Topo Athletics ST-5 Review – Wide toe box, but it does have flaws

The ST-5 is a perfect option for those looking to add some cushion to their barefoot mix, but there is one fundamental flaw that I can’t get over.

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Weight

6.6oz / 187g for men’s US9

Stack height

14mm – Zero Drop

Made for

Longer runs
Road running

Fit

Wide toe box
Average heel lock
Strange arch support

Feel

Flexible for the stack height
Some slipping inside the shoe
Some squish

Pros & Cons

+ Great toe box
+ Nice balance to the midsole
– Horrible arch support


If you’re looking for a zero drop shoe with some cushion, you’ve likely looked at two brands. Altra, and Topo Athletics. 

But even though both brands entered the market with minimal offerings, they’ve also both moved toward higher and higher stack height over the years. 

One model from Topo Athletics has stayed relatively thin, and that shoe is the ST-5. Coming in at 14mm, it’s right in that sweet spot, allowing a ground feel and adding some cushion for the long run. 

With a great mixture of barefoot + cushion, it seems like the perfect option. But let’s discuss that fundamental flaw.

Let’s jump into the review to see if you agree. 

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Fit

Aside from the slightly narrower midfoot, the anatomical fit of the ST-5 is excellent. If it works for you is a different matter. That depends on your foot shape.

What size to order?

I’d stayed true to size, and that seemed to work well. Because the toe box is nice and wide, it’s possible to get away with a slightly shorter shoe and not have any squashing of the toes. Even though I only had a little room at the end of the shoe, I was completely comfortable with the size and had no issues with my toe rubbing the end. 

The larger you go, the more sloppy the heel will become. Because the heel lock isn’t perfect, you rely on the midfoot to lock the foot onto the shoe’s base. If you start going too large, the depth of the shoe could become a little too much for your foot and result in slipping inside the shoe. 

topo st 5 upper

Is the toe box actually wide?

Yes! I’d say this toe box is larger than Altra’s and even some barefoot shoes out there! The area around the big toe is nicely squared off, and the small toe side is boxy, too, meaning your little toe can get some splay in, too! 

It’s not just wide, either. There’s ‘some’ depth to the shoe. I say ‘some’ because it’s not the deepest, but you can wiggle your toes much better than in Altra shoes! And as always, replacing the insoles with thinner versions can gain a little more depth. 

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Is the upper forgiving?

The upper is a lightweight stretchy mesh, which helps adapt to the shape of your foot. This was a lucky one for me because I found the midfoot to be way too tight. I often find it in Altras, too, even to the point where my foot hangs over the midsole. But it’s still possible to make the fit work with these shoes because the upper material has a decent amount of stretch, making it comfortable even when things seem cramped. 

There are drawbacks to a stretchy mesh, though. If you’re looking to do some gym work in the ST-5 (trust me, you should be barefoot for gym work), you may find yourself slipping side to side in the shoe. The stretchy mesh fails to keep the foot locked over the center of the shoe. That’s also an issue for court sports and any activity with lateral movement. 

Does the heel lock in place?

In the original ST-4, I found the heel material to be slippy, and the ST-5 is similar. Maybe the ST-5 heel is a little more grippy, but truthfully, I’m still surprised Topo uses this material for the heel. I found my heel slipping side to side, and while it never caused blisters or hot spots, it felt unnerving. 

topo st 5 heel

Will they accommodate shallow and deep feet?

The ST-5 is neither shallow nor deep. It’s slap bang in the middle. If you have a deep foot, try the shoe. If you’re on the shallow side, try the shoe. It’ll likely work for both. Just play around with the lacing and remove the insole if you need more depth. 

Does the arch support affect the fit?

If you’ve been told you have flat feet or a collapsed arch, the ST-5 will be uncomfortable. I can’t get my head around the prominent arch support in these Topo shoes. It was awkward for me, and my arches are well developed. If you have lower arches, that slight bump under your foot will not work! 

