Topo Athletic Mtn Racer
Test Locations: Gunnison — Crested Butte, Colorado
Test Duration: 195 miles
Stated Stack Height: 30 mm (heel) / 25 mm (forefoot)
Stated Heel-to-Toe Drop: 5 mm
- Roomy anatomical toe box allows toes to spread naturally and comfortably
- 5mm drop allows you to access natural running with more under-heel cushioning
- Vibram Megagrip outsole for unparalleled grip, traction, and durability
- Comfortable, anti-compression Ortholite footbed with antimicrobial properties
- Firm cushioning, neutral support
Reviewer: 6’1″, 145 lbs / 185 cm, 66 kg
Size Tested: US Men’s 11.5
Stated Weight per Shoe (US Men’s Size 9): 278 g / 9.8 oz
Blister Measured Weight (US Men’s 11.5):
- Shoes + Laces: 293 g (left) & 299 g (right)
- Insoles: 24 g (left) & 24 g (right)
- Total: 316 g (left) & 322 g (right)
Topo Athletic started making, in their own words, “No-nonsense natural running shoes” about seven years ago. My interpretation of what exactly makes a natural running shoe “no-nonsense” has always been that Topo’s designs occupy something of a middle ground between wide, zero-drop shoes from brands like Altra and narrower, higher-drop shoes from brands like Salomon or Hoka. Topo’s shoes have wide, rounded toe boxes that look a whole lot like many of Altra’s shoes at a first glance — but Topo also makes shoes with a wider range of (albeit, still fairly low) heel-to-toe drops.
So considering that two of my favorite shoes this year have been lightweight, fairly high-stack-height shoes from brands on either end of this spectrum (the Altra Timp 2.0 and Hoka One One Evo Speedgoat), I was very curious about Topo’s answer to the lightweight, high-cushion trail shoe market.
On paper, the Topo Athletic Mtn Racer has a lot in common with both the Evo Speedgoat and the Timp — its wide, rounded toe box looks a lot like the Timp, while its 5 mm drop and 30 mm / 25 mm stack height are very close to the Evo Speedgoat’s stats. The Mtn Racer also weighs about the same amount as both of these shoes.
As always, I’ll start by saying that you should absolutely try on the Mtn Racer in person before buying, if you’re able. Fit is extremely personal and subjective, and there’s no substitute for actually getting a shoe on your foot to see how it feels before buying it. With that in mind, I’ll provide my take on the Mtn Racer’s fit — both in general and in comparison to some other similar shoes. For reference, I have fairly narrow feet with low arches, but like shoes that still give my toes room to spread out.
Overall, the Mtn Racer’s fit is probably one of the best examples of how the shoe blends the features of shoes like the Altra Timp 2.0 and Hoka One One Evo Speedgoat. Like Altra shoes, the Topo Athletic Mtn Racer has a wide, rounded toe box that provides plenty of room for toe-splay. The toe box still doesn’t feel quite as spacious as the Altra Timp 2.0, but it’s pretty darn close. My toes have lots of space to spread out, and I haven’t had any issues with my toes getting smashed together like I have in some narrower shoes like the La Sportiva Bushido II or Hoka Evo Speedgoat.
The Mtn Racer’s fit through the midfoot and heel is noticeably tighter and more secure than the Timp 2.0. I still think that shoes with an elastic, gusseted tongue (like the Hoka Evo Speedgoat or Salomon Sense 4 /Pro) feel more secure and locked-down, but the Mtn Racer’s tighter midfoot and heel do make it a bit more confidence-inspiring on technical terrain than the Timp 2.0. It is worth noting that, while the Mtn Racer’s fairly narrow midfoot feels great for my fairly narrow feet, it might be a bit constricting for runners with wide feet and / or particularly high arches.
While the Mtn Racer does combine some of my favorite aspects of the Timp 2.0 (wide, roomy toe box) and the Evo Speedgoat (more secure midfoot / heel), its fit still isn’t perfect for me. The main issue I’ve run into is that the Mtn Racer feels a fair amount longer in my usual US Men’s size 11.5 than the Timp 2.0. While this extra space at the front of the toe box was welcome at first, I’ve noticed that it allows my foot to slide forward quite a bit on super steep downhills. This doesn’t necessarily make the shoe feel less secure on steep terrain — there’s still very little side-to-side slippage inside the shoe — but it does mean that the tops of my feet end up pressing against the lacing system harder than usual, which has caused some minor pressure points on especially long, steep descents.
