Versatile, Light, PEBAX Energetic, Toe Box Room for Days! 10 Comparisons

Topo Athletic Specter ($150)

IntroductionSam: The Specter is a max cushion (35mm heel / 30mm forefoot), 5mm drop road trainer with a lightweight EVA midsole framing a substantial (16mm thick at the heel) central core of supercritical PEBAX beaded foam. PEBAX foams reduce weight and have clearly more energetic rebound than more conventional foams and are at the foundation of recent “super” race shoes. Here Topo leaves out a plastic or carbon plate relying on the outer EVA for stability. The Specter clearly benefits from the weight advantages of PEBAX as the Specter checks in at 8.2 oz  / 232 g (US9) on a wide platform. Further weight savings are attained with a thin rubber outsole and a quite minimal upper. 

With an aggressive rocker geometry with no plate, state of the art foams, light weight, and sleek colorful upper with Topo trademark anatomical toe box, the Specter is both a clear departure from past Topo whose foams tended to be on the  firm and dull side for me, yet at least visually,  I for sure see a shoe true to the brand’s natural running origins with a wide toe box and low drop. Intrigued I couldn’t wait to

Cheng: The recent explosion of running shoe innovation has produced a mind boggling volume of options. From plate/no-plate to drop/no-drop, there are now more distinct rides than can be run. As a reviewer in the midst of this revolution, I’ve been pondering on a core question: what, fundamentally, is a running shoe?

To many brands that answer seems to be more about what sells, blatantly designing for step-in feel than a specific ride quality. Annual iterations from one to the next feels like the result of design-by-consensus… “Just slap the latest superfoam on that latest rocker platform and voila, version 4 is out the door!” Or create a few more colorway collaborations for v38 and… are running shoes becoming sneakers?

Amongst this storm of fast fashion running, Topo has endured as one of the last holdouts. Their answer to that foundational question is simple: a running shoe is one that supports natural running, something that I thought was impossible to maintain with the popular superfoam-high-stack-rocker trend. Yet, somehow not only did the Specter achieve the impossible, but it did so with a fineness of design. Allow me to elaborate on my findings.

Jeremy: As a France-based reviewer in the team, I must admit that Topo was the brand that I thought I could never run in. They’re not well distributed in France, and even less known by runners. And as Cheng perfectly described, the running shoe market is so overwhelmed by dozens of new colorways/tiny updates by the big brands that it is difficult for an underdog like Topo to break through.

Thus, being also a shoe-geek, I always kept an eye on their offering, as many of their concepts (minimal drop, large toe-box à la Altra, but with a reputed better foot hold) ring a bell to the “natural runner” in me.

Long story short, thanks to our tremendous Chief Editor Sam, I’ve been able to get a pair of Topo Specter for review and I’m finally able to see if my expectations on the brand were to be fulfilled.

Joost: I’m probably one of the few RoadTrailRun team (go RTR!) members to have reviewed most of TOPO Athletic road running shoes. The only listed shoe I’ve never tried on is the Phantom, so I was excited to get my feet into their newest offering: the Specter. I’ve been a big fan of TOPO shoes ever since I got the Cyclone in for review. The fit has been nothing but excellent for my wide feet and while I don’t really pay much attention to the drop of a shoe, just the way it makes me feel when I run, I understand why people might find it important to run in either high or low drop shoes as are most TOPO. The only thing that’s let me down in most of the models I’ve had on is the midsole foam. In the current day and age, Zipfoam just doesn’t feel all that zippy on my feet, so I was especially curious to find out what they had done with the addition of a Pebax core in a high stack shoe.

Pros:

  • Fun, forgiving, moderately soft, and very energetic yet stable foam combination: Sam/Cheng/Jeremy/Joost

  • Broad, smooth flowing rocker geometry: Sam/Joost

  • Nice and easy rolling from midfoot to forefoot for midfoot striker, natural rocker Jeremy/Joost

  • Light at 8.2oz (232g) for a 35/30mm stack height: Sam/Cheng/Jeremy/Joost

  • 5mm drop works well with rocker geometry: Cheng/Jeremy/Joost/Sam

  • Anatomical, broad toe box that works with wide and slim feet: Sam/Cheng/Jeremy/Joost

