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Merrell Road Glove Review

Posted by on Sep 23, 2011 | 16 Comments

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.

Testing Conditions

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.

Unintended Uses

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.

Conclusion

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!!!

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16 Comments

  1. Alan J
    September 26, 2011

    I am looking forward to trying these. I am also hoping that you can convince Merrell to come out with a zero drop shoe suitable to wear to the office, maybe even with a tie.

    • aristheo
      September 27, 2011

      They do make the Tough Glove. If you want a better looking shoe you can wear at the office, I would check out the VIVOBarefoot

    • aristheo
      September 27, 2011

      Meant to say “the VIVOBarefoot shoe line up”.

  2. betsig250
    September 24, 2011

    SP 2012 is when these will come out.

    Tom.. There will be a 4mm drop shoe as well in the future.

    Wish I was in NYC this weekend!

    • DGL47
      September 24, 2011

      Great, can you tell us the tech specs?
      Is that information available at this point?
      If so, can you or Jason post them please.
      Thanks.

  3. mark lofquist
    September 24, 2011

    don’t worry I won’t let my CF’ers use those reebok bubble-wrap-soled-shoes! great review, i think their mod to the sole would fix why my trail gloves are wearing out so fast.

  4. Alex
    September 24, 2011

    The trail glove, despite the name, has been my all-purpose running shoe since before it’s actual release date. (I was lucky enough to get an advance pair from a local shoe store.) I’ve never run in anything better, in that it provides protection without interference. Still, it’s far from well suited to roads/treadmills/gyms, all of which I use regularly. Thus I’ve been excited for the road glove since it was announced; the positive review does nothing but reinforce that. Sadly, it also highlights just how long we have to wait for it.

  5. Energymonkey
    September 24, 2011

    Do they offer a super wide version yet? That’s my problemvwith the trail glove… Too narrow for my hobbit feet!

  6. Peter A.
    September 23, 2011

    I’m glad you are on the same page in seeing the use of Merrell’s for Crossfit. I do a lot of Sealfit now, which requires a heck of a lot of transitioning to running, and always had a hard time finding a shoe I felt comfortable giving a beating to that could transition into an immediate running shoe in the flip of a switch. The Trail Gloves were ok, but the raised tread didn’t work right. The Hattori failed miserably (burpees= toes tearing into the fabric). Inov-8s are ok, but I wanted something more “barefoot.” And I don’t like VFF’s. Enter this shoe. Cannot begin to describe my excitement for the prospects this shoe will offer.

    Great review. Keep us posted on whether or not you continue to get the “cutting” in the achilles.

  7. Malva
    September 23, 2011

    I’ll be sure to check them out! I

    I finally found my perfect road shoe. I absolutely love the new Inov8 Bare X 200. With the insole removed, they’re even better than my KSOs. Check them out if you run across them.

  8. Bob M.
    September 23, 2011

    I’m a little disapointing the shoe don’t have the omni-lock lacing, I like it so much in my trail glove. I would like to know if you wear the same size on the road glove and the trail glove

    thank

  9. DGL47
    September 23, 2011

    Thanks Jason.
    How much do they weigh?

  10. Ash
    September 23, 2011

    Great review, Jason! You’ve sold me on ‘em. These are being released to the rest of us in Spring of 2012, right? Price point commensurate with the Trail Glove, I suppose?

  11. Tom C
    September 23, 2011

    Hey Jason – I’m a huge fan of the Trail Gloves and Teraplana Evo’s for the road. Unfortunately, due to extremely inflexible feet, I am finding a need just a little bit of a drop (perhaps 4 – 6mm). Much as I want these shoes, since they are zero drop, what else have you tried that you think would fit the need? As I said, the Merrell Trail Gloves are perfect in every way for me, just need a small drop on them. Thoughts?

  12. Flint
    September 23, 2011

    Jason,

    I have tested both the Merrell TrailGlove and the SonicGlove and have to agree on your description of the TrailGlove. It is, indeed, an excellent trail runner.

    As for the problem you had with your Achilles, I have experienced the exact same thing in the Sonic Glove. After only 5K, I had to actually take off the shoes and run back home barefoot because my achilles was bleeding. I haven’t run in the Sonic’s since.

    Last comment I would add is actually a piece of advice : DO NOT use ankle-cut Injinji socks with the Merrell shoes. They will get dragged down to your heels. Use the higher version, to make sure the sock is at least an inch and a half above your ankle.

    If you’re interested, here’s my review of the TrailGlove : http://flintland.blogspot.com/2011/07/review-merrell-barefoot-trailglove.html

    Cheers,

    Flint

  13. John R.
    September 23, 2011

    How long must we wait before these are available?