Even if the arch works for you, I’ll tell you why you probably don’t want it below. 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Topo Athletics ST-5

Feel

As a barefoot runner, the ST-5 is almost my first choice for a long-run shoe. But the arch support turns me off, and therefore, this shoe will not be entering my rotation!

How does the arch support feel?

Let’s get this out of the way. 

The addition of arch support is just not warranted in this shoe. Many people looking for a more minimal shoe are concerned with foot strength, and arch support is the antithesis of foot strength! When “support” is added, it lessens the load and eventually leads to strength loss in the area. Worst of all, it often shifts the load onto a different area of the body, further increasing injury risk.

All that is to say, arch support is only required in a small subset of unique cases!

The fact that this shoe adds arch support is a turn-off for the shoe. In the long run, the supportive nature of the arch will unload stress from the feet, thus weakening the foot structure and potentially setting you backward, or worse, causing injury when you move back to “flat” shoes. 

There’s an argument that arch support can help in certain situations. If you’re looking for a cheat code to get you to that distance goal (and quickly), sure, “supportive” shoes can get you there. But you’ve got to ask yourself,and understand, at what cost? Is using supportive shoes good in the long run for your running antics? Likely not. Good things take time. 

Now, let’s set the arch support aside and focus on the good aspects of the shoe!

topo st 5 outsole2

How flexible is the ST-5?

For a “stacked” shoe, the shoe flexes well in many directions! The shoe truly feels like a cushioned “barefoot” shoe. It twists, rolls, and folds better than some sub-10 mm stack-height shoes. 

The stretchy upper helps improve the flexy feeling by allowing the foot to extend and flex. Our feet don’t just bend at the joints when we run. They flex and expand during the loading phase. A perfect barefoot shoe should allow the foot to expand similarly without a constrictive feeling, and the ST-5 does a good job at that.

What is the ground feel like?

The midsole balances the cushy and firm to provide an excellent ground feel. I love ground feel! It’s the best feedback our brains get when moving over ground at incredible speeds, so even if a shoe is going to have a cushion, we need to ensure some ground is still present. The ST-5 is cushioned but still thin enough to provide that feedback, making it a great long-distance option for barefoot runners. 

topo st 5 outsole2

Are the shoes zero drop?

Yes, the ST-5 is technically zero drop, but does that matter when you add variation in other areas of the sole? It depends on how you measure zero drop! It’s probably zero drop from heel to toe, but when you add a lump (*cough* arch) in the middle of the shoe, is that still zero drop? 🙂 That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I stand by criticism! 

What type of runs are they suited to?

The ST-5 is an excellent long-distance/marathon shoe for a barefoot runner. I usually run in cushioned shoes when I go out on long runs. Right now, the Bahe Revive is my favorite choice, but the ST-5 is a solid choice, too. The small amount of cushion will allow you to extend your stride and achieve a faster pace when picking up the pace. 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Topo Athletics ST-5

Durability

How long will the outsole last?

The outsole only covers part of the underside to reduce the weight. This is common for lightweight shoes, and I’ve never had an issue with it. In the areas not covered by rubber, the EVA is directly exposed, which may chip away if you take it on the trails, but that never detracts from the ride. 

The rubber is inset into the midsole, meaning they’re solid and won’t peel off. Sometimes, when companies use thin sheets of rubber, they lay them straight over the top of the EVA and call it quits. Topo inset the rubber into the EVA to give the glue extra surface area to stick to. It also reduced the chance of the edges being caught and peeling off prematurely. 

When rubber is used on the underside of the ST5, it’s pretty chunky. An excellent rubber block means you’ll get a good life span out of the outsole. It’s heavier, but getting some distance from the shoe is probably better. 

Can the upper withstand scuffs and scrapes?

You don’t see many overlays around the upper design. It makes sense; this isn’t a trail shoe, so you’re not likely to scuff against any bushes. But we could see a hole develop prematurely in the high-wear areas at the toe box bend point. 

I don’t like the heel material, but it’s got good durability properties. If you wear through the inner liner of the shoe, specifically in the heel, the neoprene-like material used is hard-wearing so that it won’t break down quickly.

topo st 5 front shoes

Is the build high quality?

Everything about the upper screams quality, but for some reason, the midsole shouts budget. This is an entirely subjective point of view, but the cheap EVA looks outdated now. Not to mention, EVA will flatten out quickly (not a bad thing in a minimal shoe, by the way). On the bright side, many materials used on the upper feel high quality and are solid in manufacturing. 

The lace threads through two loops on the tongue, keeping it securely in place. Many manufacturers have solutions to stop the tongue from slipping around, but the quality of these two little loops looks and feels like pure quality. It’s just a nice touch. 

Are there any weak points of the shoe?

I’m concerned about the lace loops used on the lower three attachments. If a lace snaps, it’s annoying, but at least we can replace them. But if a lace loop breaks, there’s nothing you can do. That’s why the trusty reinforced “hole through the upper” works well and has been used for ages! From what I see, the lace loops are only attached by one line of stitching. So don’t crank the laces down low! 

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Topo Athletics ST-5

Conclusion

The Topo Athletics ST-5 had all the makings of a perfect shoe. Sadly, one or two design decisions ruined it for me. 

That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong shoe for you; as long as you’re willing to use this shoe sparingly and ensure you’re still working on foot strength to offset the use of arch support in this shoe –it can work. An example would be using the ST-5 for long runs and completing your short runs in minimal shoes like the Xero Shoes Speed Force II or Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III. 

Otherwise, the quality of the shoe, paired with a $115 price point, makes them an attractive option for many out there. 

So, who is this shoe for? 

Those that have a narrow to average midfoot and a wide toe splay

Those who are looking for a lightly cushioned shoe to add to a current shoe rotation

But if that’s not you, where do you look? 

Those who want a truly minimal feel

Those who want to avoid arch support

Those who want a little more cushion

Merrell Vapor Glove 6 outline

Topo Athletics ST-5

Nick
Nick

Nick is a UESCA-certified ultramarathon coach and avid barefoot runner, having over 5 years of experience in barefoot training and has competed in multiple ultra marathons wearing barefoot shoes. Starting his journey in the running industry over 10 years ago in New Zealand, Nick evolved from a running shoe salesperson to a passionate advocate for the transformative power of barefoot running. He believes in its potential to enhance running experiences for all and combines his unique insights from both personal achievements and professional coaching to guide and inspire the running community."

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5 Comments

  1. Hi Nick,
    HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

    Great review, as always. I´m curious about the arch support. Compared to the Trail Glove, seems to be a bit less in the Topo or is that only my impression? Is it possible to minimize the arch support by switching the insole against something more minimal like on of the Xeros?

    Kind regards Wolfgang

    • Happy new year Wolfgang!

      When comparing with the Trail Glove, I say the arch extends a little further under the foot in the ST-5.

      As for the insole, I did try switching out the ones provided for a thinner option, but it made little difference. The support is built into the structure of the shoe.

      Again, it’s not for me. Maybe it could work for someone who has a rotation of supportive, and minimal shoes. Maybe if they’re transitioning into minimal shoes.

      For you, I’d say, try the Vapor Glove. They’re awesome! 🙂 Super flexible! Just maybe not durable enough for 100% road.

  2. I’m currently looking for a cushioned shoe for my longer runs and came across your site and its been a great help!

    I had the ST-4s and they also had the same weird arch support. While I did get somewhat accustomed to it, even after close to 400 miles on them, the arch still bothers me. Glad for your review – now I know I can go and look into another brand of shoes!

    • I’m glad I got the word out. 😛 And I’m surprised more people don’t have an issue with the arch support. It just seems like a fundamental flaw to me. My suggestions right now would be to wait for the Altra Escalante 4, or Racer. Or try out the Bahe Revive, for a very wide toe box experience. If you want to go further towards barefoot, the Lems Primal 2 can work.

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