Topo Athletic recently released two new models of running shoes. They sent both pairs my way for the purpose of putting them through the paces and seeing what I thought! So that’s what we’ll be doing today — reviewing the Topo Tribute and the Topo Fli-Lyte The Topo Tribute is, in my opinion, the flagship running shoe of the Topo lineup with one of the most breathable uppers in existence and a flexible 16mm zero drop sole for new runners looking to up their mileage or transitioning runners moving into minimalism. The Fli-Lyte is a laced version of the BOA-equipped Runduros that provides a lot of protection and stability for trails and inexperienced shod runners. It does not really fall into the minimalist shoe category, but has its merits for the right audience. Read on to hear my thoughts on the Tribute and Fli-Lyte!

About the Topo Tribute and Fli-Lyte

Here’s what Topo says about the Tribute and Fli-Lyte running shoes:
Tribute: Built for speed training, road racing or minimalists, the Tribute features Topo’s signature fit in a slightly slimmer silhouette. The featherweight 0-drop platform, ultra breathable mesh, and optimal responsiveness make this standout product for a fast, natural ride Fli-Lyte: The Fli-Lyte offers a comfortable neutral ride. The foot-friendly shape allows toes to spread and play, and the latest mash and printing techniques are used to eliminate seems and reduce weight.
WeightTribute — 6.0 oz (Men’s size 9) | Fli-Lyte — 8.3 oz (Men’s size 9) Total Stack HeightTribute — 16mm (Zero Drop) | Fli-Lyte — 22mm x 19mm (3mm Drop) Barefoot scaleTribute — With a 16mm drop, the Tribute is the thinnest and most flexible Topo running shoe and is good for transitioning runners looking to explore the benefits of a zero-drop platform. | Fli-Lyte — The Fli-Lyte with a 22mmx19mm sole is better suited for new runners or trails. The 3mm drop is subtle and good for former shod runners who are used to running in higher drop, thicker shoes like the Nike Pegasus or Asics Kayano line. Ideal Uses — All around Use: Experienced Road running, technical trails, hiking, casual walking around

Tribute

Pros —
  • The lowest shoe in the Topo lineup
  • Incredibly breathable
  • A great successor to the ST
  • Relatively flexible and lightweight for a thick transition shoe
  • Nicely-padded collar and tongue
Cons —
  • Visible bare feet
  • Still thick at a zero-dropped 16mm (I wish Topo would make a minimalist shoe)

Fli-Lyte

Pros —
  • Laced alternative to the Runduro
  • Lots of protection for those who want it
  • A familiar shoe-like feel for slowly transitioning runners
  • Nicely-padded collar and tongue
Cons —
  • Not zero drop
  • Very thick (not really a minimalist shoe)
  • Low flexibility
Sizing — Both the Fli-lyte and Tribute provide a descent toebox that fits my wide feet! This is a true, anatomically-correct toebox. Sizing is correct to size. No need to size down or size up. The fit is a little tight for me, but I can loosen up the laces. When comfortable, I have pretty short laces to tie with, but they work.

Photos of the Tribute

Photos of the Fli-Lyte

Sole

Topo's flagship, the Tribute
Topo’s flagship, the Tribute
The Tribute is a replacement for the popular Topo ST (reviewed last year). The Tribute is a thicker than the ST it replaces (16mm zero drop vs 13mm), but still quite flexible. While I reviewed the ST as a transitioning shoe for new runners looking for a bridge shoe into minimalism, the Tribute’s thicker sole is a bit of step backwards. It’s not bad, but this is no super minimalist shoe. For a 16mm sole, the Tribute has great flexibility for its thickness. Its flexibility is basically equal to the ST it replaces and can be folded quite easily with a thumb and index finger.
Tribute Flex test
Tribute Flex test
The Tribute sole is a floating rubber-on-foam design. The base is a white foam and the black and green rubber is placed around the forefoot and heel in five island sections(not too unlike the Bikila EVO). This gives a lot of center flexibility to the shoe and durability in the points where the shoe touches the ground with the most impact. Unlike many of the Nike Free shoes, you can tell that this sole is designed for forefoot striking because the majority of the impacting rubber is focused in the ball and toe area with attention to the inner and outer parts of the foot. By comparison, Nike Free soles have more rubber in the heel and very little durability for forefoot striking, which naturally has shod running in mind. Overall, a good transitioning sole for many runners, especially new runners and those used to shod running. The Fli-Lyte uses the same sole as the Topo Runduro. The Fli-Lyte and Runduro use a thick sole by minimalist standards that should appeal to a very specific set of transitioning runners looking for a casual and easy transition into a slightly more minimalist shoe. For me, it is a pretty thick shoe. Definitely something that I would not use for my own runs, but it can be an excellent shoe for anyone who is used to something like a Nike Pegasus or Asics Kayano and want something with a wider toebox and flatter (but still not zero drop) sole.
Fli-Lyte flex test (or lack thereof)
Fli-Lyte flex test (or lack thereof)
The typical “thick” running shoe can have a stack height as high as 30mm in the heel and 20mm in the forefoot, while most minimalist running shoes are in the 5mm-10mm territory with a zero drop, so the Fli-lyte is still thinner and would be great for someone used to really thick shoes, but these are no true minimalist shoe; transitioners welcome.
The sole is not very flexible and provide little twist and flex. The forefoot area does have some groves that allow for some upflex, but I wish that more groves were etched into the sole for flexibility. As you can see in the photos, it takes a bit of effort to bend the Fli-lyte; you’re definitely not going to be balling this one up. Unlike the Tribute, these is less foam and more rubber, perhaps lending itself to be a better trail shoe than anything else. I believe that new runners will definitely appreciate them after ditching their old shoes—perhaps moving onto something with a bit more flex and a bit less sole after running in these shoes for a while.

Fit and Materials

Tribute The first thing that caught my eye when I slipped my feet into the Tribute was just how transparent the upper was. The upper is made up of VERY airy mesh along the top and sides of the shoe with a horseshoe of reinforcing material.
I hope you are comfortable with your feet.
I hope you are comfortable with your feet.
I am not exaggerating when I say that these might be the most breathable shoes on the market. The mesh holes in the upper are roughly honeycomb size and your toes are visible from afar. I can feel the breeze while standing still better than Vibram’s EL-X, KSO EVO, and Bikila EVO shoes. Only huaraches (for obviously reasons) are more breathable. If you have stinky feet, this might be something to look into. Overall, the shoe looks much more mature than the ST it replaces and other, more colorful, shoes in the Topo line. They look like a runner’s running shoe and less like a toy.
The Tribute has a wide toebox, is slightly narrow in the middle, and has a secure heel. With an anatomically-correct shape, even my feet are happy inside. The interior it pretty seamless and there is plenty of comfort for your VERY VISIBLE bare feet. Fli-lyte Unlike the Tribute, the Fli-Lytes use a denser-woven upper (you can’t see your feet) and are less breathable by a wide margin. The Fli-Lytes have the same fit as the Tribute, but are slightly less compromising due to their more rigid sole and inflexible shape. The Fli-Ltye has a lot more structural material around the heel and the lace region than the Tribute. At 8.3 oz, these are not light shoes and you’ll notice the extra weight and rigidity with the Fli-Lyte over the Tribute or any other minimalist or transitioning shoe. Its mesh upper is not as well-ventilated and my feet started to feel pretty warm and a bit sweaty during my longest run with the them, which was around 14 miles; socks might be a good idea.

Performance

In my experience with the Tribute and Fli-Lytes, I found myself pretty impressed with the Tribute and attempted to be open minded with the Fli-Lyte. The Tribute is incredibly breathable. I was really taken aback by how comfortable my feet were while running in them, especially barefoot. I was a but concerned that the mesh would not hold up, but I’ve logged over a hundred miles on them and they have been great. The longest run was about 14 miles and it was nice to feel the breeze on my toes so readily. Not even the Vibram lineup as anything quite as breathable. They are pretty quick and lightweight for the thickness of the sole. 6 oz puts it around Bikila LS territory, though the old Bikilas had half the thickness of the Tribute. Overall, it’s a comfortable shoe to run in. I only wish that shoe was made thinner. If Topo made a 6mm or 8mm version of the Tribute, they would have a home run. It would be great if Topo made a true minimalist shoe in the future with the exact same upper as the Tribute. Call it the accolade? In any case, calling this the best Topo shoe is quite the compliment.
The Fli-Lytes are, as I have said a number of times in this review, not really a minimalist shoe. They have some minimalist qualities, such as a wide toebox (comfortable for most), and a near zero-drop sole, which makes it good for transitioning runners on trails or new runners on roads. I cannot really recommend them for learning how to run properly and technique work because they are just too thick for that use.
Most runners will probably have sloppy technique because of the physical qualities of the shoe, but I can see how some people would also like it because it is very protective and familiar. It’s basically a more minimalist version of more pillow-like shoes, such as the Nike Pegasus, but the Tribute is the better shoe in just about any situation. Even new runners would benefit more from the Tribute and its thinner, more flexible, sole and more breathable upper. The Fli-Lyte is really for someone who is looking for something in this stack height range, but—in my opinion—that individual would find more enjoyment with less.

Summary

Both the Tribute and Fli-Lyte demonstrate Topo’s place in the running shoe world. They have stuck to their guns and found a niche that is somewhere between truly minimalist (run by Vibram, New Balance Minimus, Merrell’s “bare”, and Vivobarefoot) and traditional running shoes. More minimal than most products Altra or Newton and decidedly smack dab in the middle of the transitioning niche. The toebox is wide, the materials are well made, the uppers in the Tribute are fantastic, and the intent is for running for a wide range or runners. I do wish that Topo would embrace something lower, flatter, and ultimately more minimal, but they do well with the place that they have carved out for themselves. If you’re interested in giving either a whirl, they both run $100 off of TopoAthletic.com.