Gear Review: Merrell Trail Glove - $110
By Jeff Freer
Back in February, shoe giant Merrell entered the barefoot or minimalist running shoe market with a variety of options. All of these shoes have a zero heel lift and a very low midsole height of about 3-4 mm similar to the Vibram FiveFingers you see with separate toes (my kids lovingly refer to my pair as my ‘monkey feet’). The Merrell shoes are actually a collaboration between Merrell and Vibram, joining a Vibram outsole and a Merrell upper without the individual toe pockets. The intent of the shoe is to improve running form by getting a runner to stop heel striking and achieve a more mid-foot strike.
I procured one of the men’s versions, the Trail Glove, to see if I like them as much as I like my FiveFingers. I have been using the FiveFingers during short runs in an attempt to improve my running form. I also have been wearing the FiveFingers casually for walking the dogs and going to black tie affairs. My first impression of the Trail Glove was that they are a great looking shoe that looks something like a rock-climbing shoe. They are much easier to get on my foot than the FiveFingers since I did not have to finesse all my lil’ piggies into separate slots. The shoe has a nice wide toe box to let the foot splay out when weight-bearing yet the overall shoe has a really nice ‘glove’-like fit, probably the reason for the name. The lacing system is a little different in that, when the laces are snugged up, small straps pull up around the mid-foot to keep everything in place. The only thing standing out as potentially annoying was the arch location, which seemed to be a bit too far forward for my feet. This feeling went away after wearing them about two, maybe three times.
The shoe has good traction with a fairly aggressive outsole and while marketed as the Trail Glove I do not hesitate to wear them on the road. In fact, I pretty much only wear my Trail Gloves now and the FiveFingers are collecting dust in the closet. I have been wearing them casually as well as for my short runs and find I like them much better than the Fivefingers due to not having the separate toes and a slightly more aggressive outsole than my FiveFingers. The aggressive tread helps with traction but also helps blunt the feel of gravel a little better than the FiveFingers. Now I don’t even feel as comfortable wearing my ‘regular’ shoes anymore, though I am still doing the majority of my running in Newtons (which also have a smaller heel to toe offset than most conventional shoes). The fit is about ½ size to a full size smaller than your regular running shoe as you don’t seem to need that full thumbs width between your longest toe and the front of the shoe. I typically wear a size 10 but am in a size 9 Trail Glove.
As with other barefoot shoes, and even minimalist shoes, it may take quite a while to acclimate to the differences between your regular trainer and the Merrells. After having your feet encased in a raised-heel, fully-cushioned shoe for years, it will take time to toughen up the bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments of your foot and parts of the lower leg. Realizing this, Merrell worked with an experienced ‘barefoot’ ultrarunner in not only the design of the shoe, but an educational program as well. The basics can be found at www.merrell.com/barefoot and a step by step (pun intended) program is available for most smart phones with the free Merrell Barefoot app.
If you are looking for a way to potentially improve your running form, looking for a really comfortable shoe, or are a wannabe barefoot/minimalist triathlete that doesn’t have the time to stuff their toes in the Fivefingers, the Merrell Barefoot line might be for you.
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Jeff Freer is the Running Manager at Inside-Out Sports in Cary, a Certified Pedorthist, and a non-practicing RRCA-certified Running Coach. He likes to run and ride when his wife and kids allow it. He does not like to swim but does it anyway.