If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been running exclusively in Merrell shoes for a few years now. I put on my first pair of Merrell Bare Access road shoes in February of 2013 and then Merrell Ascend Glove trail shoes later that same year.
Now, nearly four years later, it’s time to replace the Ascend Gloves. The only problem? Merrell doesn’t make a shoe like it any longer, so I’ve been on the hunt for something new.
- Light and flexible
- Wide toe box
- No more than 4mm heel-to-toe drop
- A little extra protection from rocks, roots, and fatigue during long runs
- Good traction on soft, muddy terrain
- Good looks help
My initial research has narrowed down my list of possibilities to these hopefuls:
- Topo Athletic Terraventure
- Inov-8 Roclite 290
- Altra Superior 3.0
Meet the Terraventure
When you’re spending over a hundred dollars on a pair of shoes that you won’t know if you like until you’ve taken them out in the dirt, you choose wisely. After all, there’s no returning them once they touch ground.
I was first attracted to the Topo line because of the friendly nature of their brand. It helps that they were quick to respond on Twitter, and I didn’t feel like I was talking to a bot. Their Founder, Tony Post, was the CEO of Vibram USA which means he understands what it means for a shoe to let a runner’s foot do what it is supposed to do naturally.
When I reached out to Topo to ask which shoe was right for me they pointed me to the Terraventure.
How does it measure up with my new shoe criteria?
- Light and Flexible: B-
- Wide Toe Box: A
- Heel-to-Toe Drop: B+
- Foot Protection: A
- Soft, Muddy Traction: C-
- Looks: C+
Basic Shoe Layout
While this is not a minimalist shoe, it does share some of the features I love in minimalist shoes. It has fairly flat construction with only a 3mm heel-to-toe drop. It has a wide toe box allowing my toes to splay more naturally and, there are no aggravating arch supports or other structural elements that prevent my feet and ankles from doing their jobs.
Weighing in at 10.4oz in a size 9, it’s 2.4oz heavier than my Merrells, but acceptable if it’ll give me more comfort during those 20+ mile runs. It’s also surprisingly flexible.
When I first put on the shoe I could tell there was something special about it. The 3mm drop wasn’t as noticeable as I thought it may be after years of running in 0 drop shoes. It almost seemed to have more room in the the toe box than even my Merrells. The mid foot and heel fit snuggly thanks in part to the cut of the last and the lacing system.
My only complaint is the high collar that wraps around my Achilles tendon was moderately annoying.
This shoe is built to take a beating and remain comfortable. Instead of using mesh with overlays for reinforcement, Topo printed the pattern directly onto the mesh. This provides strength and durability while reducing the number of parts that can delaminate or fail. They’ve also managed to use only one seam in the upper which eliminates points of failure.
The Terraventure utilizes a ghillie lacing system for all but the top two holes. This system uses durable loops rather than holes for the laces. I found the laces to be comfortable and secure, especially when using the heel lock method.
The padding in the tongue is moderate. Just enough to give it structure and protect the top of your feet from the laces, but not so thick that it feels like it’s in the way.
The collar on the other hand … it’s thick! I get that it’s supposed to lock your heel in place, but it seems like overkill to me.
I love all of the technology that went into designing this upper. When you look closely at it, it really is a work of art, but there is a downside. All of that printed material doesn’t leave enough exposed mesh which kills ventilation and drainage.
The insoles are removable. They’re comfortable for the most part, though I did feel like I could detect the front edge of them with my toes while wearing them on a long hike this past weekend.
Comfortable, yet remarkably flexible is how I would describe the midsole of the Terraventure. One complaint I had from my Merrell Ascend Gloves is paths made from crushed rock would wear out my feet over time. The combination of the thicker cushion and the ESS forefoot rock plate in the Terraventure took care of that issue. I cruised over the rocks while still getting a decent amount of ground feel.
Coming from Vibram, Tony Post knows how to make a performance outsole.
Terraventure features aggressive, wide-breaking lugs for tricky downhills, stability lugs through the midfoot, and smaller sharper lugs with flex grooves in the forefoot to optimize uphill and sidehill traction. – Tony Post
I used my Terraventures during the first 14 miles of the Trailblaze Challenge hike over the weekend which included an 1,100 foot decent. They performed marvelously during the rocky downhill sections.
My only complaint about the outsoles is the lugs are too close together and don’t shed mud as easily as I think they should. That’s a big deal around here.
Style & Aesthetics
I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of how the Terraventures look. I prefer a running shoe that looks like a running shoe. This is a running shoe that looks more like a hiking shoe. I don’t need it to be all flashy, but other than the bright blue color, this shoe is pretty drab. The big yellow Topo logo on the back is a bit “in your face” and doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the style.
This was more of a walk, run, hike test. I received the Terraventures a couple weeks before the Trailblaze Challenge, so I had to get in miles anyway I could.
The first test would come during a family trip to the Carowinds theme park. If they’re comfortable enough to walk around a concrete park all day, they should keep my feet happy during a run. Early on, I discovered the ventilation issue as my feet started to heat up on that cool day. My feet usually get tired during these trips, so it was no surprise when they started aching late in the day. I did notice the pain was concentrated in my heels, which may be due to a little extra pressure from the 3mm drop. That’s really not a concern since standing and walking on concrete is very different than running on a trail.
The second test was a run on a local nature trail. The first part of the trail has crushed rock for maintenance vehicles to drive on. I usually cringe during this part of the run because I’m afraid of catching a rock the wrong way. The Topos handled that path like it was nothing. Very refreshing.
When I turned off of the main trail onto a smaller foot trail, things got muddy. It wasn’t deep mud, but there was a lot of it. The first few step were fantastic as the forefoot lugs dug into the mud and gripped with ease. A few steps later and I was struggling for balance. The mud had gummed up the tread and left me with no grip in a very slippery situation. I had to go back to the main trail to clean them off before continuing. Consequently, I spent most of my time on that trail rather than the more technical (and fun) side trails.
I mentioned before that I wore my Terraventures while hiking the Trailblaze Challenge here in NC this past weekend. The first part of the hike was on a rocky downhill trail at Hanging Rock State Park. The Topos did a good job of sticking to the rocks (even wet ones!), but that’s where the positivity ends. It had rained the day before and some that same morning causing the red clay trails to turn to mud. It wasn’t long before the treads were gummed up again leaving me relying on my trekking poles to keep me upright. Then my feet started getting hot as the miles started to build.
The path had several shallow stream crossings. When water got into these shoes, it didn’t want to come out. If you look at the printed material closely, you’ll see it extends up the side of the shoe all the way around it. There’s no easy way for the water to get out. I could still feel the squishing over a mile later.
Sometime around mile 12 I noticed my toenails getting sore. I could feel the top of my shoes pressing on them. I have never lost a toenail from a run or a hike *knock on wood* and I could see this potentially becoming an issue over time. By this time I was so frustrated, I told my wife these shoes are going up on eBay as soon as I get home.
Luckily I had my old Merrell Ascend Gloves waiting for me at the mile 14 aid station. They took me the rest of the way through mud, rocks, horse manure, and ankle deep water crossings. Maybe those old shoes aren’t done yet.
I wanted these Topo Terraventure shoes to be my new favorite trail shoes. The Topo Athletic company is great, everything is so well thought out, the technology is amazing. I’m just not sure I can trust them on my favorite trails.
I’d love to give them another shot if they’ll introduce an update with less printed material to improve ventilation and drainage plus spread out the lugs to shed mud. Oh, and tone down that logo on the heel.