Barefoot Shoes

Merrell Barefoot Bare Access Review

Is there room for a “transition” shoe in the toolbox of the would-be natural or barefoot runner? Is the shortest distance to learning barefoot-style running going straight to full-bare feet? Or is there room for shoes like the Nike Free or the Reebok RealFlex? Enter the Merrell Barefoot Bare Access – a review.

What’s the role, if any, of a transitional shoe for learning a natural or barefoot-style running form?

Is there room for a “transition” shoe in the toolbox of the would-be natural or barefoot runner? Is the shortest distance to learning barefoot-style running going straight to full-bare feet? Or is there room for shoes like the Nike Free or the Reebok RealFlex? While many are likely to decry transitional shoes with a loud, angry “No,” I’m not sure the answer is so black and white. Actually, given that so many people dive into learning natural running wearing five-toed shoes, I’d say that most are already on the “transitional shoe” thought-train — after all, a few millimeters of rubber is still a far cry from the incredible sensation of going “full bare.” Indeed, I wonder how many minimalist footwear advocates ever go full-barefoot. And if you’re already assuming some shoe to educate your running form, perhaps the better question is just how much shoe do you need? And how much is too much? And that’s where things get pretty grey; perhaps you can learn to run with a barefoot-style in the pretty thickly cushioned and elevated-at-the-heel Nike Frees; perhaps you need more feedback and have to pick up some huaraches. If there’s one truth to the barefoot running movement, it’s that human beings are complicated enough that a one-shoe-fits-all approach is certain to fail. The devil’s in the details — how much physiological change needs to take place before your Achilles’ tendon can stretch to handle the repetition required in a forefoot or midfoot landing without an elevated heel? How much ground feel do you need to provide that sensory input to quite literally rewire your brain, lighten your landing, and re-learn that your foot is a dynamic, functional appendage, and not just some static club? This is a very, very hard question to answer, no matter what new research is being passed about. Barefoot may be best, but if you’ve been spending years or decades in biomechanically busted footwear, taking off or drastically reducing your footwear to something more anatomically correct is only the very first step towards rehabilitating your feet, your gait, and your entire body. I’ll save further comment here for a later post. My point is that perhaps there is a place for transitional shoes. They can be but one more tool in the toe-box … there I go again. Of course, is the Bare Access a transitional shoe? I’m going to do my best to answer that question today — let’s just get to the review!

Introducing the Merrell Barefoot Bare Access.

Anyway, what is the Bare Access but a zero-drop (same stack height at the heel as at the ball of the foot), foam-soled and slightly Vibram’ed running shoe. The official line on the shoe according to Merrell is that the Bare Access (or Merrell Barefoot Bare Arc for the women’s version) is “For distance runners and those new on the path to barefoot running, our Bare Access 0mm drop running shoe gives you a barefoot feel, with added toe to heel cushioning. Still allowing your foot to land flat and follow its own natural motion.” What you get with the Merrell Bare Access is essentially 10mm of flat cushion in the sole (my calipers pegged the thickness at 11mm, but that’s close enough for government work) with the same last (shape of the inside of the shoe) as the Road Glove and an upper material that is constructed of synthetic leather and mesh. Here are some pretty pictures: A few things to note about the Bare Access. The toe box is pretty roomy and comfortable. It’s akin to what I’ve come to expect from Merrell’s Barefoot line, which is a decent sized toe box — better than a traditional shoe but not quite as roomy as, say, a VIVO BAREFOOT. Second, the Bare Access has that pesky, noticeable area around the arch — almost like it’s too narrow-soled here. I hesitate to call it “arch support,” but it’s certainly “arch something.” Third, the Bare Access can be worn barefoot as there is no removable insole and the few seams there are inside the shoe are not irritating. I wore the Bare Access almost exclusively barefoot (despite having on some socks in some of my initial photos!).

So how does it work?

