Historic Range: $57.99-$160.00
Reviewers Paid: $84.00
A minimalist shoe that offers a little more cushioning and protection for the bottom of the foot but less ground feel as compared to the trail glove. A good choice for anyone that wants to try a neutral shoe with more protection than a full-on "barefoot shoe", or for running on rough ground.
- Zero drop and minimal uppers
- Protective midsole and some cushioning
- Very breathable
- Less ground feel than a full-on barefoot shoe
- "out of print"
I have been trail running in Merrell's "barefoot shoes" (right up there with "jumbo shrimp" at the top of the oxymoron list) for about four years now: two pairs of original Trail Gloves, a pair of the Train Flux Gloves, and now a pair of Trail Glove 2s.
Those shoes all have thin soles that allow you to feel the ground, but when I have encountered rough conditions, especially sharp gravel or rocks, I have thought about trying something that offers a little more protection. So when I saw these on sale I decided to give them a try.
The are the precursors of the newer Barefoot Run Access shoes, so my comments probably apply to those as well. I broke these in on the first stretch of the John Muir Trail, carrying 35-40 pounds, and have since run a few hundred kilometers in them.
While the uppers have the same minimalist look as the Trail Glove, the real difference is in the sole. The Ascend has a broad outsole that will leave a print more like a traditional shoe, while on the Trail Glove the tread tapers to a thin strip under the arch and will leave more of a barefoot print. So the Ascend has a "flatter", less responsive feel.
The Ascend also has a tougher rock plate and a more cushioning (but still nothing like a mainstream shoe). With the Trail Gloves you can feel a lot of the subtleties in the ground, down to small pebbles underfoot. If those pebbles get a bit bigger and sharper like, say, coarse road gravel, they can start to hurt. While I can't say I have ever bruised the bottoms of my feet in Trail Gloves, the Ascends offer a little relief when the going gets really rough.
While it looks like the soles might have a little better traction than the Trail Gloves, I can't say I really notice a difference.
I really like the fit of these shoes. They are wide in front and shaped nicely around the toes so that even if I leave them a little loose they are still comfy running downhill.
The uppers are made of a tough mesh material that breathes well. While I usually wear socks, they are quite comfortable without. So far they are holding up well — while the black toe cover has some exposed stitching, there is not a lot of exposed stitching along the instep side of the shoe, which is often where things begin to fall apart.
I have beens switching off between the two models, and while I prefer the group feel of the trail gloves on my home trails, I find the Ascends quite comfortable and will use them on rougher mountain runs and day hikes.
Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $84