Having reached the heart of summer in the Heartland, now is the perfect time to get outdoors and have some fun on the road and trail. A bonus is having a shoe well designed to make you feel fast and supported for both.
The MTN Racer from Topo Athletic fits the bill, while also having the added hallmark benefit of a relatively flexible in class ride. A quicker and firmer cousin to the established and uber plush Ultraventure.
It is exactly what one expects from the head man that formerly ran Vibram’s running shoe division and namesake for the brand, Tony Post: low heel to toe drop, anatomically correct shaping of the toe box, and a premium grip in the outsole.
However, as the first model in a new line, there is room to grow (quite literally as well as figuratively).
Upper & fit
Having now run in several Topo models from the Hydroventure to the ST-3, I have come to greatly appreciate the generously roomy and anatomically correct shaping of the forefoot in most of this brand’s offerings.
Unfortunately, for some reason (perhaps the emphasis on usage as a performance, trail racing shoe) the last on this shoe feels uncharacteristically narrow.
Even when sized up, a half size from my traditional 10.5 to an 11, the shoe feels sufficiently long enough, but still lacking in space on the lateral side of the forefoot. It leaves the 5th toe exposed to the risk of hot spots, even when worn with thin socks or without any sock at all.
In addition, compared to other models from Topo, for the first 40 miles or so, the height of the toe box and space through the midfoot felt aggressively snug, especially over the 3rd and 4th metatarsals about midway up the forefoot.
This may come as a reassuring feature for those looking to climb and descend Mt. Hood or hike highly technical trails to ensure a secure ride, but to the average Joe on the tarmac or cinder trails of Suburbia, it may inhibit the free-flowing experience of the Terraventure or Altra’s competitor - the Superior.
Over time, now that I have logged 84 miles in the shoe, the material in the upper and lacing system has loosened considerably. In a shoe era, when athletes have come to enjoy out of the box comfort in their footwear, patience is not always a virtue.
Nonetheless, this shoe does have some incredible redeeming qualities in terms of the upper materials and design. The heel counter is present and boasts a sleek gaiter attachment anchor that has held up well, thus far given some abuse and scuffing on the trails and loose gravel of Iowa’s service roads.
It also toes the fine line between supple support for the Achilles and overt motion control at the rearfoot. It feels reminiscent of the heel counter of a Kinvara or (more closely related as a trail shoe) like the Icebug Oribi.
The two-ply upper material itself is truly the strongest feature of this part of the shoe. The inner layer is constructed from a stretchy, almost Lycra feeling material that provides a light hug to the arch and amazing breathability for a trail shoe.
Even with a ripstop fabric outer layer, I’ve noticed that during 10+ mile long runs, one doesn’t feel as though they are immersed in perspiration.
This breathability and efficacy at managing moisture release are aided by drainage vents in the forefoot strategically placed at the flex point in the shoe allowing for the passive release of fluid with every step.
In addition, the tongue has a synthetic rawhide texture and is gusseted to prevent debris entering the top of the shoe, and it does an exceedingly impressive job in this regard.
I also enjoy Disc Golf and hiking in the nature areas near our home, and I have not had any loose pebbles or grass debris insinuate their way underfoot as has occasionally been the case with competing models from other brands.
One very unique feature particular to the MTN racer is a double eyelet at the top of the tongue through which the laces pass over the crux of the anterior ankle.
As opposed to the burrito tongue from Brooks or the Securefit that Saucony has offered in the past, this double attachment does a great job of making sure that the tongue does not slide uncomfortably from one side of the foot to the other, avoiding unnecessary pinching and binding to the ankle.
Finally, a solid feature in most Topo trail offerings, the high level of strategic placement of TPU welded overlays along the front edges of the toe box and through the midfoot in an undulating cage pattern.
It provides both light structure and protection from small twigs and snagging brush without appreciably added stiffness or weight in a shoe designed to fly down the track and trail (for a men's size 9, the MTN Racer weighs in at only 9.3 oz per shoe).
In sum, while demerits are given for an uncharacteristically narrow fit, the MTN Racer upper makes up for the disparity in the given break in period and with the added benefits of being lightweight and adept at guiding unwelcome moisture away from the foot and out of the shoe.
