Have a seat. Let’s talk about Topo Athletic for a moment, shall we? Don’t worry, this isn’t a history lesson, so I’ll spare you the comprehensive run-down of this budding company and jump straight to Topo’s general mission statement.
Simply put, Topo’s aim is to design a shoe that allows runners to access the important benefits of natural running while incorporating choice features found in traditional running shoes. Essentially, the goal is a combination of natural running shoe performance with traditional running shoe comfort.
Now, I have no problem admitting that upon beginning this review, I had very little faith in the 8-year old company Topo. This is no fault of Topo’s, as the blame lies squarely on my shoulders. As a runner and a consumer, I tend to choose my shoes the same way many choose their electronics.
Apple reigns supreme in electronics, as do Nike and Adidas in sports apparel. This is undoubtedly as a result of brand recognition. Even as an experienced runner, who has run in numerous shoes, I have a tendency to fall into the trap of making purchases based solely on brand recognition. For this reason, I find it paramount to warn against this type of consumerism. Just DON’T do it (poor Nike joke intended).
Moving past the fallacy in my tendencies as a consumer, let’s talk about New Balance etc., brands like Topo have to offer an exceptional product at a significantly lower price, independent of the pomp and pretense. For this reason, I was immediately intrigued by the shoe.
Over the course of this review, I am going to explain to you the value in the UltraFly 2, and tell you about what a liked, and where I feel there is room for improvement. So, was the UltraFly everything I hoped it would be? Let’s find out…
Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2
In all of my reviews, I begin with a general overview of the comfort offered by the shoe. I do this mainly because I feel a general overview of the comfort offered by a shoe is just as desirable as a breakdown of the midsole, heel, or upper. This was especially the case when I was an inexperienced runner. That being said, do not let the simple design of this shoe fool you. This thing is comfortable.
Upon first inspection of the Ultrafly 2, I was a little concerned. The thing looks pretty basic. It really doesn’t look like there is much shoe there.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite the minimalist stylings, the Ultrafly is a pretty substantial shoe. It offers excellent cushioning, with exceptional padding, particularly in the heel.
The midsole is made of three different EVA layers. More specifically, there is a firmer, more rigid medial EVA layer around the arch of the foot, with softer more accommodating EVA around the forefoot, with the most cushion being in the heel.
The upper is pretty standard fare (breathable mesh) but it does the job well and holds the foot in place, making for an excellent fit.
All of this in unison with the EXTRA-large toe box, made for an exceptionally comfortable ride. Now that we’ve discussed overall comfort, touching on all the moving parts of the Ultrafly 2, it’s time to break this thing down.
The 3-Layer EVA foam
So, let’s discuss the elephant in the room; the toe box. I call it the “elephant” in the room, because that’s how big the toe box on this shoe is.
In all honesty, when I first saw the Ultrafly 2, I thought it looked silly. I mean, it’s almost obnoxious how wide the toe box is, and I absolutely LOVE IT. Ultrafly 2, where have you been all my life?
As of writing this review, I have logged over 200 miles in the shoe, and not once (seriously) has a single toe been inconvenienced by unwanted compression, overheating, or friction. Remember y’all, we aren’t talking about a house slipper here. This is a shoe designed for impact. Still, it has not, in 200+ miles, bothered my toes.
The extra large toe box
The Ortholite footbed of the Ultryfly 2 is also a welcomed addition lending to the comfort of the shoe while moderating effects of odor-causing bacteria.
As I stated previously, the upper material is standard fare. That’s actually a pretty good thing. No need to reinvent the wheel on this one.
The breathable mesh isn’t heavy, it doesn’t retain heat and it does everything generally well. The tongue is soft, and the collar of the shoe left my ankles callous and blister free.
My only complaint with the upper is concerning the laces. Believe it or not, the laces are actually too substantial for an upper that has such little rigidity.
Depending on how stiff you tie your shoe, the laces themselves might actually dig into your foot through the tongue. That being said, some may find the upper of the Ultrafly 2 a little too flimsy (I’m looking at you trail runners).
Breathable mesh upper
As previously stated, the midsole of the Ultrafly 2 is composed of 3 layers (varying density) of EVA foam. This effectively guarantees cushioning that is softer against the foot (adding to the overall comfort of the shoe) with a firmer midsole material against the road (adding to the snappiness and performance of the shoe).
More specifically, compared to the main white midsole of the shoe, the medial portion of the midsole is roughly 10% harder, with a heel that is roughly 10% softer. The benefit of this medial stiffness is the addition of some stability to the shoe.
I am really keen on the medial support located right under the arch of the foot of the shoe. The benefit of having this rigidity centered in the middle of the shoe is light guidance and added stability.
Unfortunately, there is no noticeable enhancement to the arch support of the shoe as a result of the rigid medial layer. This is unfortunate, as my high arches sure could have used some of that support.
For me, however, the most noticeable benefit of the rigid medial layer was a smooth and snappy midfoot to forefoot transition at all speeds.
The sturdier medial portion of the midsole (grey)
I like the heel of the Ultrafly 2. As previously mentioned, the heel is the softest and most cushioned part of the midsole and is most responsible for the comfort and impact reduction offered by the shoe.
A lot of the comfort comes as a result of the softer EVA heel insert. This is to be expected, as the heel of the shoe has 28mm of cushioning to work with. In tandem with the insert, there is also an EVA Strobel board under the sock liner of the shoe ensuring a super plush ride.
I find it necessary to mention that it is most common for shoe companies to opt for a lighter, more rigid heel board, OR a slightly firmer insert. The benefits of this are a snappier transition from the heel, as well as a lighter shoe.
Weighing in at around 10 oz, the UltraFly is not necessarily a heavy shoe, but it could have benefited from choosing one form of cushion over the other. As a distance runner, however, I can appreciate a heel that is designed to guarantee maximum comfort.