  • Masterpiece of upper hold, breath ability, and comfort: Sam/Cheng/Jeremy

  • Clever tongue design with top loop paired with soft broad laces: Sam/Cheng/Jeremy/Joost

  • Stable, dense, not too bouncy foam that protects well from impacts Jeremy/Joost

  • Very durable outsole: Cheng/Joost/Jeremy

  • A highly tunable ride via changing of insole: Cheng

Cons:

  • Forefoot rocker midsole lacks flexibility: Cheng

  • Default Ortholite insole does not fully express ride potential: Cheng

  • A little heel slippage with very thin socks: Joost/Sam

  • Traction on wet slippery surfaces: Joost

  • Wish for a touch more forefoot firmer response Sam

Stats

Estimated Weight: men’s 8.2 oz  / 232 g (US9)  /  women’s oz / g (US8)

   Samples: men’s 7.95 oz  /  225g US8.5 –  8.95 oz / 254g US10.5 – 246g/8.68 oz US9.5

Stack Height: men’s 35 mm heel / 30mm forefoot 

  • Ortholite Insole 5mm

  • Pebax insert piece 16mm (heel), 14mm (midfoot)

  • EVA Frame 12mm (heel), 9mm (midfoot)

  • Outsole Rubber 2mm

  • Total Stack Height 35mm (heel), 30mm (midfoot)

Available June. $150

First Impressions,  Fit and Upper

Cheng: Perhaps I never noticed in the past, but this Topo actually looks nice! The brand is proudly announced on the midsole—in a subdued, lowercase typeset of course! Along with this, The Specter implements the popular style du-jour with the upper midsole contrasted in color to enhance a sense of flow and strike zone.

Upon first step-in is the classically consistent Topo fit. To be clear, this fit is NOT an Altra fit, far from it. In fact, aside from a roomy forefoot, I’d say that Topo has a more similar fit to that of Saucony than to Altra. Specifically, there is that secure midfoot feel; and this is before even tying the laces. This sensation is quite crucial to natural running and is primarily a result of a slimmer midfoot upper paired with a slightly raised medial midsole. Runners new to Topo might perceive this to be a stability feature. In a way it is, but it is more designed to support the feet’s natural ground contact process than necessarily to stabilize. More on this in the ride section.

Along with a secure midfoot section is an even more secure heel. The cup allows the feet to sink in deeply while the soft yet structured upper wraps around the heel, gripping it like a Chinese finger trap. It holds gently until you try to pry the shoe off; then it holds you tightly, very tightly!

Cheng: I’m actually rather amazed by how well the heel fits and holds the feet, but can’t seem to find a singular design mechanism behind this phenomenon. Rather, I believe the reason for the phenomenal heel grip comes not just from the rearfoot. The effect actually starts at the midfoot…

Topo has always designed their uppers to work in tandem with the midsole to produce a unique mid-to-rear lockdown feel. This is distinctly different from Altra, where there lacks a sense of unified hold, with many of their models having distinctly insecure uppers (e.g. Escalante v1-2, Torin Plush). The Specter, on the other hand, exemplifies Topo’s distinctly secure upper, requiring me to struggle a bit to initially get the feet in, followed by a surprisingly roomy feel. This is due in part to Topo’s natural running aspirations, designing a shoe that holds at the rear/midfoot but allows room at the forefoot to splay and control.

During one of my runs around a sharp corner, I remember vividly the shoe absolutely refusing to loosen its grip. Even as my feet rotated slightly inside the shoe, the heel gripped like a vice before relaxing once the cornering was completed. While this may sound dramatic, it is certainly an effect that does not come with every trainer. For context, I have what is known as Asian fit genetics, where my feet are wide upfront, slim at the heel, and voluminous midfoot. For a shoe to fit me well with both lockdown and room is a true rarity.

Joost: Like all TOPO shoes I’ve reviewed, the Specter is quite a looker. I don’t know if it’s because of that Camper Beetle anatomical shape look that I have a soft spot for, or if it’s a subconscious feeling of “belonging” to the wide feet club TOPO caters for. Whatever the reason, I really like the look of the Specter and the orange/green colorway makes them stand out.

