Sunday, March 25, 2012

March Madness: Merrell Road Glove vs. Trail Glove Review

7/19/13 Updated:  If you want to see a review on the Trail Glove 2.0 (latest version), click HERE

Ok! I've think I've logged enough miles in both of these great shoes to be able to provide a good summary of my impressions from each.   Also, in February I did a review of the Trail Gloves which you can check out here.  Before I get into it the details, I wanted to give a shout out to Running and Rambling.. a terrific blog where I won the Road Gloves (and where you can check out a NB Minimus giveaway here!). And also a thanks to Merrell for giving me the opportunity to try out the Trail Gloves as well.

So, first of all, it may seem a little odd to compare a "road" shoe to a "trail" shoe, but in the case of Merrell, the distinction is somewhat blurred.  I know a number of runners that like the Road Glove for trail running, and some that love the Trail Glove for road running!

First of all, just a run down on a few of the comparative specs.   From a sole perspective, both shoes use a Vibram TC-1 rubber sole, and a 4mm compression molded EVA midsole.  I know this sounds like I know what I'm talking about, but I'm really just relaying whats on the official specs :-).  From there, the differences lie in the tread pattern, stack height, and rock plate.

Sorry for the water in the pic, but I had snapped these after taking a run in them and hosing off the dirt.  The Trail Glove is on the left, and while it has a slightly more aggressive tread compared to the Road Glove, it is relatively tame compared to other trail shoes, like the Vivobarefoot Neo Trail.  Also you'll noticed that both have kind of a molded arch that slopes upward. When wearing them, you do notice a little pressure back from this area in both shoes, perhaps slightly more noticeable (at least to me) in the Road Glove, however I seldom noticed that feel once I started running, and over time they have flattened a little also. Interestingly from a weight perspective, the Road Glove is slightly heavier than the 6.2 oz Trail Glove, but honestly, for a guy that has 35 more pounds to lose.. whats a fraction of an ounce? ;-)

The Trail Glove sits with about a 12mm ground height, and the Road Glove around 10mm.  Because of that, you do get a bit better ground feel from the Road Gloves.  A nice feature of the Trail Glove is that the mid-foot also contains a 1mm plastic rock plate that does a good job of dispersing sharp impacts, but remains flexible so as not to interfere too much with the ground feel.  Also, the Road glove, even with a slightly smoother sole, still grips relatively well on the trail.  I wouldn't feel comfortable in either for extreme traction situations, but when you are talking loose dirt/gravel/water etc... both shoes provide a reasonable amount of traction.

From a fit perspective, I found that there is a distinctive difference between these two shoes. Both shoes are comfortable to wear without socks.  They breath well, and the seams are relatively unobtrusive. However, based on running in both, my preference is for the Road Glove as it has a slight edge in barefoot comfort. From a KSO (keep stuff out) view, the Trail Gloves do fit snugger around the ankle, helping to keep rocks, sticks, squirrels etc from getting into your shoe.  The Road Glove isn't bad, but does run a tiny bit looser.

The most striking difference for me was the feel on my foot when laced up.  The Trail Glove has a distinct tightness across the midfoot..  kind of a band that runs across the first two lace crossovers nearest the toe and sloping back towards the arch.  The Tru-Fit lacing system on the Trail Glove (left) does allow for some customization, but regardless of how I adjusted, I still felt this snugness.  When I run in them, I feel that band squeeze with each foot strike.  Now, is it a bad thing?  For me it really didn't cause me any issues, other than I noticed it.  Perhaps if you have a narrow foot, it would be less of an issue, and maybe this fit would be better. It does however cause me to want to run more on my forefoot, and not always bring my heel all the way down.

 On the other hand, the Road Glove (right), did not have this feeling at all.  If anything, this shoe has to be one of the most comfortable shoes I have run in.  In many ways, once I get going, I almost don't notice that I am wearing them at all...  which is surprising for a shoe (versus non-traditional shoes like a huarache, or VFF's etc). As far as the toe box goes, both shoes were roomy and allowed flexing and stretching without issue.

Ok.. so to get a true comparative test on these shoes, I ran with one on each foot!  Ok, I wouldn't recommend this method with very distinct shoes as the difference could really mess you up..  but since they are pretty darn close, I threw one one each foot and hit the road.   And yes, I got some odd looks of course!  BUT... this test really brought home the key differences and similarities in the shoes.  While running on the road, I could sense the better ground feel from the Road Glove, as well as the comfort of the fit, and from the Trail Glove, that interesting tightness mentioned above is much more pronounced.  With respect to traction, I could not really tell the difference.

From the road, I of course headed off to my favorite proving grounds.. the Manitou Incline and Barr Trail.
Here again, both shoes performed very well, but as expected, the advantage goes to the Trail Glove, specifically for the extra shock dispersing action of the embedded rock plate.  I could sense a slightly better grip from the Trail Gloves, and in particular when up on my toes a bit more and climbing.  However, the Road Glove performed great on the trail...  I just had to watch my step a little more, since any nasty rocks were going to transfer pain just a bit easier.

