the heel collar, but it’s much more flexible than the subtle support Ultrafly 4.


Sam: The outsole is Topo's usual fine rubber but it is not Vibram as they have on most of their trail shoes.

The pattern is identical to the Phantom 2 and has plenty of deep coverage. To pressing,  the rubber feels a bit softer in the 3 which may along with the foam may contribute to the softer ride. 

I also note the Phantom 3 is considerably more flexible than the 2 which clearly allows smoother easier toe offs. This may be due to the rubber, midsole foam, and more pliable upper and likely in some combination of all 3 as upper stiffness does affect flex.

Jeff: The outsole has enough rubber where it’s needed without weighing the shoe down. There are four rubber segments underneath the forefoot, which combine to give solid durability but not hinder the shoe’s flexibility any. While there is a lot of exposed midsole foam in the center of the shoe, it’s held up and seems to be durable enough to prevent early failures due to midsole collapse. The blown rubber leaves little to be desired for durability, while also having solid grip. It’s more than enough for tame or buffed out trails, and its wet traction on pavement gave me no complaints.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

Sam:  Topo is having a big year with every shoe road and trail as far as I am concerned a hit. From the all PEBAX unplated Cyclone 2-their “fun” race type shoe, to the slightly more uptempo than Phantom Specter,  to Ultraventure 3 and MTN Racer 3 both with the new Zip Foam with as here big weight drops, the brand has strongly moved to the front of the pack with now excellent more modern and energetic rides to go with their always great and now yet now finer uppers.

The Phantom 3, their more mellow big trainer, is as fine as the others with a superbly fitting, soft and overlay free upper. Underfoot, the move to their new Zip Foam 2 drops the weight dramatically while giving the ride some true excitement. I am glad Topo did not go “extreme” in stack height and platform width while updating their foam dramatically as many brands have with their big cushion trainers,  Fresh Foam More, ASICS GEL- Nimbus 25, Endorphin Shift 3 coming to mind. 

If you found the prior Phantom somewhat ponderous and heavy please take another look. If you have never tried a Topo, and no matter what your foot width or volume is and you are looking for a well and lively cushioned, flexible, comfortable, smooth riding, lower drop trainer it for sure should one to try.

Sam’s Score: 9.29 /10

Ride 9.2 Fit 9.4 Value 9.2 Style 9.7


Jeff: I haven’t run in as many Topo shoes as Sam has over the last year, but between the Phantom 3, Ultraventure 3, and Ultrafly 4 I’m in the same camp that Topo is doing a great job across the board. I’ll never be upset at more great shoes that feature a foot-shaped toebox, especially shoes that have plenty of cushioning without going into “recovery run only” territory. 

As I mentioned above, the Phantom 3’s ride is much more versatile than its ancestor, but it wouldn’t be on my short list for speed work or any type of uptempo run. Instead it slots very cleanly as an everyday trainer or as an easy/recovery run shoe. There’s a hint of pop, likely the result of the two-tier midsole, and considering how protective they are the weight is also fantastic with my 10.5 tipping the scales at 10 oz.

While there are softer and/or more cushioned shoes out there, if you are looking for a well-cushioned shoe with a foot-shaped toebox that isn’t zero drop, this is really the only answer. The Ultrafly 4 had been the best option previously, and the Phantom 3 is a noticeable step up in the comfort department. After the first Phantom was such a soft and dull ride, this was quite a pleasant surprise, and I’m really impressed with what Topo pulled off without going massively overbuilt.

Jeff’s Score: 9.45/10

Ride: 9 Fit: 10 Value: 10 Style: 9

11 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Topo Phantom 1 (RTR Review) and Topo Phantom 2 (RTR Review)

Sam: Phantom 1 was stiff, firmer, more lumbering/hard to transition and heavy. No contest Phantom 3.

