As announced recently, the Merrell Barefoot shoe line has officially launched. Prior to the official launch of Merrell Barefoot, I was fortunate enough to receive an advance pair of the men's Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves ("MBTG," "Trail Gloves," or just "Merrell Barefoots," for short). Below I'll talk in detail about my experiences thus far with the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves, as well as share a lot of up close and personal photos. But before I do, here's the review in short: Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves are presently my overall favorite mono-toed minimalist shoes. They are solid, "foot friendly" barefoot running trail shoes. They can be worn barefoot or with socks, provide reasonably good ground feel, are neutral from heel to toe, have an upsized toe box for toe splaying (pic), and actually look pretty good if you're up for wearing them for more everyday purposes.
That's the gist, anyway; more after the jump!
Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove Sole
Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves are built upon a Vibram-designed sole. The sole, while not having five separated toes like the KSO Trek, is reminiscent of the Trek in that the end of the sole has four ridged, implied "toes" (see pic at right). These ridges provide some added traction — particularly when ascending steep uphill climbs on the trail. Elsewhere on the sole you've got some decent knobbing that lends to overall traction on the trail. Since the sole is made by Vibram, and ssuming you're running form is efficient, which is to say that it minimizes friction, you could probably expect these soles to last quite a long time. I've worn my Trail Gloves a good bit for walking, some road running, and trail running over the past two months; thus far, the soles show no appreciable wear.
The Merrell Barefoots are zero-drop shoes meaning the heel is not elevated. My handy calipers measure the forefoot thickness at a smidge over 10mm — same at the heel. For reference, my KSO Treks are more around 8-9mm. Compare the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves' zero-drop to the NB Minimus Trail, which has a 4mm heel-to-toe drop and is overall a bit thicker-soled at 15mm or so at the heel (The New Balance NB Minimus Trail is slated for release in March 2011).
Above the Vibram rubber of the Merrell Barefoots, there is a 4mm EVA midsole — similar to the FiveFingers KSO Trek. Four millimeters really isn't much and when I try to pinch the midsole, it's difficult to do (lots of resistance). Of course, the rubber sole and EVA midsole still results in less ground feel. Since I'm comparing, I'd put the Merrell Barefoots' ground feel somewhere between the KSO Trek and the NB Minimus Trail.
The Trail Gloves also feature a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate (I'm assuming the EVA midsole is only 3mm here and/or the rubber sole is thinner to keep the shoe neutral heel to toe). When I grab the Trail Gloves and flex them at the forefoot, they are a good bit more rigid than my KSO Treks, meaning they resist flex a lot more than the KSO Treks and rebound with more force when you "let go" of the bend. My subjective observation is that the MBTGs are also more rigid at the forefoot than the NB Minimus Trail, but it's a close call.
The Trail Gloves lack an overall rigidity to them from heel to toe meaning they are easy to fold in half at the arch and twist pretty well in hand — better than the NB Minimus Trails or Vivo Barefoot Evo IIs/Aquas/Oaks, which are overall more rigid in the sole than the MBTGs (though the Vivo Barefoots all afford slightly more ground feel sans insoles).
It's also worth noting that this twistability comes somewhat from the narrowing of the sole at the arch (pic). The Five Fingers KSO Treks (read my review here) still win hands down on overall flexibility, but that's not altogether surprising — the more a shoe is molded to the foot, the more it must be designed for flexibility. Comparatively, "platform" style shoes can be more rigid in the sole as the foot isn't so locked onto to the sole. Ah the complex subtleties, nuances, and considerations in designing "barefoot shoes!"
Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove Upper
The Merrell Trail Glove upper is mesh on the outside with a "fused rubber toe bumper" that wraps the end of each shoe. The mesh upper in the toe box area lacks structure, which allows the shoe to flex overall and toe wiggling feels unrestricted within the Trail Gloves.
