By Tina Dubois
Merrell launched their barefoot line of shoes this past summer, and we reviewed the women’s Pace Glove at that time. They asked us to review one of their fall products and we agreed to see if they improved on any of the issues we wrote about in the Pace Glove review. Sadly, the Lithe Glove appears to be made from the same narrow last with the same outsole so none of the problems in the Pace Glove were resolved in this fall product. For those reasons, this review will be similar to the Lithe Glove review with changes appropriate for the different upper material used for the Lithe Glove.
The feel of the inside of the shoe against the skin is quite comfortable but that’s where the comfort ends. The upper inside edge of the heel is woefully uncomfortable and digs painfully into my Achilles. The material used for the heel seat edge is stiff and even thicker than the rest of the material used in the quarter. I got a blister from a mere 20 minutes of walking and I had socks on.
In addition, functionally the shoe is not comfortable due specifically to the width and sole pattern of the shoe. Each of these issues I will explain in greater detail below.
Although there is plenty of room in the toe box for my toes themselves to wiggle and splay, the width of the shoe at the metatarsals and at the arch is quite restrictive. While walking, I can feel quite a bit of pressure on either side of my foot at the arch. With every step, I can feel the middle of my foot being constricted. While running, the area of the shoe where my metatarsals join my toe joints is so constrictive that my feet experienced a lot of cramping. When I run, my metatarsals spread out with a forefoot landing, because there is not enough room in the Lithe Glove for my bones to do this properly, it caused quite a bit of pain while running. No amount of lace loosening alleviated this constriction.
If the last were built wider at the arch and where the metatarsals lead to the toe box, I think this would not be a problem. Considering the current design, the Lithe Gloves are too narrow for me to either comfortably walk or run. I consider my feet to be average width, if you have narrow feet, the constrictive width of the Lithe Glove might not be an issue for you.
The sole of the Lithe Glove is a Vibram Trail Glove sole made of rubber compound TC-1. Although it is probably a durable material and will last a long time, the pattern of the sole is not comfortable to either walk or run on. The Trail Glove sole is not designed with a uniform grip depth across its length or width. This makes walking on it feel rather bumpy. Despite the zero drop differential between the heel and the forefoot, it feels like I’m landing on a small hard plate on the heel and a small hard plate at the forefoot. While continuing my stride, because there is a shallow grip depth between the forefoot and the toes, it feels like there’s a rocker as part of the shoe. In addition, because the sole of the heel is cupped, there is very little stability on the edges of the heel. This is also the case with the forefoot area.
If the sole pattern and grip depth were uniform across the bottom of the entire sole, with no cupping at the edges, this would greatly improve the functional comfort of walking in this shoe.
There is very little flexibility in the outsole of the Lithe Glove. I don’t know whether it’s the change in the upper or something else but the Lithe Glove is far less flexible than the Pace Glove. It takes considerable effort to even make it fold in half let alone anywhere else along the length of the shoe.
Each size 8 Lithe Glove weighs 6 ¼ ounces or 177 grams. Although a whole ounce heavier than the Pace Glove, it doesn’t feel heavy on the foot.
Support / Insole
There is no arch support designed into the shoe, however, there is an upward angled sole area directly under the arch to protect the arch from stone bruising. I don’t feel like this area of the sole support my arch at all but I do have high arches after so many years of going barefoot and wearing minimalist footwear. If you have flatter arches, this sole area may feel somewhat supportive, although it probably is not the intent of this sole feature.
There is no insole included in the shoe. There is 4 mm of compression molded EVA in the midsole for cushioning.
Due to the uneven sole pattern and grip depth, and the inflexibility of the sole, there is very little ground feel in the Lithe Gloves. In addition, because the edges of the sole are cupped upwards, they do not feel nearly as stable on landing as bare feet do.
The Lithe 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 fabric upper of the Lithe Glove is far less breathable than the mesh upper of the Pace Glove. This adds considerable warmth to the shoe, however. And considering it is a fall product, not unwarranted nor unwelcome as the temperatures descend.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
Merrell is known for their high performance footwear. The quality of materials and manufacturing of the Lithe Gloves is impeccable. I have no doubt that these shoes will last a long time.
The upper appears to be made of a hydrophobic fabric. Water easily rolls off the bright blue material and should keep your feet dry in mild to moderately wet conditions.
The Lithe Gloves fit true to size—at least in length. I generally fit a U.S. size 8 and that is the size that fit the best for this shoe. The Lithe Gloves are currently available in full and half sizes from 5 to 11.
The Lithe 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 you’re expecting ground feel out of a shoe marketed as ‘barefoot’, you might want to consider a more flexible—not to mention wider and more comfortable—product.
I think the Lithe Glove is both flashy and sporty in design. Most of the new Lithe Glove colourways are pretty loud so if you like brightly coloured shoes, you might like this model. They are currently available in blue/green, purple, pink, and grey/green on the Merrell website.
There is no break-in period required for the Lithe Glove. The only foreseeable change to these shoes with wear is that the 4 mm EVA midsole with compress over time, which will make them feel less cushiony on hard surfaces.
The Merrell website doesn’t have cleaning instructions for the Lithe Glove (as it does for the Pace Glove) so I suspect they are not recommended for machine washing. A wet cloth or hand wash in the sink followed by air drying should clean most debris.
The Lithe Glove upper holds in a lot of warmth so are best suited for colder temperatures. If you like the Pace Glove for summer, you will probably also like the Lithe Glove for fall and even mild winter temperatures.
If you find the Lithe Gloves are comfortable for you, they could be an excellent all-purpose casual, walking, running, or hiking shoe. If you’re looking for a minimalist shoe with good ground feel, this is probably not the shoe for you.
Merrell’s Pace Glove shortcomings were not improved in the release of the Lithe Glove. As a minimalist shoe, the Lithe Gloves are too narrow to allow the foot to function naturally and the sole has a myriad of issues that make them uncomfortable to walk or run in. The upper isn’t even comfortable as the heel seat digs painfully in the back of my heel. The only things going for this shoe are its added warmth for cooler temperatures and excellent grip.
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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