Sam: Phantom 2 and 3 share the same midsole geometry and outsole. Where they differ is in their midsole foams and uppers. The Phantom 3 has a softer, lighter new flavor of Zip Foam. During an A/B test run with the 2 on one foot and the 3 on the other, the 3 was somewhat softer with more rebound if a touch less quick response. It was also clearly more flexible helping transition more easily to toe off than the 2. The 3 upper fits about the same with a simpler (lighter) construction (no gusset tongue and no outer midfoot stitching mid foot underlays) The 3's upper is softer and a bit more pliable  and more seamless in feel. The heel counter area of the Phantom 2 is slightly more secure and padded but heavier in feel making the shoe more back weighted (noticed a slower paces) than the 3’s more streamlined rear of shoe.

Jeff: The Phantom 1 was heavier, had a lower stack, and its ride was so soft it made it hard to run anything faster than the easiest paces. The 3 is more comfortable for the easy stuff as well as being versatile enough to use every day. Massive step up in the Phantom line.

Topo Specter (RTR Review)

With a 35 mm heel / 30mm forefoot stack height and weight of  8.2 oz  / 232 g (US9) Specter is is both 2mm higher stacked and 1.2 oz lighter than the Phantom 3.  How does it do this? It has an outer cage of fairly firm EVA with a deep inner core of PEBAX supercritical foam. It has a faster, more uptempo ride than the Phantom 3. Unlike the flexible Phantom it is more rigid, relying on a rocker. Fit is similar with the Specter mesh as with its ride more performance oriented. Easier days Phantom, faster days Specter. 

Topo Ultraventure 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: The ultra trail and door to trail cousin of the Phantom, the Ultraventure has 2mm more stack height at 35 mm heel / 30 mm forefoot forefoot given it has a higher profile lugged Vibram MegaGrip outsole. The  outsole, a gusset tongue, and a more substantial toe bumper leads to it weighing  0.7 oz more to come in at a very reasonable 10 oz for such a big stack trail shoe . It is fine on road if the outsole is more noticed and of course it is a very solid performer on less technical trails, gravel, and snow.  Upper fit is similar and true to size with the Ultraventure a bit more locked given its trail focus.

Jeff: I’d agree with Sam’s point, and add that the UV3 also has a more pronounced forefoot rocker, and an overall firmer feel underfoot. The trail-focused outsole is a little more versatile, and yes, completely fine on roads. Both fit great, though the UV3 toebox is just a bit nicer, but it’s really splitting hairs.

Topo Ultrafly 4 (RTR Review)

Jeff: The Ultrafly brings more stability and less cushioning to the Phantom formula. They have very similar uppers, though the UF has a much more pronounced and built up heel collar. The Phantom midsole isn’t substantially higher, but it is noticeably softer and bouncier. Unless you need extra support, I’d strongly recommend sticking with the Phantom 3.

ASICS GEL- Cumulus 25 (RTR Review)

Sam: The completely redesigned Cumulus 25 has a 37.5 heel / 29.5 mm forefoot stack height, so 2.5mm more heel and about the same forefoot making it an 8mm drop shoe. It weighs the same as the Phantom. 

As with the Topo it is a flexible trainer, something I like in higher stack shoes. As an 8mm drop it is easier to transition at slower paces than the 5mm drop Phantom 3. Its FlyteFoam Blast Plus single density midsole is a bit softer overall (in part due to its rear GEL unit) with not quite the response of the Topo but with a bit more soft bounce in the mix. If not for its lower drop, it would be an easy win for Topo.  

In the battle of the uppers both are extremely comfortable and accommodating with the Cumulus exaggerating the plush look and feel more the Phantom, and maybe too much so and  unnecessarily so. As it stands I like them equally well, the Topo for its superior more elegantly simple and effective upper and a bit more responsive snappier ride, the ASICS for its additional drop.

ASICS GEL-Nimbus 25 (RTR Review)

With a giant 41.5mm heel / 33.5mm forefoot, so 6.5 mm more at the heel than the Topo and 3.5mm more at forefoot,  the complete max makeover of the NImbus is a lot of shoe! Not surprisingly it weighs about 1 oz more than the Phantom 3. Inherently stable due to its broad, high and blocky heel it is more difficult to smoothly transition off the heel for me than the Topo, and especially at slower paces even with its higher 8mm drop. Given the forefoot stack, it is a rocker based shoe to the Topo flexible lower stack geometry. It also needs more flex or a more effective and pronounced rocker  for my tastes. In the battle of the uppers, the Nimbus 25’s buttery soft upper challenges the Phantom and I would call it a tie. If you want max upper comfort and more than adequate hold both excel. 