Insole & midsole cushioning systems
In terms of feel, underfoot, this shoe delivers ample cushioning to a fault. With a 5mm heel to toe offset, the MTN Racer sports the highest heel in the entire Topo Athletic line.
This means that for those with form deficiencies or heel strikers, this will be the most user-friendly shoe, especially when fell running or for navigating undulating terrain (such as the up and down gravel roads my hometown).
However, with a stack height of 30mm of foam in the heel and 25mm in the forefoot, it also makes the shoe very high profile for a company known for attempting to connect the foot with Mother Earth.
As a generally more minimalist runner, this shoe will most likely feel bulky and unsteady, much like transitioning from driving a Mazda Miata to getting behind the wheel of a Cadillac Escalade.
Also curious in a landscape where the midfoot shank and medial posting have been slowly on the decline in running shoes across the board, the MTN Racer has a thin layer of firm, red foam on the medial edge of the shoe from the heel to the midfoot. That is slight, but highly perceptible underfoot when picking up the tempo on speed days and running over firmer ground and concrete.
On a side note, this same layer of firm foam underfoot also saved my foot from an unwelcome poke from a small spike embedded in a wood chip I picked up in the middle of a run and had to dig out with tweezers post-workout (so truly bonus points for a safe ride despite the firm feel).
Despite the sheer vastness of the cushioning, the designing crew does get high marks for finding a way to make the forefoot very snappy and (when exposed to heat) fairly flexible in class.
When held in my hand after a 5-mile speed workout, I can put torsion through the midfoot and all, but the Vibram sole gives a supple yet controlled twist.
Worth mentioning as well as the flex points exposed by the lack of rock plate. In the MTN Racer compared with its cousin the Hydroventure, it permits a certain level of flexibility under the ball of the foot that does mildly mitigate the loss of proprioception with such a high degree of cushioning.
In terms of the insole, there seems to have been a slight and very welcome tweak to the Ortholite sock liner featured in the MTN Racer. While it does appear to have a similar girth and makeup to the one found in the Topo Athletic Hydroventure.
It is much less flimsy, making it easier to remove and reinsert when cleaning and spraying out the inside of the shoemaking care for the shoe much less time consuming. (See previous review comments on the Hydroventure for additional details).
By grace of using an antimicrobial coating on the top of the mesh outer layer of the insole as well as breathable upper materials, one very positive aspect of this system is a very stink-free and low maintenance ride for the shoe as a whole.
A huge plus, given the amount of time it has spent on gravel, over moist areas during trail runs and disc golf outings as well as heavy perspiration during long runs of up to a half marathon in the heat and on the roads.
Overall, for a shoe designed to go fast and correct the errors, inherent in said pursuit the heel to toe offset is not egregious and likely welcome for a more broad spectrum of trail racers and pacers alike. However, in future models or tweaks to the MTN Racer, it would be nice to see a lower profile which might also shed some weight and make the shoe even more ready for that next PR.
Outsole & durability
For all the flaws that come with breaking ground on a new shoe, the Topo MTN Racer has very little room for improvement when it comes to the selection of materials, not the least of which is the MegaGrip Outsole from Vibram.
As mentioned in previous reviews, the compound is a very grippy rubber that tends to wear like iron and hook up on a multitude of surfaces for the long haul. To put it in perspective, I’ve had my Hydroventures for over 250 miles, my V-Alphas for over 100 miles and countless cross training workouts at the gym.
Now, the MTN Racer for 3 weeks around the office and 84 miles on varied training surfaces and in terms of grip and wear pattern none of them have changed appreciably since the day they were taken out of the box.
Much the same can be said about the rest of the MTN racer in terms of durability from top to bottom. Aside from the need for occasional cleaning of the upper to remove mud, salt deposits and various hangers-on from the tall grass, the upper has not a single fray or flaw through the mesh.
The flex points on both midfoot show no signs of cracking despite copious overlays along the sides and front of the shoe (which is impressive considering the amount of squatting, crouching and time spent on the balls of the feet when assessing patients and demonstrating exercises in a Physical Therapy setting).
Even though the MTN Racer sports a supple inner layer of fabric for moisture management as mentioned earlier, it too seems to be holding up admirably compared with its cousin in the heel area of the Topo Athletic ST-3 (see previous review comments on both the written review and YouTube video for details).