I’m not really into running in foamy shoes so I wasn’t really looking forward to a run in the Bare Access. However, I was pleased to find that these felt pretty good on a short mile run; the Bare Access is light weight enough and thin-soled enough not to feel “wobbly” (more sole makes me feel a bit unstable) and I didn’t have any trouble maintaining a forefoot style running form; mind, I didn’t go on an epic run and my prior experience tells me anything more than a couple of miles would have left me backsliding into bad running form, which is something that can happen to me even in Vibrams. The sole of the Bare Acess is a firmer foam than, say, the NB Minimus Zero Road, which just feels like it has a little more give or ease of compression. Really, as “cushy” shoes go (and these at only 11mm thick aren’t really that cushy), the Bare Access was leaps and bounds better than say, the Nike Free 3.0s, which I couldn’t wait to get off my feet in a run (and one day I’ll review along with the 5.0s, I promise). It’s all relative, right? But you’re not going to get a ton of ground feel with the Bare Access; for example, if you were to walk on a steel stairwell with the raised tread you’d be hardpressed to actually feel any of the tread through the sole. Nuanced sensation of the ground is simply muted. Sometimes that’s nice. The soles flex fairly well — say when you raise your toes (dorsiflex) and I never felt like my biomechanics were degraded by the shoes (though I’m sure I wasn’t stepping as gently as I would barefoot or in a pair of Soft Stars).

Bare Access’ing the Gym

I gave the Bare Access shoes the normal run-of-the-mill treatment in the gym for my regular heavy lifts — squats, deads, weighted chins (using a dumbbell in lieu of a belt or vest due to gym limitations) and on all fronts, I was pretty pleased with the Bare Access. It was nice to have a real “shoe” for the chins especially. The soles are stiff enough that I didn’t feel unstable on squats, which is pretty important. While I was in the gym, I took the opportunity to do a quick (40 seconds or so) video of Bare Access in motion (on my feet). It’s hardly a very detailed video but it should at least give some sense of what the shoes look like on feet, flexing, etc.

Bare Access’ing Casual Wear

Where I got most of my play with the Bare Access was wearing them casually, which is a place I found the shoes to really shine. They’re quite comfortable and have a good look to them as a sneaker. Since they’re not notably degrading my walking biomechanics, I found I could wear them about all day quite comfortably (without socks). That they muted the ground a bit was actually kind of nice at times; sometimes it’s nice to tune out the world, as very un-zen-like as that may be. Also, the extra “lift” off the ground was good in rainy conditions as it kept my feet every so slightly dryer walking through small-ish puddles.

Is the Bare Access shoe for new barefoot-style runners?

Really, when you step back and consider the competitive landscape of similarly soled “barefoot shoes,” the competitors to Merrell’s Bare Access are clearly the (just reviewed) Altra Instinct and the New Balance Minimus Zero Road. All three of these shoes have a level, neutral-from-heel-to-toe sole. Of course, the sole each of these shoes has is a bit thicker than a typical pair of Vibram FiveFingers or VIVO BAREFOOTs. Each of these shoes have soles with some give to them and enough cushion to mute ground feel enough that landing on a rock (e.g. “gravel, gravel, gravel“) is less likely to evoke wincing pains. Are the Bare Access, the Instinct, and the Minimus Zero Road all transitional shoes? My gut reaction is to say, “No.” Not because these shoes couldn’t be transitional shoes (more on this in a second), but more because I’m not sure if many buying them are going to be doing it to “transition” to barefoot-style running. Why do I say this? Well, call it a hunch, but I have a feeling that people who are interested in minimalist, zero-dropped but slightly cushioned shoes are people who:
  • Already are sold on the benefits of a barefoot-friendly shoe (e.g. upsized toe box and no heel lift), and
  • Have dialed in their running form enough that they’re not likely to backslide into a higher-impact running style (heel-striking, over-striding, bad posture, harder landings, whatever) just because they’ve got more give in their soles.
If the above criteria don’t apply to you — if you are looking for a transitional shoe in the Bare Access, well, I don’t think you’re making a mistake in picking these shoes, particularly as compared to some other shoes that are marketed as “barefoot” like the Nike Frees and the Reebok Realflex. Just be cognizant that your shiny new not-quite-barefoot shoes will be giving you more sole, and by extension, less ground feel. Ground feel, as it turns out, is a pretty key ingredient to learning to run gently. That’s because it’s the ground feel that fires all those nerves in your feet, causing them to react faster than you can think, and adjust your form to be gentler, less abrasive (lower friction), and more efficient. If you’re rehab’ing your running form, feeling the ground is pretty clutch. I’m just not sure about the whole “transitional” moniker for the Bare Access. That said, if anyone does use the Bare Access in a transitional sort of way, please, please do us a favor and tell us all about it!


