It's 2012 and Merrell is on round two of their Barefoot line. We've previously reviewed their flagship minimalist shoe, the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove, and since shoe design tends to be iterative, this review is going to be doing some comparisons to the Trail Glove. Also, I'm going to leverage a few barefoot blogging, running friends' reviews to highlight different perspectives on the Road Glove as a running shoe — so this review is going to be broken up into my assessment of the Merrell Barefoot Road Glove based on it's new design and barefoot feel/function; then I'm going to dive into some perspectives on it from around the web.
And as always the review will carry with it the characteristic slew of photos, of course! Read on!
The Merrell Road Glove is a closed-toe, Vibram-soled "zero drop" shoe designed with road running as the intended use. Here are the official specs from the product page [Bracketed comments mine]:
Run, naturally with our Road glove – connecting you to the earth and your unique natural stride. Its supportive fabric and mesh upper breathes and secures the foot Zero-drop cushioning lands your feet pancake-flat, aligning your body and strengthening muscles. A specialized forefoot plate and a Vibram® barefoot sole add bruise protection and traction.
UPPER / LINING
• Barefoot Strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort
• Synthetic leather and breathable air mesh upper [Quite airy and lets light in per this pic]
• TPU overlays secure the foot [These grey web things]
• Fused rubber toe bumper [the black piece here] provides durability and protection
• Synthetic leather rear foot sling provides ultimate stability [The "Merrell" branded bit]
• Internal support construction [This is located at the arch, discussed below] secures the midfoot for optimal fit and support
• Integrated microfiber footbed treated with aegis® antimicrobial solution resists odor [Same stuff as used with Vibram FiveFingers]
MIDSOLE / OUTSOLE
• 4 mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions [Same as Trail Glove sans rock plate]
• 0mm ball to heel drop keeps you connected to your terrain
• Vibram® Road Glove Sole / TC-1 Rubber [pic below]
• Wash as needed in cold water, gentle cycle and air dry
Even though the Road Glove is designed with road running, it's sole is still evocative of the Trail Glove, which is itself reminiscent (to me, anyway) of a mono-toed version of the KSO Trek / Trek LS / Trek Sport sole. In short, it's enough rubber and EVA to mute the ground feel a good bit while still providing what I'd describe as a hard/non-cushy experience of your terrain.
Take a look at the sole:
If you compare and contrast the Road Glove sole to the Trail Glove (pictured at right) and what you'll notice that the Road Glove sole looks like it gets more abruptly "to the point" at the forefoot, widening dramatically after the arch. Mind, some of that is a visual effect driven by the color schemes/mold detailing of the rubber, but per my foot, it's also a real difference in the two sole designs. Here's a side-by-side comparison photo of the two shoes:
You'll also notice that the heel is wider. What you might miss in looking at this from above photo of the sole is how much flatter the Road Glove sole is at the heel (and the forefoot). A picture is worth at least a hundred words here, so check out how I can line up the sole of the Road Glove to a straight edge of concrete in the photo at the right. Comparatively, the Trail Glove is much more rounded at the heel.
What's the impact? Well it's two-fold in my view. Probably the most pronounced difference per my feet is that the Road Glove sole feels wider across the platform than the Trail Glove. The Trail Glove sole seems to be molded a bit more like a foot (the heel being rounded and not flat), but this also made for it feeling a little unstable on flat, man-made surfaces. Meanwhile, the Trail Glove also feels markedly more "bottlenecked" at the arch than the Road Glove. The most poignant point of contact on the Trail Glove which borderlines on discomfort (for me) is right at the forefoot at the first metatarsel (the inside of your foot where the big arch terminates, basically). The Road Glove doesn't have this feel, and that makes for an important improvement in my book.
