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Merrell Trail Glove

Can a running shoe be sexy? If so then this is it. You can’t help but pick it up just to feel how light it is. And flexible. Simply put: they are sexy, there is no doubt about it. It’s hard to believe this is a trail running shoe. Merrell have taken a vibram sole and wrapped it with a soft but strong mesh upper, added a solid toe bumper and created the simplest but most amazing minimalist shoe imaginable. It must be as close to the true ‘barefoot’ experience without being actually barefoot, that you can get.

At only 216gm per shoe (size 12M) they are one of the lightest trail shoes ever produced. Yet they offer surprisingly good traction and toe protection. The tread pattern is deepest and most aggressive across the toes for toe-off traction. While they lack the classic lugged pattern of regular trail shoes the ‘barefoot’ feel allows you to grip the earth with your toes. Couple this with the freedom provided by wearing no socks or toe-socks and you find your feet really working with the terrain to hang on. Rock hoping was fun. And steep loose dirt and scree I found my toes digging in. 

With zero heel drop and effectively no midsole you are right on the ground eliminating ankle rolls and forcing you to place your feet and feel every contour. The 1mm forefoot ‘shock absorption plate’ provides minimal protection while guaranteeing a true trail feel. They force you to mid-forefoot strike and you engage your proprioceptors and strengthen all the stabilising muscles of your feet and lower legs.  A barefoot experience without cutting up your feet or stubbing your toes on every rock or root. 

The toe-box is generous and protected by a rubber bumper that wraps all the way around both sides. There is no chance of toe-box sidewall pressure and the high roof allows for plenty of toe freedom. Bare-footers can achieve the splaying of their toes that they crave. 

The uppers are a very soft and porous mesh that adds to the flexibility. They drain and dry fast but will hold a little water in the tub created by the toe bumper. The lacing system employs a ribbed skeleton that cinches the roof of the shoe and tongue down snug without any pressure points. You could be excused for forgetting you have them on. The heel is narrow and pliant and hugs firmly without impinging or rubbing. They can be worn without socks comfortably. The name “Glove” wasn’t chosen by accident. They really do fit like a glove. 

As a lifelong heel-striker it is hard to change but I do a little barefooting on grass to help strengthen my feet and improve my form. I love that feel of plush green grass between my toes. Few things feel better in running than the natural acceleration generated by getting up onto the balls of your bare feet. As an ultrarunner I am unlikely to do much more than use barefooting as a training tool. But the Merrell Trail Gloves allow me to take that experience out onto the trail. And while I will never do a hundred miler in them, I can now push the boundaries and get onto more testing surfaces with the added protection afforded. For those more advanced in the realms of barefooting or already running long trails barefoot or in Five Fingers, I think the Trail Gloves offer a real alternative with more security and protection while retaining that feel for the trail that is the basis of the barefoot experience.

They look great. They feel great. They hug the ground like nothing else and you get to feel every bump, bend and rock along the way. All the things a trail runner loves: to feel the trail, be a part of the trail, be at one with the trail. They are sexy and they say that sex sells. If that’s the case then the Trail Gloves will walk off the shelves. Quite simply, they are irresistible and you can’t help wanting to run in them. An all round winner and likely to set the standard for minimalist shoes.

Great for: Creating the barefoot experience without trashing the soles of your feet. 

Not so great for: Rough, rocky, sharp surfaces can lead to stone bruising. Unless a diehard barefooter distances will be limited and you should transition into them slowly to allow time to adjust.

Test conditions: Mix of trail including loose sand and dirt, hard compacted firetrail, loose gravel and stones, hard rock (wet and dry), creeks, technical singletrack. Total mileage limited by my ‘barefoot’ inexperience to about 30km but pretty much every surface except muddy clay tested.   

Tester: Ultrarunner with 15 x 100 milers including 3 x Hardrock, 1 x Western States, 5 x Great North Walk and 5 x Glasshouse. Race Director for Great Ocean Walk100s and Bogong to Hotham. 

Tester mechanics: Mild over pronator with fairly wide forefoot and low arches. Major arthritis in big toe joints of both feet so appreciate protection.

Supplier: Big thanks for the test shoes provided by Barefoot Inc, Adventure Megastore, 505 Kent St, Sydney (