Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Topo Athletic ST-5 Multi Tester Review: Minimal, Zero Drop Versatility 6 Comparisons

 Article by Renee Krusemark and Mike Postaski 

Topo Athletic ST-5 ($115)


Light weight: Renee/Mike P

Flexible underfoot: Renee/Mike P

Balanced for both running and strength work: Renee/Mike P

Improved heel collar (removed exposed stitching):  Mike P


Topo-specific toe box shape: Renee

More of a gym shoe than a running shoe: Mike P


Topo-specific toe box shape: Renee

More of a gym shoe than a running shoe: Mike P

Please find the testers full run bios at the end of the article after Comparisons.


Official Weight: men's 6.6 oz  / 187g (US9) 

  Samples: men’s  7.0 oz  / 198 g (US 9.5) 

                  women’s 5.64 oz / 160g (US7.5)

Stack Height: 14mm heel / 14mm forefoot

$115. Available October 19, 2023

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

Renee: I took the ST-5 for an 8.5-miler of hill repeats right from the box and my first impression was positive. While the 14mm stack sounds minimal, I found it enough for mid distance runs. Looking back, my shortest run with the ST-5 was 8 miles, and while I think it’s probably best for shorter distances, don’t let that minimal label fool you, it’s comfortable for someone who likes low-stack, ground-feel shoes. 

The upper security is awesome and reminds me of the MTN Racer 2 (or 3). The heel cup and heel collar sit low and allow for great rotation of the ankle, which works well on uneven ground and for strength/mobility work. The entire fit from the heel to the midfoot is like a glove. 

The toebox is typical Topo, which tends to be just a tad too wide for me. That said, I have complete toe flex with these shoes because of the wide and voluminous toe box, so for strength work, I can easily flex my toes to work on stability. Fit is true-to-size for Topo. If between half sizes for other brands, go with the shorter size for the ST-5. 

Mike P: I tested the ST-4 and I really liked the shoe. As with most Topo offerings, it did what it was intended to do - provide a low-to-the-ground, natural style ride that could also be versatile for gym and other usage. The primary change with the ST-5 is that it loses 2 mm in stack height, going from 16mm to 14mm (zero drop). I suspect there may have been some overlap with other models such as the Fli-Lyte and the Magnifly, so the ST-5 is now more oriented towards gym work than pure running. Of course, the lower stack will also suit those seeking a natural low ride .

I really liked the ST-4 and mixed them in for shorter runs and quick running errands around town to the post office or to grab an item or two from the grocery store etc. They felt great for short and quick runs, but the zero drop and minimal stack did put stress on my lower legs - a good thing for training and mixing it up with higher stack heights and drops. 

First off, I like the switch from the white to charcoal gray foam and accents. The shoe now has a more subtle look which can get by in more casual situations. The black/white combo was just a bit too “athletic” looking for casual use. Fit-wise, it seems to me that there is just a hair more space up front in the ST-5. Nothing really noticeable, but I would occasionally feel the front of my toes touching the front of the ST-4, but not at all now in the ST-5. 

The one and perhaps only complaint I had about the ST-4 was the exposed stitching along the heel collar (left below). 

As the ST-4 heel collar angled back towards the achilles, I found that this stitching would rub on my achilles. I actually ended up pulling the stitching out on my ST-4s to eliminate the issue. The ST-5 now uses a more regular stitching along the outside of the seam, so the collar is pliable, comfortable, and causes no irritation. Problem resolved.


Renee: The midsole is 14mm total, 0 drop. I think the midsole provindes a great balance for both running and strength/mobility work. I found the midsole comfortable and didn’t run less than 8 miles per run while testing. 

That said, I’m running gravel and dirt on undulating terrain. I’m not sure I’d be able to run mid or long distances in these shoes on flat pavement without getting very sore calves and achilles. The shoe is super flexing underfoot and worked great for hill repeats. 

The shoe is nimble and light, so it encourages a quick turnover and cadence. For strength workouts, the midsole is just enough to not be a hindrance. I don’t lift heavy, which is pretty clear if you just look at me. Normally, I go barefoot when doing mobility exercises. The advantage of the ST-5 is it feels minimal and allows for natural toe flex, but it also gives a little bit of stability while lifting.  