So if you can’t tell, I have mixed feelings about the Bare Access; on the one hand, I think they’re solid casual or workout shoes thanks to the neutral soles and comfortable build quality, though again the arch area is a bit too narrow and sorta feels like it hugs the arch a little too much; it’s a feeling that doesn’t bother me on sustained wear but I notice it immediately if I switch to the Bare Access from a less arch-y shoe. As far as the Bare Access is a shoe for those wanting to transition to barefoot-style running, I’m not sure they’re really going to shine here — perhaps if you’re timid about going with less sole and want to feel what it’s like to run without an elevated heel, well by all means, try out the Bare Access. Or blow your mind and go for a walk or run completely barefoot on your local street just to see how your feet do (I’ll bet you’re pretty amazed by the experience). If you can handle a barefoot run down the street; I’m pretty sure you can handle a more minimalist shoe. Meanwhile, if you’re a runner with dialed-in form, I think the Bare Access is worth some serious consideration. Just check out ultra-runner (and transiitional-shoe skeptic) Jason Robilliard’s take on them (never mind that he does consult with Merrell; he’s the real deal).


The Merrell Barefoot Bare Access is out and available for purchase now, if you’re interested. It’ll set you back about ninety clams, but could be just the thing you’re after. What do you think? Is there a role for transitional shoes for someone wanting to rehab their feet towards a barefoot-style running form? I’m all ears so comment away!

Official Specs from Merrell:

For distance runners and those new on the path to barefoot running, our Bare Access 0mm drop running shoe gives you a barefoot feel, with added toe to heel cushioning. Still allowing your foot to land flat and follow its own natural motion, its cushioning protects from sustained impacts due to longer runs or a new barefoot training program. UPPER / LINING • Barefoot strobel construction offers flexibility and comfort • Synthetic leather and mesh upper • Reflective details for increased visibility in low light • Breathable mesh lining treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution resists odor • Integrated footbed with 2mm EVA to cushion MIDSOLE / OUTSOLE • 8mm M Bound™ allows for cushioned entry into Bareform™ movement • 0mm ball to heel drop keeps you connected to your terrain • Wash as needed in cold water, gentle cycle and air dry • Vegan friendly footwear • Natural flex outsole with 2.5mm lug depth allows for dynamic foot movement • Merrell Bare Access Sole / Sticky Rubber Pods Men’s Weight: 5.6 ozs (1/2 Pair)

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

17 replies on “Merrell Barefoot Bare Access Review”

Dude! I was looking for another review of this shoe! Thanks! So, I currently run in Saucony Hattori and Bedroc Sandals; each up to 9 miles or so. Looking for a new shoe for 15+ mile runs, and was thinking about the Bare Access. Or the road glove. Or the new Altra Samson. Suggestion? Love your website!!!

I am an avid wearer of Vibrams, and I utilize the Merrell Trail Gloves for rockier, technical terrrain. What I have wanted is a shoe that will give me a bit more cushioning for longer distance running (at least on pavement). I am wearing the NB Minimus, but the heel-toe differential leads to some heel striking when my form goes to pot at the end of runs. If the Bare Access has The same snug feeling as the Trail Glove then perhaps is would be a good cushiony shoe for longer runs for those trying to run in barefoot-type or minimal shoes but whose feet are not quite strong enough to endure longer distances.

