By Al Gauthier
Merrell has been making shoes for 30 years now. The most difficult part of writing reviews is when we have to write a review on a product that we have been excitedly anticipating only to find they fall short. In the case of Merrell, the review process from beginning to end has been a very long one. We originally confirmed the review of these shoes well before the public release date more than 6 months ago. The pre-production models arrived and we put them through the review paces. The results were less than ideal, however. When we communicated our concerns to Merrell they were able to send production samples. This whole process has taken many months. Despite the long delay, we felt it was better to forgo the early review of the pre-production samples in order to give our readers an accurate review of a production product.
The difference between the pre-production samples and the productions samples turned out to be significant. Here then is the review of the production version of the Men’s Merrell Trail Glove.
While the Trail Glove is a great attempt and a serious step forward for a minimalist shoe design for Merrell, it falls a little short of the mark. Shoe companies like Merrell should have the resources to put out great product and do all the testing and prototyping necessary to refine a design before releasing a final product. We have left the days where minimalist shoes were new and unknown. In my view, these shoes are not yet ready for the public and, because Merrell is such a big company, I find myself far less tolerant of that fact. Now lets get into the details.
The shoe is soft and well-made on the inside. The heel cup is thin, soft, and slightly padded. The throat is low and slim, and together they make for a beautiful low profile fit for the heel. The upper is well ventilated and the lacing system is nicely designed. The inside of the shoe is a soft place without any ridges for a bare foot to live. On this front they have done a great job.
The Merrell last seems to be based on the Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek last, but with modifications. The toes have been pulled together and the shape of the toe box is round rather than foot-shaped. The narrow outsole section between the heel and forefoot is very similar to the KSO Trek, but the materials used to form the arch of the outsole and the way in which the upper is designed have changed the way the shoe feels on the foot. Overall, the effect is one that is too narrow. While the length is certainly correct, a FiveFingers shoe would have more room for the toes to spread and would have no issues with width at all. To be fair, there is a reasonable amount of toe room here for those with average feet. The midfoot above the arch and going forward around the metatarsals is too narrow. Walking and running, which cause the foot to widen with impact, make these shoes slightly uncomfortable. The fault seems to lie not in the outsole itself, but in how it interfaces with the upper. Despite the lacing system, the shoe doesn’t have the ability to adapt to different widths. I suspect only the narrowest of feet would fit comfortable into these shoes.
If different materials had been used, and some slight modifications made, I would suspect this shoe could be comfortable for those with wider feet. I would expect the next version to be a very different shoe. There is a reasonable but not generous amount of room in the toe box for the average foot. Those with wide feet will not feel constricted toes but will likely be wanting for more room.
For a minimalist product marketed towards those that are familiar with a minimalist product, and thus may already have slightly widened feet, this is a curious design choice.
The sole of the Trail Glove is made of rubber compound TC-1. It is grippy and lightly lugged for off-road use. It is very similar to the FiveFingers KSO Trek in its design but the outsole is far less flexible in its length and width compared to the FiveFingers KSO Trek. The area containing the toes and the area directly behind the toes is the most flexible and is similar to the flexibility found in most minimalist shoes. Overall the decreased flexibility decreases the ground transmission more than necessary, even for an off-road shoe.
While walking, there is a noticeable transition as the weight of the foot moves from the heel through to the toes to push off. As the weight is transferred from the back of the foot over the ball of the foot there is the perception of rocking over an object. It’s a difficult sensation to describe and one that we have not noticed in any other shoe. This may be the result of feeling the transition from relatively inflexible to flexible. Whatever the cause, it does not seem to have a purpose and is an unwelcome feeling. Perhaps even more to the point, it is not at all like being barefoot and more like rocking the shoe over a hard object.
The sole has quite a bit of flexibility at the forefoot in the upwards direction. There is no flexibility in the heel and very little in the longitudinal or downwards directions. Therefore, although your foot is freely able to bend in the plantar direction, there is little ground feel around surface contours. It is certainly significantly more flexible than the average consumer shoe, but for a true minimalist product it is a little bit too stiff my for preference – even in a trail running shoe.
These are not heavy shoes and in this way at least they fall well within the minimalist category.
Support / Insole
There is no arch support designed into the insole. The inside of the shoe is reasonably flat. There is an upward angled sole area directly under the arch to protect the arch from stone bruising. This same sole area is where I feel the design of the shoe has gone wrong. Vibram FiveFingers did this well – it’s interesting indeed to see that this Vibram sole didn’t do such a great job.
