This review is long overdue. The Merrell Vapor Glove was released to great fanfare in February of this year, and almost immediately came the flood of fawning reviews. I think in the months since release I’ve only seen one negative review, with even that reviewer taking an almost apologetic tone — as if it’s a crime not to like these. Check out the pictures, look at the stats, and try a pair on. Then it quickly becomes clear why the Vapor Glove tends to inflame the passions of minimalist runners. Is it worth the hype? Read on to find out. Justin, our great and merciful Birthday Shoes overlord, already covered these with fantastic pictures and a very thorough first look back in October. Start there to get the background or if you’re mainly here to look at the pictures. Or if you want to check out our review of the women’s version, go here.

What you get

From Merrell’s website:
  • Barefoot construction
  • Breathable mesh upper
  • External TPU heel sling for contoured support
  • M-Select FRESH naturally prevents odor before it starts for fresh smelling feet
  • Reflective details for increased visibility in low light
  • Integrated microfiber footbed treated with Aegis®
  • Wash as needed in cold water (gentle cycle). Air dry
  • 0mm Drop / 0mm Cush / 5.5mm Stack Height
  • Vibram® outsole
Men’s Weight: 5oz (1/2 pair)
Main three details there: 5.5mm stack, 0mm drop, only 5 oz. This thing is thinner and lighter than most of my running shoes. The only two that beat it in the thinness department are the original Xero Shoes (4mm) and my FiveFingers SeeYas (3mm). It’s notable that Merrell has made something much closer to a traditional looking running shoe while keeping the specs very near those of huaraches and the lightest toe shoes out there.

A different kind of testing…

I’ve cut back on my long distance running ever since my March marathon. It’s not that I’ve abandoned running — far from it. Initially it was that I just needed a break. I’d been running myself into the ground and by the time the marathon came around I was just ready to be done. So I scaled back and started focusing more on my CrossFit training. Once running and I had taken a sufficient enough break to reevaluate our relationship with clear and unbiased eyes, I started looking into ways to train better and more efficiently. Which is what led me to CrossFit Endurance. The basic idea being less mileage, more interval and sprint training. Power and speed over distance. Intensity over volume. I wore the Vapor Glove to a two-day CrossFit Endurance seminar in order to give them some focused testing.

What works

These shoes go on easy, roll up like no full-coverage shoe I’ve ever seen, store well, and wash well. The sole is extremely flexible and exceptionally grippy. True to its name, the Vapor Glove fits as close and glove-like as a traditionally-toed sneaker can. (Calling them “Vapor Mittens” just doesn’t have the same panache.) These felt solid in a full sprint, which is the main time I’d think to wear these. But on the other hand if I was sprinting competitively I’m not sure they’re quite to that level; I would probably still select spikes/flats if we’re talking speed competition. Despite the thin, almost delicate-looking construction, you need only pick these up and then try them on to immediately gain faith in the toughness of the material. These are some strong, well-made shoes.

What doesn’t

For a shoe this thin, light, and form fitting, it becomes apparent exactly why it is that individual toe pockets might be necessary. The ability to move around so well but being constrained by a full toe box felt more obvious here. After running so often in FiveFingers or huaraches I feel as if my foot and brain have come to expect full coverage to mean clunky and greater toe freedom to mean light, flexible, and more maneuverable. Something about the thinness makes me think of very thin mittens in that you get some coverage while losing lots of targeted articulation. I felt like my feet couldn’t reconcile this well. It was like the uncanny valley of shoes. I also had a small quibble with the layout of the laces. The edging was piped, so the very bottom portion provides some resistance to properly tightening the laces. If you tighten them too much it bows inward or outward, creating a slight area of friction on top of the foot. Perhaps most attractive to many buyers is the price. At $80 these are a great deal.

For CrossFitters

I know these are supposed to be running shoes. Anytime I review a minimalist shoe and talk about it in terms of CrossFit, somebody always points out that they’re running shoes, or casual shoes, or whatever. I really do get it, guys. But I want to remind everyone that how an item is positioned in the market by the manufacturer or the marketing firm does not mean the item is limited to that function, nor is it even necessarily as good for that use as it might be for another. In my experience thus far, the best CrossFit shoes have not been the ones that were marketed as such. CrossFit-specific shoes have, for me at least, not been nearly as good as minimalist running shoes. The Vapor Glove continues this pattern. As far as full coverage shoes go, this has been one of the best I’ve tried for CrossFit. They’re responsive, spacious without being wobbly, thin enough to provide me with much more articulation than other sneakers, and light enough to make me forget they’re there even during hard workouts. I still like my FiveFingers or even barefoot for particular workouts, but if you’re looking for a truly minimal sneaker-style shoe for the gym go try on a pair of Vapor Gloves.

Final thoughts

I strive to provide both pros and cons of any shoe I review — even when coming up with one or the other is difficult. Typically shoes will fall very obviously towards one side or the other to the point where I know what I’m going to say in my review well before I write it. Others I’m less sure of and I come to a conclusion as I write out my review. In the case of the Vapor Glove, I came to the end of the review still quite uncertain. The Neutral President said it best. The Vapor Glove is the first shoe that I’m not sure I’d recommend nor dissuade someone from purchasing. It’s a very good shoe, but balanced out with its faults so equally leaves me with the sensation of it being just sort of “there.” Considering the raves these shoes have been getting I’m definitely in the smallest minority here. The only area in which I’d definitely recommend them is in price. There are a lot of minimalist shoe brands out there trending towards the more expensive end of the spectrum. $150ish dollars and the like. If you don’t want to run in huaraches and you don’t like having your toes separated a la FiveFingers, you can do a lot worse than an $80 pair of Vapor Gloves. Long story short: try them on and wear them around the store for a spell. Don’t buy them outright. Don’t just walk around a 4×4 square of carpet and do the typical toe-test. Give them a good, solid considering. See if you can get away with walking around REI doing the rest of your shopping in them. You’ll know if the Vapor Glove is right for you then. Note: The Vapor Glove can be had for $80 or less via REI (some on sale!) | Zappos | The Shoe Mart Further Vapor Glove reading: Justin’s initial review with photos/video | Erin’s women’s Vapor Glove review.