Barefoot Shoes

Merrell Vapor Glove – Running, Crossfit Review

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…

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.

By Greg

Greg is a runner, CrossFitter, trainer, and self-proclaimed geek. He also blogs on [url=]intellectual engagement, fitness, nutrition, and more at[/url] and [url=]writes fiction over at[/url].

11 replies on “Merrell Vapor Glove – Running, Crossfit Review”

The main complaint (under “what doesn’t”) here seems to be that these lack individual toe pockets / are a traditional closed sneaker. It seems to me that’s an unfair criticism.

The vapor gloves strives to be the most minimal shoe in a traditional form out there. It seems to me that all reviews, including this one, agree that it succeeds admirably in that regard.

If you prefer toe shoes, or sandals, or bare feet, then fine. But evaluate this based on what it intends to be. Would you fault a huarache for not covering the tops of your feet very well?

Also, the “final thoughts” seem out of line with the review. The overall feedback seems very positive, with lots of positives and only a few negatives. Yet the final thoughts won’t even recommend the vapor glove. I felt like I was reading the conclusion to a different review.

love these – to me – they are very close to the minimalist feel you get from seeyas (and signas)

i dont wear them for running though i think they would be my first choice cept i love my seeyas

i do wear them alot though – especially its nice to be minimalist w/o being the ‘toe shoed ambassador’ if you catch my drift

a pair – or two 😉 – should be in every minimalist runners arsenal imo


@Rich – The lack of toe pockets is something I’ve not mentioned in other reviews without complaint. The reason it sticks out so obviously here is because the Vapor Glove is SO thin and minimalist that keeping a closed toe box becomes exceedingly obvious. It deserves mention for that reason, as having a fully closed toe box on something this thin creates a sort of “pull” on the other toes that a normal sneaker would not. Also, you can’t really expect to call your shoe a “glove” and not have that aspect critiqued.

I also do agree that there are more positives than negatives, but that still doesn’t necessarily make it a definite buy. I think the shoe holds it’s own but it doesn’t knock it out of the park. $80 is still a lot of money to most folks. I prefer to invest in gear that knocks it out of the park, not just stuff that performs adequately.

The vapor glove is a passably good shoe. But it’s not a game changer.

My vapor gloves are the best minimalist none toe shoes I’ve worn (which is lots I should be a reviewer!). Once I factor in the price versus say a pair of KSO (which they feel highly similar to) the Vapor Glove wins easily. I’m in the UK and the price difference between getting these or Five Fingers is truly massive. (I wear/wore KSO, Classic, Bikila, Sprint, Inov-8 Baregrip, Inov-8 Bare-X 200, NB MT00 – also excellent, Merrell Trail Glove, Vivobarefoot Neo and Breazy Lite – also good)

I appreciate the sentiments of the toe pocket criticism but would claim it’s pretty minor.

I’ve been wearing these as my every day shoes since April of this year. After just over 6 months I have 3 rather large holes in the fabric where it attaches to the rubber on top of the toes. Rather unfortunate, but these do not seem to be very durable. The fabric snags very easily so I have some snags that I believe will develop into holes. Already looking into replacing these.

This review is silly.
You praise the shoe, yet don’t tell us the negatives, but you can’t recommend it based on a cartoon you found on Youtube.
In plain english, you contradict yourself rather badly.
Grow up.

I am considering getting a pair but I will need to import it and won’t have the option of trying it on which is bad. Could you tell me what size you tried and what size of VFF you wear? I wear a US10/EU44 Nike Free, EU43 VFF Sport so hoping a size 10 of this would be ok.

DGL – looks like you entirely skipped over the “what doesn’t” section. It’s probably a good idea to read an entire article before commenting. Also, if you could let me know what contradictions you found I’d be glad to address them. As for the cartoon link — it was a joke. The review is hardly “based” on that. Relax, fella. It’s a shoe review, not a free trade agreement.

Nirudha – After wearing these for a few more months I wouldn’t recommend importing them. They’re not worth the additional cost.

I’m trying to fine the vapor shoes in women size 12. Can you tell me if they come in that size and where I can find them.

These are exceedingly comfortable, but as you say, when compared with the EL-X these feel like something “less natural”. The toe box really stands out as a social conformity, but that’s exactly why I bought these. I wear them mostly to the office (in black, obviously) with toe socks, where they don’t stand out under a sharp pair of pants. I used to wear the tough glove for this purpose, but in summer the leather is just way too warm.

I agree though that the fabric rips real easy; cycling through the woods a branch simply tore right through the fabric.

With toe socks these are the most comfortable “normal” shoes you can wear without getting a lot of attention. I really recommend them.


I just got the newest model of Merrell’s vapour glove (2). Regarding size I normally take anything between a UK 9 and 10 for normal runners. I ordered a size 8 (42 European Size) and they fit really good. I can still manage to wear a sock with them on colder days but very comfortable with or without socks. Overall impressions so far are very good. If unsure about size I’d recommend dropping a full size down.

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