Jeff: Surprising how similar these two are on foot, I think the Nimbus has a plushness, both to the upper and midsole, that the Phantom does not. It also is heavier, has a more cramped toebox, and doesn’t have nearly the toe-off pop the Phantom does. The Nimbus reminds me a bit of the first Phantom, it’s that soft, though you can still get away with some regular runs as well. But if you go Nimbus you will need to like big shoes, because it is a very large shoe in every aspect, while the Phantom performs very similarly and is much more svelte.

Saucony Endorphin Shift 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: While I was a fan of the 1 and 2, the 3 not so much as it increased in stack height and softness. While its drop at 4mm is similar to Phantom it has far more stack height at 39/34 while weighing about the same. The result is a rocker based ride to the Phantom’s flex based ride. A bit ponderous and hard to turn at slower paces I prefer the Phantom in this match up for its flex and more than adequate stack height without going to the Shift’s extremes.

Jeff: I too prefer the Phantom’s soft and flexible ride vs the Endorphin Shift’s higher stack of harder midsole material that needs the rocker to get going. Two very different ways to accomplish the same thing, but I think the Phantom is much more enjoyable to run in.

Nike Invincible Run 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: No question the Nike has superior foam in ZoomX with a springy light feel but.. the Invincible 3, in a departure from the earlier versions, gets a more substantial stiffer outsole and a lasting board changing it for the wild and bouncy earlier versions. It has a mild and for me not particularly effective rocker. And a better rocker (or more flex) is needed as we have a giant 40mm heel 30mm forefoot stack height.  With some of the flex of the Phantom 3 or a more effective rocker the Nike would be an easier pick. Uppers, there is no real comparison. The Nike has a dense rigid Flyknit mesh which is less comfortable and with less toe box room. Several of us noted some heel slip, more than in the Phantom 3 for me. 

Jeff: Yeah, it’s not an unpopular opinion that ZoomX is one of, if not the best, midsole materials around, but overall the Invincible 3’s execution is lacking a bit. Underfoot it seems to have got things sorted out, as long as you like constrained bounce, but the upper is such a massive miss with one of the worst heel slips I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never had my feet go numb from cranking the laces down, only to still have the shoe slip on my heel. The Phantom isn’t as exciting as the Invincible, but ultimately it’s easier to recommend.

Saucony Triumph 20  (RTR Review) 

Jeff: The Triumph 20 showed up last September and they’re still my go-to shoes if I’m not reviewing anything. With a similarly constructed upper, the Topo wins the toebox battle by a country mile (relatively speaking), and the Phantom’s midsole is also much wider as well, giving it a much more stable platform. The Triumph boasts a much more cushioned midsole having a 37mm heel (4mm more than Phantom) and a 10mm drop so about the same at’s a much more dynamic midsole with a lot more of a pop to it than the Topo. I’ve never felt like the Triumph is unstable, but when worn against the Phantom, it feels less than planted.

Craft Pro Endur (RTR Review)

Sam: With a single density slab of super energetic TPE foam the Pro Endur and a 36mm heel / 27mm forefoot full stack height weighing approximately  9.42 oz  / 267g (US9) the Craft weighs about the same as the Phantom 3. The higher 9mm drop, front flexibility, and super foam give it a more energetic, easier to turn and  faster ride. There is a but here though.. The Craft upper is light, decently supportive and roomy but quite frankly awkward and sort of baggy if true to size. Win for Craft underfoot. Clear win for Topo as far as the upper.

The Phantom 3 is available now

Jeff Beck 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 20 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.

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 66 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 was Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he gets lucky,, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah be it on the run or nordic skis. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

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

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Joe said...

Thanks Sam - great review as ever. Love Topos and pleased to hear ZipFoam has an upgrade. On the off chance, any idea if a Specter 2 is on the way? Thanks for all the great work. Joe.

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, any comparison to NB Fresh Foam More V3 or V4?

Jon A said...

Any plans to do a review of the new Nnormal shoe? Especially keen to see thoughts on this, with comparison to eg the Pulsar..