The Mtn Racer isn’t impressively light compared to more minimal shoes, but when you take into account how much cushion / protection it provides, it’s very similar to (or even lighter than) other shoes in its category. For a more direct comparison, here are the stated weights (based on a US Men’s size 9) of several shoes from different brands with similar stack heights to the Mtn Racer:
278 g / 9.8 oz — Hoka One One Challenger ATR 6
278 g / 9.8 oz — Topo Athletic Mtn Racer
281 g / 9.9 oz — Altra Timp 2.0
281 g / 9.9 oz — Hoka One One Evo Speedgoat
289 g / 10.2 oz — Brooks Caldera 4
295 g / 10.4 oz — New Balance Fresh Foam More Trail v1
298 g / 10.5 oz — Nike Wildhorse 6
306 g / 10.8 oz — Hoka One One Speedgoat 4
For a shoe with a 30 mm (heel) / 25 mm (toe) stack height, the Mtn Racer is about as light as they come (at least on paper). Interestingly, the measured weight for my US Men’s 11.5 (322 g / 11.4 oz) actually comes in a bit heavier than the Evo Speedgoat in the same size (311 g / 11.0 oz) and exactly the same as the Timp 2.0 (322 g / 11.4 oz) — even though the Mtn Racer is supposedly 3 g / 0.1 oz lighter than the Timp or Evo Speedgoat based on each shoe’s stated weight.
In practice, the Mtn Racer also felt a bit heavier than I’d expected based on stated weight alone. It still isn’t overly cumbersome, but it also doesn’t feel quite as light and springy as the Evo Speedgoat or Timp 2.0. Part of that might be the Mtn Racer’s slightly higher measured weight, but I think it’s more a result of the shoe’s firmer cushion (more on that later). At the end of the day, the Mtn Racer is still light enough that it doesn’t feel super slow or inefficient — but it’s not the most lightweight-feeling high-cushion shoe I’ve used, either.
The Mtn Racer’s upper consists of a ripstop nylon material supported by thin, flexible plastic overlays. According to Topo, the ripstop nylon has a bit less stretch to it than more traditional mesh materials, which helps give the Mtn Racer a more secure / locked-down fit. I definitely agree that the upper feels fairly rigid — and not in a bad way. It’s still plenty comfortable, and hasn’t caused any hot spots, but the less stretchy materials certainly help with the secure fit through the midfoot / heel that I mentioned in the “Fit” section. The shoe’s well-constructed heel cup helps with that as well — it’s very well padded and comfortable, but still holds my heel securely.
I have noticed that the ripstop material doesn’t breathe quite as well as a more open mesh upper in even moderately warm weather (~60 °F / 15.5 °C). For the most part, I think the improvements in fit outweigh the decrease in breathability, but it could be an issue if you often run in extra hot conditions. The plastic overlays around the sides of the forefoot do have a series of small slits that act as drainage ports, which do help with both drainage and breathability a bit. That said, the rest of the shoe still takes longer to dry out after water crossings than a shoe with a more open mesh upper like the Altra Timp 2.0.
Lastly, the Mtn Racer’s tongue is fairly minimal and doesn’t provide a whole lot of cushion between the laces and the top of the foot — what cushion it does provide is adequate most of the time, but when my feet slide forward against the lacing system on steep downhills, the pressure from the laces can get a little uncomfortable. So far this hasn’t deterred me from using the Mtn Racer for runs up to 2 hours long, but I could see it causing more serious problems over longer distances.
In my opinion, the Mtn Racer’s midsole is the feature that pretty much answers my question of whether or not the shoe is just a mix between the Hoka Evo Speedgoat and Altra Timp 2.0. Both the Evo Speedgoat and Timp 2.0 have fairly soft, springy midsoles that (in my opinion) make both shoes feel much more lively and nimble than I’d expect for shoes with ~30 mm stack heights. I’ll admit to hoping that the Mtn Racer would have a similar feel, but its midsole represents an entirely different approach.
