For those enticed by zero-drop trail runners but who may be too timid to fully commit to that style of shoe, the Topo Athletic MT-4 is a great transition option. With a stiff, dual-density midsole and an average stack height of 23.5mm, this shoe offers plenty of cushion underfoot to protect against rocks and roots. But the roomy toe box, 3mm drop, and lack of rock plate make this trail runner feel more minimal than it actually is. This specialty shoe has an even, comfortable ride across pavement and dirt, adding versatility and value. Received with accolades across the industry, the MT-4 makes a similarly sensational debut in our lineup.Editor's Note: We added this review for the Topo Athletic MT-4 to our lineup on May 11, 2022, and included a closer look at value and suggestions for other directly comparable products.
Topo Athletic MT-4 Review
Cons: Uncomfortable lacing system, relatively heavy for the design
Manufacturer: Topo Athletic
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Topo Athletic is a new brand to our lineup and is a relatively new brand to the trail running scene, having launched its first shoes in 2013. The newly designed Topo MT-4 is making waves across the industry, and we're impressed with the performance of this rather unassuming shoe. The combination of 3mm drop and 4mm lugs provides a level of traction and sensitivity seen on minimalist runners. But the well-cushioned midsole — 25mm in the heel and 22mm in the toe — offers increased protection underfoot.
Don't be fooled by the appearance of this minimalist-inspired trail runner. The Topo MT-4 is supported by a dual-density midsole that stacks up 25mm in the heels and only drops down to 22mm in the forefoot. Not only does this provide an incredibly stable ride, but, on average, there is more cushioning underfoot than many of the other shoes we tested.
The wide, relatively flat platform is akin to a barefoot shoe and offers a similar experience in terms of ground feel. While this allows your foot to adjust to variable trail conditions naturally, the balanced and supportive midsole will enable you to run over rocks and roots without worry.
The allure of minimalist shoes is that the platform enhances the natural abilities of your barefoot. Your arches can absorb and rebound with each stride while your toes splay out and dig into the ground for increased grip and stability. The stack height of the Topo MT-4 is far too thick to qualify as a minimalist shoe, but you get a similar feeling running trails in these shoes. The ample toe box allows your toes to spread out and grip the ground — a natural feeling further enhanced by the canted 4mm lugs. The responsive Vibram XS Trek EVO outsole is the same responsive rubber Vibram uses on their legendary barefoot shoes. The result is a trail runner capable of tackling most trail conditions, regardless of the season.
Similar to its zero-drop compatriots, the Topo MT-4 is designed with a minimal 3mm drop to intensify sensitivity. Increased ground feel allows your feet — and the rest of your body through proprioception — to adapt quickly to changes underfoot. But the benefit of a shoe like the MT-4 is that with its well-cushioned midsole, you have enough support to take on trail runs longer than just a few miles. This shoe's balance of sensitivity and protection allows you to move nimbly through technical terrain, like long alpine traverses, with comfort and confidence.
The Topo MT-4 is one of the few shoes in our lineup that does not feature some sort of rock plate or shank underfoot. These features are generally incorporated for added protection and provide a stable platform. To again draw on the analogy of a minimalist or barefoot shoe, the benefit of omitting a rock plate is that this shoe is much more flexible torsionally and laterally. This allows the shoe — and your foot — to mold and adapt as necessary in uneven and off-camber terrain. Although stiffer platforms tend to be more stable, the combination of a wider toe box with a narrow midfoot and flexible midsole allows this shoe to comfortably sidehill without any slippage inside the shoe.
The platform of the Topo MT-4 is wide, cushioned, and flexible, all traits that point towards a comfortable ride. Although this is designed as a trail-specific shoe, its ability to pleasantly glide over pavement makes the MT-4 especially versatile. Although we explicitly don't score versatility, this is an important factor because even those of us with nearby trail access often run some amount of road to get to the trailhead. Our biggest issue with comfort on the MT-4 is in the basic lacing pattern. While the wide toe box tapers back to a more secure midfoot, the lacing pattern doesn't evenly distribute pressure across your instep. As a result, you can't lock into the heel pocket for additional stability.
We have made a lot of direct comparisons to minimalist shoes. But for all of their simplicity — and majority mesh upper — the Topo MT-4 is surprisingly heavy for its design. Tipping the scales at nearly 22 ounces per pair for a men's 9.5 US, this shoe carries the weight of other models with many more features. While the weight does come across with each stride, the thin mesh upper also allows this shoe to breathe well, which helps keep it light and airy on the feet.
Should You Buy the Topo Athletic MT-4?
The Topo MT-4 is a well-balanced blend of minimalism and rugged trail performance. The wide toe box, effectively canted lugs, and slight drop are a powerful combination, creating a stable platform that is simultaneously natural-feeling and technically savvy. This shoe is the perfect option for those intrigued by zero-drop trail runners but who don't yet want to commit fully to that specialty style of shoe.
What Other Trail Running Shoes Should You Consider?
Aside from the Topo Athletic MT-4, some of our other favorite minimal-drop shoes are the Inov-8 Roclite G 290 and Saucony Peregrine 12 that both feature a 4mm drop. If you are interested in jumping into a truly minimalist trail runner, the Altra Superior 5 is our top choice for a zero-drop trail runner.
— Aaron Rice
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