2011 has been the year for minimalist footwear, and we are barely half-way through it. This spring Merrell hit the scene running with their new barefoot line and shortly thereafter expanded it with additional models, including two for kids.
The three models to hit shelves first for men were the Trail Glove, the True Glove, and the Tough Glove. All built on the same last, with the same the same sole, the three models differ only in the fabrics and construction of the uppers. The Trail Glove features a breathable mostly mesh upper, the True Glove has a slightly beefier, more abrasion resistant sythetic leather/mesh upper, and the Tough Glove is all leather.
In terms of usage, the Trail Glove is designed primarily for trail running, the True Glove for all-around outdoor use, and the Tough Glove for around town and at the office.
- Sole thickness: 3 mm
- Insole thickness: 0 mm
- Heel rise/differential: 0 mm
- Midsole: 4 mm
- Weight: __ oz (Mens US 9.5)
- Flexibility: Moderately Flexible
- Toebox: Wide
Manufacturers of performance minimalist footwear have an interesting problem on their hands. The problem is this: How do you create a wide anatomical toebox and still provide the security required for performance? While not an issue for casual footwear, a sloppy fit can be bad news on technical terrain. Each manufacturer approaches the problem a little differently, and I am always keen to see how the designers elect to deal with it.
When I first put on the Merrell's, it was not a great first impression. I felt a snugness/pressure under the arch and a tightness across the top of the foot - warning signals of a bad fit. I was convinced I wasn't going to like it. Giving them the benefit-of-the-doubt I perservered and thankfully with a little time, my impression changed.
Merrell's approach to security is to provide a snug fit, just behind the ball of the foot. The best way of describing it is that it feels like the laces are sucking the sole of the into your arch. Yes it is disconcerting at first, but the feeling gradually fades as the shoes get broken-in. I found the mesh upper provided enough flex to conform to the shape of my feet under impact, and with time stretched a little. The Trail Gloves definitely improve with age.
The True Gloves with thier stiffer upper, didn't work as well for me. They didn't seem to have the same foot-molding capabilites as the Trail Glove. Based on this expernience, it is my opinion that people with wider feet will be most comfortable in the Trail Gloves.
When worn with thin socks or bare feet I found the fit to be true to size. When worn with a slightly thicker sock, I would recommend getting a half-size bigger. If I were to get another pair, I would probably size-up a half size so that I could wear them with a wider range of socks.
This shoe is designed for playing hard.
The performance fit, the stiffer sole, and the considerable toe spring make them less ideal for low impact activity. I found the toe spring is annoying for casual use as I like having my feet flat on the ground. The snugness in the mid foot caused my feet to ache when sitting, standing, or driving. Interestingly, none of these things bothered me when running or hiking as the shoes flex adequately under stress.
For walking around town things get better, but I would still say this still isn't their strong suit. Again, the stiffness, fit, and toe spring suggest to my feet that the shoe would rather be doing something else.
Running, hiking, and outdoor action is where the shoes really shine. Once I get over a minimum threshold of activity, I no longer notice them on my feet, in fact I quite like them. The stiffness of the sole takes the edge off the rocks while still maintaining adequate flexibility, and the performance fit provides good security.
The one complaint I have with the Trail Glove is the inner micro-fiber lining. While soft and comfortable in dry conditions, when they get wet, they don't dry out very quickly. I think Merrell could do better by lining them with something that doesn't absorb water. This is an area where I think Inov-8 has the edge over a lot of other shoes on the market; they drain and dry really fast.
The sole, while adequate for rock, pavement, roads, and hard-packed trails, doesn't fare so well in off trail conditions. As soon as the dirt gets soft, loose, or muddy, the tread is not aggressive enough to handle it.
So far, these shoes have proven to be very durable. The soles are very hard wearing, the uppers are well constructed, and the beefy toe rand does a good job of protecting the mesh from trail abuse.
The Trail Glove is an excellent shoe for active outdoor use on rock, roads, and hard-packed trails. For casual, everyday use, barefooters will likely want something with a little more flexibility.