I’ve been an advocate of Topo Athletic running shoes since last summer, when I first put a pair on my feet. It was my dream shoe come to life; all of the wonderfulness of a lightweight, minimalist shoe with the burliness to handle roots, rocks, mud, snow and other mountain-induced obstacles. Before finding Topo Athletic, I wore Altras. I loved the feel of them on my feet, but they just didn’t cut it on those long days running over the Tetons, or bushwacking to middle-of-nowhere destinations. (I started adventure racing last summer, greatly increasing the time I spent bushwacking to middle-of-nowhere destinations). Topo Athletic seemed to notice my problem, and answer it. A little background: Tony Post launched Topo Athletic in 2012. Prior, he was the CEO of Vibram USA, best known for the FiveFingers shoes. No coincidence then that he’d be the one to figure out both what’s great about minimalist shoes, and also how they can be improved.
The first model that I tried was the Topo Athletic MT. I loved them immediately! Here’s why:
- Ample room in the toe box to let my feet splay out, mimicking a barefoot feel
- Tie snugly around the tops of my feet, making for a very secure fit
- Minimal drop (2 mm)
- Super lightweight (6.8 ounces)
- Good traction that is able to handle uneven terrain and conditions
- Reinforced material all the way around the toe box; I particularly love this, because I usually blow out my shoes near the palm of my foot (as seen on my Altras in the photo below), and after hundreds of trail miles this is just barely beginning to happen on the MTs.
I’m a pretty staunch believer that every product out there has something that could be improved, even if it’s just the color. But in this case, I even love the color (bright pink). And, I remember thinking to myself, “for the love of God, please don’t ever change this shoe.” A bit of an aside, but every seasoned runner has had that experience of finding his or her perfect shoe, only to see the model discontinued. I actually know someone who took out a bank loan to buy 10 pairs of his favorite shoe before it got taken off the shelf. No joke. So, when Topo Athletic recently asked me if I’d like to try out their new Runventure, I felt a little uncertain. Of course, yes, I would like to try it, but would I like it as much as my perfectly pink pair of MTs? A pair of the Runventures arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. After wearing the shoes around town and to the office, I took them out for their first true test in the mountains near Arco, Idaho. If you don’t know where Arco, Idaho is, not to worry. I didn’t either. When my friends, Abby and Jason, first proposed the adventure, I quickly Google mapped it. Turns out, it’s a town with a population of 995 at the southern tip of the Lost River Range.
Abby and Jason do more than just dabble in adventure racing. They’re some of the best in the world, though they’d never be the ones to say it. To train, they pick a series of random points, mark them down on a map, and then set out to find them. The result is a lot of off-trail traversing and stunning views that few, if any, people in the world get to experience. That's a long-winded way of saying that the Arco adventure was about as good as it gets for putting a new pair of shoes to the test. We sidehilled through scree. We ran ridges and jeep roads. We descended snow and ice-caked slopes. And we did this for 24 miles. We got the gamut of weather too: warm sunshine to full-on blizzard. The long and the short: I love the Topo Athletic MT and Runventure equally.
I'd choose the MT for buffed out trails and dirt roads and the Runventure for truly rocky, uneven terrain. One of the things that makes the Runventure different from the MT is a midsole plate for rock protection. While this does make the sole slightly stiffer and heavier, it makes for a less jarring ride on the aforementioned rocky, uneven terrain. Here are the stats for the Topo Athletic Runventure:
- 2 mm drop (same as the MT)
- 7.4 ounces (the MT is 6.8 ounces; small weight difference but not significant)
- Exact same (good) tread as the MT
- More reinforced fabric than on the MT, which I like
- When I had the laces cinched tight, it created a bubble of fabric above my toe box.
The bottom line: Whether climbing the Middle Teton or playing with my daughter, Topo Athletic is what I want on my feet. (My then 2-year-old actually took the second photo below; how cool is that?)