Step in is typical TOPO. A nice roomy forefoot coupled with a very secure midfoot and some arch support, although subjectively less of that than in other models I’ve reviewed. The upper is a single layer engineered mesh. It’s very breathable, light, and does the job well. 

There’s a non-obtrusive toe lift and three small internal fabric strips on either side in the midfoot area going from the reinforced eyestay to the midfoot in order to provide secure midfoot lockdown. 

The heel collar is fairly minimal and flexible, with just a bit of padding in the top from behind the ankle to the heel. 

The upper is so comfortable and without hotspots that you could easily run sockless in the Specter. With very thin socks, I noticed some heel slippage, but nothing that would cause discomfort or affect the ride of the shoe. 

The tongue is held in place with the usual loops. Fit is generous.

Jeremy: As my first encounter with a Topo shoe, I must admit I was eager to put my feet on the renowned “Altra-like” toe box with a very secure midfoot – one of the caveats I have with most Altras.

And the Specter lives up to Topo reputation. 

Step-in is comfortable, my toes have plenty of space to wiggle and splay, but my mid-foot is perfectly held in place with what looks like a rather simple mesh – not much overlays or complicated design gimmicks here – it works by design…like minimalist functional design.

The colorway and the wide toe box makes the Specter quite a looker – don’t expect wearing those as casual shoes…or you need to adapt the rest of your outfit!

There’s no heel counter, which I like. And I like it even more because of a perfect heel hold. The only external structural overlay is the band going from the front base of the heel towards the back.

There’s a silk-like lining going from heel to midfoot which, I think, is here to minimize the stretch in those areas. The very breathable mesh has a little bit of give, which is nice for all the front part of the shoe. But the silky lining annihilates this stretch at the back of the shoe, for the better: it helps achieve a nice and secure heel hold without rigid heel counter or many overlays.

The laces stay tied, no double-knot is needed, thanks to their grainy structure. Two clever tiny loops on the tongue through which the laces go secure the tongue on the foot, easing step-in and removing any slippage risk. As the rest of the upper, this is brilliantly simple.

Out of the box, the laces go to the last eyelet, something that’s not innocent to the nice heel hold of the shoe. This can be overseen as a detail, but it clearly shows some thoughts have been put on the shoe by Topo.

First impressions of my first Topo shoe are clearly very positive: from the look, to the quality of the material and attention to details, I don’t have many negative things to write on the Specter for now.

Sam: Obviously striking in its bright colors, broad platform and toe box, wide platform, and aggressive rocker, the Specter is fun to look at and a big departure from previously mostly very conservatively styled and constructed Topo.

I was skeptical that such a light upper with broad toe box, minimal underlays, and giant toe box would actually hold my narrower feet adequately and I was shocked when it did, and brilliantly so, on first try on and during every run. I think key to the hold and this is in a shoe with no rigid heel counter is the rear no stretch lining and strapping broadening linking lacing to the heel and the two clever lace loops to keep the thin tongue in place  I was particularly struck by how well I was held in the broad toe box with no raising of the toes or side sliding  as often the case in such minimal mesh in a broad toe box for me and here in a softer foam shoe. The fit is true to size, 

The others have described how it achieves this well and I will just say that given their focus on anatomical fit and the challenges that presents Topo consistently have superb fitting uppers and here in a very minimal mesh upper construction they continue that tradition.

Midsole

Cheng: For the midsole, Topo went with the conservative soft-hard-box approach. I say “conservative” because this is a proven midsole design of stabilizing an otherwise overly soft foam by surrounding it with a harder EVA shell (e.g. Reebok Run Fast). Where the Specter truly innovated is not in the basics of this design, but in its high stacked approach.

Specifically, Topo set out to design a tempo shoe with the performance characteristics of a plated PEBA midsole but without an actual plate. This required a precise stack of inner/outer foam thicknesses to create structure while not muting rebound. To that extent it is a success. The Specter feels like what many other plated supershoes should be, but more on that in the ride section.

While a high stack approach is all the rage these days, the Specter has an additional feature designed into its midsole: compatibility with natural running. This feature is subtle but must be emphasized as it is core to the Topo brand. This is mainly accomplished by a well-placed rocker that works with the dorsiflexion expected by runners of minimalist/natural platforms. Whether this is a result of the midsole actually flexing with the windlass effect or more a mimicry produced by the rocker is difficult to say, but the overall effect works! This is one of only two current high stacked road racers that work with your natural stride, the other being the Altra Vanish Carbon.

