Merrell Mix Master Lightweight Trail Running Shoe: Preview and First Impressions

Merrell Mix MasterMerrell made quite a splash in 2011 at the minimal end of the running shoe spectrum with its Merrell Barefoot lineup. The Merrell Trail Glove is a fantastic shoe, and remains one of my personal favorites, and they have a selection of zero drop shoes more suitable for road running coming out in the next few months (the barefoot-style Road Glove and the zero drop but cushioned Bare Access). Merrell has now begun to diversify a bit into the lightweight trail running category with its introduction of the Merrell Mix Master, a 4mm drop, cushioned trail shoe.

To be clear at the outset, the Mix Master is not part of the Merrell Barefoot lineup. It is intended as a lightweight trail running shoe to compete with the likes of the Saucony Peregrine, Brooks Pure Grit, and the forthcoming New Balance MT110. I received a pair of the Mix Master from Merrell last week (disclosure: these shoes are a review pair provided free of charge from the manufacturer), and thought I’d share my first impressions after spending a day in them and taking them out on a 5 mile trail run.

Merrell Mix Master Lateral

Merrell Mix Master Inside

My first impression upon putting the Mix Master on was that it felt a bit narrower than the Trail Glove. However, after spending a day in them, I’ve concluded that though the fit is slightly different, they are at least as roomy on my feet as the Trail Gloves. Measuring across the forefoot puts them in the same league as the New Balance MT101 and Minimus Trail MT10 – thus, there should be plenty of space up front for most people.

Merrell Mix Master Top

As mentioned above, the Mix Master is a 4mm drop shoe, and I measure a sole thickness of 18mm in the heel and 14mm in the forefoot (with the insole removed). The insole of the Mix Master is a bit thicker in the heel, and adds 2mm to the drop, making this a 6mm drop shoe with the insole in. Insoles are easy to swap out, so this is not too big a deal, and the foot bed under the insole consists of a thin layer of orange foam, so it should be possible to run without the insole to increase shoe volume if more space is needed. Arch support is definitely noticeable with the insole in place, but much less so when the insole is removed.

Merrell Mix Master Sole

Although reasonably well cushioned (though not as soft as the Saucony Peregrine, with which it shares the most similarity among trail shoes that I have worn), the sole of the Mix Master is surprisingly flexible. The outsole is studded with oval shaped lugs, and there is a rock plate in the forefoot (you can see it in orange in the photo above). Because the lugs are flat and do not protrude too much, this shoe can be used on the road, though I would not recommend it as a full-time road shoe. On my five mile run I hit quite a bit of varied terrain, including a rocky spillway, gravel, a bit of asphalt, and quite a long stretch of trail covered by a thin layer of ice and snow. Traction was sufficient on most surfaces, but might not be as good in mud or on very slick surfaces. Protection from rocks was excellent.

Merrell Mix Master RearThe upper of the Mix Master is a bit more substantial than that on a shoe like the Trail Glove, particularly in the rear part of the shoe. There is a stiff heel counter, and the collar around the ankle is cushioned (I prefer the cushioning here as the ankle collar on the Trail Glove digs into the skin over my Achilles if I run sockless in them). The upper of the rest of the shoe is more minimal – it consists of an internal layer of open mesh and an outer layer of thin, highly breathable monofilament mesh. This combination is actually very similar to that of the original Saucony Kinvara, though the outer layer of mesh is more similar to that found on the Kinvara 2.

In terms of weight, my pair come in at 9.3oz in size 10, though removing the insole knocks that down to 8.6. This places the Mix Master at the upper end of the lightweight trail shoe spectrum.

Summary and Thoughts

This review is obviously very preliminary as I have only had the chance to run in this shoe once, so I’ll update as needed as I get more miles in. I see the Mix Master as Merrell’s first attempt to venture beyond their Barefoot collection into lightweight trail running shoes. This makes sense from a business standpoint as lightweight running shoes are selling like crazy these days, and they can serve as gateway shoes for those interested in dropping further down the minimal scale. I personally still use a shoe with a bit more substance for long runs and races (not that I’ve done many lately!), so a shoe like the Mix Master has a definite place in my rotation.

The Mix Master has some stiff competition in the lightweight, 4mm drop trail shoe niche, with competitors like the Saucony Peregrine, Brooks Pure Grit, La Sportiva X-Country, Salomon Fellcross, and soon-to-arrive New Balance MT110. Of those just mentioned, I have only run in the Peregrine and the MT110, so my ability to compare is limited. However, I would say that the Mix Master is a bit roomier, more flexible, and not quite as soft as the Peregrine, and I have had some issues with the sole of the MT110. Regarding the latter, I’ll address the issue in more detail when I write up my review of the MT110, but in short my pair is thicker laterally than medially, and a 10 mile trail run in them triggered a mild case of posterior tibial tendonitis – trying to find out more about whether this is a design element or if I just got a lemon. Regardless, the Mix Master should compete well with both of these shoes, and with a bit more time I should have a better feel for how I would rank them – stay tuned!

The Merrell Mix Master is currently available at Revolution Natural Running, and should soon be available at Running Warehouse.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Stephen Boulet says:

    Anyone know whether Merrell will have a kinvara-type road shoe at some point?

  2. I was really excited when i first saw these, however, it subsided a little when i saw the outsole pattern. Its a shame that Merrell havent put slightly more agressive concave lugs on this shoe. Still i think it will still hold up well in a fairly wide range of conditions, particularly for people running fairly well groomed trails.

    Like you Pete, I prefer a bit of extra cushioning under a low heel drop shoe, especially for the millage i put in. Its great to see Merrell moving into that market.

  3. Steve Kooyman says:

    Any updates on feel/performance of Mix Master 2 shoes out this month?

  4. Thanks Pete.
    Have been running in Merrell Trail Glove and love the wider forefoot fit of that shoe, but need a bit more cushioning overall at times. Glad to hear the Mix Master fit is similar in width. Are they consistent with Trail Gloves in length too? Most running shoes I wear a 12.5, but fit fine in a 12 Trail Glove.

  5. Alejandro Gibbon says:

    Anyone knows what happened with the Mix Master?. They were suddenly removed from runningwarehouse’s and zappo’s inventories. They are not listed in Merrell’s web page either. Weird.

  6. Thanks for the preview on this shoe.  I’m definitely in the market for something with a little more cushioning than the barefoot line or the minimus line, but not as beefy as the Peregrine.  Looking forward to your MT110 review, and how it compares to this.  But by all means, determine whether the sole issue is a lemon or something inherent in the design.

    • I ordered a pair of these and had them shipped to Australia and have had them for almost a week. Have done a 8k and 10k run so far and really love them. Was after something light but with more cushioning then VFFs. Trying to train up for my first marathon so I’m hoping they work out.

  7. The new balance minimus road (4mm offset) has the same issue with the lateral edge being thicker than the medial edge. We’ve had a hard time selling it as a result. I personally own a pair and have gotten used to it after a few days of casual use but will likely not run in it.

    Not sure why they would design it that way. Our rep tells us they have not heard that feedback from other accounts but we have to wonder since everyone who tries them on feels it immediately.

    • Thinking about it I’ve had nagging issues with my MT10. Always
      attributed it to the unprotected sole and the furry foot-bed.  Relegated
      to dog walking.  Really like the MT10 upper and last so pre-ordered
      MT110. Bit nervous but we’ll see how it goes.
      Sorry about hijacking your thread

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thinking about this a bit more, I’ve never been able to comfortably run in the original Minimus Road – wonder if this has something to do with it…

    • Pete Larson says:

      Eric – have you tried on the MT110 yet? Curious if you have noticed the slant. I have a pair of Minimus Roads, but never noticed it in that shoe. The MT110s cause my ankles to roll in just standing in them – not as noticeable when runnning in them on a trail, but they clearly had an effect on my tib posterior, probably because of excessively rapid overpronation caused by the slant.

      • TrailRunner says:

        Pete – have you used the 110s much since this post? Curious to hear the status of the post-tib concern. Has it subsided or do you continue to feel the discomfort after using the shoes?

        Tony K (who helped design the shoe, as you know) has mentioned lingering “shin” pain throughout most of 2011 and into 2012. Wondering if the shoe is the problem?

        • Pete Larson says:

          I have not because the shoes make my feet tilt noticeably inward. I won’t run in them until I hack away at the lugs on the lateral outsole to see if I can fix the problem. Don’t want to risk another post tib issue, and I have been told about Tony K’s problems. Does seem a bit coincidental.

      • I have a pair of the MT110s, and have not noticed the slant at all.  Strange.

  8. Simon Duennenberger says:

    I’ve bought a pair of Merrell Mix Masters 3 month ago and I really like running in them.
    But after using them just once in a forrest, the upper layer is disrupted on many places. It’s a mess!

    Do you know a shoe that’s similar to the Merrell Mix Master?

  9. Ghgreyhound10 says:

    Pete,
    How do these compare to the MT101?  I really like those for hiking and walking.  I am not a big fan of the zero drop Merrell trail glove.  Thanks

    • Pete Larson says:

      It’s a bit more substantial of a shoe than the MT101, but has about half the drop from heel to forefoot. Fit is somewhat similar to the MT101 and should work well on a similar range of surfaces.

  10. Scott in Houston says:

    When I went looking for new trail shoes last Spring, I found (a) massively overbuilt shoes that felt like wearing casts, and (b) minimalist shoes that felt like wearing aqua-socks. I would have like to see a shoe like this: lightweight and low-drop but not truly minimalist. (I wonder, is this destined to be the Skechers GoRun’s of trail shoes?)

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