There is no insole included in the shoe. There is 4 mm of compression molded EVA in the midsole for cushioning, which feels quite minimal while walking on hard surfaces.
Because of the grip depth and reasonably poor flexibility overall, there is very little barefoot feel in this product. It is understandably difficult to design a minimalist product used for trail running that also incorporates a feeling of “barefoot”. Others have, however, been able to achieve this and so while difficult, it is possible.
The Trail Gloves have great grip. The TC-1 rubber is sticky enough for both natural and man-made surfaces. The toe grips provide added traction at the end of a walking or running stride.
The microfiber air mesh upper is light and breathable. For an enclosed shoe, air circulation was better than average.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
Merrell’s experience in shoe making shines with the quality of construction. We could find no fault or defects, no glue is visible, and there were no perceptible ridges on the inside of the shoe. When a shoe is designed to be worn without socks, this is always of paramount importance and Merrell has done a beautiful job here.
Despite all my complaining, I find these shoes some of the most attractive minimalist shoes on the market. In particular, men’s shoes are so often needlessly bulky and ugly. In stark contrast, these are sleek shoes with great lines. For shoes in this category, they are very stylish.
The mesh upper that allows so much air inside sadly does nothing to prevent water from entering the shoe. The mesh is only a feature of the upper in 1/3 of the shoe and therefore wet surfaces and even shallow puddles shouldn’t cause any concern.
The Trail Glove appears to run true to size for length, but will likely only be suitable for those with narrow feet.
The Trail Gloves are listed on the Merrell website at $100 USD. Considering the quality of the materials and manufacturing, and their predicted durability, this is a reasonable price for the product if the mentioned issues we have found are not a problem for you.
There is no break-in period required for the Trail Glove. The interior of the upper is quite comfortable right out of the box. The materials used will not stretch over time and thus this shoe should be immediately comfortable.
The Merrell website says that the Trail Gloves can be washed as needed in cold water on a gentle cycle and air dried. This is a great feature for a shoe that is so comfortable to wear without socks.
As the upper is made mostly of mesh, the Trail Gloves are not the warmest shoe. However, they can be worn with socks in cooler temperatures for added warmth. The narrow last may be an issue with thicker socks even if your bare feet feel comfortable in these shoes.
If you find the Trail Gloves are comfortable for you, they could be an excellent all-purpose casual, walking, running, trail running, or hiking shoe. If you’re looking for a minimalist shoe with a significant amount of ground feel, there are better options.
Merrell is awarded points for effort, but loses points overall in execution. For a shoe marketed as the “Barefoot” line of shoes and for a shoe marketed as a minimalist product it falls short on several key points. Flexibility is key in a minimalist shoe. While protection is needed, especially in a shoe designed to withstand trail running, there is a fine line between too flexible and too rigid. These are a little too inflexible in my view. While the construction quality and aesthetic aspects of the Trail Glove satisfy, the issues with width, especially when considering the target market, let the Trail Glove down. All but those with narrow feel may find these uncomfortable. Perhaps even more importantly, those with narrow feet who continue to engage in minimalist activities may find their feet literally grow out of these shoes as the feet of many tend to widen with more time spent barefoot.
Why so harsh? Because Merrell is a big company who I feel should have produced a product that fit a much wider audience. Testing on a wide variety of foot types should have been part of the process but I suspect it wasn’t. In the end, once the second round of shoes is released from Merrell I expect that subtle changes will make really significant improvements and a review done of these shoes next season may be entirely more positive.
To purchase these shoes, visit the Barefoot section of the Merrell website to purchase the Trail Gloves online or find your nearest Merrell retailer and inquire whether they sell the new Barefoot line.
As you read our reviews, please keep in mind that our reviewers review shoes in terms of their suitability for those looking to find the highest quality minimalist shoe products. All reviews are as factual as possible. In an effort to be transparent and ethical, we will point out any defects found, even if these do not affect the usability of the product. Not all defects will be present in final production shoes as we are sometimes offered “seconds” or pre-release products in an effort to provide you with reviews in a timely manor. In the event that serious issues are found with a review sample we will give every opportunity for the manufacturer to replace to explain the review samples before the final review is released. We never accept payments for reviews. We do not guarantee a good review for any products sent to us. We do not review products that do not claim to be minimalist or “barefoot like” unless we receive a significant number of requests from readers or listeners.
Should you have any questions about our review process or would like your product reviewed on our site, please do not hesitate to contact us using our contact page.
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