In short, the MTN Racer from a longevity standpoint alone justifies the slightly steep (pun intended) price tag of $140 MSRP.
In terms of looks, the MTN Racer does a fantastic job of turning heads. Timed well with its release date right before the Fourth of July in the USA, this shoe was part of my workout and workday wardrobe for weeks with many positive comments from patients, fellow runners, and staff members alike.
The bright red tones in contrast with a dark sole (which contributes greatly to a long-lasting out of the box look) make for a very sleek looking shoe. The logo over the forefoot and the stat line of the shoe across the heel also highlight a very savvy and stylish design for a shoe meant for the most rugged terrain you can dish out.
However, as always with a newer shoe and sometimes with those in the upper end of the price range, this shoe currently is only available in one colorway, relegating those in need of a more neutral tone to the sidelines with this particular offering from Topo Athletic.
If not for the World Cup and Independence Day celebrations going on in my workplace for the past month or so, this shoe may have raised an eyebrow or two with upper management in a less welcome way.
For a shoe designed for playtime versus paid time, the MTN Racer delivers a vibrant look, but could do so for a broader range of consumers given additional color scheme options.
- Fun and flashy style in a trail shoe designed to take a beating
- Very lightweight in-class
- A grippy and hard-wearing outsole that can take whatever you dish out
- Breathable inner booty-like upper combined with the ripstop outer fabric enhances durability
- Drainage vents along the sides of the forefoot through the TPU aid an already efficient moisture management system
- Highest in line heel to toe offset and stack height may turn off some minimalists and those looking for a more stable and low profile shoe
- Fair but not optimal flexibility due to the thickness of the midsole
- Narrow forefoot and short sizing may confound Topo regulars
- Limited colorways decrease the versatility of the shoe post-workout
The MTN Racer is a comfortable, iron workhorse of a trail shoe in a lightweight package that breaks the mold when it comes to style in a trail shoe.
With some sizing adjustments, and a few years to create more varied colorway options, and to fine tune the balance between float and feel in the midsole this shoe has the potential to rival the big boys for the race day and workday choice for the weekend and weekday warriors alike.
DISCLOSURE: For the purpose of review, I’d like to thank Topo Athletic for providing me with a pair of MTN Racer shoes. No additional compensation was provided, and the review process objective over the course of a normal life cycle of my daily training shoes.
The MTN Racer is a trail running shoe that is at home on mountainous and technical terrain. The Vibram outsole provides plenty of traction and true to Topo's other models. This shoe is a low drop shoe and has a roomy natural feeling in the toe box.
Plenty of traction
The MTN Racer is outfitted with a grippy and durable sole from Vibram. As with all Vibram sole, I would expect nothing less. Their soles are always top-notch no matter the brand of shoe.
The outsole felt best on rocky, muddy, or technical terrain. The lugs are deep and substantial, thus providing plenty of grip. However, it does make this shoe feel overbuilt for more tame trails or road running. In fact, they feel just plain awful on the road.
The grip was great no matter the conditions - wet, dry, rocky, rooted, muddy. The MTN Racer is one of those shoes that inspires confidence on the toughest trails.
For starters, the fit was perfect. The shoe is true to size. The toe box is roomy, providing plenty of space for your toes to splay naturally.
The midfoot and heel felt snug, but not too tight, keeping my foot in place on the technical trails. The heel cup was my favorite part of the shoe's fit. It is padded and flexible, but not overbuilt.
The MTN Racer is a truly quality shoe. The materials are top-notch. The upper is a tough mesh with plenty of welded overlays. The tongue is lightly padded and gusseted to keep out the unwanted debris.
While the outsole is just fantastic for the trails, as stated above. The jury is still out of the midsole, but after about 100 miles, the cushion still feels great. I expect these shoes to pass the test of time.
At 9.3 ounces for a size 9, this is a great shoe. The MTN Racer not only is light on the scale, but also feels light underfoot, at least on the trails. Continue to the "Why Not?" section for more.
Yes, the MTN Racer is well constructed and durable, but this does make the shoe feel overly built for many situations. The upper is extremely hot. I am not exaggerating; at the end of an hour-long run on a hot day, so much sweat had built up inside the shoe - felt squishy.
