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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.