website statistics

Merrell Mix Master 2 Review: New Offering in the M-Connect Series

Posted by on Jun 21, 2012 | 15 Comments

I’ve been on a VERY long quest to find an ideal mountain running shoe. My standard trail running shoe, Merrell’s Trail Glove, performs like a champ in 90% of the conditions I encounter on my travels. However, that remaining 10% has been a continuous problem. I needed a shoe that provided a little more protection but didn’t interfere with running gait. The shoe had to be lightweight as I would be using it for mountain 100 milers.

I tried modifying my Trail Gloves.

I tried the New Balance’s MT110s.

I even tried the Merrell Bare Access, a road shoe.

All worked okay, but had some serious issues that limited their usefulness.

Enter the Mix Master.

I received my first pair months ago and immediately began testing them in the mountains around San Diego and Los Angeles. While they felt much different than the Trail Gloves, the added protection and traction was exactly what I was looking for. I continued to test the shoes in training and in a handful of races eventually setting a PR in both the 50k and 50 mile distance, and running 70 miles of a 100 miler in the Bighorn Mountains. All together, I put approximately 140 “racing” miles and another 350 hard training miles on the original shoes.

The first version of the Mix Masters were set to ship in late winter, but some of the upper material ripped too easily. Merrell stopped production, changed the material, and re-released the shoe as the Mix Master 2.

Stats

The Mix Master 2’s are part of Merrell’s M-Connect lineup that is inspired by their Barefoot Collection. Read about the series here on Pete Larson’s Runblogger blog. The shoes are officially designated as “multi-run” which speaks to the shoe’s versatility. Since I’m in love with the Trail Glove, I only used the Mix Master for very rugged mountain trail running. It would be at home on any trail, however. The shoe was designed to meet the needs above and beyond the Barefoot collection, which is accomplished.

The shoe is made from a different last than the Trail Glove, which felt a bit foreign to me. The toe box is more narrow and feels less like a “glove.” I’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of this later.

The shoe is lightweight. The size 12 MM2 weighs a svelte 9 1/2 ounces. As a comparison, my size 12 TGs weigh 7 7/8 ounces.

Fit

As I mentioned before, the fit is slightly different than the TG and the other shoes in Merrell’s Barefoot lineup. I didn’t quite understand this advantage until I ran trails when very tired. If you kick a rock in the MMs, the shape of the last prevents your toes from hitting the front of the toe box, which saves your toenails (and hurts a lot less).

Barefoot runners that are accustomed to a more anatomical last may not like the fit of the MM, but trail runners will immediately find it to be familiar. It is as if the Merrell development team made a hybrid last between a traditional trail shoe and the Barefoot last. Regardless of how it was developed, the fit is ideal for gnarly trail running. The important part- the fit of the shoe doesn’t interfere with running form.

Raised Heel

The shoe does have a 4mm raised heel, which has been my long-time nemesis. I haven’t used a raised heel shoe extensively since I ran the 2005 Grand Rapids Marathon in a pair of Nike Frees. I used the New Balance Minimus Roads (MR10s) and the MT110s, both of which have a 4mm heel, also. I found the raised heel affects me (patellar tendon pain) on very flat surfaces like roads, but seems to be a bit of an advantage on gnarly trails.

Tread/ Traction

Most of my test runs have been in very dry, rocky terrain. In these conditions, the knobby tread of the Mix Master provides a good balance of traction on both bare rock and loose gravel. I encountered deep mud and snow for the first time in the high country at Bighorn. The shoes performed even better in these conditions. The knobs are close enough to provide good traction but far enough apart to clean well. I did not have a problem with the shoes “caking” with mud.

The tread on the original MMs lasted close to 500 fast miles on very rugged rock surfaces before wearing through to the rock plate. There was noticeable wear after about 300 miles. On dirt or mostly dirt trails, I’d expect the shoes to last longer.

Drainage/ Upper

Bighorn had a ton of stream crossing (and the aforementioned mud), so I had a lot of opportunities to test the water-worthiness of the shoe. The shoes seem to drain about as well as my TGs. The excess water drained out the porous upper of the shoe and they dried after about a mile. They’re not the best draining shoes I’ve ever tested, but they are better than average.

The upper itself is well-ventilated and breathe well. The original Mix Master upper had a tendency to rip when caught on jagged rocks. The new Mix Master 2 upper is a huge improvement from a durability standpoint.

