By Will Rietveld
This review is focused on using the new Topo HydroVenture shoe as footwear for ultralight backpacking. When you carry a lightweight backpack, trail running shoes suffice for footwear. And we are constantly looking for the lightest trail runners that provide for our needs.
|The new Topo HydroVenture waterproof/breathable trail running shoe for spring 2016 features a new eVent DVdry LT membrane and construction.|
What do I look for in a trail runner for backpacking? The shoes most likely to meet my needs are in the stability/support category, meaning they need to be more than house slippers – they need to provide good support, rock protection, traction, cushioning, and have a wide toebox for foot expansion. Most ultralight backpackers prefer well-ventilated trail runners, which are cooler for the feet and dry out quickly, and they generally avoid waterproof shoes which have a reputation for holding in moisture once they get wet inside.
Three key elements make Topo shoes unique: light weight, wide toebox, and low drop. Topo shoes have a foot-shaped toebox wide enough to allow your foot to expand, in combination with a narrow heel cup to fit your heel and keep it from slipping. This combination allows your feet to swell naturally and receive proper circulation. Topo also designs their soles with a low or neutral drop (3mm in the case of the Hydroventure) to help you maintain a more neutral position. Finally, Topo shoes have no-sew construction, utilizing adhesives, rather than stitching, to reduce weight and add durability. More on these features later.
|Topo shoes are foot shaped -- what a unique concept (ya think?) What is amazing is how many shoes out there that are not shaped like feet.|
The new Topo HydroVenture shoe adds a new element to the design equation, a new eVent footwear technology called DVdry LT membrane and construction. It utilizes an upper construction that consists only of a three-layer waterproof laminate---the typical internal waterproof bootie has been completely eliminated in this new technology. eVent’s DVdry LT construction method reduces the amount of material and number of steps in constructing the shoe, which will increase manufacturing efficiency. The membrane on top is durable, flexible, and highly breathable (a 40% increase), and is protected by a TPU overlay which also provides extra support.
|The eVent DVdry LT 3-layer laminate is the shoe's upper, no bootie.|
Specifications and Features
Topo Athletic (www.topoathletic.com)
9.7 oz/shoe (men’s 9); 11.4 oz/shoe (men’s 12 tested
No-sew construction, wide toebox, fitted heel cup, eVent DVdry LT waterproof/breathable membrane, 3mm heel to toe drop, flexible TPU rock plate, supportive TPU overlay protects laminate, high-traction outsole, EVA midsole
I wore the HydroVenture on 15 outings over 4 months, which included day hiking, trail running, and backpacking. I wore them hiking and running on dusty, muddy, and watery trails; glissading on snowfields, scree skiing, and backpacking through lots of off-camber sliderock. Hiking off-trail is hard on shoes, especially when crossing and descending sliderock slopes and scree-skiing in loose gravel and dirt where edging is required.
The highlight of my testing was a 6-day, mostly off-trail, backpacking trip through the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwest Colorado. We traveled 60 miles, mostly above 12,000 feet elevation, and climbed a total of 20,000 feet over very rough and steep terrain.
|We walked in snow a lot on our 60 mile traverse of the Weminuche Wilderness in Southwest Colorado. I wore gaiters over the shoes and my feet stayed dry.|
|Hiking in mud and water was no problem for the HydroVenture. A tight fitting gaiter is important to keep dirt, grit, mud, snow, and water from entering the top of the shoes.|
|I wore the HydroVenture while hiking through miles and miles of rough terrain like this.|
|The washed HydroVenture after 15 outings, including a rough 60-mile off-trail wilderness traverse.|
Waterproofness – I found the shoes to be waterproof as claimed. While day hiking and backpacking I wore lightweight gaiters over the top of the shoes, which were very effective in keeping dust, grit, snow, and water out of the shoes. With some tight gaiters over them, I could quick-foot it through shallow water without getting much water in the shoes.
On hotter days I did get some dampness in my socks from sweat, and some snow and water did manage to get in at times. However the new eVent membrane vented the moisture out fairly quickly to maintain comfort, much more so that Gore-Tex shoes I have tested.
Breathability – I have always been a fan of eVent, and once again its superior performance came through. Even in hotter weather my feet were comfortable, akin to wearing a mesh shoe.
Traction – The HydroVenture has a 4.5mm rubber outsole with multidirectional lug traction, forefoot flex grooves and a mud-release design. It gripped well on a variety of surfaces.
