The Merrell Road Glove. Simply put, it is to roads what the Trail Glove is to trails.
Merrell took the formula that made the Trail Glove a success, worked out a few details based on feedback from the barefoot running community, and developed a shoe that did exactly what a good minimalist shoe should- make you forget it’s there.
Before I get to the actual review, it should be known that I work with Merrell to develop and conduct barefoot running education. Our effort is known as Bareform, and we use the “ABC’s of barefoot running” as our clinic format. I’ve talked about my decision to work with them before here. The short version- they were the first (and I think only) shoe company that acknowledged being barefoot was best, and their shoes were designed to give protection without interfering with natural form.
Anyway, I like to fully disclose this because of the potential conflict of interest. If you have any doubts about my impartiality, try them yourself. Before going to the store, read this article on selecting the right shoe for you.
The Elusive Road Running Minimalist Shoe
My perfect minimalist shoe for road running needs the following qualities:
- Zero drop heel- raised heels mess with my posture, which affects balance and causes me knee pain.
- Minimal cushioning- My body is more than capable of absorbing the minimal ground collision forces as I kiss the ground with my feet.
- Wide toe box- gotta let the toes splay!
- Sole that provided a flat platform- The road is flat; I need my shoes to provide that same surface.
That’s about all I need, yet no shoe really fit the bill. My Luna huaraches are close, but aren’t great in wet conditions. My now-ancient KSOs were good, but I don’t always want separated toes. EVOs has a weird toe box flex. Frees and Kinvaras had a raised heel. Altras were too padded. Kigos were too narrow. Bikilas didn’t fit my toes well. I could go on and on…
When Merrell told me they were in the process of designing a road shoe, I immediately gave them my list of demands and one more request- do all of this but don’t lose the magic of the Trail Glove.
I know they received a ton of feedback from a lot of different sources, so my suggestions probably had minimal impact. Regardless, they listened.
Since it is a road shoe, I figured the best first run would be… around the Eldora Ski Resort west of Nederland, Colorado! The route was a tough technical 15 mile out and back with 3000′ of elevation gain (8,000′ to ~11,000′.) The second run was up Round Mountain west of Loveland, CO. The third run was the Mt. Sneffles Marathon on gravel roads from Ridgway to Ouray, Colorado. By the fourth run, I finally did some asphalt running.
The Road Glove
The best way to describe the Road Glove is to compare it to the Trail Glove. The fit is nearly identical, as is the function. The shoe hugs your feet in roughly the same places, while allowing freedom where needed.
When first wearing the shoe, one difference is noticeable. The sole of the Road Glove does not touch the arch of your foot as the Trail Glove did. Many people mistakenly called this “arch support.” It didn’t provide support, it was intended to keep the foot in place inside the shoe when traversing gnarly mountainous trails. Since most people won’t be using the Road Glove for mountainous running, this was eliminated.
The upper is a little softer than the trail glove, which gives it a little bit more flexibility. It also has a sockless liner much like the Trail Glove. Aside from these minor details, the upper feels much like a hybrid between the Trail Glove and Sonic Glove.
The real difference, which is felt immediately, comes from the sole. Heh. Sorry about that one. Back on task…
The sole of the Road Glove is pancake flat. Compare that to the Trail Glove, which had a fairly aggressive tread for trails. That tread was spectacular on trails, but kinda sucked on roads. The Road Glove sole solves this problem by flattening all lugs and tread. This is the single thing that made this such a huge improvement for road running. The foot landing feels exactly like landing when wearing a huarache- which is exactly what makes it so good.
As far as other characteristics- the shoe is fairly well ventilated and dried quickly. During the mountain runs, I traversed several streams and snow fields, which provided a pretty good test. The shoe kept my foot in place well when wet.
The Omni-lock lacing system was removed, as it shouldn’t be necessary for road running. However, I did miss it during my mountain runs. With the Trail Gloves, I could tighten the top lace to prevent slippage while still maintaining good toe splay.
Traction was surprisingly good on the rocky mountain trails… definitely on-par with the Trail Glove. In mud, the flat sole didn’t perform too well. On roads, the conditions the shoe was designed for, traction was excellent even on wet asphalt.
Overall Thoughts… The Good
The shoe is a nearly perfect road shoe for barefoot and minimalist runners. It allows barefoot form while still providing protection. This pretty much sums up the positive characteristics of the shoe.
Overall Thoughts… The Bad
There are a few negatives. On my first two runs, the collar around my Achilles cut into my left foot. The problem disappeared after the first 20 miles or so, which may just have been a form issue. I haven’t had the problem since, but I am eager to test a second pair as a comparison. [EDIT- after confirming with Merrell, the collar height on the Road Glove is identical to the Trail Glove. To confirm that this was an isolated problem, I tested a second pair of shoes and did not have an issue.]
I would like to have seen the Omni-fit system on the shoes for one reason- they make BAD ASS Crossfit shoes. The ability to cinch the laces more would have been beneficial when doing box jumps.
The color schemes still have a distinctive outdoor feel, though much less than the Trail Gloves. This is a strong personal preference, but I like loud colors. Note- there are color combinations I haven’t seen yet. This may be a moot point. [Edit- I just saw the rest of the available colors- MUCH better than my test pair!]
I should mention toe spring before it comes up in the comments. First, I think toe spring in flexible minimalist shoes is an overblown concern. It simply doesn’t affect gait. I discussed the issue here. Second, the toe spring evident in the pictures disappears in actual function. It keeps the upper from pinching the tops of the toes.
This shoe is more or less guaranteed to be one of the first choices for barefoot and minimalist shoe runners searching for a road shoe. However, I think it’s hidden value comes from its other possible uses. As I mentioned above, it has become my favorite functional fitness shoe due to the fit and flat sole. Crossfitters will LOVE it… too bad they seem to have abandoned their love of minimalist shoes in favor of those Reebok posers…
The shoe could also be the answer as a minimalist court shoe. I don’t play too many court-like sports, but I did run around a tennis court for awhile. Traction was good. Most importantly, balance was excellent! It wouldn’t surprise me if people start using these shoes for all kinds of court sports… volleyball, tennis, four-square, even basketball.
The shoes will also serve as better casual shoes than Trail Gloves due to the sole. I’ve worn mine for extended periods of walking, standing, and driving. The shoes performed all tasks admirably.
The Road Glove is exactly what it should be- a road shoe that doesn’t interfere with natural gait. Merrell took the formula that worked for the Trail Glove and applied it to this shoe. The shoe isn’t perfect, but it works exceptionally well for me. If you are in the market for a minimalist shoe for the road, this should be on your short list of shoes you MUST try.
Merrell and Barefoot Running
I have a unique position. I routinely talk to lots of barefoot and minimalist shoe runners, and also get occasional glimpses into the inner-workings of Merrell. No other company has done a better job of reading what the barefoot and minimalist crowd wants, then putting that into action. The result is obvious- a bunch of damn good shoes.
Unlike most other companies that rely on data or marketers to develop shoes, Merrell cares about all feedback. It’s the reason they actually want me to talk about the things I don’t like about their shoes. To make the best possible shoes, they need the best possible feedback. That feedback can only come from the trenches.
To that end, feel free to discuss the things you like and the things you dislike when these shoes hit the market. Merrell will be dramatically expanding their minimalist offerings in the spring based on the varied feedback they received. Please continue that dialogue!!!