Mike P: Again, the midsole loses 2 mm from the ST-4, so you’re that much closer to the ground. I must note that the signature Topo raised arch does feel quite prominent in the ST-5 so you don’t have that “flat” natural feel underfoot. You do get solid support under the arch. I know this “feature” is polarizing for some, so it’s important to mention. 

Of course at 7.0 oz (198g) in my US 9.5, the shoe is super light, and with the midsole being evenly spread out along the bottom of the shoe, it feels as if it’s attached to your foot. The Ortholite insole somewhat dampens road harshness, so at least you don’t feel like you’re landing directly on the pavement.

Compared to the ST-4, the ST-5 feels very slightly less runnable, or at least less running-oriented. That’s just due to the bit of lost stack height. But really, if you’re in the market for a shoe in the minimal category for running, the difference will likely be negligible. If you just want a natural feel, with a bit more pure running range, the Fli-Lyte 5 (RTR Review) is a great step-up, with only a slight 3mm drop.


Renee: The rubber outsole is a total 3mm thick. While definitely a road shoe, I ran only on gravel and dirt. The shoe is so light and nimble that it didn’t bother me to land on larger gravel. I have no wear on the outsole yet, with the exposed midsole areas showing minor marks from gravel. 

Mike P: The outsole remains unchanged from the ST-4. The rubber is low profile, so it works well on the road as well as at the gym. Perhaps for really aggressive crossfit-type exercises you might want a bit more rubber coverage and less segmentation. But for the type of running-oriented strength work that I do (dumbbells, balance work, lunges, step-ups, etc.), it’s just fine. In terms of durability, I’m at 123 miles in my ST-4’s and the wear level is normal/average.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

Renee: The ST-5 is the shoe I didn’t know I needed. No

w that I have it, I will do all my strength and mobility workouts in them. The shoe is light and flexible, so it’s not a hindrance for mobility work that I’d normally do barefoot. And while I like to pretend I have good stability, it’s nice to do squats and single-leg exercises with something on my feet. 

For running, the 14mm is more comfortable than I thought it would be. I consider it a minimalist shoe because of the low stack and zero drop, but I think it’s a good balance for those who like ground feel but can’t handle a true ultra minimal shoe. The toe box is a bit too wide for me, but it’s the Topo way.  For its purpose, the ST-5 has no faults, although it will appeal mostly to runners who can handle zero drop. I don’t think many runners will find it to be a true daily trainer . However, for fast/shorter runs and strength/mobility workouts, the ST-5 is a good buy at $115.

Renee’s score: 9.5/10 

(-.40 toebox width, -.10 best for short distances)


Mike P: On the run, several things stand out about the shoe. The first being how close you are to the ground, without dropping down to a pure barefoot feel as something like a Vivobarefoot or Vapor Glove. 

It still has the fit and feel like you’re wearing a regular running shoe, just without all that “extra” under your feet. I had quite a fun run around down where I was popping in and out of small parks, dipping through parking lots, darting up and down stairs.. Perhaps they could be a decent parkour shoe - is there such a thing? But you get the idea. If you need to grab a quick loaf of bread, and maybe have some fun on the sidewalks along the way, the ST-5 would be a great and fun pick.

I’ve also used them for my home strength training routines. I’ve done box jumps, lateral hops, step-ups, lunges, and just regular lifting, and they’ve been perfect for that. I’ve also traveled cross country in them and used them as my primary shoe for the trip, and my backup in case I did some road running. (I wore the ST-5’s and packed one pair of trail shoes - that was it for footwear).

If you liked or loved the ST-4, you’ll likely feel the same way about the new ST-5. Only slight changes here - a bit closer to the ground on the run, and likely a bit more solid on the ground for pure gym work. The new colorway is a big win for me as they can clearly work as a happy hour option without looking overly “sporty”. 

Mike P’s Score:  9.63/10

Ride: 9.5 - Great option in the minimalist/natural market

Fit: 10 - Just a hair longer than ST-4, which is good. Heel collar is more comfortable.