Fit – My Brannock-measured shoe size is 12-E. I need a lot of room in the toebox, so I favor shoes with a wide toebox. For me, the HydroVenture is a good fit, as long as I wear thinner socks. Throughout my testing I did not have any problems with crowding in the toebox area. The shoes are true to size and fit me very well.
Comfort – I did not have any foot problems with these shoes; they were comfortable to wear during the entire test period. Cushioning is good, and the rock plate is very effective. Simply tightening the laces over my instep is sufficient to prevent toe jamming on steep descents.
Stability/Support – For me, the HydroVenture provided all the support I needed. However, that’s a very individual and subjective assessment. I have strong ankles and high arches, so they work well for me. Other hikers may need the additional support of a mid- or full-height shoe or boot.
Durability – The short answer is – better than most. Here the no-sew construction and TPU overlay really make a difference. Many other shoes I have tested have a sewn seam in the lateral metatarsal head area, which is very vulnerable to abrasion when the shoes are used for off-trail hiking. The stitching wears through, then the seam opens up. The HydroVenture does not have any stitching in that area, so no problems
|Footbox area after 4 months and 15 outings of use. Note that the outsole is loosening where it wraps the toe, otherwise there are very few signs of wear to the TPU overlay or fabric panels.|
The TPU toe bumper and overlays also performed well to protect the shoe’s panels of breathable fabric. After many trips of abusive wear there is very little evidence of damage.
The only issues I had with the HydroVenture were 1) the outsole is coming loose where it wraps up around the toe of the shoe, and 2) the thin insoles tended to shift to the rear, bunching under my heel. Once the insoles started to shift rearward, it was a repetitive problem; I had to take off the shoes and move the insole to its proper place. The problem can probably be fixed with a few drops of silicone under the footbeds.
Simply put, the Topo HydroVenture is one of the best hiking shoes I have tested. Their wide toebox is what allows me to wear them in the first place, and all of their features add up to near perfect shoe for ultralight backpacking and day hiking. For their weight, their fit and performance are amazing.
One question that arises among people who use trail runners for hiking regards the pros and cons of hiking in a zero drop shoe. I have heard arguments both ways, but I personally don’t see any clear advantage of a zero drop shoe for hiking. By my reasoning, they would strain the Achilles on steep slopes. Some people report foot problems when switching to zero drop, but it’s not a clear cause and effect relationship. And some people recommend a gradual transition to adjust to zero drop. In response to this issue, some shoe manufacturers have added back 3 to 4 mm of heel rise to their trail running shoes (the HydroVenture has 3mm of heel rise). That solution works good for me; I once developed a case of Plantar fasciitis from testing some zero drop shoes from another manufacturer (which could have been caused by the lack of a TPU rock plate), but I have not had any problems at all from shoes with a minimal 3-4mm of heel rise. Note that a “standard” hiking shoe has about 10mm of heel rise.
The eVent DVdry LT membrane and construction method makes the choice to get a waterproof/breathable shoe closer to a no-brainer. If you hike in the mountains it’s an easy choice. But not so much so if you hike in the desert. The shoes were not hot on my feet and dissipated moisture from sweat and an occasional water intrusion very well.
Topo’s no-sew construction, meaning the shoe’s components are assembled using adhesives rather than stitching, is a big plus. I have tested many, many shoes and boots with stitching in the lateral metatarsal head area, and that’s where the shoes failed. The stitching wore through and the seam came apart. To avoid that, a prominent rand around the shoe helps a lot (but that adds weight), or the user can apply some McNett SeamGrip (liquid polyurethane) to the stitching to resist wear.
Fit is a very individual thing when it comes to shoes, so it’s hard to claim Topo shoes as the “best fit”. However, their design makes a lot of sense; as we run or hike, our feet swell and expand, so it’s only logical that shoes provide room for that, rather than squeeze your toes together.
Even though the wide toebox/snug heelcup design makes perfect sense, it is surprising how few brands use it. People with narrow feet probably don’t like it, or need it. However hikers as a group favor that type of shoe because their feet “pancake out” from years of hiking. Mine certainly have. I remember Montrail’s “IntegralFit” design with a wide toebox/snug heelcup, and my feet were happy in their shoes. That is, until Montrail changed their last, then I couldn’t wear them.
Overall, Topo’s three main design elements (light weight, wide toebox, and low drop) are a winning combination, and when you add in their grip, support, durability, and new eVent membrane they raise the bar to a new level of performance.