As previously stated, the heavy amount of cushion in the heel may be a deal breaker for some, as transitions from heel to the firmer medial portion of the midsole are labored. This will be particularly frustrating for heel strikers that are looking for a snappier ride.
If it’s any consolation, at faster speeds the cumbersome transition from heel to midfoot feels less invasive. For a shoe that boasts this much cushion, it sure wants to go fast.
The heel area
The forefoot of the UltraFly boasts 23mm of cushioning, which is a very welcomed addition when transitioning from the harder medial portion of the shoe to the toe off. For the amount of cushion available at the forefoot of the shoe, all of my transitions were smooth and responsive.
Furthermore, while the cushioning is a priority in the forefoot, the UltraFly does not compromise on flexibility. During toe-off, the UltraFly never felt stiff, and never pinched or inconvenienced my strides, even at faster paces.
Flexibility in the forefoot
There really isn’t much to say about the outsole of the UltraFly. It is perfectly serviceable.
The selling points of this shoe are its extra-large toe-box, 3-layer midsole, and price. To its credit, however, the outsole of the shoe is remarkably resilient and is effective in a variety of settings (road and trail). Truly the construction of the shoe, in general, is exceptional. The pair I’ve been running in look almost as good as they did when I first pulled them out of the box.
Sturdy all-terrain outsole
The ample cushioning of the UltraFly ensures for a plush, comfortable ride. It also provides some stability, but not an inordinate amount. I was never overcome by the stability provided by the shoe. The UltraFly offers a pretty natural ride.
In terms of impact reduction, the bulk of the burden is dealt with through the cushioning I mentioned earlier. In order to accomplish this, however, an excessive amount of cushioning is required, which makes the shoe less responsive, sluggish and heavier.
That being said, I would have preferred to have some of the impact reduction accomplished through an articulated heel, like what is available in the Mizuno Wave Sky. I find this to be a more effective way of dispersing energy across the midsole of a shoe, which also cuts down on weight.
Now this will undoubtedly be a point of contention, but I really dig the look of the UltraFly. It’s very simple in design and color scheme.
There is nothing shiny or reflective on the UltraFly. It boasts no bells, no whistles, and nothing extravagant to speak of. Even the available color schemes are modest with a matte finish to them. This is exactly what I love about the shoe, and what lends itself well to my first point in the foreword. This is not a flashy shoe.
This is not a shoe that possesses trendy looks or street cred. You will not see advertisements in neon lights for the Topo UltraFly 2. What you get with this shoe is substance over style. Knowing this, I immediately appreciated the modest look.
Modest stylistic design
As I mentioned in the foreword of the review, I was hoping that Topo was a company that offered an excellent shoe at an unprecedented price. I’m pleased to report that this is undoubtedly the case. I firmly believe that if this shoe was the Nike UltraFly 2, it would be retailing for $150-$180. There is an obvious reason for this.
Companies with established reputations can bank on the reputation to sell shoes. Topo is a small company. So, how does a company like this generate hype? How do they attract consumers to their product? They do so by offering the very best at a price that beats the competition.
As of right now, on Topo’s website, the UltraFly 2 is retailing for $120. The shoe is well worth the money. However, just take a glance at any other 3rd party website selling Topo shoes. The prices are marked down significantly. I found the UltraFly 2 priced at as low as $80 at some retailers. This is madness! There is absolutely no good reason for such a markdown in price on a product that is this inspired.
As mentioned throughout the review, the UltraFly 2. This shoe is the real deal. In a market dominated by long-established mega-companies, Topo Athletics is the underdog. To compensate for a lack of visibility, they simply make the best shoe they can and sell it at an excellent price. Simple right?
Well no, not so simple. It is impressive to see a company with such conviction. They are not chasing any fads or appealing to any one’s vanity. They are making running shoes, for people who love to run. They are the proverbial “David” to Nike and Adidas’ “Goliath.”
Believe me, it’s understandable if at first, you underestimate this shoe. I know I did! But I have come to find that Topo truly belongs in the big leagues. They belong in your daily shoe rotation. They belong in the conversations you have with your running buddies. Don’t sleep on these guys y’all, they are filet mignon at a ramen price, NOW FILL UP!
Good to know
- A cushioned shoe designed for road running, the Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2 features two main updates. First, the shoe now has a modified upper. The enhanced mesh material is more durable than its predecessor, but it still delivers the same level of breathability to keep the foot dry and cool.
- Another update is the new Ortholite footbed which delivers an additional layer of cushioning for enhanced comfort and underfoot protection.
The Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2 is true to size. It comfortably accommodates runners with medium foot measurements. The toe box is wide, so it has enough room for the toes to wiggle comfortably. D – Medium for men and B – Medium for women are the available width options.
The Ultrafly 2 has a rubber outsole which extends from the heel to the forefoot. It is formulated to deliver durability of the outer sole. The rubber also offers reliable traction on varied paved surfaces.
There are also flex grooves in the outsole which delivers increased flexibility without compromising cushioning and durability.
For cushioning, the Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2 utilizes the 3-piece EVA midsole. The offers lightweight and durable cushioning in every distance. It offers responsive feedback and light guidance through the gait cycle.
The shoe also has the all-new Ortholite footbed which offers added underfoot comfort. It also has the moisture-wicking capacity, and it naturally eliminates odor-causing bacteria.
The second version of the Topo Athletic Ultrafly now has an ultra-lightweight mesh upper which offers efficient foot ventilation all throughout the run. It also offers a comfortable and durable foot wrap.
The printed overlays provide the midfoot a more secure and snug foot lockdown. It works well with the anatomical toe box which is designed for a more natural toe splay.