I’ve written frequently here on Runblogger about my affinity for the Vibram Fivefingers shoes. I currently have three pairs (VFF Bikila, KSO, and Trek Sport), and find them to be great tools for both form work and leg/foot strengthening workouts (I’m not a full-time zero drop runner). Until recently, the Vibrams were really the only barefoot-style/ultraminimal shoe that I had worn on the run (I recently gave the Terra Plana EVO II a try, but sent them back since I could feel the forefoot material rubbing on my toes – toe blisters have apparently been problematic for some in the EVO). In early January I was sent a media sample of the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove to try out and review, and after having put about 50 miles on them, I confident that I can say they are a worthy competitor to the Vibrams.
This has been a tough winter for running here in New Hampshire. In addition to being on the cold side, we’ve had a ton of snow, and the sidewalks have been covered by packed snow and ice since mid-December. As such, I’ve had little option but to run most of my miles in trail shoes with decent traction – the Merrell Trail Gloves, New Balance MT101, and Saucony Peregrine have found themselves on my feet most often over the past two months. I’ll eventually get to reviews of the latter two (I like both, and they are quite different from one another and the Merrells), but in this post I’d like to share my thoughts on the Merrell Trail Glove.
News of the Merrell Barefoot line of shoes came out last summer, and the partnership between Merrell and Vibram got a lot of minimalist runners excited about what was to come. I’m happy to say that Merrell does not disappoint. The Trail Glove is a fine shoe, and a worthy alternative to the Vibrams.
Here are my thoughts:
Appearance: The Trail Glove is a fairly conservative shoe in terms of looks, which is probably a selling point for some when compared to the attention-drawing Vibram Fivefingers “toe shoes.” I like them quite a bit from an appearance standpoint – subdued but attractive, and not likely to turn heads despite the fact that they are true barefoot-style shoes (I use this term with trepidation as I know that no shoe can really simulate barefoot running – don’t yell at me!). Not much else to say here.
Fit and Construction: I don’t have any past experience with Merrell shoes, but have been told repeatedly by others that they make a high-quality product. The Trail Glove certainly fits this bill. The shoe is very well made, and looks like it will be highly durable. Unlike the pair of New Balance Minimus Trail shoes that I was sent, these are free from manufacturing defects, and the lack of the metatarsal band found in the Minimus Trail makes the fit much less restrictive on my feet. I suspect I will be able to get a lot of miles out of these shoes before a replacement is required.
The toebox in the Trail Glove is plenty wide (see photo above), and my toes have more than enough room to spread out when I run (my foot is average width, though I think it has widened some over the past few years of minimalist running). The shoe is also suitable for sockless running, though their was a small piece of loose material inside that caused some abrasion on the side of my right foot – a snip with a pair of scissors seems to have taken care of that.
One aspect of construction that does feel a bit odd is the contour of the sole. The heel and forefoot are a bit rounded from the inner to outer margin (you can see this in the U-shaped profile of the heel in the photo to the right), and this makes the shoe feel a tad unstable underfoot when standing still in them. Doesn’t seem to be much of a problem when I run though. Some have also complained that the shoe is a bit snug in the arch – not arch support per se, but just a tighter fit – this has not bothered me.
Finally, I can confirm that these are true zero-drop shoe – Running Warehouse lists the Trail Glove at 12mm heel and 12mm forefoot. Weight in size 9 is listed as 7.0 oz. Thus, these are most definitely placed near the barefoot-style end of the minimalist spectrum.
Performance: The Trail Glove has performed admirably so far for me this winter. Of the 50 or so miles I have run in them so far, the vast majority have either been on packed snow or icy sidewalks, and I have yet to slip once. Traction in these shoes via the Vibram sole is very good, and the fact that they are true zero-drop shoes means that it’s very easy to maintain a compact, mid-foot or forefoot stride (see video below). One thing I have noticed this winter is that I have had very little problem running on slick surfaces, and I think my stride transformation has helped a lot with this – it’s a lot harder to slip when you don’t overstride with your heel out front.
In terms of feel, the closest comparison I can make is that the Trail Glove feels a lot like the Vibram Trek Sport underfoot. The sole is similar in terms of ground feel permitted, which is not as much as the Vibram KSO, but far more than a typical running shoe. They also solve one problem I have with the Trek Sport – fit is better. I find that Vibrams can sometimes be tricky in terms of sizing because of the toe pockets. My KSO’s are a tad large, and the Trek Sports are a tad snug – I think I’d probably be best in a size 41.5, but Vibram doesn’t make half sizes. Merrell overcomes this problem since the lack of individual toe pockets allows for a bit more leeway in terms of sizing.
I find the Trail Glove to be very comfortable out on the road. On a few of my initial runs I felt a strange kind of cramping sensation in the arch on my right foot, which scared me at first, but it doesn’t seem to have re-occurred on my more recent runs. I suspect it may have been just an adjustment to the shoe, but will pay close attention going forward. I’ve done a few 7-8 mile runs in them without issue, and suspect that they will be a regular part of my rotation going forward.
Conclusion: For those wishing to go full-time into an ultraminimal shoe, the Trail Glove would be an excellent choice. If full-time ultraminimal running is not your thing, the Merrell Trail Glove is a great choice for form work and/or strengthening as an alternative to the Vibrams. Perhaps most importantly, because they lack the toes of the VFFs, fitting should be easier in the Merrell Barefoot shoes, and they will appeal as a more conservative zero-drop option for those not fond of the Fivefingers’ funky looks (which I personally still like). Merrell is also doing a nice job educating customers about how to run in a barefoot-style shoe, and I highly recommend that you visit Merrell’s barefoot education site. All in all, the Merrell Trail Glove is a great shoe.
The Merrell Trail Glove is now available at Running Warehouse – click on the banner below to check it out!