And what about that toe box? As you'd expect, Merrell went with a wider toe box to allow your toes to splay naturally. The flipside design consideration on a wide toe box is that if it's too wide, your foot can feel like it's "swimming" within the shoe. Merrell has tackled this problem by making the Trail Gloves snug around the widest part of the foot — not completely unlike the approach used with the NB Minimus Trails that employ a rubberized band to lock your foot onto the shoe, while still allowing your toes to play inside the large toe box. I actually prefer Merrell's less restrictive approach on this front, though I've found that the overall "snug fit" around the midfoot makes it a little more difficult to get the shoes on when wearing them with socks.
The Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves can be worn barefoot (without socks) and I prefer wearing them this way. Here's my attempt at a photo of the inside of the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves. Merrell designed the Trail Gloves without a removable insole and the only noticeable seam on the inside is where the tongue ends. This bothered me maybe the first two times I wore the shoes but has since faded in feel — chalk it up to breaking the MBTGs in.
Thankfully, the Trail Gloves are designed with barefoot wear in mind. Socks can be worn, and I even doubled up on socks once in them when Atlanta got the snow/ice lockdown back in January. My feet stayed reasonably warm in this instance. Like any shoe with a minimal sole, you're only going to get so much insulation from the frigid ground. Of course, the Trail Gloves are more like foot mittens in the sense that toes that stay together, stay warmer together!
The MBTGs lacing system is pretty slick! As far as laces go, Merrell's "Omni-Fit" lacing technology (pic) is pretty easy to adjust. Good thing, too, as the aforementioned midfoot snugness means you'll have to loosen the laces prior to putting on the Trail Gloves. My only complaint about the lacing system as it matches to the design of the shoe with regard to what I'm calling "midfoot snugness" is that I wish you could expand the overall width of the shoe more at the midfoot point. The narrowness immediately prior to the toe-box is only so adjustable and when I wear socks with the Trail Gloves, I find this narrowness acts like a bottleneck and my socks get pulled backwards as I ram my foot past the bottleneck. The tightness of the socks that results usually subsides quick enough, but it's a nuisance that is worth mentioning.
I confess that on seeing the online photos of the Trail Gloves, I wasn't immediately enamored with the aesthetics — they seemed a bit plain. However, on seeing the Trail Gloves in person and on my feet, I actually appreciate their understated demeanor and have enjoyed wearing them with jeans casually. I can't wait to get a pair of the Tough Glove varietal, either, as the leather gives a clean, expensive look to the Merrell Barefoots that should make them pass pretty well in a business casual environment (TBD!).
Meanwhile, if you're tired of people staring at your feet when running in Vibrams, take heart: no one who sees you running in the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves will have a clue they are barefoot shoes! This was tested recently on a run with Mrs. BirthdayShoes who was wearing Classics and drawing attention from passers-by: it was kinda strange to me to not have people notice my feet for once. Healthy feet travelling incognito. Nice.
Merrell Trail Glove Performance
The Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves performed admirably on the trail, meaning my footing felt consistent and assured on both steep ascensions and racing downhill. Ground feel was good enough to still want to avoid rocky or rooty protrusions while still providing some protection against them. Because the Trail Gloves are slightly looser at the forefoot than the banded NB Minimus Trails, I noticed my foot would lift off the sole of the shoe a bit more in all running conditions — mind the tightness of the NB Minimus Trails fixes this issue while also putting a lot of pressure on your foot, which could cause issues over the long-term. For the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glvoes, this is a minor nuisance that could potentially be corrected by tightening the shoes more via the lacing mechanism.
For general use, I like the Trail Gloves. The lugged soles are stiff enough that they don't feel strange when wearing them on concrete or asphalt. I actually may like road running in the Trial Gloves better than in the KSO Treks though I confess I haven't done a side by side comparison between the two. As has been discussed before, I'm no long distance runner and my form lends itself to knee problems unless I go the full monty. That said, the Trail Gloves weren't so much shoe as to cause knee issues out the gate for me — I assume this is due to their neutral heel-to-toe design or perhaps their overall lack of cushioning in the soles. Whatever it is, I have enjoyed running in the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves.
I also enjoy walking in the Trail Gloves. As having everyday, non-five-toed shoes that are foot friendly is a real problem for many of us, I also evaluated the Trail Gloves for use in casual application. I'm happy to report they function well in this regard: my gait is relatively unchanged by wearing the Trail Gloves (as opposed to barefoot gait). This is another reason I'm eager to grab some Tough Gloves for work wear!
