Topo Athletic Ultraventure 2 Review | Low Drop Cushioned Trail Running Shoes
In May 2019 I reviewed the original Topo Ultraventure. Most brands tinker with their shoes and change them a bit every 6 months to a year. I think for a lot of runners Topo Athletic got it right first time, which is why they have waited 2 years before upgrading their most popular trail running model. If you have enjoyed logging the miles in your Ultraventure and it was the perfect combination of features, the idea of moving to the new one might worry you. There are always trends in running, be it low drop or soft cushioning and some of the brands move around from one concept to another, following the trend. That often means that the new version of shoes differs from the previous one substantially. Not what you want to happen if you have fallen in love with your current pair of trail shoes!
Fortunately, Topo aren’t the sort of brand that changes with the current trends. Topo shoes are designed to allow your feet to function inside the shoes. This way your feet get stronger the more you run and this reduces the chance of getting injured. All their shoes have a broad and rounded toe box. This gives your feet the room to spread on impact. This absorbs shock, stabilises you and springs you into your next stride.
Topo shoes have a low heel to forefoot drop to encourage you to land more on your midfoot. This loads the foot properly and stimulates it to function. In the case of the Ultraventure and the Ultraventure 2 the drop is 5mm. The upper of the Ultraventure 2 is made of an engineered mesh. This means that the upper is able to be made thicker to give more structure in some areas and thinner in others. This reduces the need for overlays. This makes the upper softer, more pliable, lighter and more breathable. Topo trail running shoes generally have a snug fit at the heel and through the midfoot. The Ultraventure 2 has a really solid fit around the heel and midfoot. There is a belt inside the shoe to pull the upper around the foot to stop you slipping forward whilst descending. The heel cup is a bit higher, which pulls the heel cup into the foot giving a snug and secure fit.
There is also an additional plastic heel cup that goes around the back of the heel counter and part way up the heel cup. This has the gaiter attachment on it. It also makes the heel cup of the shoe feel really stable. Your heel bone feels like it is cupped by the heel counter. If you have a tendency to pronate then this will give you that extra bit of support.
The fit is broad and roomy in the toe box just like the original Ultraventure but with a little snugger feel in the heel and midfoot.
The lacing is a little different to the original Ultraventure. The lace holes get closer together as you get to the toe box. This stops you from pulling the laces in too tightly and causing a crease in the toe box, which is particularly helpful for those runners not used to having and rounded toe box. They might be tempted to pull the toe box in tighter with the laces and lose the benefit of this shaped shoe, where your foot grows stronger.
The midsole is the same as the original Ultraventure. It is a 3 density EVA with a soft heel section to give a soft landing for the heel strikers, a firmer piece on the medial side to help counter any pronation and a firm-ish foot bed. There is no rock plate, which makes the shoes quite flexible in the forefoot considering the stack height. The midsole allows a good feel for the floor, which is surprising for such a well cushioned shoe.
There is a trend towards softer feeling shoes at the moment. The drawback with this is that your feet don’t get ‘the message ‘that they have hit something hard and therefore don’t function in the shoes. For this reason the midsole of the Ultraventure isn’t soft and pillow like, but it strikes a very good balance between cushioning and feel for the trail.
Although the Ultraventure midsole is injected EVA it will of course lose some of its spring when used on the longest runs. For this reason brands are moving away from EVA midsoles for use in their ultramarathon shoes. Topo Athletic has developed the Ultraventure Pro using a more durable midsole material. This is ‘zip foam’. It has a more bouncy feel and maintains this feel even when used all day. The drawback is that this takes away the feel for the trail. Personally I prefer the feel for the trail. Topo has essentially given you the choice!
The outsole is Vibram XS Trek. This isn’t as sticky and therefore not as grippy in the wet as Vibram Mega grip, but it is more durable. This makes it a more suitable outsole rubber for mixed runs. I have had no grip issues on wet rock or tarmac though. The rubber grips well on all surfaces in my opinion. The lugs are 5mm long and well spread out. This length of stud gives good grip in the mud but isn’t too long to comfortably be used on the tarmac for a while. It makes the Ultraventure ideal for mixed runs.
The Men’s shoes weigh in at 295g in a UK8 and the Women’s are 235 grams in a UK5.
In summary the Ultraventure is a shoe designed for long trail runs. It is perfect for mixed runs on all surfaces, which is what makes it such a popular shoe. The fit is broad for those with wider feet and of course ideal for those who like the space for their feet to function inside their shoes.
If you aren’t used to low drop shoes then it’s a good idea to gradually increase the distance you do in the shoes. This is because in low drop shoes your feet, ankles and lower legs can function more. So, you want to gradually get them used to the extra work so they strengthen up without over loading them. So, it’s not a good idea to do a long run first time out and it Is good to alternate with your current shoes.
Charlie @ Northern Runner Newcastle
Altra Timp 3: Similar toe box shape but, a bit less height to the toe box. Zero drop. A softer ride. More flexible and therefore less stable. https://www.northernrunner.com/altra-m86/timp-t111
Hoka Challenger ATR 6: A narrower more pointed toe box but is available in a wide fitting option. The cushioning has a softer feel and the outsole is a flatter stud making it less grippy in the mud. Although the rocker and flatter stud make the Challenger a smoother ride on firmer terrain.
New Balance Hierro: Softer feel to the cushioning. A slightly higher heel to forefoot drop of 8mm. Stickier outsole and smooth ride on firm ground. Less grippy on the mud. A pointier toe box available in two widths:
Brooks Cascadia: The feel of a Brooks road shoes in a trail shoe. 8mm heel to forefoot drop. The cushioning has a road shoe feel but, the one piece rubber outsole makes it a bit stiffer. So, it doesn’t ride as well as more flexible shoes. The outsole is a soft sticky rubber with reasonable lugging. So, it’s a versatile grip. Pointed toe box available in two widths: