Hikers of a certain age will recall the famous meme from Charles Schulz’ Peanuts cartoons, in which the incorrigible Lucy sweetly entices the hapless Charlie Brown, year after year, into attempting to kick a football, only to pull it away at the last second and send the kid flying.
I feel a bit that way with trail shoes. Without fail, I fall in love with the perfect shoe and foolishly assume I have reached the Promised Land and will never have to buy another model. But soon enough — sometimes as soon as the next version — the manufacturer cruelly yanks it out from under me with a “new, improved” model that is anything but.
How the reviewer feels when a manufacturer fundamentally changes the design of a shoe that used to fit perfectly.
In summer 2019, while hiking the pilot trail of the Great Plains Trail in South Dakota and Nebraska, I was head-over-heels with my latest shoe–wide toebox, secure heel, grippy sole (downside: expensive and not especially durable). Come 2020, I blindly bought the new version, only to discover they no longer fit me at all. Inexplicably, cluelessly, the manufacturer had abandoned the one feature that has made its shoes so popular with trail runners and thru-hikers: the wide toebox.
Loyalty shredded, I went in search of something better. I soon found a company that offers everything I liked about my ol’ fave and more, for less money: Boston-based Topo Athletic. The Terraventure 2 quickly became my go-to backpacking, hiking, and trail-running shoe.
So I was excited when offered the opportunity to try Topo’s new Ultraventure Pro, the next generation of its high-cushion trail shoe. The previous version of the Ultraventure has been described by GearJunkie as “the absolute perfect shoe – and it works on pretty much any terrain, in any condition.” While I still prefer the Terraventure 2, I won’t disagree.
So how does the new Ultraventure Pro measure up?
Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro At-a-Glance
Style: Low-rise, high-cushion trail running shoe, low-drop, wide toebox
Intended purpose: Trail running, hiking
Weight: 10.4 ounces per shoe (men’s 9); 8.2 ounces (women’s 7)
Circumstances of Use
I’ve put about 150 miles on the Ultraventure Pro on beaches and soft, level trails. I also wore them on an overnight trip on the Appalachian Trail near Dismal Falls, Virginia.
- Roomy toebox: One of the company’s main selling points
- Secure midfoot and heel: Three-piece Zipfoam® midsole and external TPU heel counter provide stability and fit
- Low-drop platform: 5 millimeters
- Cushioning: High-cushion
- Lightweight: 8.2 ounces per shoe
- Forefoot rock plate: Protection from rocks, roots, and other obstacles
- Vibram® Megagrip outsole: Designed wet and slippery conditions
- Abrasion-resistant upper: Sturdy but comfortable
- Ortholite® footbed: Resists compression and reduces odor-causing bacteria
- Gaiter attachment: Compatible with Topo’s patented gaiter system
Topo Athletic features shoes with a wide toebox. The Ultraventure Pro, aimed at trail runners and hikers, has a grippy sole. Clay Bonnyman Evans photo.
My feet are short (8-8.5 U.S. men’s) and wide with a high arch and instep. I wore Hokas for my Colorado Trail hike in 2015 and the first 861 miles of the Appalachian Trail the following year. But by then, my feet had spread out even more and I finished each day in serious pain from sesamoiditis due to squeezing upfront. Switching to my now-former favorite brand immediately solved the problem.
The Ultraventure Pro toebox is probably roomy enough for most people who don’t have “square” feet like mine. However, the toebox in an 8.5M (slightly too long for me, despite being perfect in the Terraventure 2) is not as generous as the 8.0M toebox in the T2.
In a shoe with a wide toebox, there’s always the risk that it’s too slushy in the midfoot and heel. The first generation of my previous favorite was as sloppy and slippy as Vermont in June. Walking the Pinhoti Trail, it felt as if I were wearing old bunny slippers (a problem corrected by the manufacturer in v. 1.5, which was perfect).
So, I really appreciate that the Ultraventure Pro has a snug—but not tight—fit in the heel. It’s also got a lacing system with plenty of adjustability for different foot shapes, including my high arches and instep.
Some ankle-injury-prone hikers fret about stack height. The Ultraventure Pro comes in at 2.5 to 3.0 centimeters (or about 1 to 1.2 inches). That’s only slightly less than Hokas or Altras, but having worn all three, the Ultraventure Pro feels less “teeter-y” than the others.
I’m not reviewing the Terraventure 2 here, but let me just say it’s the most comfortable trail/backpacking shoe I’ve ever worn – surprising, given how durable (500 miles and counting on my latest pair, with no visible sign of upper wear) and supportive it is. I instantly adored the comfy Terraventure, which I took out for 40 rocky AT miles in Pennsylvania after just a few wears.
I expected much the same from the Ultraventure Pro, but I really shouldn’t have. This is a beefier shoe by design than the Terraventure. It’s built for rougher, tougher trail use, so it’s not surprising that it’s less comfortable. But it is surprising how incredibly light it is—that’s a big plus.
I didn’t expect my feet to feel so hammered after wearing the Ultraventure Pro for a much-shorter AT overnight on considerably less grinding terrain in Virginia. No doubt that’s due to sole stiffness and the rock plate.
The Ultraventure Pro isn’t uncomfortable, but I did expect more comfort in Topo’s cushiest trail shoe. They have gotten more comfortable with wear, but still lack the plush feel of the Terraventure.
I can’t say for sure how durable the Ultraventure Pro is, having put in only about 120 miles on (mostly) gentle terrain to date. But the uppers feel tough, and if they are anything like the Terraventure, I expect they’ll hold up very well.
I wish I’d thought to try out Topo’s unique gaiter system, which looks both secure and easy to use. The gaiter attaches to a small metal loop at the bottom of the tongue in front, like most brands. But in back, Topo gaiters attach via metal clips to two small, holed rubber nubs on the heel of Topo shoes.
And while I’m skeptical than an insole can truly repel odor long-term, I must say that all my Topos do seem to smell better than my other shoes.
Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro – The Good
- Excellent design for thru-hiking and trail running, wide toebox, snug heel, lacing accommodates wide range of foot shapes
- Astonishingly lightweight at only 8.2 ounces per shoe
- Grippy outsole
- Tough, light, comfortable upper
- Price (a bit less than many comparable models)
Topo Athletic Ultraventure Pro – The Bad
- Beefy design means less comfort
- Sizing out of sync with other Topo models (i.e. increased length doesn’t necessarily mean concomitant width)
- Accommodates only Topo gaiters
- Toecap not as beefy as other brands, possible issue in rough terrain
I really like the Ultraventure Pro. I recognize that the shoe is designed for rougher, tougher trail use, and as such, it’s not surprising that it’s not quite as comfy as the heavier Terraventure 2. But it’s comfortable enough, sturdy, grippy, nice-looking, and will work for most people who do a lot of miles. The shoe is impressively light, beating comparable Hoka and Altra models, as well as the Terraventure 2, by an incredible 2.5 to 3-plus ounces per shoe. All in all, the Ultraventure Pro seems like a great shoe for hikers in search of a bit more protection on the trail, and I’m excited to try it out on a longer backpacking trip in tough terrain.
Weight: 11.6 ounces each
Fit: Wide toebox
Weight: 10.8 ounces each
Fit: Narrow; tapered toebox
Drop: 4 millimeters
Weight: 11.7 ounces each
Fit: Medium width; tapered toebox
Drop: 8 millimeters
This product was donated for purpose of review.