One of the things that I like about the Merrell Barefoot line is that they use the same last for all of the shoes in it. For example, today I spent the entire work day in a pair of brown leather Tough Gloves, and then finished the day with a 4 mile run in the new Bare Access 2. The fit of the two shoes is identical, so the transition was seamless.
The Bare Access 2 is the newest addition to the Merrell Barefoot line, and is the successor to a shoe that I like a lot and reviewed not too long ago. The Bare Access is Merrell’s cushioned, zero drop offering, and it was a strong enough performer that it made my list of recommended running shoes. In a niche that is growing rapidly, the original Bare Access scored points in having a nice, roomy toebox, a lightweight, reasonably flexible build, and a comfortable ride out on the road.
For the most part, most everything that I liked about the original Bare Access carries over into the new model. Fit is identical, cushioning is similarly firm (zero drop, 13-14mm stack height), and interior comfort is excellent (note: as with other shoes in the Merrell line, the BA2 has a contoured fit under the arch, so if you don’t like arch support, you may not like this shoe).
The main differences between the BA1 and BA2 include the following:
Merrell Bare Access 2 (top) and 1 (bottom)
1. The Bare Access 2 has a redesigned upper. I was initially concerned when I saw the upper of the BA2 since it looks and feels like the monofilament style upper that has suffered tearing issues in so many shoes of late. Merrell themselves had trouble with the upper of the original Mix Master trail shoe and had to pull it from the market. I emailed my contacts at Merrell about this and received the following response:
“The Bare Access 2 mesh is polyester…..not monomesh nylon. The polyester mesh has passed all of our stringent testing. We have had no issues on the extended wear testing as well. From a distance, the mesh has the sheer look, but their makeups are totally different. Both from a composition stand point and also from a weave structure.”
Given Merrell’s reputation for quality build, I suspected they wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, and this response allays my fears about upper durability in the BA2. I like the look of the BA2 moreso than the BA1, so I guess that’s a score in favor of the new model. In looking at the photo below, it appears that the space between the lace rows is much wider in the new Bare Access – not sure if this means anything, but it’s clearly a design difference and may allow for a better fit for those with a high-volume midfoot.
Merrell Bare Access 2 (top) and 1 (bottom)
2. The second major difference is that the BA2 has a full coverage Vibram rubber outsole compared to the mostly exposed foam sole of the BA1. One complaint I have frequently seen about the sole of the original Bare Access is that abrasion tends to eat away at the surface of the exposed foam (you can see this in the photo below). This happened in my shoes too, but it was more just cosmetic scuffing than any real breakdown of the sole material.
The Vibram sole of the BA2 should improve durability in the newer model, but the expense is that it adds about an ounce to the weight of the shoe (the BA2 comes in at right around 7 ounces in size 10 compared to 6.2 ounces for the BA1). It also makes for a bit more ground contact noise on the run since the rubber has less give than exposed foam. Merrell could probably remove a good bit of the rubber from the midfoot region of the shoe without sacrificing durability to shed some weight and improve flexibility (the horizontal white grooves across the forefoot do allow for pretty good flex up front). One point to note is that the grooves in the rubber outsole tend to pick up small pebbles – I don’t notice this while running since they are tiny.
Merrell Bare Access 2 (top) and 1 (bottom). Not the abrasion of the red sole on the BA1 below the toes. You can also see how the rubber sole of the BA2 picks up little pebbles.
That pretty much sums up the major differences between the two shoes, and will refer you back to my Bare Access 1 review for more details. I’ve run in the BA2 three times so far, and the experience has been great. It’s a bit firmer than I typically like, but that’s just a personal preference, and it does make for a stable feel underfoot. Unlike some, I enjoy the glove-like fit provided by the contoured arch, and the Merrell Barefoot last works really well on my feet – nearly perfectly proportioned.
Comparing it to other shoes in the cushioned, zero drop niche, the Bare Access 2 is lighter and more flexible than the Altra Instinct 1.5, but firmer and not nearly as flexible as the Skechers GoBionic. I’d compare it most closely to the New Balance Minimus Road MR00, but the BA2 is a bit wider through the midfoot, which is a plus for me. All of these are excellent shoes, so the choice largely comes down to one of personal taste with regard to fit, flexibility, and firmness underfoot.