If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you’ll know that I’m a big fan of Merrell. I like their shoes, I like the company, and I’ve had nothing but positive interactions with the people who work there. Over the past year I’ve done quite a bit of running in the Merrell Trail Glove (read my Merrell Trail Glove review here), and it has also seen quite a bit of causal use. While the Trail Glove is a great all-around shoe, my one complaint about it has to do with the design of the heel. Because the sole under the heel is slightly rounded, it tends to put pressure on my heel in an odd way when I stand or walk around in them, and sometimes it bugs me if running on a hard surface (not much of a problem on trails, which as the name implies are the intended terrain).
I’ve been in regular contact with the folks from Merrell for quite awhile now, and when asked about what I’d look for in a road version of the shoe, my immediate response was a flatter sole under the heel. That’s all that would really be needed to convert the Trail Glove into a solid, barefoot-style road shoe.
Back in September, I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion in NYC with reps from Merrell, as well as a bunch of fellow bloggers, writers, and running experts. While at the meeting, Merrell gave each of us with a pair of the much anticipated Road Glove. I was pleased to see that they had indeed altered the sole construction, and it was significantly wider and flatter than that of the Trail Glove (see comparison below). They also filled in the area under the lateral midfoot a bit, which allows the entire outside length of the foot to easily contact the ground when standing. These two changes have resulted in a very solid minimalist road shoe.
Soles of the Merrell Road Glove (left) and Merrell Trail Glove (right). Note the wider, flatter heel of the Road Glove.
The Merrell Road Glove retains pretty much all that I liked about the Trail Glove. It’s lightweight (7.3 oz in my size 10), has a very roomy toebox, is extremely flexible, and provides excellent ground feel. The sole thickness is officially listed as 11mm in both the heel and forefoot, making it a zero drop, low-to-the-ground shoe (the Trail Glove is listed at 10mm, so maybe just a tad more cushion in the RG). A number of people I know have commented on the fact that the Road Glove seems to have a bit more contour under the arch than the Trail Glove – I would agree. Arch support doesn’t bother me, and I’d hesitate to call this true “support” as the area under the arch is cut out (i.e., the sole under the arch does not contact the ground – this is the gray region in the photo above). Rather, Merrell has gone with the phrase “Glove” to describe their barefoot shoes, and the midsole material curves up and hugs the arch closely to give a glove-like fit. Again, it does not bother me, and it’s possible that the midsole will develop some additional flex in this area as the shoes break in. But, if you are highly sensitive to material under your arch, this could be an issue.
Internally, the integrated sockliner of the Road Glove is nicely constructed and is designed for sockless running. I still tend to get heel blisters when I attempt to run sockless in Merrell Barefoot shoes, and I would love to seem a version with a bit of softer cushioning ringing the inside of the ankle collar, particularly in the region behind the Achilles tendon. The somewhat stiff lip behind my Achilles tends to rub my skin and dig in a bit, though it seems to be a bit less of a problem in this shoe than it is in the Trail and Sonic Gloves.
As far as performance goes, the Road Glove is an excellent choice if you are looking for a barefoot-style minimalist shoe to use on hard surfaces. The thin sole allows for ground feel similar to what you would find in some of the more built up versions of the Vibram Fivefingers (e.g., Bikila, Trek, Komodo Sport), but it does so without having little pockets for each toe (which can be a plus or minus depending on your personal preferences). The tread on the Road Glove is also sufficient enough to make this shoe usable for many trail situations. There is no rock plate (it is a road shoe after all!), but the outsole is fairly rugged and it should handle rocks and debris fairly well (I have not done any serious trail running in them, just going based on a comparison with the Trail Glove sole).
I also find the Road Glove to be an excellent choice as a casual, zero drop shoe. If running in a thin-soled, zero drop shoe is something you want attempt, getting used to wearing such a shoe around and about is a good way to start. Some are a bit hesitant to do this with a shoe like the Fivefingers, but the Road Glove looks like a pretty normal, albeit very flat, low-profile shoe. I used them as my recovery shoe between legs of the Ragnar relay I ran a few weeks back, and they felt great on my fatigued feet.
I would offer one comment about aesthetics. The Trail Glove is a great looking shoe, but when I look at the Road Glove I can’t help but feel like something is missing. I think it might be that the sides of the shoe are just too plain. I almost feel like Merrell should be a bit more willing to splash their logo around – the Merrell “M” placed on the outer middle panel might do the trick and also help them to gain a bit more brand recognition (my feeble design attempt below…).
The Merrell Road Glove takes the successful design of its sibling, the Trail Glove, and adapts it for the roads. The result is an excellent minimalist road shoe, and a great option if all you are looking for is a zero drop shoe to use for casual wear. I’m quite impressed with the sole of this shoe, and actually wish that this sole was the base for some of the other Merrell Barefoot shoes that I have worn rather than that of the Trail Glove – it’s a much more comfortable sole for standing and walking on hard surfaces. While I don’t have plans of running a marathon in a barefoot-style shoe anytime soon, the Road Glove will get lots of use as the weather warms up and the snow clears off the roads and sidewalks. This one has earned a place in my regular rotation.