And yes, as you can see from the picture, I applied my research scientifically.. ensuring that I swapped right to left the shoes each time I ran.. running three on the road and thrice on the trail..  I know.. I'm a nerd.  Anyway, here I stopped at one of my favorite photo op locations on the way down to connect with Barr Trail... never get tired of seeing Pikes Peak from here.

Ok.. so the final verdict?  Of course I can't just pick one...  ask any barefoot/minimalist runner to pick ONE favorite shoe from their collection of 6 or more pairs and they go into a mental lock up.  But seriously, if it were between these two shoes, I would have to go with the Road Glove, primarily because of the comfortable fit.  The perfect Merrell Barefoot Trail shoe for me would have the comfort/fit and ground feel of the Road Glove, combined with the rock plate in the Trail Glove, and a beefed up tread pattern for sloppier conditions.  I know... never happy.   Ah well..

I hope this was helpful to those of you considering one of these shoes, or if you have one and are considering the other.  Regardless, Merrell is a great minimalist shoe company, and they make a quality product.  Hopefully someone there reads this and designs my perfect trail shoe!!

As always, if I've missed anything (which I'm sure I have), please let me know with a comment below.

Happy Trails!

"You were born to run. Maybe not that fast, maybe not that far, maybe not as efficiently as others. But to get up and move, to fire up that entire energy-producing, oxygen-delivering, bone-strengthening process we call running." ~Florence Griffith-Joyner


Mamarunsbarefoot said...

Hmmm great review. I don't think those would work for me as they look almost narrow. The Altra Eve's are wide and flat.

Kotoula01 said...

Wow that was so awesome! I have been considering these shoes both, and as I already have the Pace Gloves (women's version of road glove) I laughed out loud when you said we have 6 pairs and go into mental lockup when asked to pick a fave...that is sooooo true lol. My fave by far is the VFF Komodo Sport, and I would never run in anything else, except that when it's slushy or full of melting snow, I have to put something with more substance between my feet and the ice cold wet...I have VIVO Neo Trails for that, with the super aggressive tread for that. Dry feet every time.

I wish Merrell would think of people who have to wear dress shoes to work, and make a dressy barefoot style shoe. Trying to make peace with my work shoes is killing me.

I've seen your name before and I gather you're in Alberta somewhere. I'm in Calgary. Cheers, and thanks for the great review, I'll be sharing this if you don't mind.

Kathy said...

Great intel!! Took those up the Manitou incline - sheesh!
Gorgeous view of Pikes Peak!

Jeff Gallup said...

Then yeah, the Trail Gloves would be out. Have you tried the Vivo's yet? they are nice and wide.. at least the Neo Trails are.

Jeff Gallup said...

Thanks! I'm actually in Colorado, but I have a number of bloggers that I've friended up in Canada :-)

Christian said...

Great review, thanks. In my town I can only get access to the road glove to try on. Is the sizing the same for both shoes? For example would a size 8 road fit like a size 8 trail?

Jeff Gallup said...

Thanks Christian. As far as sizing goes, they are both the same in length, so no problem there. The key difference is going to be the snugness around your midfoot. If you have a narrow foot, you may notice as much. Again, to me it wasn't a problem as much as it was just a different feel. If you like a snug fit all around your foot, the Trail Glove would be fine... if you prefer not to have that, the Road Glove is a very comfortable shoe... just a trade off for the rock plate and a little less traction. You could always try them via since you can return them free if the fit isn't right. Good luck!

Mamarunsbarefoot said...

Nope, I'm terrified to purchase another darn shoe! I just ate 100$ on the NB! :(

Coy Martinez said...

This was a great review! They need to give you a free pair! You're such a great customer! I think once I get used to the Nike Free's 100% that I'll most into something more along the lines of the Road Glove.

Trisha Reeves said...

Thanks for this review. I'm about to do my own version of this at some point, but I am waiting for the wide version of the trails to come out - because I can't wear the regular ones, they're way too narrow. '


zapmamak said...

Hey Jeff!
I was excited to read this review. You've been teasing us for so long! ;-)

I have had a similar experience as you with the two versions Merrell has put out and totally agree that I would LOVE to see a shoe that is identical to the Pace Glove (Trail Glove for guys) but with more aggressive tread. I love both and have ran trail and road in both, but while I don't like the Pace Glove for road I can easily run in my Dash Gloves (Road Gloves) on the trail as long as the trail isn't so sharp and pointy.

Great post!

Jeff Gallup said...

Thanks! But wait, I thought you liked running on sharp point stuff ;-)

Jeff Gallup said...

When are the wider versions coming out?

Anonymous said...

They DO In fact they are the Merrell Tough glove. In black or brown.

GreenMountainMama said...

Hi Jeff - awesome review! Thank you.
All - I'm so glad that there are others out there who love to geek out on these things and have, well, maybe more shoes than they need. I'm just getting into minimalistic running (I'm barely a runner), but I find the whole idea fascinating.

