There’s no hiding that I’m a firm follower of the wide toe box running shoe trend, so I’m already favorably disposed towards brands like Altra and Topo. Over long distances the slight loss of precision is more than offset by the additional comfort and freedom from blisters.
After a long wait for the delayed launch into Australia I picked up a pair of Topo’s new Ultraventure 3 as soon as they landed. I had high expectations and, after about 350km with one long race thrown in, I’m anything but disappointed!
For those looking for a comparison to the Topo Ultraventure 2 I'm sorry to disappoint but you won’t find that here, the similarities really end with the name!
Before diving into the review here are a few of the key specs:
- Stack Height: 35mm/30mm (that’s massive Hoka level cushioning!)
- Drop: 5mm
- Outsole: Vibram XS Trek Evo with 3mm lugs
- Cushioning: Topo have used a proprietary midsole compound called ZipFoam, which they claim is springier than EVA and offers more rebound over the life of the shoe.
- Intended Use: mild to moderate terrain.
- Rockplate: no (really not necessary with this much cushioning!)
- Weight: 289g Mens US9, 235g Womens 7
- Compare to: Hoka Speedgoat/Stinson, Altra Olympus, Brooks Caldera6, Saucony Xodus Ultra
The first thing you notice with these shoes is the toe sweep creating a rocker type transition from strike area to big toe toe-off, absent in other Topos. This does take some getting used to if you haven’t experienced it before but it's a welcome addition providing a bit of assistance, especially when you’re getting tired.
As with other Topo’s the fit from heel to midfoot is secure, I did use the lock lacing technique to ensure my heel was completely stable but I’m not sure this was really necessary.
True to the brand the toe box is roomy, but not just a bit, there’s seriously enough room for your toes to invite a few guests over for a happy toe party! This certainly does make for happy toes, but also means a slight loss of precision meaning this is not a shoe for uber technical terrain, for that reach for the Topo Mountain Racer.
Cushioning is nothing short of spectacular, plush, but as promised with the ZipFoam midsole compound it is springier than offerings from other brands. Most importantly this is retained throughout long miles on the trails.
Despite the high stack height the shoes feel really stable, due to a natural splayed forefoot combined with the flared base. For this stack height I would have expected the occasional ankle roll, I’m happy to report this hasn’t happened yet though!
Onto the sole, this is the one area that I feel does let the shoe down a bit. Granted it is sold as being for mild to moderate terrain with the Mountain Racer being the shoe for more technical terrain, but more aggressive lugs would have been nice. While in reality I have found the grip to be pretty good with the Vibram XS Trek Evo being nice and sticky, it just doesn’t inspire confidence on loose terrain, and often that’s what counts more, at least initially.
Sizing is refreshingly consistent with other Topo models, I’m an 11.5 across the Topo range and this was no different, that said I did get a pair of 12’s knowing what I had planned for them.
The first few runs had mixed results, it did take a while to get used to the extra stack height, the rocker feel and the overall increase in bulk of the shoe (partly attributed to going up half a size). Initially I felt a bit clumsy but that improved after a while as I familiarised myself with the strike and transition. What was really noticeable was the rebound and stability. I’ve often found max cushion shoes to lose rebound after about 3-4 hours on the trails, this didn’t happen at all here which really makes this a perfect companion for long trail outings.
First Big Run
The first big run I took these on was the Buffalo Stampede, at 102km with over 5000m of vert on a mixture of single track and rocky/loose firetrails I knew that this would really put them to the test!
After taking the first few steep loose descents pretty carefully, I gradually gained confidence and was soon keeping pace even on the steepest and loosest descents while others struggled for traction around me. No doubt my poles helped stabilise me and prevented a few falls, but I was super impressed and surprised with how the grip performed, it really is just a confidence thing and it takes a bit of time to build this.
The roomy toe box and extra half size worked perfectly, the unrelenting steep climbs and descents, technical rocky trail sections and full day’s running would have pulverized the strongest of feet. Paired with a pair of Feetures Max Cushion socks and the Topo Performance Gaiters my feet were in as close to heaven as possible.
Coming into the finish on a few km’s of hardpacked flat ground I could really feel the springiness in the shoes, something I’ve never experienced in any other shoes after this distance, generally by now anything else, and especially simple EVA midsoles, would have compressed and be hard and painful. Despite what I had just put myself through I had a bit of a spring in my step crossing the finish line (at least I thought I had!)
The true testament for me was when I finally sat down at the finish and didn’t feel the uncontrollable urge to rip my shoes off as soon as possible (just as well as I still had a few km to go to get back to my accommodation! – slight crew fail).
Three weeks later now and I still have all of my toenails, admittedly one is a bit black and may still fall off but that one was a bit worse for wear to start.
- Super roomy toe box allows for natural splay and swelling over long distances.
- Great stability for this stack height.
- Rebound and springiness really is retained over long distances thanks to the proprietary ZipFoam midsole.
- Rocker design aids transition from strike point through to toe push off.
- Relatively low weight for a max cushion shoe.
- Use of recycled materials – each shoe uses approximately three recycled plastic bottles.
- Great toe bumper for protection from stubbed toes.
- Sensible pricing at $30+ less than other max cushioned offerings.
- Grip, although this may be more perception than reality.
- Drainage, I found the shoe to be slow to drain after running through water.
With the only real downside being the perceived lack of grip, the Topo Ultraventure 3 looks set to become my new go-to shoe for long training runs and races where comfort and responsive cushioning trump laser precision.
Based on my experience I’d say this is easily the best high stack/max cushioned trail shoe release in 2022. I can’t wait to see how the competition responds!