Joost: This is where the magic happens and where the Specter is quite different from the other TOPO models I’ve tested. As I wrote in the introduction, the usual Zipfoam in the other models is starting to show its age and feels quite dull in comparison with what other brands have been putting out. The obvious choices are either a supercritical EVA foam (such as Hyperburst or FuelCell)  or Pebax. TOPO went with Pebax. 

A midsole as thick as the Specter (35/30)  in just Pebax would normally require either a very wide base like the Nike Invincible, which I personally don’t like, or some sort of plate. The Specter went a different route and uses an EVA cage to tame the slab of Pebax that’s the heart of the midsole. On standing and walking around in the Specter, you can feel the softness of the Pebax, but without any wobbliness that would normally be associated with it. The result is a stable, resilient, soft firm (that’s the best way to describe it), energetic feeling midsole without going overboard. I’m also under the impression that the combination of the Pebax and the EVA cage make for a good vibration dampening mechanism. The midsole in the Specter is not very flexible, hence the more pronounced rocker to compensate. 

Jeremy: A Pebax core (i.e softer, bouncier foam) surrounded by a fimer EVA cage is a design pattern that seems to be emerging these days. Puma used it in some of their shoes, Craft also went this route…It negates the need of a plate or an insert to stabilize the Pebax foam, and avoids going to a super-wide base in order to compensate for the inherent wobbliness of Pebax foam and add stability.

Walking in the Specter, you can feel the softish flavor of the midsole, but it stays very consistent: there’s not much compression, and it feels very stable. I’m not particularly fond of the exaggerated heel bevel. It may probably help heel strikers but I can’t really judge its effectiveness being more of a midfoot runner.

The midsole is not really flexible, due to its thickness and the firmer EVA frame, and the Specter compensates for this using a quite late stage rocker helping toe-off during the stride.

The closest shoe that I can compare this midsole to is the Scott Speed Carbon RC with its very dense – not harsh – character. The Scott might feel a bit firmer (the plate adding to this feeling) but the Topo really shares the same feeling, being very protective from ground impacts. As such, it feels like a perfect long distance, tempo shoe.

Sam: All the magic of high rebounding and light PEBAX tamed just enough for stability by the outer EVA carrier foam. Topo did a very nice job keeping the EVA firmness and geometry relatively close to the PEBAX so there is no sensation of disconnect between the foams. At the same time the carrier and broad platform make the Specter very stable especially considering that the outsole, often used to help stabilize soft foams, is just 2mm thick. 

At a very near max super shoe stack height of 35/30 the overall feel is relatively soft, but not Invincible soft with lots of measured clearly felt rebound from the PEBAX core. And that core is substantial and the bulk of the cushioning as it is 16mm thick at the heel and 14mm at the forefoot with the EVA side walls frame and lower layer this last also contributing  to stability and response 12 mm and 9mm heel and front respectively. 

The aggressive rockers are key to making the broad softer platform move along. Except at very slow paces this heel striker rolls off the heel easily here with the front rigid rocker delivering a smooth and effective rolling toe off. 

The midsole bottom line. One of the most comfortable riding, smooth flowing, just soft enough, just stable enough, with plenty of not mushy cushion and rebound midsole set ups I can recall in a long time. 

Outsole

Cheng: I sometimes skip writing about outsoles on reviews because I simply lack the mileage that can produce a confident insight into their performance. Not so here. This is one of the toughest outsole materials I’ve encountered, with only special blends of AHAR (ASICS High Abrasion Rubber) being comparable.

The outsole pieces have no added flex grooves but do have weight-saving cutouts. They’re placed in areas of major contact, with a significant portion at the mid/forefoot. After nearly 100 miles in the Specter at various paces, I am absolutely amazed by how well they’ve endured. The original sub-millimeter friction bumps are still there, and I was not necessarily gentle with my pair. If you’re looking for a durable platform, look no farther!

Joost: Quite different from the other models I reviewed, the Specter has no flex grooves and a thin 2mm piece of outsole rubber with cutouts to save on weight and make it a little more flexible. It works well and seems quite durable. 

