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Topo Specter Review: Powered by PEBAX
By David Salas, Andrea Myers, and Chief Editor Matthew Klein

For a long time I have always associated Topo Athletic with great trail running ranges and some road training shoes. Performance running shoes was not always at the forefoot of my brain with this brand. The Specter comes in trying to shake up that conversation and does a good job of doing that. The Topo Specter introduces a performance trainer designed for road running that can tackle a little bit of everything. The foam is a PEBAX-based insert surrounded by an EVA rim for some stability and guidance. Overall the package is balanced, lightweight, and responsive. 

Price: $149.95 at Running Warehouse
Weight: 8.1 oz, 230 g (men's size 9), 6.9 oz, 196 g  (women's size 7)
Stack Height: 35 mm / 30 mm
Drop: 5mm
Classification: Performance Trainer; Neutral


Matt: The Topo Specter is a brand new maximalist performance trainer that combines a traditional EVA midsole with a PEBAX insert. The sole features a taller stack height combined with a non-plated but stiffer and highly rockered ride. The upper carries over Topo's traditional normal fit with an anatomic toebox, making for a comfortable fit that lets the toes splay. Best for easy runs, longer efforts, uptempo and tempo runs, the Topo Specter will work as a performance trainer for some and potentially a longer distance racing shoe for those searching for PEBAX without an aggressive plate.

David: The Topo Specter is a performance trainer built for road running. The Specter does a great job of balancing lightweight, responsiveness, and versatility. The shoe provides a nice rocker geometry throughout that is not too aggressive in any specific region. This has been one of my favorite shoes to reach for when doing long tempo runs, strides, or long runs. It can go both fast and slow. I think this could easily work as a potential racing shoe in the longer distances for some, especially if they are sensitive to plates.

Andrea: A few days before receiving the Topo Specter in the mail, I was thinking about what other shoes I might try for a non-plated performance shoe. I have really enjoyed using the Topo Cyclone for this purpose, but it's always nice to have more than one option. I felt like the shoe universe was listening when the Topo Specter showed up on my doorstep. It has all of the features I like about the Cyclone, and some features that I like better than the Cyclone. It has Topo's normal wide forefoot, which I love, and the heel counter is more comfortable than the Cyclone. The Specter is lightweight, responsive, and the rocker geometry works well at a variety of paces. 


Matt: Topo typically has a normal width fit with an anatomic toe box. The Topo Specter continues that trend. The heel and midfoot have a normal fit. The forefoot has an anatomic and slightly wider shape. There is plenty of room for the toes while not being sloppy. The fit overall is secure at the heel and I have not had to lace lock the shoe. I have experienced some sliding forward of my left forward during the first mile or two of runs, but this disappears and I have not had any blisters. The tongue is not gusseted but is secured well by two small loops the laces go through. There is a small and flexible heel counter in the rearfoot that I almost did not notice. There is only a little heel collar padding, but those with heel sensitivities should have no problem. I would use socks with this upper as the front half of the upper is a bit scratchy against the skin. This is not a problem at all with socks as the upper is light and forms well against the foot. Overall the Topo Specter has a light and secure upper with an anatomic performance fit.

David: Topo lasts and uppers have always worked pretty well for my foot. The heel and midfoot are normal width to perhaps slightly narrow that widen out to a nice wide toe box. The lacing system of the shoe is done very well and really locks the upper material down well. The fit throughout leans on the performance side of things and can be a little snug, but this is definitely appreciated with the rocker geometry and design. The mesh material itself is lightweight and very comfortable on foot. The only thing I really noticed on this shoe is that when I lace the shoe down tight I sometimes get a little bite into the dorsum of my foot and ankle. Otherwise, I really like the upper design. There is a flexible and lightweight heel counter present that is lightly padded and more so just reinforces the shaping the shoe and heel. I had no problems with translation of the foot or slippage in this model.

Andrea: I received a size 10 in the Specter, whereas I normally wear in a 9.5 in the Cyclone and Magnifly. Going up a 1/2 size was a good choice on Topo's part, as I think that having a little extra length made this shoe work well on my long runs in addition to interval days. I seem to be between sizes in many shoes and if I were buying the Specter myself, I would stick with the 10. I really love the wide toe box of Topo shoes and the Specter does not disappoint. The heel counter is flexible and the heel collar is lightly padded. I found the rearfoot to be extremely comfortable and had no issues with heel irritation, like I did in the Cyclone. The lightweight mesh upper is breathable and comfortable. It does not stretch, which helps it contribute to excellent foot lockdown. The tongue is thin with light padding and is not gusseted. There are lace loops on the tongue near the ankle which do an excellent job of keeping the tongue in place. Overall, I found the fit of the Specter to be outstanding and extremely comfortable.


