Meet my new best friends, the Merrell Barefoot Trail Gloves.
In the last few months I’ve been loving trail running. I’ve covered a few of the local trails near me in this post. As also mentioned there, I’m also planning on running a 50K trail race in April. So near the end of my marathon training this past October, I decided to invest in a pair of trail running shoes.
I’ve also been very interested in getting into more minimalist footwear. I tried Vibram Five Fingers a couple of years ago. I like the idea of the minimal cushioning and support they offer, but the whole toe thing seems more of a gimmick than something that provides any real benefits to running. They look funny, they get attention. Some people like that. I also got a pair of New Balance Minimus a while back, but unfortunately they were a bit too small for me (I have large and wide feet) so I never wound up using them very much.
So I wanted to take one more shot at the minimal shoes, and figured I’d do that with the new trail shoes. I researched like crazy and came down to a few options. These were shoes that had a lot of good reviews and also offered something in my size (13) either wide, or that at least were known for having a large toe box. The options were:
1. Another New Balance Minimus trail model. These actually had the most mixed reviews. A lot of love for them, but more than a few negatives as well, mostly around build quality and durability.
2. Something from Altra, notably the Superior. While these don’t make a wide model, they say they have a wide toe box and should fit wide feet.
3. The Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove Wide. This isn’t just listed as a size option for the Trail Gloves, but as an entirely separate model.
I initially settled on the Altras, found them on Amazon through a third party, and ordered them. Although they were supposed to be in stock, the shipping date was about a week out from when I ordered. Then the shipping date came and went and they were still not shipped. A few exchanges with the seller revealed a sketchy concept of “in stock” involving “regular shipments from the factory, so we expected we’d have some…” After a few days more of no shipping, I cancelled the order, took it as a bad omen and ordered the Merrells.
Note, that the third party was NOT Altra itself, and I don’t mean to say anything negative about the Altras. I’m still really interested in them and would like to try them out some time. Just didn’t work out this round.
The Merrells came about a week and a half after I finished my marathon, so I was rested and ready to start trying them out. I can say without a doubt that these are the best shoes I’ve ever worn. The first couple of trail runs I did with them left my arches a bit sore with rocks and roots poking into them, but either my arches have gotten tougher or I’ve adjusted my footfalls to mitigate that, and I really don’t notice it any more.
In the past, I would have said a great shoe was one that made me feel like I was walking on air, that had good cushioning or support, or felt like a thousand tiny angels were massaging my feet. In other words, that the shoe was adding something to the experience of running or walking. With the Merrells, it’s exactly the opposite. They just disappear and you don’t even notice them. They protect you from the pointier stuff on the ground and maybe keep your feet a bit warmer than they’d be otherwise. Otherwise, what shoes?
On one of my early runs with them, I wore a pair of socks that was too small and the socks started creeping down around my heels. Annoyed, I stopped, removed the socks, and continued the run. They still felt awesome. For the next week or so I continued to leave the socks at home. Then came a nice rainy long run. I learned that rain + trails = mud. Mud + shoes = sand + cloth = sandpaper. Sandpaper + skin = pain + blood. I’m back with socks now, just to be safe – there always seems to be at least one muddy spot on the trail. With the socks, I’ve been through some extremely wet and muddy long runs and one 7 miler through a foot of snow. No problems.
At this point I have 180 miles on them. With normal shoes, they might be approaching middle age. But with the general lack of cushioning and support, I think these things will be just fine until the tread itself starts to go.
And the Road Gloves
I loved the Trail Gloves so much, I just had to try their brothers, the Merrell Barefoot Road Gloves. Similar shoes with a more road based tread, and some other build differences to supposedly make them better for running on asphalt, etc. These do not come in a wide model, but reviews I’d seen said they actually had a wider toe box than the regular Trail Gloves. There’s a Merrell store not too far from us, so around Thanksgiving I went over and tried on a pair. They felt good and came home with me. When my friend Jesse saw the above photo, he said, “What? You lost your job and are now working at McDonalds?” Yes, I admit the color had a certain attraction for me. You try shopping for size 13 wide shoes and see what colors you can usually get. I’ll tell you what colors: blue and white. Pretty much all my shoes up till now have been blue and white. They’ve been virtually indistinguishable from a distance, even given several different brands. So I saw these bright red and yellow babies and had to have them. I’ve now gotten that out of my system though.
I will say that these are a bit more snug than the Trail Gloves, but not uncomfortably so. As long as I don’t lace them tight, no problem. The one big difference in feel, which I’ve seen mentioned in a few other reviews, is that for some reason they have a very noticeably raised arch. At some point in the first run it’s like, “who put the golf ball in my shoe?” But I’m slowly warming up to these shoes. While training for the 50K, I”m running Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m trying to hit the trails during the majority of those runs. Generally Wednesday and Sunday are the shorter recovery runs, so I’ve been doing those on pavement with the Road Gloves and the other miles in the Trail Gloves in the woods. So I’m up to about 36 miles in these and I’m really starting to like them. They didn’t give me the instant oh-my-god-these-are-amazing reaction the Trail Gloves did, but at this point, I can’t see going back to my Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12′s. They’d feel like concrete blocks. I think the most I’ve gone in them is 6 miles at this point (I’ve done up to 16 mile runs in the Trail Gloves).
The only sad part of this story is that I now have two awesome pairs of shoes that will last for a long, long time. It’s going to be a hard sell to try out new models and brands any time soon. Still have my eyes on those Altras.