After 96km (60 miles), there’s no visible wear. The very fine ribbing is still present, even on the lateral midfoot, where I usually start wearing down my shoes. Grip and traction are very good on dry surfaces, and also ok on wet asphalt, but on more slippery surfaces like concrete, traction is not as good. 

Jeremy: As the shoe doesn’t aim for any flexibility, there are no flex grooves on the outsole. A large rubber piece covers the front foot, where most impacts and friction will occur, and two little pieces deal with the heel.

I’ve been on asphalt, uphill and downhill, and some easy trails and the outsole still don’t show any sign of wear, sharing the same conclusion as Joost at 80km: it looks very durable as there is no sign of the tiniest of wear.

I find the outsole really effective, sticky even on wet asphalt. It’s also quite soft, making the shoe not too loud when running. I like that!

Ride

Cheng: It’s actually difficult to put the Specter’s ride into words. I’ve run a large variety of paces, from recovery jogs up to Mile Pace, and the shoe performed uniquely at every segment. Initially, at slower paces, the shoe simply functions as a smooth and rockered ride, not unlike that of the ASICS GlideRide (v1-2). You can choose to land mid/forefoot or sink back into the heel and the foam does a good job of dampening any road harshness while still giving you completely natural control.

As you exert more force into the ground, the PEBA core clearly expresses .The midsole allows for a decent compression before a distinct and significant rebound. The softness/resiliency closely resembles that of Adidas Lightstrike Pro. That is, the resiliency and responsiveness is more apparent than the softness. This effect does, however, have a limit at around 5K pace. Midsole performance from that speed and faster flatlines with minuscule additional rebound. Mile pace tends to feel rather pancake-y, something not experienced with Lightstrike Pro or ZoomX. Overall though, the Specter has an excellent pace range for anything from 5K racing to recovery running – not many shoes can claim this!

In addition to this analysis, I also tuned my pair with multiple variations of insoles and topsoles, managing to change the ride characteristics quite dramatically. I will detail these findings in the Insole Tuning section below.

Insole Tuning

Cheng: In addition to my initial observations, I noticed that Topo, once again, implemented the same Ortholite insole that it does in nearly all their shoes. After running the initial 50 miles in the Specter, I suspected that this insole wasn’t necessarily the best pairing for the ride, and so I set out to produce two distinct ride flavors: a more reactive and responsive one for tempo paces and a softer, plushier one for recovery running. After testing with multiple combinations, I’ve concluded that the default Ortholite model is more of a middle-of-the-road compromise.

For instance, in implementing an even thicker but denser open-cell insole like that of the Altra Torin Plush, the ride turned from a smooth one to a truly plush yet energetic one, not unlike that of the Hoka Mach 4. This plushness certainly dampened some of the responsiveness, but is absolutely a pleasure for longer runs on asphalt. Conversely, when I implemented an eTPU topsole + closed-cell insole, the ride became nearly identical to the Adidas Boston 10’s. In fact, that variation is what I hoped the Boston 10 should have been: light, resilient, and nimble.

Does that mean Topo’s Ortholite insole is subpar? Not quite – I think it’s rather a good trade off between performance and comfort. However, the Specter could be so much more than it is. Just imagine a future version where the lasting board is already eTPU based with a closed-cell Durapotex insole. That could be the “Specter Tempo” with another being the “Specter Plush”… So many possibilities!

Joost: The soft firmness (for lack of a better way to put it) is very apparent when running in the Specter, as is the pronounced rocker. The shoe rolls through nicely and the 5mm drop seems to be spot on with the rocker geometry. The EVA cage does its job of keeping the Pebax in check very well and the result is a stable, dense, energetic ride with good vibration dampening. The Specter is one of those shoes that goes “tap tap tap” instead of “slap slap slap” when running. It’s very quiet, usually a sign of a shoe that sits well with my mid to forefoot strike. It works well at most paces, except for very fast work. I’ve used it for everything from a 1h45 long slow distance run to track repeats without any problems. 