Anonymous said...

Very helpful, thank you.
I needed a shoe that would perform equally on road and trail as I run on road to get to the trail. After I read your blog I decided to go with the Road Glove.
I need your advice. Because I will be buying it online (no shops around selling them) so I want to make sure that i get the right size. I am 46 (11,5 US) should I get 47 (12,5 US) as per regular rule? My main concern is that if I buy 1 size bigger and wear them without socks my feet may move back and forth in the shoe resulting toe injury .
What would you advise?

Jeff Gallup said...

Well.. not sure if this helps, but I normally wear a 10 US, and the 44's fit just right. If you like, I can ask my contact at Merrell.. usually the best way to figure it out is to stand on a ruler with your heel against a wall, and measure the longest point on your longest foot.. if you figure that out, I could ask which measure the closest without being too small (or large)


Anonymous said...

Hi there, great review, could you clarify on fit, did you you buy both pair/models in the same size or adjust size, i.e. smaller size on Road Glove since that fits "looser" per your review.

Jeff Gallup said...

I wore the same size in both models, and from a length perspective, they were identical. I would be afraid going down a size in the Road Glove would make it too short. The difference in feel is primarily in the tension around the midfoot. The Trail Glove provides a snugger "feel" across the midfoot, and the Road Glove just feels a tad bit roomier and "softer" around the mid-foot. If you have an opportunity, try them both on.. maybe at REI if you have one near you... good luck!

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Anonymous said...

Just a word of caution about sizing.
I've did this with the Merrel road shoe and regretted it ever since as it left me with shoes that I cannot run downhill in without discomfort. On the flat and uphill, perfect, but going downhill, no matter how I've laced them, I stub my toes into the front of the shoe. You need to allow adequate space at the front to compensate for your foot moving forward in the downhill running. This is a well-known rule, but unfortunately because I was naive I thought it'd be different for a 'barefoot' shoe. It isn't. For a trail shoe meant for running up and down stuff its even more critical.
Even trying the shoe on in the shop and choosing the size that feels comfortable won't stop this problem because the shoes feel great even without teh extra toeroom. Try kicking the shoe against a wall, or tapping the toe aggressively on the floor. If your toe hits the front of the shoe, you need to go up a size.

jensrunningblog said...

Hi there! Thanks for the helpful review. One question about tread -- I've been running/hiking in my pace gloves (women's trail gloves) and have experienced slipping issues when I'm around wet rocks. I'm afraid of what's going to happen if I encounter rainy conditions, especially since I might be wearing these shoes for an upcoming marathon. Any advice on whether the road gloves are better re: this issue? Thanks!

Jeff Gallup said...

Tough call.. compared to the Road Glove, the Trail glove has a slightly more aggressive tread, but not really that different. I've run in the trail gloves in wet conditions and they do ok, but not the best. So far, the best grip I've gotten has been with either the Neo or Breatho Trail from VivoBarefoot... hope that helps!

Stephen J said...

Hi... this is a very helpful article.

I have worn the Trail Gloves for a year and a half and ran two marathons in them. I'm thinking of switching to the Road Gloves, or maybe one pair of each, as I do some road running and some hilly trail running. (I'm a hasher in Korea, which means lots of road and lots of up-and-down on trails.)

Do you have any feedback on whether the Road Glove's sole would last longer on hard surfaces? Thanks!

Jeff Gallup said...

Hey Stephen J,

There really isn't a ton of difference between the soles of the Road Glove versus the Trail Glove. The Trail glove has a slightly more aggressive tread, especially up by the toes, compared to the Road Gloves. They are of the same material, and construction. My guess is that if you are probably going to get the same amount of mileage out of either soles..

The big difference between them is for me, the road glove fits a bit looser and with less compression across the mid foot.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jeff, I love this review. I have a pair of Pace Gloves and have a real problem with the weird tightness across the top of my left foot. I have very narrow feet, but there is something about the positioning of the laces or something that has caused a (perhaps permanent) 'tingling' numbness across the top of my foot and into my left big toe. It is interesting to hear you have a similar feeling with the Trail Tloves, but not with the Road Gloves. Sold! I'll be ordering my road gloves super quick! I love these shoes! ;-)

Jeff Gallup said...

Awesome! Glad the review helped :-)

Anonymous said...

This... is confusing.

Just order your properly measured shoe size. The Merrell glove shoes all fit true-to-size. Don't size up or down unless you have a particularly wide foot or plan to wear thick socks (unlikely).

Anonymous said...

I got a the Merrell trail gloves, but found them quite disappointing in terms of off-road grip.. they really are not suitable for muddy trails or wet grass. But, I've been using them as road running shoe for the last year and they have been perfect for that. I've now actually worn down the tread enough that they are practically slicks! They are really comfortable and light.

If anyone wants a true off road/trail minimal shoe, I'd recommend the Vivobarefoot Neo Trails. They have an aggressive grip which holds it's own even in properly thick mud and snow.