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.
"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