As for the arch, itself, I feel like the arch is less there on the Road Gloves as compared to the Trail Gloves; interestingly enough, it seems that different folks have different takes on these two shoes' arches — more on this below. One thing I've opined on at length is on the difficulty in making a closed-toe shoe that is non-restrictive at the forefoot still feel "locked on" to your foot — how do you do this? Well, you mold the arch so that the shoe is less likely to slide around on your foot. Does it provide arch support? Well, a little, but only insomuch as it's a structure that is there at your arch (as opposed to a void of space). It's not arch support in the sense of your modern sneaker where you have a strong foam base pushing strongly up on your arch. In short, molded arches are design compromises employed to make the shoe feel more like a part of your foot.
The Merrell Road Glove also has a sizeable toe box providing your toes with a good bit of wiggle room and toe splay. Meanwhile, there is some toe spring with the Road Gloves. It's there if you're paying attention but not really an issue if you choose to forget about it (I forget about it immediately and don't find it annoying).
One thing I'd like to see with Merrell Barefoot's going forward is a bit more friendly design around the Achilles tendon. While the Road Gloves haven't rubbed mine wrong, my True Gloves have and other's have had issues with the Road Gloves at the Achilles. An Achilles notch would suffice and I don't think it would detract at all from the barefoot-minded aspects of the shoe.
The best things going for the Road Glove are that it's anatomically friendly shape (wide toe box, narrower heel), zero-dropped platform, and rubber/minimally foamed in the sole. The combination means that your biomechanics aren't going to be dramatically impaired by these shoes as compared to when you are barefoot.
So the Road Gloves have a pretty decent barefoot feel — totally on par with the Merrell Trail Gloves, and not wholly unlike Vibram FiveFingers Trek-soled line of toe shoes. As with any shoe where the sole isn't completely glued on to your foot at all points (a benefit flexibly soled toe shoes), your foot is going to feel more apart from the shoe, and this is certainly the case with the Road Gloves.
They are comfortable shoes though — more comfortable for long-term wear than the Trail Gloves, which is due to the less locked-on bottle-necking feel where the arch meets the forefoot as noted above.
Review Round Up
Confession time. While I've worn the Road Gloves a good bit and squeezed in some heavy lifts in them, I've not run in them other than an ad hoc trot here and there. This is mostly due to not running much at all the last three months (mostly due to a number of life circumstances, not the least of which includes having another daughter for weeks ago yesterday!). So whereas I can wax poetic on how this shoe feels, I can't say much of anything on how it performs on the road.
So allow me to lean on others a bit (I hope they don't mind!). Below are some highlights from other reviews of the Road Glove, all of which are worth the time to read in full if you can spare it!
I'll start with Jason Robillard, Merrell's official barefoot ambassador. Here's his big picture take on the Road Glove over at Barefoot Running University:
The sole of the Road Glove is pancake flat. Compare that to the Trail Glove, which had a fairly aggressive tread for trails. That tread was spectacular on trails, but kinda sucked on roads. The Road Glove sole solves this problem by flattening all lugs and tread. This is the single thing that made this such a huge improvement for road running. The foot landing feels exactly like landing when wearing a huarache- which is exactly what makes it so good.
As far as other characteristics- the shoe is fairly well ventilated and dried quickly. During the mountain runs, I traversed several streams and snow fields, which provided a pretty good test. The shoe kept my foot in place well when wet. ...
Traction was surprisingly good on the rocky mountain trails… definitely on-par with the Trail Glove. In mud, the flat sole didn’t perform too well. On roads, the conditions the shoe was designed for, traction was excellent even on wet asphalt. ...
The Road Glove is exactly what it should be- a road shoe that doesn’t interfere with natural gait. Merrell took the formula that worked for the Trail Glove and applied it to this shoe. The shoe isn’t perfect, but it works exceptionally well for me. If you are in the market for a minimalist shoe for the road, this should be on your short list of shoes you MUST try.
Jason also notes that the Road Glove would be great for CrossFitters. I definitely have liked them for heavy squats, but I'm coming to find that any non-foamy soled, zero-dropped shoe (or just going barefoot) is all I want for squats.