Topo uses three densities of EVA foam for the Mtn Racer’s midsole, all of which are much firmer than the cushioning in the Evo Speedgoat or Timp 2.0. Most of the Mtn Racer’s midsole consists of a fairly firm, compression-resistant EVA that feels similar to the material used on shoes like the Salomon S/Lab Sense 8 (just a lot thicker). There’s also a softer EVA insert that wraps around the bottom of the heel to provide a slightly more forgiving ride on downhills. Finally, there’s a firmer EVA insert along the inside of the arch to prevent your foot from collapsing inwards.
The net result of all those different foam densities is a midsole that feels just a little too firm — at least for my preferences. The Mtn Racer’s high stack height certainly provides plenty of protection on technical trails, but the firm midsole doesn’t feel like it provides nearly as much energy return as the springier materials used on the Hoka Evo Speedgoat or Altra Timp 2.0. This is a definite plus in some situations — the Mtn Racer feels more stable on off-camber terrain than the Evo Speedgoat because of its firm platform, and it feels much more protective on rocky trails than the Timp 2.0. But on more moderate terrain, the Mtn Racer’s fairly rigid midsole makes for a less energetic, more efficient-feeling ride.
One other interesting note about the Mtn Racer’s midsole is that the shoe feels like it has a much lower drop than it actually does on paper — mostly due to the midsole geometry. While the Mtn Racer technically has a higher drop than the Evo Speedgoat (5 mm vs 4 mm), it actually feels much more similar to a zero-drop shoe like the Timp 2.0 because of its substantial forefoot rocker. The front of the Mtn Racer’s midsole curves up quite a bit starting just below the ball of your foot, which distinctly favors a forefoot strike. I usually forefoot strike anyway, so I was pleasantly surprised by this feature — but it might make the shoe feel a bit more awkward than you’d expect for a 5 mm drop shoe for runners who usually heel-strike.
The Mtn Racer uses the same Vibram Megagrip rubber compound found on shoes like the Hoka Evo Speedgoat and Altra Olympus 4.0. I’ve been very impressed by Megagrip outsoles on other shoes, and the same holds true for the Mtn Racer. In combination with the shoe’s moderately aggressive, widely spaced lugs, the Megagrip rubber provides plenty of traction on just about every surface I’ve run on during testing. The Mtn Racer has ample grip for dry rocky terrain, loose scree and gravel, wet roots / rocks, and shallow mud and snow. I did have issues with mud building up on the Mtn Racer’s outsole on one particularly muddy run, but I have yet to find a shoe that doesn’t suffer from that problem in mud that deep.
So unless most of your runs involve slogging through ankle-deep mud, the Mtn Racer’s outsole will probably give you plenty of grip. To make things even better, Vibram’s Megagrip compound seems to be extremely durable — the Megagrip outsole on the Evo Speedgoat still had plenty of lug depth remaining after over 400 miles in the shoe. While I’ll have to put more miles on the Mtn Racer before I can confirm that its outsole is equally durable, I fully expect it to hold up for several hundred miles of use.
After my first few runs in the Mtn Racer, it quickly became pretty obvious that it’s fairly different from other high-cushion / lightweight trail shoes I’ve used. As a result, I spent the next 100 or so miles in the Mtn Racer trying to figure out exactly what it does best, and where I’d still give the upper hand to shoes like the Evo Speedgoat or Altra Timp 2.0.
First off, the Mtn Racer definitely delivers on providing a comfortable, secure fit on everything but the steepest of terrain. I’ve used the shoe on numerous runs up to 2 hours long, and haven’t had any issues with blisters or hot spots (aside from the pressure points from the lacing system on steep downhills that I mentioned earlier). The Mtn Racer’s toe box provides almost as much space for toe-splay as the Altra Timp 2.0, but the more secure fit through the midfoot and heel make the Mtn Racer feel much more secure on technical, off-camber terrain. The Mtn Racer’s firm cushioning also provides quite a bit more protection from sharp rocks than the Timp’s relatively soft midsole.
The Mtn Racer’s wider toe box (and maybe the firmer EVA under the inside of the arch) also makes it more stable than the Hoka Evo Speedgoat on off-camber terrain. The Evo Speedgoat’s elastic gusseted tongue and fairly rigid upper do a good job of holding my foot securely on technical terrain, but they don’t change the fact that it’s still a fairly narrow shoe. The Evo Speedgoat’s relatively narrow platform and high stack height did sometimes make me feel more prone to epic ankle rolls on off-camber, rocky terrain. While the Mtn Racer has a fairly similar stack height, its wide toe box makes it much more stable and confidence-inspiring on technical terrain.
