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Topo ST-4 Review
By Senior Contributor David Salas and Contributor Megan Flynn


Topo is normally thought of as a low drop shoe with a wide toe box designed for the trails. The ST-4 delivers a shoe that fits most of those boxes but instead of trails focuses on being a crossover shoe. The shoe delivers an incredibly lightweight and minimalistic package that can be used for a large multitude of things. The shoe can be used as a traditional road racing flat, a daily trainer for those who like minimalist shoes, or a weight training cross over shoe thanks to the level and grounded platform. 



Specifications for the Topo ST-4 (per Running Warehouse)
Weight: 7.3 oz, 206.5 g (men's size 9), 6.1 oz, 172 g (women's size 8)
Stack Height: 16mm
Drop: 0 mm
Classification: Crossover Shoe, Running/Racing/Lifting


RUNNING SHOE SUMMARY

David:
The Topo ST-4 is a minimalist crossover shoe that can do a little bit of everything. The shoe is a 0 mm drop, low stack, flexible shoe geared at running and weight lifting/training. The upper is done very well with great security throughout and the shoe also has plenty of rubber outsole for durability and traction for running purposes. The 0 mm level platform also feels great with lifting activities during squats, dead lifts, or swings. The foam is a little on the firmer end, though this is expected with the design. A versatile shoe that can be a daily trainer, racing flat, or gym shoe, or all of the above. 

Megan: Topo is known for its wide toebox, secure midfoot/heel, and low heel-toe drop designed to promote more natural foot mechanics while running. The ST-4 fits this mold as a lightweight, minimal road shoe with a low stack height of 16mm and a 0mm heel-toe drop. While being a very minimal shoe, the ST-4 has an Ortholite insert to add to the comfort of the shoe and to provide a level of support.

The Topo ST-4’s are the first shoes I have ever run in that have a 0mm heel-toe drop, so I was a bit skeptical and nervous to run in them. As recommended, I eased into wearing these shoes starting with no more than 30 minutes of running on a flat route and gradually progressing to longer durations and different terrain/hills. My longest run in them was about 50 minutes with some strides at the end to get a feel for them at a faster pace.

This shoe is an excellent option for someone who is looking for a minimal, lightweight, road shoe that allows for natural foot mechanics and motion. Weighing in at 6.1oz. (women’s size 7), this shoe is on the lighter end of a daily trainer and has the potential to be used as a workout shoe for tempos or fartleks. A unique feature of the ST-4 when it comes to minimalist shoes, is that while it allows for motion in the forefoot, it has a solid lock at the midfoot/heel making for a secure fit. These shoes were designed for optimal ground feel. For this reason, they would be a good option for road and packed trails, however I would not recommend using these shoes on technical trails (or really anywhere with rocks) as I was able to feel any rock I stepped on.



FIT (LENGTH / WIDTH / COMFORT)

David:
I think Topo uppers are very underrated. The last normal runs normal width through the heel, a slightly snug midfoot, and a wide toe box. The ST-4 is pretty consistent with that. The heel is normal width to perhaps slightly wide, midfoot normal to slightly narrow, and toe box wide especially for a minimalist shoe. The upper security is great throughout. It is constructed of a robust mesh that also has some overlays throughout that don't get in the way of shoe or foot flexibility. There is no heel counter present, rather a synthetic almost neoprene like substance that is just sturdy enough to hold its own structure. The tongue length is not very long but is padded pretty nicely and doesn't seem to negatively effect lockdown in anyway. Lockdown throughout is actually really good in the ST-4 and I am really impressed with the upper. The heel might be a tad wide as I had some really small translation in that region. Thankfully it wasn't a deal breaker and the translation wasn't major, for it was just present and noticeable if I'm paying attention. 

Megan: The Topo ST-4’s fit true-to-size in terms of length and width. Upon putting them on for the first time and walking around, the width of the toe box was most noticeable (probably since all of my other running shoes have a normal width). After running in them a couple of times, the wider toebox grew on me, as it allowed for free motion/mechanics in the forefoot but did not feel as if my foot was sliding around either. The midfoot and heel are secure allowing for some stability and confidence, especially going around sharper turns. The midfoot has an Ortholite insert with some light support on the medial side of the shoe. This was primarily added for comfort and added a very small amount of medial arch support which I felt was helpful for transitioning to a 0mm drop shoe. The tongue is cushioned, adding to the comfort and security that the midfoot of the shoe provides. The upper was light, breathable, and flexible. My only complaint in terms of fit has to do with the heel. The design of the heel collar includes open stitching and minimal padding which resulted in blisters and irritation where it makes contact on the Achilles tendon. For that reason, I would not recommend running sockless in these shoes.