Next we have Christian, the barefoot superhero of Maple Grove Barefoot Guy. Christian's take on the Road Glove mostly talks about the differences to the Trail Glove (a common theme in Road Glove reviews) while citing it as a bit less minimalist than he'd prefer. Check it out:
My main critique of the Road Glove is that although Merrell added features to fix the problems of the Trail Glove, they forgot to take things away. I'm of the opinion that "less is more" when it comes to making a minimal road shoe. All that a road shoe needs is a minimal amount of soling material to protect your feet against abrasions and small debris.
The Road Glove doesn't exactly follow that motto. Not that it's not a minimal shoe. It's essentially a Trail Glove for roads. It keeps the substantial forefoot thickness of the Trail Glove (without the rock plate), and adds an equally substantial heel and arch. The resulting shoe that too me feels a bit less like the minimal shoes I'm used to, and a bit more like a stripped-down road trainer. On the spectrum of minimal options, I would put it just below the New Balance Minimus Trail in terms of thickness and flexibility.
Is that a bad thing? Yes and no. Yes for me, because I would have preferred something with a little more groundfeel. I also find the built-up heel a little clompy at times. No for most everyone else, because I think a lot of folks love the groundfeel of the Trail Glove, and wished they could enjoy the same on the road.
Christian is awesome, by the way, and always brings to the barefoot discussion both humor and a gut-checking clarity on fitness, as well as a dash of paleo nutrition, which is a nice compliment to the minimalist footwear movement (and how I got into this whole thing in the first place).
I'll wrap my barefoot running blogger's round-up with Jesse's take on the Road Glove from In Search of Solid Ground
After a few runs in the Road Gloves, I can tell that these will be my preferred shoe for non-trail running. I use the term "non-trail" instead of road because I like them for anything that is less than technical. With many minimalist options like FiveFingers, huaraches, or water socks, I find myself wondering, "will I be going on gravel or debris-covered roads?" before I head out. Granted, this problem is more specific to those with a complete arsenal of minimalist shoes than people with enough sense to keep it simple. The Road Glove provides enough insulation to run gravel, chip and seal, rocks, and other rough stuff. The tough exterior doesn't greatly diminish the Road Gloves efficacy as a true minimalist shoe. ...
The sole is a bit more flat, which increases groundfeel on the road and flat surfaces. This also made the shoe feel a bit less constrictive on my foot. The thin rockplate is absent on the Road Gloves, which is one of the attributes that improves road quality significantly. ...
Several people have complained about the arch of the shoe touching the arch of the foot. Though the materials that compose the arch aren't significant enough to provide any support. The snug midfoot and heel are intended to keep the shoe tight and allow for a loose toebox(and therefore forefoot splay). I found the arch to be more noticeable as I walked around the airport in the shoes. While running, however, its virtually undetectable. ...
So far, the shoe has given me no hot spots or blisters from sockless wear. The upper on the Road Glove is even smoother than on the Trail Glove.
Conclusion and Photo Gallery
As for my own thoughts? Well, based solely on the overall comfort of the Road Gloves and the lack of that bottlenecking feel just past the arch on the Trail Gloves, if I had to pick between these two flagship shoes, I'd go with the Road Gloves. They just seem a bit more refined and a bit more foot friendly to me. Ultimately, I'm afraid to say that if you really want to make an educated decision between the Trail or Road Gloves from Merrell, you're going to have to try both on and feel them for yourself.
As for sizing, I'm a size 43 VFF, 10.875" long heel to longest toe foot, and 10.5 standard size in most shoes. I've tried on the 10s and the 11s in numerous shoes from Merrell Barefoot and I am very consistently a 10.5, and that continues to be the case with the Road Glove: these shoes size true in my experience. As for availability? Well, hopefully they'll be available any day now (the product page on Merrell's site doesn't have any available ... yet!).
Questions or comments? Critiques? Did I miss anything? And what do you think about this review format? Let me know in the comments below!
And now for the rest of the photos!