The lugs on these shoes are also overly built, which is great for technical and mountainous trails. However, these definitely hurts performance on less technical trails and roads.
A versatile shoe almost always earns high marks from me. The MTN Racer, however, is built for one purpose. The shoe excels on those tough trails, but really nowhere else.
On the roads? They feel cumbersome and overbuilt.
Easy trails? Again the MTN Racer is not a great option.
On the road on less technical trails, the shoe loses that lightweight feel and suddenly feels much heavier than 9.3 ounces. If you live near some truly technical trails, the MTN Racer may be for you. For me, I need a shoe that can do more than one job.
I give credit to Topo for creating a shoe true to their brand. As promised, the MTN Racer has a low drop and a natural fit.
This shoe would be great at mountain races and trail runs. It is named appropriately. However, I was left wanting more.
In my opinion, versatility is the most important quality in a shoe, and MTN Racer was lacking.
These shoes feel really well made. When I first picked them up, I was surprised by how little they weighed despite being so sturdy. Topo did a lot of things right, mainly the ride and grip, which are both superb for high mileage days on rough terrain.
These shoes also have a high amount of cushioning thickness, but they don’t look like they are 30mm of foam in the back and 25mm in the front, which I think is a good thing. I’m not really going for looks or style points on when I’m trail running, but I think it’s a plus that these shoes don’t look like platform shoes.
Mountain Racers after 80 running miles and not much cleaning.
As of July, I’ve put 82 running miles on these shoes, plus another 10-15 miles of hiking. Of the running miles, about 25 of them were on trails of some sort, including a sprint up the rocky “Stairmaster” approach in the Gunks of New York, lots of crushed limestones, and a long and muddy trail run on a single track.
The upper is made out of a thin but durable nylon material. I read another pre-release review that said it was ripstop nylon, but can’t confirm that, nor do I have a good idea of what exactly that means.
Regardless, the upper is thin, durable, but not waterproof or especially breathable. To test how “breathable” it is, I tried to put my mouth to the upper and tried to breathe or suck any air through, and there was little to no air getting through the upper.
I would call it “splash proof,” as it was great at keeping my feet feeling dry when running through puddles, but it also was great at pooling sweat when the temp was above 75F (24C).
If it’s cool, then the upper is great, as it keeps dust, mud, and splashed water out. When it’s hot, I’d really prefer the uppers to be mesh.
Midsole & outsole
A little more midsole than I typically get on a shoe, but I like it. It’s not overly cushy, which makes the shoe surprisingly responsive and sturdy while still being reasonably flexible.
The thicker midsole also makes the shoe protective against sharp rocks. I don’t know if this shoe has a rock plate, but if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t need one, as the thickness of the sole alone suffices.
Even though there is a lot of foam in that midsole, they really don’t look that tall.
The outsole is nothing short of incredible; definitely a huge selling point of the shoes.
Not a single time have my feet slipped while wearing these shoes. The lugs are thick but not too obtrusive, and you don’t feel them if you’re running on pavement.
Whoever made this outsole, really knew what they were doing. Kudos to you, my friend!
Ride & comfort
Responsive and reliable, yet forgiving enough to not hold you back on higher mileage runs. Surprisingly stable, but that compromises on the toe-box comfort, making it feel slightly more constrictive.
Overall, the ride is superb. The ludicrous grip combined with the responsive midsole and sock-like upper makes the shoe feel natural despite the taller stack height. These shoes give me the confidence to push my limits on the trails, which make a run that much more fun.
There are two very small issues I have with the comfort:
- The toe feels a little too lifted like the shoe is forcing your toes upward. I mostly notice this when I’m first putting the shoes on, though, and the feeling goes away after I get a few steps into my run.
- The toe-box is slightly too restrictive, which takes away from the comfort. I think this is a trade-off for the responsiveness of the ride, as the shoe stays true and underfoot even on tight turns, but I think this is an area that could be improved.
Protection & durability
Very good protection on the upper due to the ripstop nylon, and great protection from rocks due to the thick but responsive midsole.
I have noticed some of the seams between the upper and midsole that is coming undone, and that shouldn’t be happening on a rugged trail shoe that only has 80 miles on them.
The seam between the upper and midsole coming unglued. This started happening after ~50 miles.
