Minimalist Trail Shoe Options - Merrell Trail Glove

Merrell is kicking off their new line of "barefoot" shoes officially today, along with a resources and areas to learn more. While I don't approve of their marketing, calling something that looks like that "barefoot running" and "freeing your feet" seems less than genuine. The shoe itself however deserves a fair review.

I received a pair of the Men's Trail Glove in December and have had the opportunity to use them during some my winter runs. Past receiving the free pair of shoes, I have received no requests from Merrell, just to be honest and to link to their barefoot site.

General Use of Trail Gloves

Due to the Michigan winter, my experience has covered (~100 miles):
  1. Snow covered trails
  2. Treadmill (to experience how they responded)
  3. Roads/Sidewalks (mostly snow covered)
I have attempted using the shoes with both wicking socks and without socks. I enjoyed them more without socks.

Comparison to Vibram Five Finger Bikila's

The majority of my winter running has been performed in VFF Bikila's so I am qualified only to compare these two together.

The first thing I noticed was the difference in ground sensation between the VFF's and the Trail Glove -- the VFF provided much more ground sensation. It's difficult to articulate the difference without experiencing it for yourself, however the best example I can think of would be explaining the difference between a thin glove and a thicker glove. The Trail Glove's are still no comparison to an actual running sneaker however, which reduces sensation to zero.

Second, both the front sole and the heel of the Trail Glove feel more "built up". I like this for the heel as ideally it would absorb sharp blows from rocks. Having this on the forefoot has taken some adjustment. At first I hated it, but now I feel indifferent.

I expect that I would make particular use of the Trail Gloves on actual technical trails, where I have bruised my heel a few times when landing on embedded larger sized rocks. These type of obstacles are difficult to avoid, especially descending. Unfortunately I haven't been able to test the shoes in the place I would find them most useful.

Despite my thoughts to the contrary, the shoes provided no more “grip” in the snow than the VFF Bikila's. This may be due to my running style, but I expected more traction out of the shoe.

Initial Conclusion

I prefer the Bikila's on normal roads, sidewalks, and dirt trails due to the increased flexibility and ground sensation. The Trail Glove is the best shoe I have ever worn however, which is saying something, as I have found no others I would ever think of wearing again.

I am looking forward to trying the shoe out on the more technical trails come spring/summer to alleviate the issues with rocks. I think that this shoe may find itself a permanent home.

Updated Conclusion (8/2/11)

My initial conclusion stands. I have now utilized the trail gloves for approximately 300 miles of very technical trails. They have served the exact purpose I had intended them to, which is to full the sensations in my foot when dealing with embedded rocks and fresh cut saplings (1-2" off the ground). If the situation does not meet this criteria, I find the Bikila's much more to my liking.