Protection Versus Ground Feel

My interest in the shoe stems from the added protection it provides over its cousin the TG. When nightfall envelops the mountain trails and it becomes difficult to discriminate the sharpest of the rocks, I’ll trade some ground feel for added protection. That’s where the Mix Master thrives. The sole and rock plate are thick enough to disburse the forces of the sharpest rocks I encountered on some of the gnarliest trails I could find in North America. The shoe accomplishes this with a relatively thin, flexible sole, which gives it surprisingly good ground feel.

What Would I Improve

I would like to see the trail Glove’s popular Omni-Fit lacing system added to the Mix Master. It would allow for an even more customizable fit. Other than that, the shoe is nearly perfect for the intended purpose.

Who Would Benefit From This Shoe?

I think of shoes as tools. Specific shoes will serve a specific purpose. For me, this shoe serves as my hard-core trail shoe. I’ll call on it during races when the trails are just too rough for my Trail Gloves. For minimalist runners looking for a more rugged solution for gnarly, technical trails, the Mix Master is among the best options available.

For trail runners that do not use minimal shoes and are looking for something lighter and more nimble, the Mix Master would make a great introductory minimal trail shoe.

For all of my planned upcoming races (Grand Mesa 100, Trans-Rockies stage race, Grindstone 100, and Chimera 100), I’ll use a combination of Trail Gloves in the day time when visibility is good and the Mix Master 2’s in the dark when visibility is poor.

Conclusion

The Mix Masters are one of the new shoes that comprise the M-Connect series which expands the principles of the original Barefoot collection. The Mix Masters are an excellent blend of good natural running shoe design and features that help make the shoe an effective tool. Personally, I believe these are kick-ass trail (and ultramarathon) shoes.

###

This shoe was provided by the manufacturer.

 

 

 

 

Be Sociable, Share!
Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Related Posts:

15 Comments

  1. David
    June 27, 2012

    Just done my first 2 trail runs in the shoe – it’s pretty sweet. All the good attributes that have been mentioned already held true in my experience. In the perfect world, if this shoe was an ounce lighter and had the omni-fit lacing system, it would be even better.

  2. Oscar
    June 25, 2012

    I love the MM1, by now the uppers are still holding up well, but for sure when they blow up I will get the MM2. I wish however the fit was a bit more snug all around the midfoot and heel, keeping the toe space and lenght.

    I would like to see the new bare access 2, with an added rockplate and toe bumper and trail shoe, that would be a killer all-purpose minimalist trail shoe.

  3. Dave
    June 22, 2012

    I have used the 1st iteration Mix Masters since the spring and they have performed very well in some pretty nasty conditions. Like Jason, I usually use the TGs but prefer the extra protection afforded by the MMs in muddy+rocky ultras. I prefer the TG last, but the MM last is still very good and have never had a blister or hot spot in either shoe.

    I did however suffer the torn-upper issue referred to in the post. I’m in the midst of checking with Merrell to see if they can exchange them for me.

  4. dogrunner
    June 22, 2012

    This confused me:
    “The shoe is lightweight. The size 12 MM2 weighs a svelte 9 1/2 ounces. As a comparison, my size 12 TGs weigh 7 7/8 ounces.”

    The MM2 is then noticeably (to me) heavier than the TG, which is relatively light for a trail shoe, but then most trail shoes have historically been heavy tanks.

    On the width – I know you have extensively written about shoe widths in the past, but if someone really does have a wide forefoot, the standard width TG is not wide and the MM2 sounds worse. Ask Merrell to please please make more shoes in wide widths. I’d really like the MM2, in particular, to be offered in wide.

    Thanks for the review

  5. Seamus Foy
    June 22, 2012

    Great review, Jason! This may have to be my next trail purchase. The combination of flexibility, protection and traction seem perfect for the rocky technical trails I usually run. I’m interested to see how it will compare to the upcoming NB MT1010. I think that shoe will have the NB natural last, which seems like it was built for my foot.

    Thanks!

  6. Oliver
    June 22, 2012

    Hey Jason,

    Great review! I would be interested to hear why you feel the 4mm drop “seems to be a bit of an advantage on gnarly trails.”

    I’ve also been using the MMs for rugged stuff and honestly wouldn’t go back to anything less protective. Actually I’m starting to hope that Merrell will bring out an even more hardcore minimal mountain shoe along the lines of the X-Talon or Fellcross… I’ve been training and racing on some extremely rugged trails this year and it’s really put things in perspective for me.

    • Jason
      June 22, 2012

      I have no idea why the 4mm seems to be an advantage. My best theory- it’s easier to use the tread on the heel to help change directions rapidly. I think it may also help control downhill bombs. Based on the wear pattern, I definitely use the heel of the shoe to slow down.

      Having said that, I would like to see another trail shoe, too. I know there’s something in the works (my dream shoe), but I don’t think I can discuss it yet. The new shoe will fill in all the gaps in needs us gnarly trail runners demand that isn’t covered by the Trail Gloves or Mix Master 2.

      • Rob Y
        June 22, 2012

        I agree. While for the most part I love my zero drop shoes I find myself a bit more comfortable off road with a bit of a lift that 4mm provides. I think it’s because that when I tend to bomb the down hills I do heel strike (heaven forbid! ;) ) a bit more because it’s faster and more efficient that way IMHO and having a bit of a lift there helps and protects. Also for speed hiking having a bit of lift in the heel helps a bit to as you’re not having to stretch that Achilles all the way out, give it a bit of a break. Again all these things I’m mentioning have to do with very long distance, offroad use on rugged terrain. Most of the time I’m happy with zero dropped shoes. But I’m finding myself gravitating towards 4mm being the ideal amount of lift for most conditions on and offroad. But that’s just me.

      • Oliver
        June 24, 2012

        Exciting stuff! Any hints on time frame to be released….? No worries if you can’t say :)

  7. JVK
    June 22, 2012

    Jason, can you speak to the upper and going sock-less?
    i think i remember you saying that you wore socks with the MM’s (not the MM 2’s). did Merrell improve the upper to be worn without socks on the MM2’s?

    nice review!!

    • Jason
      June 22, 2012

      The fit of the MM originals and MM2 isn’t the same as the rest of the “Glove’ series. I made the mistake of removing the insole in the original MMs which caused a cut along my medial arch. I haven’t tested the MM2’s with the insole extensively, but it feels much better. I’ll be pacing a friend in a 100 miler this weekend and will try sockless. I’ll report the results early next week.

      • Kevin
        June 22, 2012

        Speaking of cuts on the feet, is this pretty much the norm for ultrarunners or runners going minimalist and/or sockless? The bottoms of my feet are leather after almost 3 years of ultra-running, and 2 years of minimalist, but I have regular nicks and scrapes along the sides and tops of my feet. I use NB zero-trail almost exclusively.

        • Jason
          June 22, 2012

          I’ve yet to run a 100 without some sort of blistering (caused by minor friction over long distances), cuts (caused by seams inside the shoe), or black toenails (caused by kicking rocks). Some shoes are definitely better than others. Merrell, New Balance, and Lemings (formerly Stem) all have sockless liners. I think most Altras are pretty good, too. If the shoe matches the shape of your foot well, there should be fewer problems.

          Still, the extreme nature of ultras usually result in some problems. Repeated exposure to moisture via sweat, mud, or stream crossings usually causes some issues, as does running across uneven, technical terrain.

          If you’re extremely vigilant, you can catch many problems before they become too bad. For example, when I was running Western States, i had a blister from on the medial side of my foot. As soon as I felt it, I stopped and took care of it. It didn’t bother me the rest of the race.

          Conversely, I started developing a blister on the second toe of my right foot at Bighorn this last weekend. I chose to ignore it because I only had about 10 miles to go. It developed into a pretty nasty blister, then popped. I probably should have stopped to care for it.

          • Kevin
            June 22, 2012

            Good to know, thanks Jason. Still learning what’s normal wear and tear, but I seem to be in the bell curve.

          • Rob Y
            June 22, 2012

            Not sure if this is totally accurate but I’ve read that your hydration level can effect your risk of blistering. The more dehydrated you are the more you’re at risk to develop blisters. I need to dig up those sources. But it sort of makes sense to me and jives with my experience as I rarely get blisters or cuts even in the 100 mile+ events I’ve done AND I’m typically pretty good at maintaining my hydration/electrolytes. Something to consider. I also know several other folks who’ve had similar experiences as myself with hydration vs. blister correlation.

            To see the extremes just read some of the Badwater race reports. In an environment where it’s very difficult to stay adequately hydrated A LOT of folks blister up pretty badly. Myself and my wife who’ve run Badwater had no blister issues as I think we kept up with our fluids. I don’t think we have miracle feet or skin, I just think perhaps the fluid intake is one of many possible reasons why we don’t blister…