So how would the Bare Access stack up against the Minimus in these regards? Any thoughts?

When a shoe has more than 11mm of stack height, more than 9oz weight, and 4mm of heel-toe drop it is no longer minimal or transitional to me.

7mm is probably the same thickness as a pair of old flip-flops you buy from a discount store and if add on a velcro heel strap just so it doesn’t slide off you pretty much have huaraches or a fake Vivobarefoot Achilles.

There’s a ton of things that are released I’d consider transitional but they aren’t zero drop. There’s a few that are zero drop though. The Saucony Hattori, for example, is 12mm stack height, zero drop, and the sole is mostly foam. I’d even consider the Vivobarefoot Neo/Evo, since both have a 9mm stack height with the insole in place and a weight of ~8oz.

@ Jonathan

If you are just looking for zero drop with moderate stack height, you’d best wait and try the Minimus Zero before jumping the gun with the Bare Access. People tend to take issue with the normal width Merrells and I took mine to a cobbler to get them widened for when I wear Injinjis in them (New Balance has more wide widths, but their normal widths seem to have the same pinky toe problem).

The Trail zero probably has more stack height (vs Bare Access’ 10-11mm), but is supposed to be slightly lighter (~4.4oz). (The Minimus Road Zero will be slightly heavier at ~6.4oz.)

Thanks for the review. I’ve just ordered a pair of these and I’m eager to try them out.

I am sold on the bareform concept. I’ve been running in trail gloves, my first pair of bareform shoes, since October. Running in these shoes has conferred on me the usual benefits that everyone talks about (better gait, stronger feet, etc.), but so far one thing I’ve been disappointed about is that I really can’t run as fast in these as I could in my old cushioned shod shoes.

For whatever reason (maybe some combination of imperfect technique, running solely on asphalt and lack of the necessary level of foot conditioning), I find that if I try to run at the 15:50 5k pace in my trail gloves that I could run in my old shod shoes, my feet wind up feeling bruised either during my run, or the next day. Sometimes the bruising is bad enough that I have to take the next day off, and my weekly mileage suffers. Just running at that pace over asphalt can be sufficient to cause bruising, but in addition to that, when I’m running full tilt I’m much more likely to step on things like sharp rocks or fallen branches, and when that happens while I’m wearing trail gloves, instant pain and bruising frequently results. Just out of a desire to avoid that pain, I run slower in trail gloves. Because of that, my cardiovascular fitness level has declined, even if I have stronger lower legs and feet.

I love my trail gloves and I fully intend to wear them on many or even most of my runs. As I said, some of my problems might be the result of some aspect of my running form being slightly off, and maybe over time improvements in my technique will resolve my foot bruising issues. Maybe I’ll have to run routes over slightly softer ground. I don’t know. But my feeling is that with cushioned zero drop shoes like this, I’ll have the option of running as hard as I can, keeping my fitness level up, without having to worry about risking debilitating foot bruising or being on a pair of high-heels that will encourage me to unlearn the improved form my trail gloves have helped me acquire.

As I said, I have yet to try these shoes, but if they solve the particular issues I’ve been having, I think there is definitely going to be a place in the market for these.

I really like the merrell barefoot line (and all merrells, actually. I have traditional hiking shoes and boots from them, and they are all awesome). To me, this has the same flaws as the just-reviewed Altra Instinct – namely, that I do not believe in transition shoes (having tried them extensively). But I have no doubt they are comfortable and well made, so probably a good option for those who want a little more cushioning for longer/harder runs.

Zero drop is what matters to me, it’s what allows the feet to have proper form. Arch support and heel elevation are what kills a shoe to me, cushion not so much.

I just finished reading your article about the non-running couple who now lives in their VFFs. Like them, I am not a runner. As a matter of fact, I had three knee surgeries back in my early 20s (I’m 32 now). I haven’t run since I was a very little girl. I got into barefoot style shoes because I was hoping that stronger feet would mean stronger knees and better posture and therefor less knee pain. On a side note, I live in a downtown area and do not own a car. I walk an average of 8 to 10 miles a week.