Jeremy: I find the cushioning of the shoe dense. And that is  a positive quality! Dense doesn’t mean harsh or firm. It means that it leans just on the soft side but is very consistent, not too bouncy, and protective from impacts. I never really felt the lack of flexibility of the shoe, which points to  spot-on geometry: the late-stage rocker makes the shoe easily rolling no matter the pace. One might argue that the EVA frame neglects the bounciness of the Pebax foam, but I think the opposite: it controls it, makes it predictable, with a natural forward-rebound guided by the rocker geometry.

I’m training for my first Ironman (end of June) so I am running quite a few long tempo runs and the Specter really shines here. Even during brick training when I jump off the bike and start running, the Topo delivers a nice protective, easy rolling feel on tired legs. Plus, the very reasonable weight for cushion is not to be overlooked. It was quite unexpected but this shoe has earned its place on the short list for my race, where I think a protective, easy rolling slow tempo shoe might be a better choice than a more performance oriented one (i.e Vaporfly)…The jury’s still out.

I even ran some strides and short 30s repeats with the Specter and I was astonished by how well they behaved.

They stand as a really effective, protective, fun and versatile shoe that seems to be durable. What more can you ask for?

Sam: As Jeremy says: “What more can you ask for”. The Specter has a wonderful lively well cushioned and vibration dampened ride with clear and fun rebound from its PEBAX core well stabilized by the EVA frame that for me worked for every type of run except at the extremes of pace. At very slow paces the heel felt a bit low and soft, at very fast paces I wished for a bit more decisive pop off the forefoot, maybe from thicker rubber or a deeper front layer of EVA under the PEBAX. 

The rocker and overall geometry is effective in moving the wide platform of softer foam along but at times I wished for a slightly narrower on the ground platform, a bit more agile feel as things sure felt wide. These are minor ride complaints about what is an exceptionally fine all around ride.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Cheng: I test many shoes. My wife complains of how many pairs I’m constantly rotating through. Yet, time and again, Topo manages to stay in my rotation, one way or another. When I’m injured, I walk in a Topo. When I’m rehabbing, I reach for a natural running pair to maintain my form. Other brands fade in and out, but Topo remains, and I swear that this is not done with any loyalty to the brand.

With the Specter, this phenomenon has become even harder to overcome as it is not not only a platform that does it all, but also customizable to the exact type of run. I intend to take this shoe to the hundreds of miles and report back with long haul durability notes, but as of now, this is my highest scored running shoe. Light, fast, and smooth, the Specter is the do-it-all natural running companion you’ve been waiting for! I do not make such a statement lightly.

Cheng’s Score: 9.95/10

Ride: 10/10 (50%), Fit: 10/10 (30%), Value: 10/10 (15%), Style: 9/10 (5%)

Joost: TOPO has long been one of my favorite brands as far as fit and upper were concerned, but the midsole material had been starting to show its age. This approach of using Pebax and stabilizing it with an EVA cage is a great solution without going for a plate. It allows TOPO to produce a shoe that’s less expensive and can take on almost all of your training or even racing. The Specter is durable, fun to run in and for people with wide feet like me, a relief in the forefoot.

Joost’s Score

9.52/10 

Ride 9.5/10 (50%), Fit 9.8/10 (30%), Value 9/10 (15%), Style 9.5/10 (5%)

Jeremy: The Specter is my first TOPO shoe and it’s quite a hit. The upper quality and its fit puts the Foot-shaped toebox brand back to the drawing board as it combines this with a perfect foot hold. I don’t know how their previous midsole foams behaved, but the combination of the Pebax core and EVA frame in the Specter brings a very nice blend of intrinsic stability, dense, protective cushioning without needing a plate.

The shoe seems and has proven durable so far, is versatile and can hold every pace from slow training runs to high-tempo without any issue. For long distance aficionados, the Specter can also be a very good choice.

The only drawback for French (or European) runners is that Topo shoes are less of a bargain here than they are in the US…

Jeremy’s score 9.34/10

Ride 9.5/10 (50%), Fit 9.8/10 (30%), Value 8/10 (15%), Style 9/10 (5%)

Sam: Topo delivers a totally modern, lightweight, fun to run trainer long racer that is true to their heritage of lower drops and anatomical uppers. Not an easy task to execute a completely new shoe so well and Topo is not a giant company that is for sure. We have found during RTR calls with them that they listen to feedback, learn, and move forward, here decisively with a truly top notch new model.

