Merrell introduced their ultra-minimalist/barefoot Vapor Glove back in early 2013 (You can read Justin’s initial review/video here or Greg’s Crossfit-centric review here). The Vapor Glove was like a mono-toed KSO with a super-thin, Vibram sole, supreme ground feel, and an extremely breathable upper. Fast forward to 2015 and Merrell has updated the Vapor Glove to the “Vapor Glove 2.” What’s new? How’s the it hold up two years later? Read on for my review of the all-new Merrell Vapor Glove 2!

Overview of the Vapor Glove 2

Here’s what Merrell says about the Vapor Glove 2:
Feather light and breathable, this barefoot run shoe liberates your trail run via foot contact with the ground thanks to zero drop. The washable, highly breathable mesh upper is made for comfort in hot conditions and molds to your foot for an ultimately natural, uninhibited fit and stride.
Weight — 5.5 oz in a Men’s size 8 (fits like a 9) Total Stack Height — 5.5mm Barefoot Scale — With a total stack height of 5.5mm and weighing 5.5 oz, the latest Vapor Glove is for minimalist enthusiasts. Pros—
  • Lightweight
  • Zero drop
  • Versatile Vibram sole
  • Great groundfeel
  • Protective toe section for trails
Cons—
  • Narrow shape
  • Low-volume toe box
  • Upper material, while reinforced, is still somewhat delicate
Here are some photos:

Sole

The original Vapor Glove was, and still is, a benchmark of excellence for minimalist shoes upon its release. It featured lightweight construction, flexible sole, a fantastic amount of groundfeel, and excellent traction with its vibram TC-1 sole. Thankfully, Merrell has decided to continue supporting its M-Connect shoes with a new iteration of the vapor glove, which is very similar to its predecessor, but improves upon the original in many ways. The best analogy for the Vapor Glove 2 would be a closed-toe Vibram KSO EVO. The KSO EVO is easily the best Vibram shoe to date (On sale here, if you’re looking for some) and the Vapor Glove 2 is an excellent choice for those looking for many of the strengths of the EVO, but in a closed toe form factor. In fact, the original Vapor Glove predates the KSO EVO by over a year and it seems that Vibram took some inspiration of the Merrell shoe (they collaborated on the sole, after all) and updated the KSO with the Vapor Glove in mind. The uppers and soles are somewhat similar with both shoes. The Vapor Glove 2’s sole is smooth enough for road running, yet provides enough traction for trails as well. It is broken up in four different places to provide even more flexibility. The Vapor Glove 2 is similarly broken up into the following four sections: The big toe and ball of the foot, the small toes, the midfoot, and the heel—all of which are separated by deeper flex grooves. Like the KSO EVO, the sole with the Vapor Glove 2 can be squeezed in any and all directions. Its flexibility is similar to a thick tortilla and the entire shoe can be rolled into itself, twice, to form a very tight ball, which—like the Vibram Shoe—takes a second to slowly return to its original shape. The “snakeskin”-like sole features deeper traction groves than the KSO EVO and I would say that the Vapor Glove 2 is the more all-terrain-ready of the two. The treads are deeper and there are more of them, acting like little cleats as your work your way uphill or downhill through trails.

The Uppers

Merrell has overhauled the uppers of the Vapor Glove 2 with a slightly more flexible material that feels softer to the touch than the originals. It’s so thin that you can faintly make out the color of your skin (or socks) when wearing them. Light easily transmits through the upper in the daylight.
Light goes through these thin uppers.
Light goes through these thin uppers.
The previous generation of the Vapor Glove was pretty durable, but blowouts occurred along the sides of the shoe near the big and little toe. This time around, Merrell reinforced the inside and outside edges of the shoe with a painted-on PU material for extra durability (somewhat similar to what Vibram did on top of the toes with the original Bikila).
 Note the dark overlay on the fabric upper. This reinforces the fabric there.
Note the dark overlay on the fabric upper. This reinforces the fabric there.
These were the areas most likely to tear in most minimalist shoes and this reinforced construction is a welcomed addition. The uppers themselves are VERY breathable; you can easily feel a breeze through them and they are nicely ventilated while in motion. You will not have to worry about sticky feet in these shoes! Of course, this somewhat prevents the Vapor Gloves for winter and snow use, but our feet come in all shapes, sizes, and levels of toughness and if you have strong Viking feet, you can probably run in these all year long. They are certainly better for cold weather use than the KSO EVO, which can let in snow and cold water more easily due to its five-toe design. The reinforcements go a long way in improving the durability of the Vapor Glove 2 in critical points in its construction, but the uppers are still somewhat delicate. Sure, they are super breathable and airy and they should be applauded for being so well engineered for speed and temperature regulation, but they are not the most durable uppers in the world. With a little effort, you can shave into the uppers with a freshly cut cut fingernail. Overall, the uppers hold up just fine for road and light trail running, but a stray branch or rock might ruin your day if you graze it with enough speed. The Vapor Glove 2 is very lightweight at around 5.4 oz for a size 9 and while it isn’t the lightest shoe (the New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez and Mizuno Wave Universe are a couple ounces lighter), the Vapor Glove is far more durable. It strikes the sweet spot between thinness, lightness, flexibility and durability that running enthusiasts are looking for. Again, please size down when you purchase these. I always wear a size 9 in all my non-Vibram shoes and a size 8 was perfect for me with the Vapor Glove.

