My three year old Avi has had a couple months to test out the Merrell Barefoot Flux Gloves for Infants and Toddlers* — she's worn them almost exclusively (even setting aside her custom kid's "la-laches" — huaraches by Xero Shoes). Merrell provided these for her to put through the paces and a review is now long overdue.
Backing up a bit, most minimalist shoes enthusiasts know how hard it is to find a shoe for their kids that has a wide toe box, is flexibly soled, not overly heavy, and is neutral from heel to toe (zero drop). There are definitely a few options out there, and actually, at least a few little kids shoe manufacturers tout the importance of some of these qualities for growing feet, but even so, as the kids grow, a foot-minded parent's options seem to become increasingly scarce.
So I had been pestering Merrell (and others like Vivo Barefoot) for some time to put out a shoe for toddlers/little kids with extra small feet. I'm happy to say that the Merrell Barefoot Flux Glove for Infants/Toddlers (kids up to age probably 4?) is a great shoe, satisfying the foot-discerning parent (like me). They'll make your kid happy, too.
Read on for a full review, a three year old's take, and plenty of photos ... get on it!
The Flux Gloves for kids feature a Vibram sole (kid's first Vibrams?) and a no-tying-required laced and velcro upper. They come in two colorways (purple and pink for girls, and orange and blue for boys) and cost $50 (Zappos). They're sized in "Junior Sizes" — my 3 year old is wearing a size 7. They size up to 9 and as low as 4, which I think would work for a young 1 year old. They weigh a whopping 2.6 oz. per shoe, have no apparent foot support within the shoe, are "zero drop" from heel to toe, and are machine washable (this is important).
Check them out!
Note the mesh upper is one layer thick, which should allow for solid breathability. The tongue is separated from the upper on the sides but locked in place via elastic, unadjustable laces. A strap is how the shoes are "tightened" — more on how this system works for putting them on below.
The whole package is lightweight and doesn't feel at all clunky. To me, this is probably one of the key tests of a kid's shoe. Kid's shoes shouldn't be heavy, stiff, or narrow.
Flexible soles and wide toe boxes for growing feet.
Toe box — I don't know if this is the case with all little girls, but my daughter has some wide feet (as seen here). So I was pretty happy to see that the Kid's Flux Gloves have sizable toe boxes. To look at them, they don't taper much at all as the shoe terminates at the top of the foot. They're fat shoes — for fat little feet. Score!
Those Vibram Soles! The kid's Flux Gloves feature a Vibram sole that is fairly simple as far as lugging/traction goes. You'll notice that portions of the sole are razor-siped like the original FiveFingers sole. Also, while I'm not sure how thick the Vibram rubber is on these shoes, I'd pin it at no more than 5mm and maybe as little as 3.5mm or 4mm. This makes the Flux Gloves very flexible and pliable in your hand — by way of comparison to other Merrell Barefoots, these are unquestionably more flexibly soled than the Road Gloves or Trail Gloves, but maybe, maybe very slightly more rigid than the Vapor Gloves (Exclusive detailed look at those coming imminently!). Given that the adult Flux Gloves have the same outsole as the Road Gloves, I should point out just how different the kid's versions are from the adult versions of the same/similar name.
I can't attest to how much ground feel you'd get with these soles, but my hunch is that it is very good — as good as any Merrell Barefoot to date that I'm aware of.
Putting them on.
Since these Flux Gloves have no laces to tie, my daughter (Aviana or A-vee-ah-nuh) had a pretty easy time putting them on. Humorously Avi can't seem to take them off in her video review below, but I don't think that's ever happened off camera. Because the velcro strap can be fully pulled out of the ring, I was a little concerned this might create a stumbling block as kids tend to undo anything and everything, but thankfully, it didn't seem to cause any real problems for her (she'd pull it out but could get it back in). Mind Avi keeps asking "is this shoe right?" almost every time she puts on her shoes (meaning does she have the left shoe for the left foot — she usually has them backwards!).
From ascending monkey bars at the playground to running laps around the kitchen, the Flux Gloves posed no problems and didn't seem to interfere in any way with Avi's play.
Pete Larson of RunBlogger managed to capture his son running in his Flux Gloves in slow motion and I think this video about sums it up:
For the first few weeks of wear, Avi rarely wore socks in her Merrells. Why would she need socks? The Flux Gloves, like so many minimalist/barefoot shoes, are treated with the Aegis antimicrobial technology, so that should zap any stink microbes right?
Nope. Sure enough, the Flux Gloves got stinky. Word came back to me one day after daycare that her teacher had sprayed her shoes with Lysol! Not really wanting to have my daughter running around in odorous kicks, we promptly laundered the Flux Gloves — they are machine washable. That seemed to help a lot but subsequent sockless wear brought the smell back almost immediately (This should sound familiar to a few of you Vibram fans). Ever since the second washing, we've had her wear them with socks, which knocks out the problem.
If there is one issue with these shoes, the need for socks would be it (I swear my daughter has a harder time putting on socks than huaraches!).
For the stylish three year old girl ...
I notice most people's shoes these days. It's a curse of running this website. But I don't takea lot of note of kid's shoes. However, as soon as Avi started wearing her Merrells (the first day), random adults started commenting on how cute her shoes were. I know I'm biased that I think my daughter is cute, but I'm not particularly good at judging the aesthetics of kid's shoes. For example, unlike Crocs on adults almost always looking sorta goofy, Crocs on kids look pretty normal and almost cool.
But apparently, these Flux Gloves for kid's are stylish shoes for two to three year olds. I guess they exude that rugged outdoorsy yet demure look that is all the rage in kid's shoes this year (making that up). What do you think?
Video review by a 3 year old
Avi did a quick take on the kids Flux Gloves below — advance apologies for any baby sounds from my 10 month old and low-lighting conditions! This video was shot on a lark and a shoe string budget:
My daughter really likes her Merrells. It's sort of a pain to have to run upstairs for socks in the morning when we're about to head out for "school," but it's a minor nuisance. All in all, I think Merrell put out a great kid's shoes (and Vibram did a nice job on the soles). I sorta wish they made these for adults as I like the flexibility of the soles a bit better than some of the more popular MB offerings (Road and Trail Glove — mind the Vapor Glove will get you very excited, stay tuned for more on that). I will say that $50 (at Zappos.com) isn't cheap for a pair of kid's shoes, but Avi seemed to be a size 6 for about a year, so maybe she'll get close to a year of wear out of these, and then pass them on to my almost-1 year old when she fits them in a couple years.
Any other parents have Merrell Barefoots for their kids? What do you think? Let me know if you have any questions or if I missed something!
* Mind the "Infant" moniker is Merrell's naming convention. My daughter has been walking for the last two years so she doesn't really strike me as a toddler anymore, much less an infant, but whatever. Bottom line: these Merrell Barefoots are for little kids!