By Al Gauthier
Interestingly, this shoe is almost identical to the Trail Glove except for a switch of the upper material and some small adjustments to the last. With a side-by-side comparison, and thorough testing, we could find few difference in the performance of the Sonic other than the waterproof nature of the Sonic’s upper and a mild widening of the last. This review is an appropriately altered version of the Trail Glove Review to fit the changes made to the Sonic.
While the Sonic 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 behind 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 let’s 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 waterproof but not well ventilated. 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—significant 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 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 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 narrow feet would fit comfortably 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 in the midfoot. A shoe must fit along the entire length of the foot. Anything less, is simply not good enough.
For a minimalist product marketed towards those that already may run barefoot, or in other minimalist shoes, this is a curious design choice. It must be said, however, that shoes should exist for all foot types. Those with narrow feet should not be excluded from this market segment. If that has been Merrell’s intention and these shoes are indeed a good fit for narrow-footed minimalists, than I take what I’ve said back.
The sole of the Sonic Glove is made of rubber compound TC-1. It is grippy and lightly lugged. It is very similar to the FiveFingers KSO Trek in its design, but the outsole is far less flexible in its length and width when compared to the FiveFingers KSO Trek. The area containing the toes and the area directly behind the toes is the most flexible. It is similar to the flexibility found in most minimalist shoes. Overall, the decreased flexibility decreases the ground transmission more than necessary.
While walking, there is a noticeable transition as the weight of the foot moves from the heel through to the toes and 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 sole materials. Whatever the cause, it does not seem to have a purpose, and is for me, an unwelcome feeling. Perhaps even more to the point, it is not at all like being barefoot.
At the forefoot, the sole has quite a bit of flexibility 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 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 Sonic is not as cool as Trail Glove, but breathability is 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 upper of the Sonic is made with a waterproof membrane. Water does not enter easily through this membrane and, overall, these shoes are an excellent choice for running in wet or muddy conditions.
The Sonic Glove appears to run true to size for length, but will likely only be suitable for those with narrow feet.
The Sonic Gloves are listed on the Merrell website at $125 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 Sonic Glove. The interior of the upper is comfortable right out of the box. The materials used will not stretch over time. This shoe should be immediately comfortable.
The Merrell website says that the Sonic 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 and that may end up getting a bit muddy.
I find the Sonic Glove warm in all but the coolest weather, but my feet are often hot. For most they will likely feel a little less insulated than the average shoe. They can be worn with socks in cooler temperatures for added warmth but this will decrease the room available for your feet. If you find these shoes a snug fit socks may not be an option.
If you find the Sonic 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 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 Sonic Glove satisfy, the issues with width, especially when considering the target market, let the Sonic 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. Many runners report, that when given a chance to run unrestricted, feet will widen over time.
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 third round of shoes is released from Merrell, I hope subtle changes will make really significant improvements. Having said this, a company making a more narrow shoe is a plus for those with narrow feet.
To purchase these shoes, visit the Barefoot section of the Merrell website to purchase the Sonic 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.
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