I have the slightly less rugged Topo Athletic Runventure 2, that have had no issues with the build quality, so I’d chalk this issue up to this being the first iteration of these shoes. I’m confident that in the second version, Topo will figure out how to make sure all the seams stay together.
That said, this issue has had no effect on the way these shoes run and is currently just cosmetic, but it is concerning nonetheless. To emphasize this point, I didn’t even notice the build quality issues until I really examined the shoe while writing and filming my review.
Same issue on the other side of the shoe.
Impressively lightweight. I wear a size 12, and these shoes feel like they should weigh at least 2 ounces more given how sturdy they feel. Like I said before, when you see these in the store, be sure to pick them up so you too can be amazed by how light and sturdy they feel!
The Men’s size 12 Mountain Racers weighed 11.4 ounces (324 grams) out of the box.
If it weren’t hot out when I was testing these shoes, I might have lauded the nylon upper as a great feature for keeping the water, mud, grime, and snow out. If running in adverse conditions in cold weather is your idea of a good time (I know it is for me!) then I think you would join me in calling the nylon upper a notable feature.
The other thing to note about these and other Topo Athletic trail shoes is that they have gaiter attachments built into the shoe. I do not own, nor have worn the gaiters, but I’ve read good things about them, and I bet they would make these shoes practically bomb-proof for winter or muddy hiking/trail running.
Gaiter attachment points.
I wear a size 12 in most shoes, and these are reasonably true to fit, but I could probably go a half size up and be fine. If you are in-between sizes, I’d recommend going a half size up.
|Most Adidas shoes||12|
|Saucony Kinvara 5,6 and 7||12.5|
|Brooks Pureflow 6 & 7||12.5|
|Saucony Freedom ISO 2||12|
If you scroll through all the other trail runner options, they are solidly in the mid-range of prices. Assuming the build quality issue is just cosmetic, I would say these are definitely worthwhile shoes.
- Comfortable - I will wear these shoes for my next trail race or ultra marathon, given it’s not too hot
- Good protection from rocks
- Durable sole
- Toe box is appropriately sized for comfort, but not too big to allow the foot to move around too much, ideal for responsiveness and inspiring confidence when turning sharply or stopping quickly
- A ludicrous amount of traction
- Toe feels a little lifted
- Not great breathability, I would not consider wearing these shoes if it’s >80F (>26.5C)
- Toe-box is slightly constrictive, but I also feel like this is a slight tradeoff for having a form-fitting and responsive trail shoe. That said, I think the comfort can be improved
I think if I had received these shoes in January, my review might be 3-5 points higher. As much as the shoes excelled on the trails, they just weren’t super enjoyable to lace up in the heat of the late spring and summer due almost entirely to the lack of breathability through the upper.
The lack of breathability and the potential build quality concerns were the main two issues I had with these shoes - the comfort and lifted toe issues were very small and more meant as a challenge to Topo for something they could improve for the next iteration.
Now that I have finished testing of these shoes, I’ll probably be keeping them in my closet until fall rolls around, but I’m very excited to get them back out again to tackle some leaf-covered trails.
I will probably be running in these shoes exclusively through the winter, as they can probably grip ice and snow far better than anything else I own!
Would I recommend to a friend?
I would, without a doubt, recommend these to an ultra runner who is planning on running when it is cold outside, which is pretty much every ultra runner I know.
They also make excellent hiking shoes that I would happily lace up for almost any hiking or backpacking trip. If you are an avid hiker, especially fast-packer or any other sort of backpacker who is looking to cover some serious ground, then these would also be an excellent option for you.
I’ll say up front that I received these shoes for testing by RunRepeat.com, but my intentions are pure and my biases as in-check as possible. No additional compensation was provided.
Up to this point, I have not heard much about Topo Athletic. However, after trying this shoe out, I am confident that this brand will start making a real name for itself.
The Topo MTN Racer is an awesome lightweight trail running shoe that works well on many different surfaces.
I was able to test this shoe over about 60 miles, both running and hiking on various surfaces and must say it performed well with anything I put it through.
The shoe is fairly cushioned, but it is stiff, which provides a perfect ride for any distance. The cushion is just the right amount to keep the legs feeling fresh on longer runs yet stiff enough that faster runs feel just as good.