The Fit

Note on sizing — The sizing for the Vapor Glove is slightly larger than expected, so size down .5 or one entire size for the best fit. I am usually a size 9, but I had to order a size 8 in the Vapor Glove 2 for a better fit. In terms of the shape of the last or construction of the shoe, the Vapor Glove 2 is narrow shoe with a narrow toebox to boot. The overall shape is not very accommodating for wide feet and I am not able to get proper toe splay within the shoes. This is a bit of a Merrell trait. Many manufacturers have certain shapes in mind when they put together their shoes and Merrell just happens to be one of the narrower shoes. Lems provides a very wide toebox, Vivo Barefoot shoes are typically wide all around, Vibrams are typically excellent for flat feet, etc. etc. The Merrells fit would be PERFECT for anyone with narrow-to-average width feet from heel to toe. If you find that minimalist shoes are too wide for you and dislike hollowed-out waffle iron feel of overly wide shoes, this new Vapor Glove 2 might be what you are looking for, but the duck-footed among us may want to look elsewhere.
The Merrell Vapor Glove 2 on the left; Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO on the right.
The Merrell Vapor Glove 2 on the left; Vibram FiveFingers KSO EVO on the right.
Compared to the fit of the Vapor Glove 2, the KSO EVO is absolutely perfect for my feet. They were initially a bit tight around the top of the shoe, but they eventually stretched out over the course of a couple of runs. If you loved the sizing of the original FiveFingers Bikila and Bikila LS, you’ll love the KSO EVO, but if you have “normal” feet and want a less eye-catching shoe, the Vapor Glove 2s are great. Of course, the colorways in the Vapor Glove 2 are still attention getting, but in a good way. Spicy orange is NOT a subtle color. It’s a very red orange that stands out with the multitude of grays in the upper. Personally, I believe that the color combinations of the Vapor Glove are very attractive. Not as gawdy as the indigo rave splashes that you would get with the Bikila EVO or many other shoes. The Vapor Glove is understated with a splash of color and you make it more subtle with new laces or—as I would recommend—lock laces, which are basically a replacement Lace System for traditional laces: just thread through the bungees, slot yourself into the right fit, and go running (I might just be bad at tying my shoes….). The laces are flat (unlike the original round type) and work better for getting a tighter tie.

Summary

Overall, the Merrell Vapor Glove 2 is an amazing running shoe and is one of the best closed-toe minimalist shoes on the market for barefoot enthusiasts, especially if you have narrow or average-shaped feet. For me, if Merrell just offered them with a wider toe box, they would be just about perfect—which means that many of you guys will find it to be excellent right out of the box. If you’re looking for a pair, Zappos seems to be one of the few online retailers that has them. If you are in need of something for wider feet, then I cannot praise the KSO EVO enough. For those looking to transition into minimalism, I would recommend the thicker Topo ST, Skora Fit, Bikila EVO, or Merrells’ own Trail Glove 3, but if you a lover of barefooting, the Vapor Glove is only matched by the KSO EVO. Merrell is continuing its minimalist offerings with the latest Trail Glove 3 and Vapor Glove 2, but their dedication to barefoot shoes has definitely diminished with its latest generation. If you love the new Vapor Glove, let them know and hopefully they will keep innovating!