The first shoe I’ll review in the 2013 Merrell M-Connect lineup is the Proterra. It’s a shoe designed for hiking. My hiker friends tell me the minimalist movement has trickled down to the hiking world. Lightweight boots and shoes are replacing the thick, heavy boots that were once synonymous with hiking. Features like 12″ of ankle support, 4″ lugs, and 24 ounce weight are being replaced by light, fast designs. Just like the running shoe world, there’s a new focus on building strength. Teach the body to do the work previously done by boots. The result is a more pleasurable experience.
The Proterra is Merrell’s answer to ultralight minimal hiking.
Since I’m not much of a walker, I didn’t test the shoe as a hiking option. I tested it as a trail running option.
And I was impressed.
The Proterra is significantly different than other trail shoes. First, it’s relatively heavy. In fact, that’s one of the few negatives. My size 12 Trail Gloves weigh in at 10.4 ounces. The Mix Master 2′s are 12.4 ounces. The Proterra is a beefy 16.4 ounces. Most of this weight is due to the 21mm stack height (sole thickness.) The shoe also has a very unique tread pattern. It’s inverted, much like the New Balance MT10.
These differences between the Proterra and all the rest of my trail shoes place it in a unique category- this is a shoe for exceedingly technical trails. The sheer beefiness of the sole provide enough protection to run over anything, yet allow your foot to remain close enough to the ground to prevent ankle rolling. For a thicker, heavy-duty sole, the shoe is surprisingly flexible.
The real appeal of the shoe comes from the shape and heel. The shoe is designed on Merrell’s barefoot last, which fits my foot perfectly. Unlike the more traditionally-shaped Mix Master last, the Proterra doesn’t put pressure on my toe nails. The shoe fits the natural shape of my foot.
The shoe is also zero-dropped- the heel is the same height as the forefoot. Edit: the shoe has a 4mm heel-to-toe drop. The lack of a significant raised heel means it doesn’t cause back or knee pain, especially on flatter surfaces.
The final bright spot for the Proterra is durability. The inverted lug-based tread doesn’t wear down like a traditional lugged sole. It’s figuratively bullet-proof. I would expect this shoe to last even longer than the long-wearing Trail Gloves.
The weight of the shoe is definitely the biggest trade-off of the extreme durability. Because of this, I wouldn’t use this shoe as a normal trail shoe for non-technical to mildly technical trails. I’d save it for the gnarly stuff. Specifically, this would be my current shoe of choice for running mountain 100 milers at night. The shoe feels lighter than the weight would suggest, probably due to the glove-like fit.
Of course, hikers would probably have a different take on the shoe. It would be a feather compared to typical hiking boots, and would probably last just as long. I found it to be exceptionally well-suited for running over the really tough stuff, which earned the shoe an enthusiastic thumbs-up!
This shoe was provided by the manufacturer.