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Merrell M-Connect Lineup- The Vapor Glove

Posted by on Feb 6, 2013 | 43 Comments

merrell m-connect vapor glove back quarter

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 Shoe

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.

merrell m-connect vapor glove sole

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.

The Uses

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.

merrell m-connect vapor glove front quarter

Final Thoughts

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!

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43 Comments

  1. Thomas
    February 15, 2013

    Jason
    I actually looked for an email to write you, but did not find any and thus comment here in stead.

    I have been reading and lurking on this site for a bit and actually read your book too, which i found excellent.

    On your about page I stumbled over the fact that you are working for Merrell as a consultant and barefoot coach.

    Couple this fact to a string of very enthusiastic review of a string of nre merrell barefoot shoes and you have me a little worried about objectivity.

    I think it should at least be stated in your review, that you are affiliated with Merrell.

    Respectfully,
    Thomas

    • Jason
      February 16, 2013

      Hey Thomas, I’ve talked about the decision to work with Merrell in the past: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2010/12/11/my-decision-to-work-with-merrell/, and routinely talk about the reason I like Merrell so much- their barefoot last fits my foot perfectly. Still, if they produce a turd, I have no problem calling it a turd (for example, I really don’t like the Proterra mid… review coming as soon as I get time to write.)

      The real key- any shoe review should be used as a guide to determine the USE of a shoe. You should NEVER buy a shoe based solely on any one review. This is the methodology that should be used: http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2011/02/13/how-to-choose-the-right-minimalist-shoe-2/.

      • Thomas
        February 16, 2013

        Thanks for the reply Jason, and for the links and explanation.
        I see you explained it in the post linked to and I deeply respect the open and sincere attitude of the post mentioned, but my point is that those getting linked to the review may not be aware..
        I mainly read your and other sites to figure out what to try and what is new, as I usually have a couple of different minimalist shoes on rotation in my running and gym schedule.
        Thanks again for the sincere answer.

        • Bare Lee
          February 17, 2013

          Jason, I tend to agree with Thomas. You can’t really presume everyone knows your background. The right thing to do would probably be to explain your relationship to Merrell at the top of any review of one of their products. I know you’re willing to call a turd a turd, but it would still be good to be upfront about your consultant role with them.

      • Rob Y
        February 18, 2013

        I’d perhaps include a “sticky” or other link on the header of your blog that links to an explanation of your work with Merrell. That way a new user coming through who discovers your blog will be able to see that information. Sort of like a FAQ.

  2. Mats
    February 15, 2013

    bah! should have been :
    On top of my head I would say that the softstar Moc3, several of the Feelmax shoes, Vivo breezy/aqua lite, Sole runner shoes are pretty good shoes with many happy users.

  3. Mats
    February 15, 2013

    Even if these look like they could be the best of the bunch, I wouldn’t really agree that there hasn’t been any successful ultra-minimal shoes until now. More like the big name companies haven’t been bold enough to offer something like this before now.
    I totally agree with Justin from birthday shoes: “Hey Merrell! these are great, why didn’t you make these in the first place?”

    On top of my head I would say that the Moc3, several of the Feelmax shoes, Vivo breezy/aqua lite, Sole runner shoes

    I started my minimalist running career in Feelmax Kuusa and have been waiting a long time for the bigger companies to “get it” release some shoes in the ultra-minimal category.
    Hopefully the vaper gloves become a big hit and starts a trend.

  4. Bryan
    February 14, 2013

    How is the durability. I’ve been in Bikila’s for a while but I can only get 3 months out of them before wearing through the soles. I also think that VFF’s quality control isn’t always consistent and that’s another part of the durability issue. I want more durability but without losing too much ground feel.

  5. NickW
    February 12, 2013

    Ok Jason, you have me almost willing to go and find these at a local store and try them on… You and I have different feet though and what you like with the Merrell brand tends to be too narrow for me in the midfoot. Maybe these will be better….? The sole definitely looks better. Hmmmmm……

    • Bare Lee
      February 15, 2013

      Nick, I don’t think these will work for your wide feet. My feet are normal to narrow, and they’re just right.

      Another thing–they seem seem to run about a half size too long.

      • NickW
        February 15, 2013

        Well Lee, you were right. Tried them on at the Merrell outlet store here. They almost fit and are by far Merrells widest barefoot shoe I’ve tried on. Suck a bummer too, because they felt like they would have been good to run in had they been just a smidge wider. Oh well. Back to my VFF Speeds.

        • Bare Lee
          February 16, 2013

          Did you find them about a half-size too big too?

          • NickW
            February 16, 2013

            Yep. I normally wear an 11.5 and I tried these in an 11 and they were still just a touch too long. I also really did not like the rubber toe bumper as the way it is shaped my big toe nail kept trying to hang up on it just while walking around the store. I can’t imagine trying to run and having that happen. I also tried the 10.5 but they were too short. Oh well. Maybe someday Merrell will make a shoe that I can wear.

  6. Jack Harris
    February 7, 2013

    I couldn’t find these on the Merrell website. Am I missing something?

    • Jack Harris
      February 7, 2013

      Nevermind. They’re not in the Barefoot section of the Merrell website, but I found them when I used the search bar.

  7. Chuck
    February 7, 2013

    Can you wear them with socks. My feet are just too sweaty to have a rubber sole against my skin.

  8. Bare Lee
    February 7, 2013

    Also, can you take the insoles out?

