Ok.. I think I've logged enough miles in different environments to be able to provide my initial impressions of the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove.
If you are curious about my review methodology, or lack thereof, you can click here.
UPDATE: If you also want to know how these compare to the Merrell Road Gloves, click here.
Ok, I got the Trail Gloves from Merrell about 3 weeks ago, and since then I've probably put 35 miles on them in various weather and terrain. If you've been following this blog, you'll know that before these I got the Vivobarefoot Neo Trails as a winter running shoe. So, after relaying my initial thoughts on these, I'll provide a brief comparison between the two shoes for those that are interested.
The first thing I noticed when unboxing these shoes was how light they were. Granted, I haven't tried a lot of different shoes, but the Trail Gloves weigh in at 6.2 oz each, versus 8.7 oz (without insole) for the Vivo's. Also, they looked pretty narrow, which had me concerned. I also noticed that the tongue had been folded over a little when packaged, so I had to make sure it flattened out before putting them on.
As I put them on, I certainly noticed a very snug fit... almost glove-like... ha! sorry, I couldn't resist. My initial concern was that these would be too constricting for my feet, but the Merrell "Omni-Fit" lacing system was pretty slick, and allows you to adjust tension in each section of the shoe according to your liking.
I think I have fairly "average" feet, but my guess is that if you had a really wide foot, these may prove to be too snug. However, I did find that the toe box was still roomy, and allowed me to flex and spread my toes without difficulty. What is funny is that with this glove-like fit, to me the shoes felt "fast". The second time I ran in them I set personal best mile splits in a 4 mile trail race, so that was pretty cool.
As for the sole, the specs list it as a 4mm compression molded EVA made with a Vibram Rubber Compound TC-1. What all that means? I have no idea :-). What I can tell you is that the sole provides pretty decent ground feel, and the 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate is a nice addition for rugged terrain. The lug pattern is not super aggressive, with the most traction showing up in the front below the toes. They performed fairly well on compact snow and a little bit of mud that I found, however my concern is that they don't seem to have an agressive enough tread for heavy snow, ice, or slippery mud.
I've run in these both barefoot, and also with a pair of Lightweight Injinji Outdoor Series socks. They were very comfortable with and without socks. I mainly wore the socks however, because I ran a lot in below freezing temperatures and it was more comfortable. The open mesh upper will be nice when the weather is warmer, but for now a little extra warmth helps. Anything above freezing however and I would ditch the socks and grab more ground feel. The lining and stitching inside the shoe was relatively smooth and I didn't have any issues from rubbing etc. Also, they have yet to develop any unique or interesting odors, so the anti-microbial treatments seems to work well, however these shoes can easily be dropped in the washer and air-dried as needed.
Of course, my first test was to take them up the Manitou Incline, followed by a trail run back down Barr Trail. Climbing in them was great, and for the few patches of compact snow/ice that I hit, they performed well. Running down the trail, I did notice the little assistance that the 1mm shock plate provided when hitting a few nasty rocks. It wasn't so much that it dramatically lessened the impact (I still felt it pretty good), but it did seem to help dissipate some of impact outward which was helpful. Overall, I really liked the feel of the shoe and how responsive they were on the trail. Maybe I've just run in a lot of heavy shoes, but again, the glove-like molding to my feet, the lightness, and the overall performance made running this trail a lot of fun.
I almost forgot the obligatory "flexibility" picture... my bad.
So, overall, I really like these shoes, but in particular I find them best suited for times when extra traction is not required, or when it's not super cold out. Some of the best runs I've had in them have been on compact dirt trails and pavement where they have excelled. I would recommend that you take time when trying them on to ensure you like the form-fitting feel of the shoe etc.
Ok, now that I've relayed my impressions, I want to provide a little comparison between the Trail Glove and the Neo Trail. Besides my Invisible Shoes, the Neo Trails were the first minimalist trail shoe that I purchased. I did an initial review on these at the end of the year which you can read here. When I was trying to decide on which minimalist trail shoe to get, I settled on the Neo Trail as it seemed the best fit for winter running in Colorado. I am glad that I got the opportunity to try the Trail Gloves also, as they were a close second during my decision making.
The difficult thing about comparing these shoes is that, in my mind at least, they are both quite a bit different in both fit and performance, so its almost like comparing a tangerine to a pear (I had to come up with something other than apples and oranges).
The 3 key differences in these shoes are the tread, the fit, and the weatherproofness (I don't think that's a word). The Neo Trail has a much more aggressive tread, and also more surface area as you can see in this pic below.
The Vivo's sport a 5mm lug height in a chevron pattern that grip all kinds of terrain very well. These lugs sit on top of a 3mm base, so there is a little less proprioception in them versus the Trail Gloves. However the sole is very flexible. One drawback is that the unlike the Trail Gloves, the Neo Trails do not have any kind of impact plate in the forefoot, so sharp nasty rocks can still get you (and have gotten me several times). Regardless, what I found was that for running on snow, compact snow, or irregular ice, the Neo Trails have a distinct traction advantage over the Trail Gloves.
As for the fit, the Neo Trails are wider mid foot, and the overall upper is thicker, especially around the ankle. So, you get less of the "glove" fit, but it is still very comfortable. Also, the composition of the upper in the Neo Trail makes it shed water much better than the Trail Gloves, and subsequently provides much more warmth in the toe box. Alternately, the Neo Trails will be too warm for the summer, at least that is my feeling, and they probably won't drain nearly as well if they get submerged in water etc. Good news is that Vivobarefoot has just launched the Breatho Trail which has been designed to address many of these issues, and looks to be a great warm weather alternative. I would love to try those out!
So, for me, its more of a matter of choosing the right shoe for the conditions. I realize however that not everyone is going to have 2 or more pairs on hand to select from. If I had to choose just one shoe, it would be the Merrell Trail Glove. Primarily because I could make it work in the winter and summer. Now, if I had the opportunity to try out the new Breatho Trail, that may change the equation. But for now, my go to shoe for snow, cold, and slippery terrain would be the Neo Trail, and for warmer, less demanding environments, I like the Trail Glove.
IDEALLY, I would merge these two together... take the fit of the Trail Glove, and add the more aggressive treads and warmth.. OR... move the shock plate to the Neo Trails, and add a slightly more snugger fit and breathability and I'd be set. Ah well... as the video from Steven Sashen at the upper left notes, since I'm way into barefoot running, I need a lot of shoes!!
Wow, this has to be my longest on most blathering blog post to date. If you made it this far, I feel like I should award a prize.
Thanks for tuning in... as always please leave feedback, questions, snarky comments etc below.. I love to get mail!