User Review: Merrell Men's Barefoot Trail Glove
Source: received it as a sample, freebie, or prize (Merrell UK)
A true 'barefoot' shoe with a tough sole that is good for trails, provided they're not too muddy. The very 'precise' fit makes them a good shoe for technical trails.
- Precise fit
- Tough sole protects the foot well
- Wide toe box
- Tread is too shallow for muddy trails
- Thin, fiddly tongue
***See bottom of review for my most recent experience, using TGs for a 100 mile ultra!***
The Merrell Trail Glove (TG) is one of the new generation of 'barefoot' running shoes. The TG's cushioning is very minimal, but what makes it a true 'barefoot' shoe is that it has no heel-forefoot differential, that is the shoe does not lift the heel relative to the forefoot at all. Standard running shoes have 8-12mm (1/3-1/2 inch) differential, with 'minimal' shoes around 4mm.
I bought them in May 2011. I'm a UK-based ultra runner who is used to minimal (but not 'barefoot') shoes, ie Brooks Mach Spikeless, Inov8 F-Lite 230, and even I have found the Trail Gloves a huge change! The TGs engage all the leg and core muscles, not just the more limited range normal shoes do, making for a very intense running workout!
The fit, not just the sole is 'barefoot'. The wide, ergonomic forefoot allows the toes to splay: this is key to getting your feet working fully. The fit is very glove-like, although the upper has no stretch so they can take a bit of putting on, but this is a small price to pay for the very precise feel of the shoe, which makes them good for 'technical' trails.
The TG has a shallow tread for a trail shoe, so it makes a pretty good all-rounder, but not suited for muddy conditions.
In August 2011, I did half of the 85-mile Ridgeway Challenge in the TGs, at which point I was happy to change into a more traditional (although still light’n’low) shoe, largely because it was very wet and slippery, so the shallow tread made it hard to stay stable, and my feet and lower legs had got very tired as a result.
I continue to use them very regularly and in May 2012 ran another ultra trail event on the Ridgeway, the Ridgeway 40 in mostly hard conditions and my feet felt tired at the end, but only in the normal way you would expect for that distance!
The process of getting used to a barefoot shoe like the TG is a pleasure and the reward is simply a more natural running experience. I'm now pretty used to them and enjoy using them as my 'default', day-to-day running shoe.
Disclosure: Merrell UK recently gave me a new pair of Trail Gloves because I post very regularly on their Facebook page. I am a fan of the brand, but I say what I think and I do post some constructive criticism. This review was recently updated, but most of it was written before they gave me the shoes!
Update, written from experience since getting the free Merrell Trail Gloves:
I've been building up to using my TGs on a big ultra, and this weekend I finally did, wearing them for all of the South Downs Way 100!
The first half of the course, east across southern England, was muddier than the second, with more wooded sections. We also had some rain and it had been very wet in that part of the UK recently. The TG's lack of grip in mud was an issue, as I would have expected from my previous experience.
The TGs were pretty much faultless on the grassier second half of the course. There were even a couple of steep, technical descents though woods which they handled with aplomb. That's when a 'precise' shoe really shines.
The precise fit was a real boon. Every other runner I spoke to or whose feet I saw afterwards had blisters. My feet didn't have a mark on them! However the down side of the fit is that they're not very forgiving if you tighten them up even a little too much. I noticed pain across the top of my left foot after 85 miles, because I'd fastened them just a little too tight at the start, and hadn't needed to take them off to tend my feet, so they'd stayed that way. It would be unfair to call this a disadvantage, just something to be aware of. Apart from this, my feet only got as sore as they 'normally' would from covering 100 miles in 22:47:43!
Something I've become aware of recently, not just related to my '100' experience, is the thin tongue, which can very easily be folded over at the edge, causing soreness if you don't catch it when you're putting TGs on. A thin gusset tongue, made entirely out of elasticated fabric could be better: it would still give the same (minimal) protection from lace pressure, but wouldn't need positioning. The lace anchors going through the tongue don't do anything apart keep it in position, which of course wouldn't be an issue with a gusset. The anchors are also fairly complex and I assume are one of the reasons why TGs are quite expensive.