About a year ago I got my first VFFs. I got the Bakila LS. I found them to be great for outdoors in the summer but as soon as it dropped below 65 degrees my feet got too cold. I also had issues indoors in air conditioning (in the grocery store for example). Maybe my feet just run cold but either way I found it uncomfortable.

So next I bought a pair of New Balance Trails. I got the ones that are waterproof/water resistant. These proved to be great in the fall when it was rainy and damp. When combined with my Smartwools, my feet were warm and dry. However, I found the soles to be much too hard; particularly in the forefoot. I regularly ended up with bruising under the “knuckle” of my big toe, so I would end up wearing non barefoot shoes for a few days until the bruising healed.

Then comes my latest acquisition into my shoe line-up. (Here’s where the story finally ties into your above post) I bought a pair of Altra Intuitions. I have had them a little over a week and they are so comfortable that I sometimes forget to take them off when I get home. That has never happened before. I have always wanted to rip my shoes off the minute I got in the door. Around the house I never wear anything more than socks. I have also been wearing them at the gym where I find that little bit of extra cushion over my VFFs to be appreciated.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that although shoes like the Altra Inuition or the Merrell Bare Access may not be good for transitioning to barefoot running they are crucial for those of us non-runners looking for footwear with zero drop, flexible soles, and wide toe boxes for everyday casual wear or exercise/fitness.

MFor the past 2 years I’ve been running exclusively in Vibrams. Until today. Today I did my longest run’ to date-20 miles, in Merrell Bare Access. It was the first time I put them on. I’ve run up to 15 in Vibes, which have completely saved & resolved my knee issues. Problem was I’d get some pretty nasty pain in my foot pads after about 10 miles on pavement. I’m training for my first marathon & just felt like I needed a little something more between my feet & the road.
Enter the Bare Access. I actually didn’t plan on running so far in them, but was doing a 5k first, was running late, & couldn’t find my Vibes. So, in spite of knowing I shouldn’t a long run in brand new shoes I’d never worn before, I.went for it.

These shoes are fantastic. Just enough rubber to the road to protect while allowing good ground feel. Plenty of room for splay in the toe box, even for a Vibram addict. I suggest going a 1/2 size up. No foot pad pain, no hotspots. I’m hooked.

I just bought a pair of these today, and so far I think I’ll be happy with them.

I’ve been transitioning to minimalist/barefoot running for the past month or so by running barefoot on concrete sidewalks, building up from shorter distances.

Although I love running barefoot, I needed a shoe that I could wear on the gym treadmill. Any type of sandal, slip on or water shoe is forbidden.

My search was exhaustive but limited to shoes that I could try on in person. I tried VFF’s but even with socks the back bit into the back of my heel so that I had a blister after less than a mile. This is a common blister spot for me with all shoes and if shoes irritate that spot there is NO breaking them in.

I wanted to love the Merrell Pace Glove, which are the very lightest ones. Unfortunately, they are VERY narrow and my feet are short and wide. Merrell’s website does offer them in a wide size, but the Pace Glove also bit into the same spot in the back of my foot, due to the odd ridging in the back of the shoe.

The Bare Access fit more like a regular tennis shoe, and most importantly, they are different in the back and don’t irritate that spot on the back of my heel. So while I would prefer less cushion and I’m not a fan of the arch “support” I trust that the zero drop will allow me to run at the gym without wrecking my form. I’ll trade the above complaints for a shoe that doesn’t make me want to cry after less than a mile because the back of my heel is so badly blistered.

How thick are the rubber pods on the bottom? Im thinking about using them for parkour. Which I think they would shine at.