First off, a note on sizing. I'm a size 10.5 and have been wearing a size 11. These seem to fit me fine. However, Britt got a size 10 for his size 9.5 feet and they felt much too big, so he's working on sizing down to 9. Initial experiences with sizing seem to be a bit all over the map, so I hesitate to make an overall recommendation here. Also, I've got at least one report of the Trail Gloves being a bit uncomfortable at the midfoot (snugness) for one person with wide feet. If you've got less average feet (my feet are fairly average, I guess), just like with Vibram FiveFingers, I encourage you to try on a pair in person if possible!
I'm really liking my Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves and recommend them as a solid contender amongst the emerging options in the minimalist footwear category — they are certainly top of mind in the non-five toed shoes category! That said, it's important to keep in mind that every foot is different just as every person is different — there's a good reason for the cliche "if the shoe fits, wear it!"
But don't just take my word for it that Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves are a great addition to the minimalist footwear category. Jason Robillard, barefoot running coach, author of The Barefoot Running Book, and ultramarathon runner, had this to say about his exhaustive testing of the Trail Gloves:
Within the first few miles of the first run, I knew these shoes were special. The weirdness of those first few steps disappeared. On trails, the shoes performed flawlessly. Over the next three months, I tested these shoes in every conceivable environment. I ran an PRed a 5k on roads (ALGER HEIGHTS 5K in Grand Rapids, MI; 19:12), run a 50k in 20° weather (HUFF 50K in Huntington, IN), did a 30 MILE TRAINING RUN IN TERRIBLE SNOWY TRAIL CONDITIONS, and did a 20 mile road run. Between these runs I’ve had countless shorter runs of varying distances on asphalt, sand, mud, leaf-covered technical tails, gravel, and everything in between.
The conclusion- no shoe has come closer to minimalist perfection.
Going forward, I'd like to hear from other Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove wearers (or Pace Glove for the ladies — and there are a lot of other Merrell Barefoot options, too!) and post experiences and user stories here on the blog. After all, it's the community of barefoot-minded people who make BirthdayShoes a great place to visit, so if you're testing out Merrell Barefoots and have some experiences and photos to share on them, please email us!
Looking to buy Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves? Merrell Barefoot shoes have been released into the wild for purchase and if you're looking to snag a pair, here are a few online retailers carrying the Trail Gloves (The Trail Gloves run about $110) as well as other Merrell Barefoot models (reviews pending):
- Travel Country — Men's Trail Glove, Women's Pace Glove, Men's True Glove, Women's Pure Glove, Men's Tough Glove (leather)
- The Shoe Mart — Men's Trail Glove, Women's Pace Glove
- REI — Men's Trail Glove, Women's Pace Glove
- Rock/Creek — Men's Trail Glove, Women's Pace Glove
- Kayak Shed — Men's Trail Glove, Women's Pace Glove, Men's True Glove, Women's Pure Glove
Per Merrell, the fit on the Barefoots is running about ½ size big (I'm wearing 10s and normally fit a 10.5 — I also wear size 43 VFFs).
Photos of the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove
Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove — Official-ish Product Details
Less is definitely more exploring with our Vibram®-soled Trail Glove natural adventure shoe. All the protection your feet need from rocks and roots, and an ultra-lightweight upper with a synthetic leather foot sling for stability fits like a glove.
• Microfiber and breathable air mesh upper
• Merrell Omni-Fit™ lacing system secured with welded TPU provides a precise, glove-like fit
• Fused rubber toe bumper provides ultimate durability
• Synthetic leather rear foot sling provides stability
• Flexible plate in the forefoot protects the foot from stone bruises
• Non-removable microfiber footbed treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution resists odor
• 4mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions
• 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate maintains forefoot flexibility and protects the foot by distributing pressure
• 0mm ball to heel drop keeps you connected to your terrain
• Wash as needed in cold water, gentle cycle and air dry
• Vibram® Trail Glove Sole/ Rubber Compound TC-1
Men’s Weight: 6.2 ozs / 175.8 gm (1/2 pair)