Topo Athletic M-RR: First Look
I'm a big fan of FiveFingers and minimalist shoes generally. I love that there are so many new shoe companies out there catering to this crowd, along with many better-known companies producing minimalist options. That said, I think I've about had my fill of designers trying to get too clever in an effort to tap into that same FiveFingers magic. A minimalist shoe doesn't have to have an in-your-face gimmick to be effective and successful. (On the flip side I'm also a big time lover of huaraches, but I don't think we need to have a new huaraches company start up every week. But that's another story.)
As Vibram USA president and CEO, Tony Post was in the thick of the minimalist explosion. Then last Summer he left the company, which we soon found out was because he had his eye on something new: his own shoe company. In December, Post revealed Topo Athletic. He offered us a tease of what the company had in store and a month later we finally got a clearer look.
[Drum roll please]
Oh. another split-toe shoe? Hm.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little let down. I think it was the anticipation of the reveal. But after Zem, B2R, and others having already adopted the tabi style -- what's left? Read on and see.
Topo sent along a single-shoe sample of the RR model for me to critique. Unfortunately since they're just getting off the ground it wasn't in a size that could fit me, but actually being able to handle one allows us to bring you this first impression of the shoe. And that's what follows (for now), via this first look.
- 12mm stack height (with removable insole)
- 5.3 oz. (men's size 8.5)
The first thing I noticed about the RR is the dial-in laces. This is a feature I'd previously seen only on wrist stabilizers and other forms of athletic braces. At first I thought this seemed too delicate, but the lacing is wire-like and extremely sturdy. There's also a sense of the laces being more tightly integrated with the shoe itself. It's different and would probably take some getting used to, but it's also nice to imagine wearing these on a race and being able to have the confidence of not having to slow down or stop to re-tie your shoes.
On the other side of that, I wonder if the firmly dialed-in aspect will allow for as much flex in an athlete's foot as traditional laces would. Given the sturdiness of the wire, it seems a distinct possibility that it'll take some practice to get the lacing tight enough to feel comfortable but not so tight that you'd have to stop to readjust during a long run. There's just not enough give to the wire in that way. But really I think it's an innovative feature overall and the only issue I really have with it is that the dial looks very much like one of those anti-theft devices you see on expensive clothing.
The split-toe looks to have corrected one of the issues that I have with other tabi-style designs. Specifically, it rounds the area of the split a little more -- which looks to make for a better fit on the two toe sections. Other tabi shoes out there tend to treat the cleft as merely a cut in between the toes, leaving the outer edge structure of the basic sneaker otherwise intact. I call this the "shark's fin." Topo seems to have rounded it down a bit more so that there's less of a "point" to the two sides of the split-toe.
The overall materials are of high quality. The shoe maintains its shape and is pretty sturdy while still being light and flexible. The colorways of this and other models are modern without being outlandish and also traditional in their own way.
The sole of the RR is a mix of rubber outsole and EVA midsole. The rubber is only used at the primary points of contact with the ground, decreasing weight while adding flexibility. However, at 12mm it's safe to say that the RR is certainly not as flexible as many FiveFingers models or the more ultra-minimalist releases out there such as the Merrell Vapor Glove. It's still more bendy than your average sneaker, certainly, but in attempting to do so I definitely noticed how traditionally sneaker-like these really are when it comes to the sole especially.
Overall, the sole is a bit thick for my taste. But with the zero drop and removable insole at least Topo is off to a relatively good start.
First and most importantly, the upper is nearly seamless. That means less rubbing and chaffing inside the shoe. It also means a smoother, sturdier movement since you're dealing with less pieces. The number of blisters I've gotten from shoe seams is far higher than from flat friction alone, so seamless design scores a lot of points in my book.
The inside portion of the shoe is extremely soft and suede-like. While I typically hesitate to go sockless in anything except FiveFingers and huaraches, I'd definitely give the RR at least a trial run without socks. Doubly so for the fact that the upper is incredibly breathable down by the toe box, reducing the stink factor that necessarily comes with going sockless in shoes.
My initial "meh" response has been chased away merely by having the shoe in my hand -- if not on my foot just yet. For a brand-spanking-new company, this is some impressive footwear in terms of quality and construction. The lacing system is interesting but it remains to be seen how it holds up in terms of comfort in an actual race and strength after a few hundred miles.
Since this is just a single manufacturer sample there's still much to be tested and written about its overall performance once I get a final pair. But I've got to say that based on what I've seen so far my interest continues to grow. Topo clearly isn't jumping into the footwear game unprepared. They've got sharp designs, quality materials, a clear vision of what they're trying to do, and with nothing but professionals at the helm. All of which promises some good things to come. I look forward to seeing how they hold up once I get a pair on my feet, as well as what's in store next.
Keep an eye out in the near future; we're hoping to have a full review of the RX once Topo has complete pairs available for testing!