Value: 9.5 - Running, gym work, and now casual use with improved styling

Style: 9 - Really like the black/charcoal combo

Smiles: 😊😊😊😊😊

6 Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE 

Topo ST-4 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): Detailed throughout the review, the ST-5 leans slightly more towards gym use, and loses 2 mm in stack for an even more natural feel on the run. My ST-5’s fit slightly better than my ST-4s - they’re either slightly longer or the more vertical orientation of the rear heel keeps the heel better seated in the shoe. The ST-5 looks sleeker too.

Topo Fli-Lyte 5 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): I’ve been using both of these shoes concurrently. Generally speaking, I prefer running in the Fli-Lyte 5, as the 3mm drop is easier on the legs. It’s a great treadmill shoe, and that’s where I’ve primarily been using it. I’ve been using the ST-5 for strength work, cross training, and casually. Both are good shoes.

Topo Magnifly 4 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): The Magnifly is the cushioned zero drop option in the Topo lineup. It’s got more running range due to the extra cushion underfoot which is more forgiving. It can also be used in the gym, but I think most would prefer to have the thinner and more stable ST-5 especially if you’re doing more dynamic/lateral movements. 

Altra Escalante (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): I haven’t run in a recent Escalante version, but Altras tend to be flatter, especially under the arch. The Escalante foam, as far as I know, continues to be more bouncy and responsive. They’re definitely faster and more suited to pure running than the ST-5. The Topo does have a narrower toebox than the Altra.

Altra Superior 5 (RTR Review)

Mike P (9.5): I really like the latest Superior - it actually has a similar fit to the ST-5, with a more streamlined toe box (relative to other Altras). At 21mm underfoot (zero drop), the Superior is noticeably more cushioned underfoot. I’d definitely stick with the Superior for light trails if you were thinking about using the ST-5 for that. The Superior is obviously a pure trail shoe, so these shoes don’t really overlap, but like I said, they’re somewhat similar. I actually use my Superiors a lot casually as well, when I don’t want to go all black.

Skora Fit (RTR Review)

Mike P (10.0): The Skora is a very interesting and non-traditional shoe. I do still keep mine in rotation, using them for walking, and occasionally a short run. They feature a rounded heel which gives interesting proprioceptive feedback on the run. They’re also much more slipperlike in feel, whereas the ST-5 has a more traditional fit and feel. The Skoras are definitely not a good fit for gym use, as the rounded ground platform is unstable laterally. The Skora is a fun shoe, but the ST-5 is more versatile.

Renee: I agree with Mike. The Skora is non-traditional and more “natural.” The ST-5 is more versatile and user-friendly. The heel on the Skora makes it awkward and unstable for a lot of strength/mobility workouts. The toebox is angled in the Skora, so for fit, some runners might need a half-size up on the Fit as compared to the ST-5. 

The Topo ST-5 will be available October 19, 2023

Tester Profiles

Renee is a former U.S.Marine journalist, which is when her enjoyment of running and writing started. She isn’t that awesome of a runner, but she tries really hard. Most of her weekly 50-60 miles take place on rural country roads in Nebraska, meaning mud, gravel, dirt, hills, and the occasional field. She has PR’s of 1:30:59 for the half marathon and 3:26:45 for the marathon.

Mike Postaski currently focuses on long mountainous ultras - anywhere from 50K up to his favorite - 100M. 5'10", 138 lbs, midfoot/forefoot striker - he typically averages 70 mpw (mostly on trails), ramping up to 100+ mpw during race buildups. A recent 2:39 road marathoner, his easy running pace ranges from 7:30 - 9:00/mi. From 2022-23 Mike has won the Standhope 100M, IMTUF 100M, and Scout Mountain 100M trail ultras. He also set a CR of 123.74M at the Pulse Endurance Runs 24H and completed the Boise Trails Challenge on foot in 3 days 13 hours, besting the previous record by 7 hours. Mike's shoe preferences lean towards firmer, dense cushioning, and shoes with narrower profiles. He prefers extra forefoot space, especially for long ultras, and he strongly dislikes pointy toe boxes.

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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1 comment:

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