Matt: The Topo Specter is a maximalist lightweight/performance trainer. A large amount of midsole (35mm/30mm) sits underfoot, featuring a dual-density of EVA and a PEBAX insert. Topo's EVA foam is fairly firm but is balanced by the softer and more responsive PEBAX. This creates an underfoot feel that sits between soft and firm but is on the more responsive side as the pace picks up. The ride is aggressively rockered at the heel and forefoot. There is a centered heel bevel at the rearfoot and a sharp/aggressive forefoot rocker at the front. The thick sole does not have much flexibility and instead relies on the rockers to roll you forward. The heel transition is a bit awkward due to the lateral heel flare and centered bevel. My ankles feel like the are being pitched inward due to an early initial contact. This is slightly offset by the larger medial flare, but is still noticeable to me for the first few miles of a run or as I fatigue. However, this feeling goes away as the pace picks up. The forefoot transition is fairly quick, providing a smooth ride regardless of pace. The drop is listed at 5mm but it feels lower than that. The aggressive rockers offset this a little, but as a heel striker, it feels like the heel compresses more than the forefoot, making for a lower drop than listed. The outsole durability has been decent over 51 miles in my pair. The forefoot rubber has remained perfectly fine, but I ripped off the outsole rubber at my normal spot. This is fairly normal for me with exposed rubber like this, so I expect an average number of miles for a performance trainer out of these (200-300 miles). The Specter is best used on roads, but the traction is not great on wet pavement. I found myself slipping and struggling to find traction on wet smooth surfaces and am too nervous to take these on trails.

Use-wise, the Topo Specter excels at longer efforts, uptempo work and tempo runs. The rockered ride and moderately responsive sole works well for steady efforts. I found it more challenging to use during intervals and extremely fast efforts, where I might prefer a full PEBA or PEBAX midsole. During easy paces, it does well given the higher level of underfoot foam and the transition. The Topo Specter has worked well as a daily training shoe given my preference for lightweight trainers. I personally found that the heel works better at uptempo paces, but that is unique to me. Many people wanting a lower drop with a rockered and naturally stiff ride may enjoy the Topo Specter as a long run or long race (marathon) alternative if they do not do well in full PEBAX/PEBA plated shoes.

David: The Topo Specter is a fun shoe and something I am really excited to see come from the brand. The Specter is certainly a performance training shoe but can still do a little bit of everything. The shoe operates best at slight uptempo paces for me but can still run easy with decent comfort. I like this shoe a lot as a long-run shoe or for long tempo runs. I have taken this shoe to the track at 4:40 mile pace and the shoe could do it, but it was starting to feel like too much shoe. The shoe really shines at tempo paces, long runs, and road workouts. I could see this being a potential racing option for those that may want a fast and protective feel underfoot but are sensitive to plates, as this does not have one. The ride throughout is pretty balanced though still rockered. The bevel in the heel is on the sharper end with the toe spring in the forefoot much more gradual. The result feels like a fast transitioning heel and nice balanced transition through the midfoot and forefoot. The shoe is very lightweight and has a PEBAX-based core/insert with an EVA rim around the rest of the shoe. This gives you a soft and responsive feel throughout while also having some structure surrounding it. I still would not call this a stability shoe as the last is still a little narrow and traditional feeling overall, but some guidance is definitely noted. The shoe is a lightweight and responsive performance trainer that can handle a little bit of everything. The shoe feels like it wants to move quick but can also slow down if it needs to. For those that like the Endorphin Speed but doesn't want a plate in the shoe, they may want to look at the Topo Specter.

 I tested the Specter in every type of workout - easy runs, long runs, and intervals from marathon pace all the way down to hill sprints. I enjoyed the shoe most during marathon pace to 10k pace intervals. At faster paces and particularly hill sprints, it felt like the shoe lagged a little bit in responsiveness due to the stiff and rockered forefoot. The Specter has an EVA frame with a PEBAX insert, which results in a firmer, responsive shoe. It is comfortable for easy runs and long runs, but I had days where I wanted something a little more forgiving when my legs and feet were tired. I can see this being an excellent marathon training shoe for long runs with a lot of tempo intervals. As a midfoot striker, I found the shoe to be very smooth and the forefoot rocker helps me transition nicely from lateral midfoot to toe off. The higher stack height does reduce ground feel, but the firm midsole gives it better ground feel than shoes with similar stack height and a softer midsole material. The Specter does not have sufficient traction on wet roads due to the amount of exposed midsole, but does just fine in dry conditions.

