Innovation in the shoe marketplace doesn’t happen very often. I’ve been reviewing minimalist shoes for somewhere around seven years. During those seven years, precious few shoes have stood out as being truly innovative game-changers.
- The original Vibram KSO- it was the first minimalist shoe that actually fit the shape of the foot.
- The Terra Plana Vivobarefoot EVO- it was the first good minimalist shoe without separated toes that was designed for running.
- The New Balance MT10- it was the first good minimalist trail shoe.
The Vapor Glove, the third of Merrell’s M-Connect lineup I’m reviewing after the Proterra and Mix Master Move, is one such game-changer. Why? The shoe perfects the ultraminimal design that’s been lacking from the market since the earliest days of the minimalist movement. There have been some great attempts at ultraminimal shoes. Vibram, especially in the pre-Bikila days, had some great models. Shoes like the Altra Adams or the Feelmax stuff were okay, but the execution just wasn’t there. The other attempts at barely-there shoes have been half-assed at best. No company has been able to produce a really good super light, thin-soled shoe with a comfortable upper.
Until the Vapor Glove.
Some of my barefoot running friends have been asking me if the barefoot running movement is dead. Indeed, much of the hype has died down. It seems as if more and more manufacturers are blurring the lines between very minimal “barefoot” shoes and traditional athletic shoes. It seems as if the close-to-barefoot genre has died. The Vapor Glove is the answer to that question. Merrell has filled out most of the possible niche areas between actual barefoot and cushioned, raised heel foot coffins, but they haven’t forgotten the lessons learned a few years ago- you can’t beat actual barefoot. The Vapor Glove is as close to barefoot as possible while still wearing a versatile shoe that flat-out performs.
The best place to start is the sole. The total stack height (sole thickness) is a crepe-like 5.5 millimeters, which is 2mm of cushioning on top of 3mm of Vibram rubber. If my memory is correct, this is the exact measurements of the original KSO. Ground feel is spectacular… far better than pretty much any non-Vibram I’ve tried. It feels similar to the SeeYa, but with a slightly more natural feel. The closest shoe I could compare it to is a thin-soled low top wrestling shoe that doesn’t crowd the toes.
The shoe, as would be expected, is incredibly light. My size 12’s weigh in at 6.3 ounces, which place them among the lightest shoes I’ve ever tested… including various huaraches and racing flats.
The upper could best be described as a second skin. It’s not strecthy, so the shoe doesn’t twist around on your foot. It encases the foot without restricting movement. It’s made from a breathable mesh which adds to the “Am I really wearing a shoe?” feeling.
If I would have had this shoe seven years ago, I may not have been so eager to try everything else on the market. It’s probably the only shoe I’ve tried that actually replicates being barefoot with some added protection. I’ve tried it in all kinds of weird applications, from daily casual use to swimming to Muay Thai kickboxing. I’ve also used it in a variety of running applications. I would use this shoe for any conditions that I would normally go barefoot. I would also use the shoe for some barefoot-unfriendly situations like treadmills, hot pavement, sprinting, or exceptionally rough asphalt. The shoe could also be used for nontechnical trail running.
Barefoot runners looking for a pretty-close-to-barefoot experience will love the shoe. It takes many of the advantages of huaraches but eliminates the pain-in-the-ass lacing or tendency for rocks to lodge between the footbed and your foot. The shoe IS NOT going to appeal to people that do not like to feel what’s under foot. If you’re a Hoka fan, stick to the silly looking marshmallows.
The Vapor Glove is the minimalist shoe barefoot runners have been waiting for since companies started listening to our advice. While the vast majority of the entire M-Connect lineup is superb, most of the shoes are just solid improvements over existing products. The Vapor Glove stands out as the truly innovative piece in the lineup. It’s the first shoe I’ve tried in a very long time that made me take a step back and say “Holy shit, this is awesome!“
There’s no ultraminimal shoe on the market even remotely close to the Vapor Glove. The closest competitor in regards to overall function would have to be the now-outdated original KSO. Merrell hit a home run with this one and I would expect to see many of the manufacturers attempt to copy this platform in the near future. After years of reviewing shoes, not much really impresses me. The Vapor Glove has done just that. I wouldn’t be surprised if this shoe wins several “shoe of the year” awards.
Help keep BRU alive by buying your shoes from Amazon- here’s the Vapor Gloves!