My favorite part about this shoe is that Topo uses a Vibram MegaGrip outsole which provides a lot of grip on both wet and dry surfaces. Even on the steepest terrain, I was able to comfortably run downhill even in very rocky terrain and never had to worry about the grip of the shoe.
The grip worked well in wet conditions as well. The drainage ports on the side are a very nice touch allowing the shoe to dry out quickly.
The shoe also breathes very well. I ran with it a couple of days that were around 100 degrees and did not feel like my feet were overheating.
Possibly, the only part about this shoe that was somewhat a downfall was the lack of protection on the bottom of the shoe. It was not super noticeable most of the time, but the lack of a rock plate or anything like it, allowed rocky terrain to be felt underfoot.
Obviously, this allows for the shoe to be on the lighter side, which I would personally prefer over the protection, but that is up to the individual.
Fit & comfort
This is a very comfortable shoe. The 5mm drop is low enough to keep the shoe feeling very natural.
The overall fit of the shoe is real. I have a very narrow foot, and while this shoe is slightly on the wider side, I did not feel like my foot was moving around at all in the shoe and felt that it formed very well to my foot.
I would definitely say that someone with a wider foot would be very comfortable in this shoe as well. I would use this shoe for anything from a short, fast trail run even to an ultra distance. This is a great shoe to hike in as well, and I am excited to try this shoe out for a quick backpacking trip.
I have only been able to put about 60 miles on this shoe, and so far it is holding up perfectly fine. The Vibram sole shows no sign of wear, and other than being dirty, the upper is holding up perfectly fine.
As I have said, I’ve brought this shoe on a variety of terrain and through a few different conditions and have no issues with it.
This new shoe from Topo Athletic is a great shoe for the trails. The shoe has a low enough drop to give it a natural feel and provides the right amount of cushioning for runs of any distance.
The $140 price tag is somewhat steep, but for the performance and durability of this shoe, I would imagine that it will be money well spent for the long run.
Good to know
- Topo Athletic presents a new running gear in the form of the MTN Racer. As the name implies, this shoe offers an outstanding performance that is aimed at trail racing and speed-hiking.
- The upper of the MTN Racer provides appropriate coverage while also maintaining optimal breathability. The other elements that surround the two-layer mesh also contribute to protecting the foot from debris, as well as water.
- Meanwhile, the shoe’s sole unit is comprised of technologies that contribute to a natural sensation when running. It also provides the runner with the necessary cushioning, traction, and durability to ensure a problem-free ride no matter how rugged the trails are.
The Topo Athletic MTN Racer is constructed with medium dimensions in the heel, midfoot, and toe box. The height of the toe box also falls under the average measurement. Additionally, because the MTN Racer is a neutral running shoe, the arch has a moderate-to-low height to accommodate the high arches of neutral pronators.
The main outsole component of the Topo Athletic MTN Racer is the Vibram Megagrip rubber compound. This material is known for its durable and slip-resistant qualities that help maintain the high performance needed in trail running, especially on wet surfaces.
A set of multidirectional lugs are found across the length of the outsole. These lugs are spaced wide enough from each other, providing an adequate surface area for traction. The sufficient space between each lug allows for a proper release of mud and snow.
A three-piece injected ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam makes up the bulk of the MTN Racer’s midsole unit. The material has a structure that promotes high-rebound in all areas of the shoe. The foam unit is divided into two parts: soft on the lateral side for a cushioned foot-strike, while firm on the medial side to maintain a secure and comfortable fit.
Accompanying the EVA foam is a piece of Ortholite insole. This brand of sockliner is popular for its anti-microbial property.
The upper of the Topo Athletic MTN Racer is made of ripstop mesh that is constructed using a stitchless design to keep the foot secure. The mesh is installed with drainage ports on the lateral and medial sides to allow water to escape quickly, as well as letting air inside to dry the shoe.
The upper is aided by accessories, including a gusseted tongue that prevents dirt and debris from entering the shoe. The New Balance 890 v6 sports a similarly designed feature. The tongue is incorporated with lace guides, which augment the secure fit of the shoe.
An anatomical toe box in the shoe’s forefront allows the toes to spread naturally and comfortably. This feature is consistent among many running shoes of Topo Athletic.