    • Pieter Joost
      February 7, 2013

      No

  9. Bare Lee
    February 7, 2013

    Have you tried Vivobarefoot’s Aqua Lites? If so, how do they compare with the Vapor Glove?
    I’ve been using the Aqua Lites for days when it’s too cold for barefoot, and have been impressed by their 3mm sole and groundfeel. On the really cold days I put the insole back in. Without the insole, the Aqua Lites are comparable to the the Moc3′s 2mm sole, but I like the snugger fit of the Aqua Lites.

  10. Roger
    February 7, 2013

    Just curious: have you ever tried any of the ZEMgears? I found their webpage today trough a Spanish minimalist running website and they have models as light as 70g with a really thin sole.

  11. Pieter Joost
    February 7, 2013

    First shoe that I prefer above huarache’s. They rock!

  12. Linent
    February 7, 2013

    Jason,

    My best size for the trail, road, true and tough gloves (As you can see I’m a merrell enthusiast) is 44,5 (10,5 USA), as well as for the bare acess.

    I love the last in all these shoes. Unfortunatley the vapor glove is not available yet in the shops, here in Catalonia… So I have to buy it on-line.

    ¿Is the last of the vapor similar to the rest of merrell’s barefoot line?

    Can I buy safely “my” usual size?

    Linus

    • Roger
      February 7, 2013

      An off-topic reply, sorry!: If you like your Tough Gloves, please write to Merrell to ask them to put them back in their catalog, it is really a pitty (at least for me) that they discontinued the model.

      Apa, una abraçada!

  13. Luke
    February 6, 2013

    These look like they would be great race shoes. How is the traction on these compared to a traditional rubber spike cross-country racing flat?

  14. John Y.
    February 6, 2013

    Do people really wear Hokas because of the cushioning, or because they make you 24cm taller???

    • StephenB
      February 7, 2013

      Come one, really?

    • Rob Y
      February 11, 2013

      Definitely for the cushioning. I got mine to help mitigate the pounding from high mileage training and for doing ultra distance races. After a certain distance, those who’ve been there, know that cushioning and protection trump ground feel! Now for regular training and shorter runs? I’m definitely more about more minimalist shoes; I totally understand the benefits. But shoes are tools; use the right tool for the job!

  15. David Henry
    February 6, 2013

    Looks like a nice shoe and I’ve heard others say similarly great things about it. I’ll have to give them a try. I would say, I think that Inov-8 has a pretty good option with the Bare-X 180, but I know that not everyone fits every last well, but it is very similar spec wise to the Vapor glove and the best ultraminimal road shoe I’ve tried (and I’ve tried all the ones you mentioned above). The nice thing with the Inov-8s, for me, is they have a dozen other shoes that work really well for me on the same last (anatomic last; Trailrocs, Terraflys, New F-lites, Road-Xs and new Road-Xtremes). A few Merrell shoes fit me ok, but not as many options, especially for mountain running, as Inov-8. Thanks for the review.

  16. Dave
    February 6, 2013

    Hi Jason, how would you rate the durability of the upper? I liked the NB MT00, but the super thin upper didn’t last and ripped quite quickly. Interested to know what you think of the durability. Is it MT00 or Road Glove/Road Zero durable? Thanks!

  17. Mikie
    February 6, 2013

    Great review, Jason. One question, any Merrell minimal shoe that I have ever tried on had an annoying bump in the arch area. Do these have a flat insole area? Would like something as flat as a water shoe.

    • Jon
      February 7, 2013

      Nope no “arch bump” on these… there is no room for any additional material at 5mm thick

  18. Mats|
    February 6, 2013

    A couple of questions.

    How wide/flexible are these?
    The problem I’ve had with the merrell gloves is that they’ve just been too narrow and too tight in the forefoot. I’ve only tried them in some shops, but it didn’t take long to realize that this wasn’t gonna work.
    Are they any wider, or more flexible as that would help quite a bit too?

    And how does the build quality seem, I’m thinking mainly of the upper mesh material. Could it take some abuse, or does it seem fragile?

    • Jason
      February 6, 2013

      Build quality is excellent. The roominess will be comparable to all of the Barefoot lineup. The shoes are incredibly flexible… there is no structure at all.

  19. Seb
    February 6, 2013

    Hello Jason, can these shoes be used to learn good form? I’m still new to minimalism and was following your “lose the shoes” plan. What I mean is that if running in these shoes on hard surfaces like pavements will have the same benefit as running barefoot? Or it still holds true that to learn good form I need to run barefoot.

    • Jason
      February 6, 2013

      These would be better than a lot of shoes, but I’d still try learning while actually barefoot. Nothing replaces the actual tactile sensations of skin-on-ground. ;-)

  20. Emily
    February 6, 2013

    I’ve been looking for something in winter to keep my feet dry and warm-ish. Would this shoe do that? I love my huaraches, but even with socks, they wouldn’t keep my feet dray/warm, a must for me for running with Raynauds in the cold.

    • Jason
      February 6, 2013

      This is an extremely ventilated shoe… it would not offer any protection against wind or moisture. I’d use them in the winter, but I also sometimes run barefoot in snow. I’d probably recommend another shoe for winter running.

  21. Grant
    February 6, 2013

    But do you like it? ;)

  22. Eric
    February 6, 2013

    I almost bought a pair this week, but wasn’t sure about it. I will definitely buy these next time.