While I’ve been fairly impressed by the Mtn Racer’s performance on the type of rough terrain that feels a tad sketchy in the Timp 2.0 or Evo Speedgoat, I haven’t been as happy with the Mtn Racer’s performance on more moderate trails. As I discussed in the “Midsole” section, the Mtn Racer feels very firm and rigid underfoot. That’s all well and good when you’re on technical terrain that demands a protective shoe, but it makes the Mtn Racer feel noticeably less springy and energetic than the competition on moderate terrain.
For a shoe with a 30 mm / 25 mm stack height, the Mtn Racer can feel surprisingly harsh on hard-packed trails — not because it isn’t protective enough, but because the midsole is firm enough that it doesn’t really do a whole lot in the way of shock absorption. This fairly harsh ride also makes the Mtn Racer feel less lively and efficient than the Evo Speedgoat or Timp 2.0 — even though it supposedly weighs less on paper.
Don’t get me wrong, the Mtn Racer still feels reasonably light and fast for a shoe of its size. But when there are plenty of other shoes on the market with similar stack heights and weights that provide much more energy return on mellow trails, the Mtn Racer’s ride leaves a bit to be desired.
After 195 miles in the Mtn Racer, most of the shoe is holding up very well. As previously mentioned, Vibram Megagrip outsoles like the one found on the Mtn Racer are usually extremely durable, especially for how much grip they provide. So I don’t expect the Mtn Racer’s outsole to wear out prematurely. So far, it looks pretty much the same as it did when it came out of the box.
Because the midsole material is so firm, I’m also expecting it to hold up well in the long run. It hasn’t compacted at all after 195 miles of use, as far as I can tell. If anything, it feels like it has softened up a little bit over the last ~200 miles, which actually improves the shoe’s ride in my opinion. There is one spot in the forefoot where some of the paint on the uppermost layer of midsole foam has peeled off, but that’s a purely cosmetic issue.
The only real question mark about the Mtn Racer’s durability for me at this point is the upper. The ripstop material that Topo is using seems extremely durable, and isn’t showing any signs of fraying or tearing. But there is a spot on the outside of the shoe below the uppermost lace eyelet where the upper has started to come unglued from the upper part of the midsole. So far it’s fairly small, but it is happening on both shoes — and could start to cause issues if it gets bigger. I’ll be keeping an eye on that spot, and I’ll add any relevant updates to this section as I put more miles on the shoe.
Who’s It For?
Based on my experience with the Mtn Racer, I think it’s best suited to long runs on technical terrain. It feels more secure, stable, and protective than other lightweight / high-stack-height trail shoes I’ve used, but still has a comfortable / accomadating enough fit for longer runs. On smoother trails, I’d still lean towards a shoe like the Evo Speedgoat, which has a much softer / springer midsole and provides better energy return.
I don’t think the Mtn Racer is the best option if you’re just looking for a shoe with a wide, rounded toe box that isn’t zero drop — as I mentioned previously, the Mtn Racer’s aggressive forefoot rocker makes it feel much more like a zero-drop shoe than I would’ve expected. But if you already tend to forefoot strike, the Mtn Racer could be a good option if you prefer a more stable / protective shoe to one that provides a slightly smoother ride.
At the end of the day, the Topo Athletic Mtn Racer is not some hybrid Hoka Speedgoat / Altra Timp with all of the best features cherry-picked from each shoe. It is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a unique shoe that occupies a slightly different niche than the Speedgoat or Timp. While I do think that the Mtn Racer would be an even better shoe if it had a softer, springier midsole, it’s a pretty solid shoe for technical trails as-is. I don’t know that I’d necessarily choose it for a fast 50k, but I definitely anticipate using it for long runs (and maybe races) on rocky, rugged terrain in the future.
Whether or not the Mtn Racer is the “best” shoe in the high-stack-height / lightweight category for you will largely depend on the type of running you’re going to use it for — if you’re looking for a plush, energetic shoe for cruising long miles on non-technical trails, this probably isn’t it. But if you’re looking for a more protective / stable shoe with a comfortable fit that can tackle rocky, mountainous trails, I think the Mtn Racer is a pretty compelling option.