The ride is all smiles for me although I wished at times for a bit more decisive pop to go with the rebound of the PEBAX. For sure it is a very versatile and all around comfortable to wear and run shoe. How they pulled off such a light yet supportive upper with such a comfortable giant toe box is almost a thing of wonder. The styling is striking and on point and the value at $150 is reasonable.

Sam’s Score: 9.51 /10

Ride 9.5/10 (50%), Fit 9.6/10 (30%), Value 9.3/10 (15%), Style 9.7 /10 (5%)

Watch Sam’s Video Review of the Topo Specter


Comparisons

Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

Topo Cyclone  (RTR Review)

Cheng (M8): I previously summarized the Cyclone as being Topo’s game changer, and it looks like they did not rest on their laurels. Topo seems to have taken all the positive features of the Cyclone (rocker, midfoot support, rebound) and enhanced it with the Specter. There might still be room in the rotation for the Cyclone if you’re looking for an even more natural running experience, but the Specter really does everything the Cyclone does… but better.

Joost (M9.5 in both): I recently took out the Cyclone for a run and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the first TOPO I ever reviewed. It’s squarely aimed at faster running, whereas the Specter is a more do it all shoe. For anything but the fastest intervals, I would go with the Specter. The Cyclone will also serve you better if you prefer a slightly lower stack height and 3mm drop instead of 5mm.

Topo Phantom (RTR Review)

Sam: The Phantom is dullsville in comparison to Specter although it too has an outstanding if heavier upper. Almost 3 oz heavier on a slightly lower stack, it shares an EVA frame/ central core construction with the core firmer for sure heavier less energetic (than Specter’s PEBAX) ZipFoam. It has no rocker to speak of and that is felt. Phantom does have a thicker more aggressive and for sure heavier weight outsole. The Specter “updates” the Phantom in every way.

Craft CTM Ultra  (RTR Review)

Jeremy: more stable, more dense, a more secure fit, lighter, a better but less versatile traction, the Specter puts one of my favorite shoe from last year to shame.

The Craft is more bouncy, more fun, but its slightly sloppy fit and minimal foot hold might not appeal for a lot of people. I expect the Topo to be more durable too, as my CTM saw its mesh tearing apart after 600kms.

Sam: Very similar in approach of EVA frame and PEBA core the key differences are the much higher 10mm drop of the Craft, its multi surface lugged outsole, and yet more minimal but not as effective upper, while improved in v2. The Craft has a higher heel cushion stack at 40mm and combined with its higher drop and more substantial outsole and narrower platform a more aggressive ride if one very similar in cushion feel. The Topo leans more everyday training than the Craft which is an ideal long tempo type shoe.

ASICS Glideride 3 (RTR Review)

Sam: I doubt I would have compared the firm and very rigid Glideride 2 to the Specter but for sure the Glideride 3 is a comparison. While not PEBA that we know of, the ASICS has a very soft bouncy top layer over a slightly denser lower layer. Sandwiched in between is a hardened foam plate. Both have a rocker but the ASICS also develops some flex.  The Glideride stack is higher at 42/37 sharing a 5mm drop with the Topo although for me they are about as equally as cushioned with the Topo a bit more forgiving and softer. The result is a similar energetic ride with more of a front impulse (from the foam plate) in the ASICS. While the Specter feels similar at all paces, the Glideride 3 really comes alive at faster paces.  The ASICS upper is fine and has a bit better, more secure fit for narrow feet but is almost comically overbuilt compared to the equally effective Topo’s thus adding weight resulting in part in a shoe weighing a bit more than an ounce more than the lower stack Topo.

Hoka Mach 4  (RTR Review)

Joost (M9.5 in both): The Mach 4 remains one of my all time favorites. There’s something magic about its lightness and midsole. However, the upper in the Specter is far superior if you have anything other than very narrow feet. The Mach also feels a lot softer underfoot, so it depends on you personal taste for midsole firmness which one to choose. For comfort, the Mach is no match for the Specter. 

