Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove Review

I have been given the privilege of being able to be one of the early users of the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove minimal shoe.  I got the shoe in November, just after running the Philly Half Marathon.  I have since run 100 miles in the Merrell Trail Glove on many different surfaces.  I have used it on easy trails, technical rocky trails, grass, roads, on a treadmill, and most recently on snow and ice.  I think Merrell has hit a home run with the design of this shoe!  As that crazy new oxymoron, "barefoot shoe", the Merrrell Trail Glove is perfect.  More perfect than the Vibram Five Finger shoe is for us runners.

Click through the "stack" of photos below or See full size photos here.  Some of the photos are from when they were new, out of the box.  Some of the photos were taken after muddy runs, and some are meant to compare them directly to the VFF and to my favorite Saucony Killkenny XC flats.


The first requirement necessary to promote barefoot-like running technique is one that was long missed by Nike Free designers, for example.  That is, there must be absolutely no additional height from the ground at the heel.  The height of the sole materials under forefoot and heel must be equal.  This has come to be called something like "zero toe drop".  I like to call it "zero heel elevation".  Either way, I think you get the idea.  The Merrell Trail Glove has this hard-to-find quality.  Along with a wrap-around effect in the sole structure at the heel, the Merrell Trail Glove winds up with a totally unobtrusive heel.  Forefoot footsrike comes naturally and easily.  Running in this shoe is similar to running in track spikes without heel wedges.  It is a pleasure, especially for those of us that have real barefoot training mileage in our backgrounds.  If you detest the forced heel-strike of trainers, this shoe will make you very happy!


The second requirement to promote barefoot-like running technique is naturally spread toes.  Too many shoes force the toes together instead of allowing them to splay naturally.  The Merrell Trail Glove performs a dual miracle: There is a toe box that is wide enough for natural toe spread, and the rest of the shoe, from the metatarsals on through the heel, fits like a glove (as the shoe's name suggests).  The result is a shoe that allows your foot to move the way it wants to up front and the rest of the shoe becomes one with your foot.  The fit is accomplished through a unique lacing system and great anatomical design.  Additionally, the shoe's interior is designed to be worn sockless, with materials that are receptive to your skin and with no protruding seams (though I have been wearing it with socks during the winter snow runs).


The third requirement to promote barefoot-like running technique is to have a sole that is thin enough to allow for biomechanical feedback.  You have to feel the ground to run right.  The sole of the Merrell Trail Glove isn't too thick for this, and it isn't so thin that you might hurt yourself when on trails.

The sole of the Merrell Trail Glove is made by Vibram, so I am assuming it will last a long time; I can see little visible wear after 100 miles of running.  It is textured for off-roading.  It does not seem to build up any mud on trails, and has given me no traction problems, even on damp trails and snow.  I am thinking that Merrell should market this shoe as a cross-country flat, because it would function admirably for XC runners.  I plan to race my summer and fall XC races this year in this shoe.  Especially since the VFF has questionable traction on grass.  The sole has enough protection for careful trail running over very rocky terrain.  The first time I used them at Watchung Reservation, which has areas of ankle-killer rocks, I was a little worried and got a couple of ouchies in my arch area.  But once I realized I had to simply keep my eyes open and place my feet a little more carefully, I had no problems.  I am considering using these shoes at the ridiculously rocky Escarpment Trail Run this summer.

I would like to point out the advantage of having one's toes inside the shoe, unlike the VFF toe-glove style.  I broke my toe on a trail wearing VFF's when I kicked a root. The Merrell Trail Glove protects minimal trail runners from this hazard.

Overall, the shoe actually looks good.  I am hoping it comes out in some more aggressive colors for us crazy racers.  I am a little concerned about it SRP, which I believe is $110.  For me, that would be pricey, compared to some minimal XC flats that average around $50.


Merrell is concerned about educating runners about the minimal shoe movement.  They have waited until tis month  after months of research and testing.  Here is a press release about their launch of their barefoot running education web site.  You may click here to go directly to the web site!

Here are some screen caps from my posts about the Merrell Trail Glove on my Daily Mile:


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