Amazon HOLIDAY SALE: Save 25% off shoe purchases with code 25OFFSHOES
Running Warehouse: Great prices on closeout shoes! View men's and women's selections.

Merrell Bare Access Running Shoe Review: Zero Drop, Cushioned, and a Great Fit

IMG_3216This afternoon I ran 14.2 miles in the Merrell Bare Access shoes. This was the longest run I’ve done since the 2011 Boston Marathon, and the first run longer than half-marathon distance that I’ve done in a zero drop shoe since probably 2010. I’m happy to report that the run went very well, and the shoes performed spectacularly!

The Bare Access is Merrell’s contribution to the zero-drop, cushioned shoe niche, where it competes with shoes like the Altra Instinct, New Balance MR00, Saucony Hattori, and the soon to be released Skechers Go Bionic, Saucony Virrata, and Brooks Pure Drift. For me, these shoes nail a sweet spot by being flat, but also by providing enough cushion to take the edge off on a longish run. Along with 4-5 mm drop cushioned shoes, shoes in this category find their way onto my feet for most of my miles these days, and the Bare Access is one that has been on my feet as much as any other shoe over the past several months.

IMG_3211IMG_3212

The Bare Access scores big points with me for its fit. It’s one of those shoes that feels as if it were made just for my foot. Snug in the heel and midfoot (but not overly narrow in the midfoot like the NB MR00), it opens up into an ample forefoot that provides plenty of room for my metatarsals and toes to spread out. It does have a bit of contour under the arch, but this doesn’t bother me at all, and it feels less prominent than in the Merrell Road Glove. The Bare Access is a ridiculously comfortable shoe, and it’s one of the first that I reach for when choosing something for all-day use (if you’re looking for a zero drop shoe for casual, non-running use, this is a great choice) .

IMG_3217

The upper of the Bare Access is well-made and seems to be very durable. The mesh upper allows the shoes to breathe well, and internally it feels great on a bare foot. The footbed is non-removable, but there are no raised edges where it is stitched in to cause blister issues (a problem for me in some shoes with integrated footbeds). Unfortunately though, sockless running is not possible for me in this shoe because like many shoes in the Merrell Barefoot line (e.g., Trail, Sonic, and Road Gloves), the ankle collar digs into the skin behind my Achilles tendon in a fierce way – damage has been done on the few occasions I’ve attempted to run in the Bare Access without socks. Fortunately, socks do take care of the problem. If I had one suggestion for Merrell (and this applies to most shoes in the Barefoot line), it would be to add some cushion inside the ankle collar, particularly behind the Achilles.

IMG_3215

The Bare Access also scores points with me by being very lightweight. Running Warehouse lists it at 5.7 oz in size 9, and the shoe feels very light in hand.

The midsole is 13mm thick in both heel and forefoot, and there are Vibram rubber patches on the heel and across the forefoot (see photo above). Interestingly, after 40+ miles of running and a substantial amount of casual use, I see virtually no wear on the Vibram rubber patches (see photo below). The lack of any wear on the heel suggests that I’m landing midfoot-forefoot when I run in these shoes – in shoes with more heel lift like the Saucony Guide 5 or Adidas Adios 2 I still tend to scuff the heels up, though not nearly as much as a I used to when I first started running. I still firmly believe that heel-toe drop is a major factor in determining how my foot contacts the ground when I run.

The one spot where I am seeing considerable scuffing is on the forefoot in front of the Vibram rubber patches. I’ve seen this reported by a few people, but I don’t think it’s a significant problem. The EVA used to make the midsole seems to scuff really easily, and the surface gets kind of stringy/fuzzy. But, it seems more like surface scuff only and it does not appear to be wearing down excessively – it’s kind of hard to describe in words. One other note about the sole – I have seen a small amount of peeling of the Vibram forefoot patch away from the midsole – it has not progressed beyond just the front edge under the big toe coming loose, and it should be an easy fix with a bit of Loctite vinyl/fabric glue.

IMG_3477

On the run, the sole of the Bare Access is quite firm, and it is a bit stiff from front to back (it does flex quite well under the forefoot though). I can imagine the shoe would be a bit slappy if you are a heel striker in it, but this has not caused me any problems. I actually found them very comfortable on my 14 miler today, and my feet and legs felt great (happily, calf soreness from running zero drop seems to be a thing of the past for me).

So how does the Bare Access stack up compared to other zero-drop, cushioned shoes? For me, it’s a better fit through the midfoot when compared to the New Balance Minimus Road MR00 (and lacks that lateral sole bump in the MR00 – if you own that shoe you know what I mean), and it’s significantly lighter than the Altra Instinct. As such, if I had to choose one of the three it would probably be the Bare Access. My other favorite in the zero-drop, cushioned niche is the Skechers Go Bionic – it’s the most flexible of any of the shoes mentioned and fits me great, but has a much softer feel than the others, so that’s a differentiator. If you like a firmer sole in a zero drop shoe, the Bare Access is a great choice.

All-in-all, the Merrell Bare Access is a fine choice if you’re looking for a zero-drop, cushioned shoe with a roomy forefoot – it’s a perfect pick for someone looking to try zero drop for the first time. For me it’s a very versatile shoe that I use for both running and all-day casual wear, and for that reason it will likely stay in my primary shoe rack and remain part of my regular footwear rotation.

Running Warehouse: Great prices on closeout shoes! View men's and women's selections.
Amazon.com: 25% or more off clearance running shoes - click here to view current selection.
Trivllage: Save 18% on run, swim, and cycle gear. Use Code: RBTri18.

Recent Posts By Category: Running Shoe Reviews | Running Gear Reviews | Running Science

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. I just started running in Altra’s Instinct. How does the cushioning compare between the two (especially given the weight difference)?

  2. I love these shoes. Very light, and just a little cushion. My only gripe is the arch under the midfoot. After adapting to the flat footbed of Vivobarefoot and Lemings, it feels awkward for the first half-mile or so in the bare access.

  3. Kat nowak says:

    I have the merrell women’s bare access arc 2 and I can not say enough good things about them. I was never much of a runner but this shoe helped me learn to enjoy running and they are so lightweight that I feel like nothing is holding me back! Love them!

  4. I have this shoe and love it. So much so that I bought a second pair just for casual wear! Love the fit and look. I’ve only run up to 5 miles in them, but they feel great. I’ve noticed the same wear patterns on the toes, so will have to keep an eye on that. Nice review!

  5. PMiller says:

    good review, this is one of my favorite shoes and I agree with nearly everything stated except the ankle collar issue. Then again I wear toe sock liners with these and they have a little protection on the achilles. In regards to the toe wear on the sole, I’ve read elsewhere that the Bare Access 2 will have an all-Vibram outsole.

  6. I’ve been runnning this shoe now for a couple of kms, too. I come to the same conclusion as you, Pete. The only concern I have as a forefoot striker (if there is such a thing, at all) is that the lateral EVA chewed away very quickly. The Vibram rubber patch should extend over the entire width. Or at least over the lateral edge (like the NB MR00 for example).

    I also find the slight arch support bump annoying (but this is just a very minor annoyance).

    Regarding sizing: Runningwarehouse & Co suggest to go 1/2 smaller with this. I can’t support this. I got both sizes, smaller and regular running shoe size, and stuck with my regular shoe size (US 10 for Brooks PureFlow, Kinvara, PureGrit & Co)

    I’d love to see a Trail Version of the Bare Access. A MixMaster with 0 mm perhaps? Dreams ….

    Greetings from across the pond.

  7. Ive been running in the Bare access for 3-4 months now. I bought them to rotate with my Trail gloves. I had been previously running in the trail gloves on 100% of my runs but wanted a bit of cushion for longer runs.
    The bare access has performed perfectly and is much more gentle on the feet than trail glove, although I find the cushioning equates to slower muscle reaction to ground contact and therefore slightly slower, more ‘relaxed’ gait.
    This said, I wear them for 75% of my ‘commuting’ runs to work when speed is largely irrelevant.
    Durability has been fine, the EVA (non-vibram) parts of the sole got a little scuffed but haven’t degraded much overall.
    The EVA can get penetrated by sharp objects and I pulled a large piece of glass out of the sole one day, luckily it did not get through to my foot!
    I hated the ‘arch bump’ when the shoes were new, but after 1-2 months the feeling largely diappears as the sole compresses and moulds to the foot.
    I suspect the ‘arch bump’ is a side-effect of the thick EVA in the middle of the show contrasted against the firm vibram sections, and is not intentional ‘support’.
    I will be buying another pair when I kill these ones

  8. Nick Elkins says:

    Thanks Pete, this review helped me to decide to buy these for my first pair of zero-drop shoes. I’m really excited, thanks!

  9. Took this shoe out for 8.5 miles this morning.
    I have run about 50 miles in these and also have concerns about the EVA getting torn up. Mine is very beat up already. I also agree with another poster that I found my normal shoe size fit great, a half size down too small. The wide toe box is great!
    Love the fit as an everyday shoe, but have noticed a bit of ankle pain since I added this to the running rotation. It is much more firm than the Hattori. Not sure if there is a relation, but I never had this issue with the softer Hattori. The EVA seems to be holding up better in the Hattori as well.
    I also had an issue running sockless. It cut into my left ankle after about 5 miles. Maybe just a variant? No issue with socks.
    The arch “bump” is much less pronounced in this shoe than the Trail/Road glove. I noticed it at first, but got use to it very quickly.
    Great shoe overall. Thanks for the review Pete. Keep up the great work!

  10. Stephen Boulet says:

    Pete, any thoughts on this shoe for a marathon distance?

  11. Savannah John says:

    Looks like my next shoe since the Green Silence is being discontinued.

  12. Caleb from MT says:

    Hi, Pete great review as always. I normally run in the Altra Instinct, but I have been looking for a similar shoe with a weight reduction such as the bare access. My question is regarding the toe box. I used to run in trail gloves, however since switching to a more minimalist style of running and walking, my toes have spread out tremendously and the trail gloves don’t fit me in the toe box anymore. That is with a a size 12. When I went to a size 13 in the trail gloves the shoe was too sloppy and I bottomed out the laces before the shoe was tight enough. Is the toebox in this shoe the same as with the trail glove? Thanks

    • Pete Larson says:

      The fit is similar to the Trail Glove, though I feel there may be a bit more volume in the forefoot as the material on the Bare Access seems to give a bit more.
      Sent from my iPad

  13. 1 Stop Run Shop says:

    Pete, I’ve gone back and fourth on Merrell as my next brand of running shoe and appreciate your thorough reviews.

  14. John Moore says:

    I ran my fastest ever marathon in these on Sunday (2:59), and they did the job just fine. My calves are a bit beaten up, possibly because of the zero-drop (I’d done a lot of miles in these shoes before Sunday but nothing longer than 16 miles, and the shoes I normally use for longer training runs, NB MT101s, have a slight heel-toe drop). Could just have been running on empty the last 3-4 miles, though!

    The strange thing with these is that when I first bought them I didn’t really like them and couldn’t get fully comfortable in them. I discovered after a while, though, that if I did the laces in a certain way they were great – they’re much more sensitive to how you lace them than any other shoes I’ve worn. I love them now!

  15. Do you know of a zero drop shoe that has even a bit more cushion (i.e. higher than 13/13 mm?) Regards..

    • Pete Larson says:

      Altra Instinct has a bit more, and the Skechers Go Bionic comes out in a few weeks and has a softer feel underfoot.
      Sent from my iPad

  16. jerry pangilinan says:

    Could you explain what the difference is between this shoe and the Road Glove? Is it that the Bare Access has more cushion–and is therefore less minimalist–than the Road Glove? (Apologies if you explained this in your review above…) Thanks!

  17. Pete Good says:

    Nice review Pete. I bough these the other day as a casual shoe, although I might try them on a run at some stage

  18. 1 Stop Run Shop says:

    How would you compare these with the series from Inov-8?

  19. The stiff ankle collar was too much for me in this shoe, though I’ve always had tight achilles. Just could not get over all the unnecessary digging even when wearing socks. I still run in my Instincts about one day a week, and wear them casually almost every day. Really wanted to like the Bare Access due to it’s weight reduction, but they had to go back. I agree that all the Merrell line bothers my achilles in the same way.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I don’t think it would take much to fix this problem either — hopefully we’ll see improvements in subsequent models.
      Sent from my iPad

Speak Your Mind

*