Hi thanks for the great review. I’ve tried these shoes and they try on at the store great. I’m not a runner but a walker. I totally ascribe to the mInimalist doctrine. I love my feet!! But…I don’t want to speed walk barefooted. I want a little shoe. Do you think these would be good shoes for speed walking? I was interested in a mInimalist shoe I can’t find any that fit my wide foot. The Bare Acess feels awesome.
Thanks again

In the Army, you gotta have socks and shoes, no 5 fingers allowed. No exception. That’s okay, since we don’t always have the best running surfaces when we deploy. Afghanistan consistently has triple digit heat, and wickedly cold winds in the winter. Rules aside, foot protection of some kind is important for anybody out here(even the dude from Dual Survival. Asphalt is HOT). Often, a lot of us run with weight, such as backpacks and/or body armor, which will usually add close to 50lbs. Bare accesses are the shoes I have been wearing, and I swear by them. No thorns, bits of metal, no cuts from hidden garbage buried in the moon dust. For some of us, the fact that they aren’t 5 fingers (or birthdays, for that matter) is actually their most important feature. Maybe not great for purists, but when you have to have some kind of shoe, and need something that is good everywhere, that 10mm of foam is something special.

I been wearing a pair of True Gloves almost daily to work for the last 6 months and absolutely love them. These were my first barefoot shoes. I havent been an avid runner over the last few years, but am about to get back into it. Only 5k-10k road running. So, I am looking at going with a barefoot running shoe. I have tried on both the Bare Access and the Trail Glove. Both feel good to my foot, each with a different feel. The Trail Glove fits like my True Gloves, and the Bare Access feels more like a “normal” running shoe. Any suggestions between these two for my scenario or should i look into the Road Gloves? I think i tried on some RGs awhile back and didnt care for them for some reason (cant remember why).

Nice review. I run barefoot (really barefoot) but liked the Merrell Trailglove for wet/cold weather runs. The soles of my feet just get torn up when the they get wet. Now I am getting into longer runs (10+ miles) and I do find that my soles just don’t hold up when my weekly mileage goes up above 30. I also find that wearing the Trailgloves for the long runs actually causes me discomfort because my form just falls apart. Enter the Bare Access. I can keep my forefoot/midfoot strike. My feet feel good, and I can keep up my higher weekly mileage. Transition shoe? Maybe. But for me they may be a transition away from barefoot.

Thanks for an honest review and for understanding that not everyone can go barefoot. I live in an industrial neighborhood in Chicago, and it would be downright dangerous to run with no shoes at all. I’ve found the bare access shoes to be a good balance of comfort, protection from the many shards of glass, rocks/gravel, nails/screws, and other random degree on the streets and sidewalks. I know I have to be more careful with my form, but the improvement over regular running shoes is good enough for me. These are a great pair of shoes for a city runner in my opinion.

Ok, so I bought these at half price on line, and based on your and Jason’s reviews. I ran 3 times with them thus far, all 5km max. My take:

Fit was nice, light and roomy. My first run was without socks and that run was short lived as I started a blister in my right arch and left achilles just half way in. Nothing new since running sock-less seems an ongoing challenge for me regardless the brand and model. They felt good at first. They kind of are my first zero drop shoes (if you don’t count my Luna sandals which I tested twice). I have been running with NB MO20s for about a year. The Bare Access have a slight more bounce to them and a better hug at the heel and arch.

My second run was with socks. It lasted much longer this time. I still felt discomfort at the left achilles. Not much to say about this one.

My third run was dead just 10 minutes in for several reasons. I was feeling a light discomforting pain in my right knee. Related? Not sure. But for the shoes, I again noticed some digging into my achilles even though I was wearing ankle socks again. And oddly enough, this time I felt my right second toe dig into the from box as I often felt in my NB MR10s from a while back. Suffice to say that this shoe or brand might just not be right for my feet.

On the matter of durability, as mentioned in the articles, the blue foam will not hold up very long, especially if you’re a heavy or huge km runner.

I might give them one last try but, should they fail me again, I will definitely look into the Altra brand.

I hope this can serve you well…Thanks

Québec, Canada

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *