Topo Athletic’s Two-Toed Tabi Sneaker

Today, we get a more tangible glimpse of just what Post is bringing to market come Summer 2013. And namely, what you can expect are advanced versions of some of the original toe-minded shoes a.k.a. the Jika-tabi (often referred to as just “Tabi” or “tabi boots”). The split-toe Tabi design is probably why FiveFingers got the moniker of being “ninja shoes.” Meanwhile, they’ve been reviewed by at least one barefoot runner — RunBare’s Michael Sandler — as far back as November 2009 (video). Believe it or not, the 1951 Boston Marathon winner (shigeki Tanaka) crossed the finish line in Tabi shoes.

This is Topo Athletic’s vision:

Better is not an accident. Stronger is not a gift. Faster is not a coincidence. It’s a choice.
Tony Post’s (“Topo”) new footwear shoe company—Topo Athletic—wants to create footwear that does nothing for the athlete and everything with them. My own take: shoes that let feet be feet. Sounds good, right? Today, we get a more tangible glimpse of just what Post is bringing to market come Summer 2013. And namely, what you can expect are advanced versions of some of the original toe-minded shoes a.k.a. the Jika-tabi (often referred to as just “Tabi” or “tabi boots”). The split-toe Tabi design is probably why FiveFingers got the moniker of being “ninja shoes.” Meanwhile, they’ve been reviewed by at least one barefoot runner — RunBare’s Michael Sandler — as far back as November 2009 (video). Believe it or not, the 1951 Boston Marathon winner (shigeki Tanaka) crossed the finish line in Tabi shoes. A modern Tabi-inspired shoe, one with an anatomical last, a thin sole, and an empowered big toe, could have a lot to offer. Indeed, there have been a few Tabi-inspired shoes released over the last few years. Probably the first was Nike’s Air Rift and then you have the less-well-known offerings by Zem, many of which have been adopted by the minimalist/”barefoot shoes” community. Most recently, running coach Eric Orton founded Born 2 Run releasing their road performance shoe in 2012. You might argue that in light of these other offerings, Topo Athletic is late to the game. However, a closer look at the three designs being put out by Topo shows that Post has really taken the concept and adapted it to specific uses. In Topo’s first release, they’re bringing to market an everyday running/training model called the RT; a fitness training/crossfit model called the RX; and the fast running/racing model called the RR. More on these after the jump!

The pitch

I met with Tony Post to talk more about Topo’s upcoming offerings. The heart of that meeting centered around Topo’s vision, which is what led off this post above, and was delievered via a presentation that talked about the vision and how Topo Athletic hopes to meet that vision with their footwear. Rather than rehash it all to you, take a look through the slides below. TL;DR — Topo Athletics promise to be lightweight running, racing, and fitness shoes (one model geared to each function) that feature top of the line tech in both the outsoles and uppers, all built around a two-toed Tabi shoe structure.
From left to right are men's Topo Athletic RT, RX, and RR.
From left to right are men’s Topo Athletic RT, RX, and RR.
The specifics? Well here’s what jumps out to me: The two-toed design. This is the most obvious characteristic of these shoes and it goes hand-in-hand with an anatomical last. The combination of a wide toe box and a split-toe design does a lot to anchor the foot within the shoes. In my opinion, it’s the five-toed anchoring of FiveFingers that makes them so fantastically pseudo-barefoot. The more anchor points on a shoe, the more the shoe moves with the foot. Unlike five-toed footwear, a two-toed system is less complex, less unusual looking (marginally so!) and perhaps more accommodating to the variation in toe lengths of all the different feet out there at large. Zero-drop. Topo Athletic shoes feature somewhat thicker stack heights across the line — 12mm (RR), 13mm (RX), and 15mm (RT) (once accounting for the removable 3mm EVA perforated insole). However, they’re all neutral from heel to toe, which is arguably the most important aspect of any healthy footwear. I’m unclear at this time if they have any built in arch support. Seamless uppers. The shoes use a welding tech along with high-tech upper material making the uppers of the shoes practically seamless and lightweight. No doubt Post learned a thing or two about seamless uppers from his time working on FiveFingers. That said, I didn’t get the impression they were necessarily intended to be worn sockless. Lightweight. The shoes don’t weigh your feet down (some weights for the men’s and women’s models can be seen here) The soles. Take a look at the Topo soles: What’s somewhat hard to appreciate in these photos (but I know from discussing it with Tony) is that the soles all feature a combination of rubber outsole and EVA midsole whereby rubber is only used at points of high contact with the ground. This design should improve sole flexibility and cut down on excess weight (It’s a tactic we’ve seen in various other shoes reviewed on this site). Of course, without having held or worn any of the Topo shoes, how the above features will function is yet to be seen. One other highlight of the running/racing “RR” shoe is that features a Boa lacing system. This is a high-tech, set-it-and-forget-it lacing design that allows you to rotate a dial to tighten the laces. I’ve not used it but it looks intriguing. Here are a few more stock photos of the shoes:

Two-toed shoes the next thing?

Have you been wanting to try out a two-toed Tabi-inspired shoe? Between the already-released B2R, the Zems, and these upcoming shoes from Topo Athletic, you’re starting to have some serious options. And as we learn more about these, specifically when we get to try them out and review them, we’ll have more to share. What do you think? Is Post barking up the right tree in building out Topo Athletic? What do you think?
Elsewhere on Topo Athletic’s new kicks:

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

27 replies on “Topo Athletic’s Two-Toed Tabi Sneaker”

gotta say, i really like the look of these shoes… and i trust the source seeing as how Post used to work at Vibram… i think it’s a good move because these look like a cross between vibram fivefingers and new balance minimus (or other close toed minimalist shoes)… i want to try them!

I was just thinking about tabi-styled running shoes like the Zems and Born 2 Runs while running the other night. Now that the Topos are set to “drop” this summer, I think I’ll have to start saving up. Any word on pricing?

The only reason I would see a need to get this is when I do Crossfit. Otherwise, I will stick to my VFF during warm season and Merrell’s during cold.

They are pretty neat looking shoes though, but I couldn’t warrant buying another pair until I run through the 5 pairs of VFFs that I have, and I already have Inov-8s for Crossfit.

So, which one is the racing model and which is the more all around running model?

They look great. I am eager to see a side-by-side comparison with the Born 2 Run shoes.

I hope these are as flexible as other new models coming out in the next few months.

That depends:  On the one hand, I kind of like the overall look; on the other, unless they’re available in my (increasingly hard-to-find) size, they really don’t do me much good.

Also, the color schemes all look a bit…well, neon.

a bit pricey, but i do like them, except all that eva is a turn off

if the RR just had a 3mm outsole, with a removable 3mm insole and no midsole, i’d be sold, since i could just save the insole for a colder day, if it even got that cold, and i’d be flying

I have ALWAYS loved the tabi-styled shoes, having been fascinated with Japanese culture half my life. I used to wear tabi socks with my geta sandals back in high school (and once in a blue moon, still do).

Then, when researching good footwear for the gym, I came across the Nike Air Rift (this was years back), and started a torrid love affair with them (I still have over 20 pairs). From them, as they were huge in the UK and was on a forum for Rifts, I learned of Vibrams, and my second-ever pair was imported from England about 5 years ago. I have been into minimalist shoes ever since.

I still rock the Rifts every so often [at work], but the extra cushioning and not zero drop gets to me after all-day usage (hooray for minimalist-trained feet!). I am very much looking forward to these!! Especially the RX – love that green!


Can you really judge running form based on these photos?

Guy looks like he’s sprinting to me, which makes for a more aggressive form.

Regardless, seems like a pretty arbitrary reason to lose interest in the shoes.

amazing futuristic look!
but the upper is made from too many seperated sections.
yes, they are heat
welded and all but when it comes to
PERFORMANCE shoes, as a manufacturer,
you should made the upper with the minimum possible intersections.
but who knows?
will never know how these perform till i lay my feet on a pair…..
….. i want the mr-x model!!!!