I have concerns about the durability of the shoe due to the lack of rubber coverage where I make initial contact. I have 61 miles on my pair and there is already visible wear on the exposed midsole. The rubber in the forefoot shows minimal wear and I would be happy to send my like-new rearfoot rubber to Matt so he can replace his. I agree with David that the Specter is a great option for those who like the Endorphin Speed, but had issues with the plate or softer midsole.


Matt: The Topo Specter is a neutral shoe. However, there are some elements that provide mild guidance. Using a dual-density midsole is becoming more common and the PEBAX foam encased in EVA does provide a subtly centered ride. The forefoot is wider with an aggressive rocker, making for a strong push forward once you get to the front. The heel has flare on both the medial and lateral side, providing a more centered ride. I did find the lateral flare to pitch me inward a bit faster, so those sensitive to that may find this shoe works better at faster paces when you transition quicker through that area. The midfoot is fairly neutral with no sidewalls, so those sensitive to any form of midfoot stability will do well here. Overall, the Topo Specter is a neutral shoe for those who want a little guidance from flare in the heel and inherent guidance from the EVA/PEBAX foam interactions.

David: The Topo Specter is not a stability shoe but does have some components that help. The shoe utilizes a dual density midsole with a PEBAX-based insert along the plantar surfaces of the foot and an EVA rim surrounding the remainder of the shoe. This does give a sense of structure and guidance throughout the shoe. Despite this the last is still normal to slightly narrow and the shoe does feel like it leans a little more in the performance realm. The outsole is very thin and is definitely designed for the road. The traction was surprisingly good on the road or dirt given the profile, but still not enough to necessarily "add" stability. The upper locked down well and did provide any slippage. I felt secure in this shoe without any additional steps required.

Andrea: The Specter is a neutral shoe that has some mild stability characteristics due to its rockered geometry and sole flare. These features create guidance during stance phase and push off without forcing motion. In looking at the outsole wear patterns of my pair (which are not always an accurate guide to running mechanics), I do not show as much wear in the lateral forefoot as I do in other shoes, and the overall wear appears in the center of the midfoot and forefoot. As someone who has had issues in the past with push off occurring too far laterally at the forefoot, I found that the Specter helped me achieve a more normal push off at the medial forefoot. For those who have similar issues, the Specter may be a great addition to your shoe lineup. 


What the Unique Insert in the Specter Adds to the Overall Design
By David Salas

I think Topo did something very interesting with the Specter. Using a PEBAX-based insert and EVA rim they created a shoe that had a small amount of guidance and structure, but a fast and balanced ride as well. Today's DPT section is grounded in theory on movement patterns. Normally our body likes to move in the path of least resistance. In this case the foot and ankle may want to move in a direction of compliancy. The Peba midsole is certainly softer underfoot and the EVA rim serves as a guidance system for the foot to follow. By having the EVA rim around the entirety of the foot, the foot consistently feels like it is in a state of moving forward linearly. This creates some inherent stability and rhythm. The gradual toe spring of the shoe also gives you a little more of a grounded sensation and lets you do some of the work, rather than falling off of the front of the shoe. The combination of geometry and midsole composition help give the Topo Specter such a balanced ride for a performance trainer.


Matt: The Topo Specter is a major step forward for the company. I have enjoyed running in it, especially since I prefer lightweight/performance trainers. My major suggestions are to shift the heel bevel more laterally, improve the outsole traction and consider using more PEBAX in the midsole. The use of medial and lateral heel flare does improve inherent stability, but most people will land at the posterior lateral side. Having a centered heel bevel can be jarring with lateral flare given that it will cause an early initial contact. For that reason, shifting the bevel a bit laterally will smooth this out. The traction on dry road is fine, but any amount of wetness makes for a slippery shoe. This is not a trail shoe by any means, but the traction does need to be improved for security on wet pavement. Finally, while softer than other Topo shoes, the ride is still on the firmer side for a max stack height shoe with PEBAX. The idea of an EVA frame is great for inherent guidance, but if Topo really wants to make this a responsive performance trainer, increasing the amount of PEBAX beyond an insert is necessary. 

David: I really enjoyed my time with the Topo Specter. For me the tongue could probably be padded a tiny bit more as I did have some biting into the top of my foot/ankle, especially when running fast. Despite the traction being decent on roads, I do think I would like to have a little bit more since this is still in the training category to add some versatility and confidence to other terrains.