Saucony Endorphin Speed  (RTR Review)

Cheng (M8): This comparison is a little more difficult to judge as the midsole design is completely different. However, in ride, they’re very similar especially if you implement the greater rebound insole tuning suggested above. Overall, the Speed is more responsive, but lacks the overall pace range of the Specter. Between the two, I’d pick the Specter as it accomplishes nearly everything the Speed does with the exception of 5K pace or faster. But at that range, wouldn’t you choose a true supershoe racer anyway?

Sam: With a midsole entirely of PEBA and a flexible plastic plate the narrower platform Speed is a better tempo to race shoe but is less everyday training friendly. V2 is not as stable as Specter, a bit firmer in feel and for me a faster shoe if a less versatile one than Specter. Note that the upcoming Endorphin Speed 3 (RTR Review) will be more stable as its plate is broadened and geomet. If more general training is the focus, a clear nod to Specter. If for speed and for racing Speed. Wider higher volume feet will be happier in the Topo,

Scott Speed Carbon RC (RTR Review)

Jeremy: Really the same kind of ride: not flexible (the Scott is even less than the Specter), with a late rocker that’s really effective for midfoot runners and helps to maintain a nice and easy roll at tempo-ish and marathon-ish paces, and the same kind of dense, stable midsole that equally protective from ground impacts.

The Topo has far better foot hold, and is more versatile as it handles easier paces a bit nicer, and I feel the same for faster paces too, where something in the Scott just doesn’t work if you try to run fast intervals with them.

Sam: I found the Scott considerably denser in feel, more rigid despite a flexible carbon plate and more responsive snappier. I agree with Jeremy the Specter is considerably more easier pace friendly as it is softer and also easier flowing.

Saucony Ride 15 (RTR Review)

Sam: With the same 35mm heel and a slightly lower forefoot and 8mm drop the Ride 15 blends a more traditional daily trainer flexible ride with more cushioned slightly rockered forefoot than usual for the type. The broader platform Specter is more energetically cushioned but less agile feeling.  The Ride 15 upper is more performance oriented and more secure but not quite the marvel of room and comfort the Specter’s is. 

New Balance Fresh Foam More (RTR Review)

Sam: Very soft, almost 2 oz heavier, on a slightly lower but yet broader stack the More is pillowy to Specter clearly superior better controlled energy. I struggled with the softness at the heel in the More far more than in the Specter and while at faster paces up on the forefoot the More is bouncy fun it is a far more lumbering and somewhat mushy riding shoe. 

Nike ZoomX Invincible Run (RTR Review)

Sam: Yet more energetic, a blast to run but for sure not every day as I would the Specter. Not nearly as stable and well behaved you get a large dose of the excitement in the Specter in what I would call a safer manner.  In terms of upper the Invincible is crude in comparison with not nearly the comfort or room or for that matter all over smooth and secure hold.

Cheng (M8.5): This comparison was surprising as I started to reach for the Specter for easy recovery running over the Invincible. After implementing the plush insole variant described above, I increasingly ran with the Specter for the sake of fit and natural running control. Very simply put, Nike’s Invincible forces you to run in its manner while the Specter allows you to run how you like to.

The Topo Specter is expected June 2022

Tester Profiles

Cheng is a CrossFitter turned runner. He lifts and base builds in the winter while racing in the summer with personal bests of 5:29 (Mile), 1:20 (Half), and 17:53 (5K). He passionately brings an engineering stance to analyzing running, shoes, and tech. Follow him on Instagram (@MrChengChen) for more.

Joost is a Belgian in his 50s living in Luanda, Angola, Africa, where he faces the heat, humidity and general chaos to run anything between 60-100 miles per week. He’s on a mission to win in his age group in the 6 marathon majors and has completed half of his project, with a 2:26:10 PB in Berlin in 2019 at 51. He ran in primary school, but then thought it would be a lot cooler to be a guitar player in a hard rock band, only picking up running again in 2012, gradually improving his results.

Jeremy, French, 40y/o. Running since 2013 and quickly transitioned to trails, focused on ultras since 2015 : TDS, Maxi-Race, “100 miles du Sud”, 90kms du Mt Blanc, GRP 120kms, Some shorter mellow races (Saintelyon 45kms, Ecotrail Paris 45kms…) with always in the mix road and flat running, but not many road races. Recovery/easy runs ~4’45/km – 4’30/km 

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 64 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors’