TOPO Athletic Oterro

TOPO Athletic Oterro
Reviewed by Coy Starnes
Product supplied by TOPO Athletic for review purposes.
Author day hiking in the TOPO Athletic Oterro

Author day hiking in the TOPO Athletic Oterro (click on any image in this report for full size image)

Introduction
First, a little about the company. Topo Athletic was established by Tony Post, a former CEO of a well known minimalist shoe company. I could not find out much about the company but I did like reading in the “What We Believe” section of the website, the following statement; “A footwear brand created for and by athletes with a mission to develop gear that amplifies your body’s amazing natural abilities.  Our shoes work with you, not for you, because we know you have what it takes to be great”
The TOPO Athletic Oterro is an interesting looking shoe.  The website says it is “Light, rugged and versatile – the Oterro’s aggressive outsole easily sheds mud and dirt, while providing traction over a variety of surfaces. Don’t let the light and breathable upper fool you, the Oterro was built for rugged terrain and outdoor adventures”   I would personally classify it as a heavy duty minimalist trial running/hiking shoe.  It is a very light weight shoe, advertized at 9 oz each for a men’s size 9.  My size 12s weigh 10 ounces each or 1 lb 4 oz for the pair.  The sole is thicker than most minimalist shoes but it is still very flexible and gives me a good feel for the trail an uneven ground. It has 0 drop and a stack height of 17 mm.  In other words, there is about 17 mm of material between the foot and the ground, and this distance is the same at the heel and forefoot area of the shoe. For the record, most trail runner type shoes have a pretty thick sole and the shoes typically have a heel toe drop of around 10 to 15 mm.
The uppers on this shoe appear to be made of a mesh like material so the shoe is not waterproof.  This is a good thing in my opinion (except in the dead of winter) since my experiences has been that a waterproof or highly water resistant shoe will get almost as wet from sweat as from wading and is harder to dry. The design is printed on (ink) so it doesn’t add weight. There are a couple of strategically placed areas where there is some solid material, I’m thinking for durability, and also to help the shoe keep its shape. The shoe comes with two sets of laces, but the ones that were in place are what I would call a speed lace system.  This lace material is very thin and can be tightened by pulling at the top lace and tightening the locking device.  The other lace is just a regular looking shoe lace that is secured with a shoe tying knot.  Here is the “speed lace”.
Speed Lace system on the Oterro

Speed Lace system on the Oterro

The sole is a rubber like material and does appear to be aggressive but not overly done so as to collect a lot of mud, rocks or debris. Here is a photo of the tread.
Fit and Initial Impression
But enough about how the shoe looks, what really matters to me is how do they feel, and more importantly how do they feel after walking several miles on rough trails and perhaps with a pack.  I haven’t had a chance to do any backpacking in them yet but I have worn them on a couple of long exercise hikes with a light day pack on some pretty steep and rough trails.  My initial impression is that these shoes, for whatever reason, fit me like a glove, well, except for the toe area which is big for a reason.   Based on just a few day hikes I believe these are going to be a great trail shoe.  They stuck to wet and muddy sections of trail better than the shallow tread would suggest.  I found the extra toe room felt great on steep downhill sections.  The light weight was a plus when going back up those same steep sections on my return trip. I also got the shoe wet while wading in the creek and they seemed well suited as a creek scrambling shoe. This included jumping from mostly dry rock to rock at times and wading in the water on slick rocks at other places.
I’ll close with a little about my shoe philosophy.  When I first started backpacking about 40 years ago I thought heavy boots were the only way to go.  I still remember my first pair of real hiking boots, a pair of Herman Survivors which had red shoe laces and a thick Vibram sole.  They were stiff and heavy,  but after wearing them a few hundred miles they were pretty comfortable. I have since gone through several pairs of similar boots from most of the major hiking boot manufactures before I discovered light weigh backpacking. I soon became sold on trail runners, and much to my surprise, I never had any issues with my ankles not being supported enough, even when packing 40 lbs or more (carrying kids equipment plus water).  Then I discovered minimalist shoes. I tried several different ones and found that I liked most but did have issues with fit from a couple of pair I order online. That was several years ago when they first came out but I do remember that the first time I hikes all day in a pair my feet did get sore. I have since conditioned my feet to this type footwear.  As a matter of fact, I now go barefoot a lot in the summer, more so around the yard and garden, but I will take a casual stroll on some local trails barefooted.  I say all this to say that while no shoe is perfect for every condition, the TOPO Oterro looks like just the shoe for the type hiking and trail walking I do.  Stay tuned for my next update to see if the early promise they have shown pans out.
Update: September 19, 2014

I had hoped to update this report sooner but it has been so hot, muggy and wet around here that I haven’t been out in the woods as much as I normally am.  This might seem like ideal testing conditions, and it would be, if not for so many spider webs across the trails I like to hike.  I actually walked the 3 mile loop ( the road) around my neighborhood several times in these shoes to avoid the spider webs.  However, since they are such an excellent hiking shoe, I limited my “road” time in them so as not to wear the tread out.  I did find some TOPO Athletic M-R/T shoes on sale which are not designed as trail shoes and have been wearing those on my longer walks around my neighborhood instead.  I was pleased to find the M-R/T are just as comfortable as the Oterro.  Here are my new TOPO Athletic M R/T shoes with the split toe design
TOPO Athletic M R/T
I think the TOPO Athletic Oterro is the best fitting shoe I have ever put on my foot.  I’m not sure if it is the way the foot bed is made or just the narrow heel and more open toe box area.  All I know is that it is one of the most comfortable hiking shoes I have ever had the pleasure of wearing.  The foot bed is obviously flatter than a shoe with more toe/heel stack height difference but there is a pronounced arch on the inside edge of each shoe. However, it is not enough that I feel like I’m walking on the outer edge of the shoe.  My toes don’t feel jammed when going down steep inclines but the shoe is snug enough that the heel stays in place. This has led to absolutely no blisters while wearing the shoe.  I guess I could sum it up by saying that for some reason I just feel like I can hike better in them.

It is not a perfect shoe. For example, I went on a 3 mile day hike in The Dismals.  The trail was steep and slick in several places and rocky in other areas.  The shoe performed admirably under all these conditions. There were places to cross the stream flowing right beside the trail without getting in the water, but since it was so hot and humid, I bypassed those and went straight for the stream bed on several occasions.  The water was like ice and I was glad for the opportunity to cool down a little.  It was also crystal clear as evidenced in this photo.
So what was the problem. I stayed out of the water for the last hour of the hike but the shoes never did really dry all that much while I was hiking in them.  I have other shoes that will almost dry out under similar condition.  My experience was pretty much the same on similar hikes down to the holler behind my house when I would get my feet wet.   On some of the hottest days my feet got sweaty inside the shoes when I was not crossing streams or walking in wet grass. I can only conclude that the upper materials in this shoe are not all that breathable.  Fortunately, I was usually wearing some excellent socks which helped keep my feet pretty dry,  and as mentioned earlier, I never got any blisters, a tribute to how well these shoes fit and wear.  On the occasions that I did get the shoes soaked from actually wading it took them longer to dry just sitting out on my deck in full sun than I expected.  I even wet a couple of my other trail runner type shoes along with these and placed them out on my sunny deck to see if I was just imagining the Oterro’s were slower to dry. They are.

Which leads to this dilemma, I like to play the what if game. Due to my job and other commitments I don’t foresee myself being able to do this any time soon, but  if I were planning to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, I would want a shoe that is light, offers great traction, is breathable and does not give me blisters. The Oterro has three out of the four covered in spades.  Right now I would choose the Oterro over any other shoe in my closet (and I have a lot of hiking shoes) for a long backpacking trip unless I knew I was going to be hiking in wet conditions all the time and in the summer months I would still pick them.  So all in all, it is not a deal breaker, I just wish they didn’t take so long to dry.I would hate to end this update on a negative note since I am so pleased with the performance of these shoes so let me finish by saying that I’m hoping to continue to wear these shoes as long as the weather stays reasonably warm. They just feel good to hike in and I’m going to miss wearing them when the weather no longer cooperates.

Final Update: November 24, 2014
TOPO Athletic Oterro

TOPO Athletic Oterro in my tree stand

I have continued to wear the TOPO Athletic Oterro shoes on a pretty regular basis except for when it was either really cold or rainy, or a combination of both.  As a hiking shoe, I find this shoe to be outstanding.  I carried pretty light loads most of the time while hiking but did go pretty heavy when using them on a couple of warm afternoon deer hunts.  While hunting I was carrying a 25 pound climbing tree stand along with an additional 27 pounds of gear including all my hunting equipment, water and snacks for a total of 52 pounds.  The Oterro shoes were more comfortable for walking the half mile to my hunting spot than my regular hiking boots but I did miss the cushioning effect of a taller shoe while my feet were in the climbing stirrups of my Summit tree stand.  I wore them on a couple more road walks with my wife, but to be honest, I limited this type activity because road walking wears the tread out on shoes a lot faster than trail walking and I prefer to make these shoes last as long as possible as a hiking shoe.  As I mentioned in my last update, when I spotted some similar TOPO Athletic shoes on sale that were actually designed as a road running shoe I jumped on them.  They are a split toe M-RT.  I prefer the regular toe box of the Oterro but mainly because I can wear regular socks with the Oterros.  I ordered the same size (US 12 men) as my Oterros and the fit was perfect.  Now that I have worn both shoes I can say that both styles are extremely comfortable. Here is a photo of both pairs of shoes.
Final Thoughts
I’m not going to rehash all the good and bad points of these shoes but suffice it to say, the good far outweighs the bad.  I would like to close by saying that these shoes are best for summertime woods hiking and I believe that they are one of the best shoes I have personally worn for this type activity.  I have worn a ton (many) different types of hiking shoes so I feel I am somewhat qualified to make this assessment. They are good for road walking as well but at the risk of wearing out the tread faster.  I wish they dried out a little faster but this is not a big negative for me in the summer.  In the winter I most likely would be wearing a waterproof shoe to start with if conditions are real cold.

About the Author

I am from northeast Alabama where I spend a lot of my time divided among several hobbies that include  backpacking and dayhiking, canoeing and kayaking, and just getting out enjoying nature.

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