I have been desperately waiting for a new trail shoe by Topo Athletic that combines some of my favorite aspects of other models into one. The Ultraventure nearly answered all my prayers.
Initially hesitant about the larger-than-normal stack height, I am sold that a 5mm can feel like a dream to a 3mm runner. The added cushion means not missing a rock plate while being able to run longer distances with energetic legs. The additions of the gaiter attachment, drainage gills, and gusseted tongue keep debris out and happier feet in.
If you're looking for a more cushioned trail shoe, like an aggressive lug, or need better drainage from rain, the Ultraventure is for you.
The fully gusseted tongue wins my heart every time. I don't understand why ALL shoes don't have this. I love never having to fuss with the tongue, so right out of the box, I was a happy camper.
The mesh is soft, stretchy, and resistant to the plethora of blackberry bushes I've been running through (I cannot say the same for my skin). The shoe also boasts "drainage gills" for water release. I will say that the super soft mesh DOES get wet fast, but the drainage is quick and effective (probably 2nd fastest to the Runventure2).
The Ultraventure also features the gaiter attachment that first released with the Runventure2, making it compatible with that same stretchy nylon Topo gaiter (optional and sold separately). This gaiter is awesome at keeping things like debris and pine needles out of the shoe, as well as SNOW. You can see from my photo, the hook attachment on the heel of the shoe for the gaiter (as well as proof that I've been running in them).
The Midsole (Stability/motion-control)
The massive stack height (compared to other Topo Athletic models) gives this shoe more stability and cushion than a long distance trail runner may be used to. That being said, I find this midsole FAR more comfortable than the Terraventure and Hydroventure for long runs. The Ultraventure somehow feels leaner and more snug while still giving a comfortably wide toebox, making it feel less clunky, even with the extra cushion.
Compared to more minimal models like the Runventure2 and MT-2, the Ultraventure isn't as responsive (read: you won't feel every single stick under your feet). The 3-piece EVA midsole helps absorb a lot of shock for the legs, so I find my legs maintain energy on trail longer. The feel is very similar to the Topo Althetic's Ultrafly (road shoe).
The outsole of the Ultraventure is new to Topo Athletic, as they've teamed up with Vibram to make this shoe. The Vibram XS Trek outsole provides traction, durability, and protection on technical trails, but I'll be quite honest with you: I don't see why Topo made this change to their newest trail shoes.
I would guess that the change to a Vibram outsole has everything to do with brand recognition and nothing to do with any issues with Topo's outsoles. The rest of my shoe breaks LONG before the outsole has ever worn down on any model of shoe by Topo Athletic. That being said, Vibram is a long-standing company that is well-known and trusted by people who beat up shoes from runners to military personnel.
I believe this was marketing over utility. That's fine with me since the lug style is impeccably similar to the Topo norm. Wet rock and root tested and approved. This would make a great OCR shoe for those that need more cushion than what we normally see with OCR-specific runners.
This shoe does NOT have a rock plate. That being said, I run on mixed gravel and rock a lot lately, and haven't noticed the lack of plating. I think that has a lot to do with the bigger stack height and more cushioned midsole than the other Topo models. The lugs are 6mm deep, comparable to the Terraventure, and great for longer obstacle races or more loosely packed trail.
Neutral colors makes this shoe a little less playful than we see from Topo's road shoes. I was really hoping for a crazy fun pop of color out of the new trail shoe. Here's hoping for next time! (updated: Topo Athletic released the Terraventure 2 which has a killer yellow and red in the men's line.) While the lacing system for these makes the laces stay locked in place, they are a challenge to tighten when wet (and make a super terrible squeak that makes me cringe).
**Disclosure: I am a Topo Athletic Ambassador, although they do not pay me or require me to write positive reviews. Feel free to use PLANTPOWERED10 at checkout for a discount on any shoe at www.topoathletic.com.