Andrea: The Specter was an answer to my prayers for a well-fitting, non-plated performance trainer. Topo could improve the shoe by adding more rubber to the midfoot area of the outsole, which would improve traction and durability. To make the Specter an even more versatile shoe, they might consider making the midsole a little softer to make it more comfortable for easy runs.


Matt: The Topo Specter is a performance trainer for those who want a decent balance of EVA and PEBAX in a non-plated shoe for longer efforts and potentially racing. The cushioning underfoot provides enough responsiveness to handle tempo efforts and enough protection for longer easy runs. This may give it the versatility to act as a marathon shoe for those not wanting a plate but still wanting a maximalist and rockered ride. The fit is unique with the anatomic toebox, which is somewhat rare among racing/performance shoes. Those wanting a more natural fit, a maximal ride with a hint of PEBAX and no plate will likely enjoy the Topo Specter for everything from easy runs to marathon pace efforts and races. 

David: The Topo Specter is a neutral performance trainer for those looking to have a lightweight and responsive ride for the road without the presence of a plate. The shoe works great as a long run shoe and long tempo shoe for me. The shoe feels better at slight uptempo paces but can slow down a little bit if you need it to as well. I think for most this will be a training companion shoe or potential race day shoe for someone who is sensitive to plates. This essentially is a baby between a shoe like the HOKA Mach 4 and Endorphin Speed without the plate and more road-oriented.

Andrea: The Topo Specter is a non-plated, responsive performance trainer that will work best for runners with neutral mechanics. It is pretty versatile, working well at a range of training paces and particularly for runners preparing for a marathon. Runners who prefer a wider toebox will be very happy with any Topo shoe, including the Specter. The Specter could even be a half or full marathon racing shoe for those looking for a non-plated option.


Fit: A- (Normal width featuring an anatomic toebox without being sloppy)
Performance: A-/B+
 (Rockered ends, plus max stack height that provides a moderately responsive ride. Works for easy runs, long runs and uptempo/tempo efforts)
Stability: B [Neutral] (Medial/Lateral heel flare with rockered ride. Lateral flare causes ankle to pitch in. No sidewalls, so fairly neutral shoe)
DPT/Footwear Science: B+ (Good integration of midsole materials for performance category. Solid option for thsoe wanting a stiffer/maximalist ride without a plate. However, PEBAX insert appears to be more in midfoot/heel. This may cause more compression there and thus a lower drop for rearfoot strikers. Bevel would be more appropriate at posterior lateral heel rather than being centered)
Personal: A- (A well-fitting shoe that I continue to reach for on easy days and uptempo efforts. A great shoe that works when you can't decide if you want to do a workout or not)
Overall: B+

Fit: A- (Very dialed in and well-fitting upper, though the tongue does bite a little bit with tighter lockdown)
A (The Specter is just about fast enough to hit any pace you need it to with good comfort. Best at uptempo and long controlled efforts)
Stability: B+ (Traction could be a little better, slightly narrow midfoot and fast transitioning heel give a sense of forward propulsion and less stable subjective feeling underfoot for me)
DPT/Footwear Science: A (I love the blend of dual-density midsoles and think they knocked it out of the park with the combination in the performance trainer category)
Personal: A- (I really like the Topo Specter. For me I really only pull it out for long runs or long tempo runs with my rotation now but something nonetheless I am excited to run in every time.)
Overall: A- (A really well done non plated performance trainer that leans in the middle of Mach 4 and Endorphin speed for me on geometry and responsiveness. A solid addition to the performance trainer category.)

Fit: (Topo's excellent wide toe box combined with a comfortable and non-intrusive heel counter makes for an extremely well-fitting shoe)
A (A versatile shoe that can perform at every training pace, although I found it best at marathon-10k paces)
Stability: B+ (I found the Specter helped me transition from lateral midfoot to medial forefoot better than many other shoes I have tried. Main drawback is lack of traction on wet roads)
DPT/Footwear Science: A (PEBAX insert plus EVA frame results in a responsive shoe that became my go-to for interval days)
Personal: A (Very happy with the Specter. Great fit and performance makes this a new integral part of my shoe rotation. I will stick with lower stack shoes for intervals faster than 5k pace in the future)
Overall: A- (Great fit and overall performance. One of the best non-plated performance trainers out there. Durability could be improved with additional outsole rubber.)


Price: $149.95 at Running Warehouse

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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 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.

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