PERFORMANCE (RIDE / SPEED)

David:
I really like the Topo ST-4. I have used it from everything from daily training miles, weight lifting, and some hard stride efforts. The lightweight and close to ground platform definitely gives the shoe a nimble performance like feel to it despite the flexible nature of the shoe. The ride feels like an old school road racing flat with some flexibility up front, similar to a HOKA Rehi, Atreyu, or even Brooks T series (RIP). The shoe does great as a crossover shoe for me. It is a shoe that feels comfortable running and lifting in. It does use a 0mm drop but it did not feel aggressive at all. The shoe legitimately feels like I'm running my natural stride, as if I'm running barefoot on a turf or grass field. The connection to the ground is really good and the ride is plenty stable for a low profile minimal shoe.

The foam isn't anything overly special or responsive, but it isn't meant to be. The shoe is just protective enough to log some daily miles in for those that like a minimalist barefoot like feel. I was able to a 10 mile run in it fine (though I had a couple of other runs in the shoe to get used to it first). Because of the flexibility throughout the shoe can be a little "slappy" at top speed or really fast efforts but still runs pretty smooth throughout. This is a shoe you could totally rock a 5k in if you like the classic low profile road racer. The level platform also feels great when lifting and the ground contact gives plenty of feedback to makes sure you are grounded when driving through the ground on lifts. Outside of some minor slappiness at top speed efforts and some minor heel security issues the shoe performs quite well for what it is designed for and is the most comfortable low profile flexible shoe I have personally worn so far. 

Megan: As my first 0mm drop shoe I did not know what to expect – to be honest, I was nervous to run in them and started off very conservative with pace, duration, and avoided any hills. At the start of the first run, they felt a bit flat and clunky (for lack of a better word). After adjusting my stride a bit to more of a midfoot strike, the comfort and smoothness of the ride improved significantly. After the first few runs, I started to trust them a bit more – hit some hills and even tried some strides at the end of a run. The ST-4’s do not necessarily shine as a responsive shoe; but they aren’t designed to do so either. They’re designed to allow the foot to move freely and naturally while providing just enough cushion to protect from the road. The minimal responsiveness of the shoe forced more of a focus on form and foot strike when doing strides – and even during most of the run. Having this additional focus on form could help improve running gait mechanics.

The midsole includes the Ortholite insert which provides some level of cushion and medial arch support. This was just enough cushioning to make the shoe feel softer on landing/loading and improve the comfort while not taking away from the optimal ground feel. The shoe has a flexible outsole/midsole and easily adapts to different surfaces. The traction was good – no issues going around sharp turns (I did not get a chance to try them in rainy conditions).


STABILITY

David: Being a minimalist low profile shoe the Topo ST-4 is not exactly designed for stability. The shoe does have pretty good stability throughout however. Because of the firmer ride, low platform, and solid outsole coverage the shoe provides plenty of feedback from the ground underneath you. This helps a lot with ground feel and proprioception. The upper is pretty dialed in throughout and I trust it with security in most situations. I had some minor translation in the heel since it does seem to come slightly wide, but still close enough to normal width to not have any major problems. The shoe is on the flexible end which does decrease some stability but with how low profile the shoe is I'm not too sure it really matters. Overall decent stability but nothing overly special to rave about here, it is indeed... a minimalist flexible shoe. 

Megan: As a more minimal shoe, the ST-4’s felt relatively stable due to the midfoot (courtesy of the lace lock in the upper and the Ortholite support in the midsole) providing some security. The level of stability in the ST-4’s was just enough for me (as someone new to a 0mm drop shoe) to feel confident running in them after only 1-2 runs. The shoe is flexible in the outsole and the upper, allowing the shoe to serve its’ purpose as optimizing natural foot mechanics and ground feel.

While it does have some stability, it IS a 0mm drop shoe and places some additional stability demands on the body compared to other shoes with a higher drop. The most notable example is that it places more load on the calf/Achilles. Without a difference in the heel/toe stack height, the calf and Achilles are lengthened and placed at a higher risk of injury if not prepared for the increased load in a lengthened position. Another additional stability demand is placed on the forefoot. The forefoot of the shoe allows for a lot of motion and requires the intrinsic foot muscles to be strong to promote good mechanics and avoid any plantar injuries.


THOUGHTS AS A DPT / FOOTWEAR SCIENCE

It has been a while since we have seen a truly minimalistic shoe from a major running company. Topo did something interesting by making the ST-4 a minimalist shoe geared at being a cross over shoe. The shoe is low riding with a relatively firm yet flexible ride throughout that gives plenty of feedback from the ground beneath you. The flexibility and natural feeling upper give a very barefoot and natural like feel through the run or training effort. This is a shoe that I feel 100% comfortable running in and lifting in as well. The platform is level and secure with plenty of feedback from the ground to push from during lifting efforts. The aesthetics of the shoe are also quite nice and the shoe can literally crossover into lifestyle wear as well. All of this is rare for a minimalist shoe. I think in large part the success of this design comes from the upper integration with the platform and the outsole/midsole feeling natural and firm but also just forgiving enough to accomplish the tasks asked of it. This is by far the most comfortable minimalist/barefoot shoe that I have worn so far. This is a category that does not have many shoes in it anymore but one I think is not worth forgetting about. For those looking into wearing footwear like this though make sure your joint mobility and proprioception/balance is good beforehand. When a shoe is this low riding and flexible, you will be required to have greater range of motion through your great toe, metatarsals, and ankle.