Well I have to say after reading about all the hype…I am a bit disappointed, this is a Nike Rift knock off with laces. Having spent a number of years at Nike, I am sure they have a number of design patents around the Rift (that has been in production for years) and a cease and desist letter might be in the mail. Say good by to that 5M they just received in VC funding…someone did not do their due diligence.

As a Crossfitter and runner that wears Vibrams for my WODs I’d love to give the RX models a shot.. I’ve turned away from the Fila and Adidas toe shoes, but these are intriguing. If they’re sending out testing units I’ll volunteer to be the guinea pig.


Clearly his foot is in front of his body when touching down.

I don’t like it when things are shot so that it looks better on camera while throwing out the ABC of natural running.
Gives me immediatly the feeling that they don’t know what they are doing.

Statement like these don’t help either:

Post admitted that Topo trainers should be easier to sell, versus the FiveFingers product Vibram pioneered. “Let’s face it, nobody wanted to buy those shoes,” he said. “We had to break in the market.”


Kossow noted, “Half the battle in this industry, which is so competitive, is that the channel needs to buy. But you need pull through from the consumer side. Because Tony [Post] has been at bat a few times and has the Midas touch, we think the channel and the consumer will be interested in anything he brings to market.”


I get everything you’re saying. I still disagree you can definitively assess running form via these still photos, but I won’t argue the point.

My point is this: every reason you’ve cited for losing interest in the shoes has nothing to do with the shoes, themselves, and everything to do with:

– marketing
– quotes

Are you saying you’re only interested in shoes that are marketed correctly?

FiveFingers weren’t marketed for running yet they’re great for running — applying the same frame to Vibrams as you do to Topo would mean that you should have no interest in FiveFingers.

See my point?

The marketing doesn’t make the shoes work (nor do shoes that work make for good marketing, I guess). In either case, we don’t really know if these are good shoes or not.

The fabric looks just like the same stuff on the new Minimum line that wears through in two months, I hope that’s not the case otherwise, these are gonna be a bust.

I am saying that if it smells like $#!t it probably is $#!t

And there’s a difference in making things look good in a bad way or not exploiting all the legit possibilities.


I know what you’re saying; I just find it’s flawed logic … a sort of mix of arguments that amount to hasty generalizations and poisoning the well.

I’ve yet to hear an argument based on what we know now about the shoes that suggests Topos are dead on arrival.

Definitely interested.. curious to see how the first generation fairs and what tweaks they’ll give to the second. I wonder if they’ll go more minimal with the outsole or stick with the denser stuff as compared to the Vibram 5F’s..

As a VFF fan, ToPo gets a lot of upfront credit from me.

That these would be better than normal running shoes – sure. Lots of thought went into them.

However what I want to know why the two-toed design is better than the 5 toed design of the VFFs?

That the soles are much thicker than VFF soles is also not something that excites me. I love my original VFFs with the thin soles – I have an invisible 6th sense on my feet! It seems like these would not provide similar feedback.

On the surface, going from 5 back to 2 seems like a step back. Maybe an admission that the world is not ready for mass adoption of 5 toed shoes? I get funny looks all around – some people just love them, others hate them. I don’t care either way – I think the only reason people think they’re strange is that they’re not used to it. And well the garish color schemes on most of the VFF range must be a definite turn-off too… it’s as if even the VFF makers think they look strange?!

Does VFF have a patent on 5 toes?

I’m a little late to this party, but I felt the need to comment when I saw that the RR was going to have a boa lace system. I have a pair of Redwing work boots that use the system and I love it, so simple to tighten to the desired fit and take back off again. I do get funny looks if for some reason I have to adjust them cause the clicking draws attention.

Don’t forget Olukai. I have their split-toe shoe (marketed as a kind of amphibious multi-purpose shoe), and love them for running.

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