- David Salas, PT, DPT, CSCS





RECOMMENDATIONS

David: For what the ST-4 was designed for I think it does a great job. I don't have many recommendations. My main recommendation would probably be to narrow the heel just slightly to help with lockdown in that region just a little bit more. The forefoot can also be a little slappy at faster paces when the pace is pushed harder. Perhaps firming up the forefoot just a tad might help decrease that without changing the nature of the shoe. 

Megan: The ST-4’s have become my go-to shoe for short, easy runs and I find them to be an excellent shoe for recovery and to work on gait mechanics. The only piece of constructive criticism that I have is to add more padding to the heel cup/collar. After a couple miles, I would start to have some irritation and usually a blister would form by the end of the run.


WHO THIS SHOE IS FOR (Conclusion)

David: The Topo ST-4 is a 0 mm drop minimalist training shoe for those looking to have a lightweight nimble experience that does well in the weight room as well. The shoe was designed as a crossover shoe that can dabble in a little bit of everything. It is very low riding and provides a very natural and almost barefoot like feel on foot that feels good at both daily and uptempo paces. The shoe does great in training/lifting situations as well. The flexibility of the shoe can come off as a little slappy at top end speeds in the forefoot, but the shoe can certainly still be used as a traditional road racing flat. For those that like a minimalist and barefoot like feeling shoe this can also be used as a daily trainer and should have decent durability in that realm too. 

Megan: As mentioned before, I was nervous to try a 0mm drop shoe; however the Topo ST-4’s did not disappoint and definitely earned my trust. I would recommend these shoes to someone who is looking to transition to a more minimal shoe while trying to avoid an aggressive change in mechanics. The ST-4’s are a great option for someone who is trying to work on their mechanics including foot strike and landing. I would not recommend this shoe to anyone running in technical trails or rocky terrain. I had a few instances where I stepped on a larger rock – despite having some cushion in the outsole, it was not comfortable to land on. In addition, I would not recommend this shoe to someone coming from a higher stack height or heel-toe drop – gradual progression and strengthening the foot/ankle prior is key!


GRADING (SHOE CATEGORY)

David
Fit: A- (Very well done upper that is comfortable, durable, and secure throughout. The heel is a tad wide though and I had some small translation.)
Performance: 
A- (This is a really good cross over and "do it all" shoe. The shoe is just a little slappy at faster efforts for me)
Stability: B (Flexible and low riding aimed at minimalism, not geared towards stability, but upper and platform provide pretty good stability despite these factors)
DPT/Footwear Science: B (I like the idea of having a cross over shoe that be a training/lifting shoe, daily mileage shoe, and racing shoe all in one. It isn't necessarily the best in any specific category, but a jack of all trades.)
Personal:  B+ (I really like the Topo ST-4 for what it is designed for. I like it most for lifting and lifestyle post run, but really enjoy the ride running too. I just normally like a tad more cushion on my feet.)
Overall: B+ (A really solid do it all shoe that can dabble in some daily mileage, performance running, weight lifting, and even lifestyle)

Megan
Fit: B+ (fits true-to size – I usually wear a size 6.5 and these fit perfectly in length and width; points lost due to the heel cup causing blisters)
Performance: B+ (while there’s minimal responsiveness, they allow for natural mechanics with just enough comfort/cushioning in the midsole/outsole)
Stability: B (some stability with the insert and laces in the midfoot helped with transitioning to a 0mm drop shoe, while still allowing for natural motion/mechanics)
Personal: B+ (even though they earned my trust, I’m still hesitant to run in them for a long run or a tempo workout at this point)
Overall: B+ (I’m surprised by how much I liked these shoes and will continue to do easy training runs in them. They’re a great option especially to work on gait mechanics which is something pretty much every runner has to work on!)


VIDEO - ALL ABOUT TOPO ATHLETICS WITH FOUNDER TONY POST



We got the chance to speak with the founder earlier this year! Watch the full conversation here.

SHOP | SUPPORT DOR

The Topo ST-4 is currently out on Topo' s website here.


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TESTER PROFILES:


David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 60 to 70 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing,

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided free of charge in exchange for a review.  We thank the  people at Topo Athletic for sending us a pair.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We systematically put each type of shoe through certain runs prior to review. For trainers and performance trainers, we take them on daily runs, workouts, recovery runs and a long run prior to review (often accumulating anywhere from 20-50 miles in the process). For racing flats we ensure that we have completed intervals, a tempo or steady state run run as well as a warm up and cool down in each pair prior to review. This systematic process is to ensure that we have experience with each shoe in a large variety of conditions to provide expansive and thorough reviews for the public and for companies. Our views are based on our extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

Please feel free to reach out, comment and ask questions!
Contact us at doctorsofrunning@gmail.com

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Hoka Rincon 3 Review

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