Monday, February 7, 2011

Merrell Trail Glove Review

Well, here it is, and not a moment too soon. I've had the Merrell Trail Gloves in my possession since October, but have yet to write a review of them. My friend(and source of the "media sample" shoes prior to release date) and training partner Jason Robillard has posted his review, and my opinions on the shoe are not that different from his. I do feel, however, that my perspective on minimal shoes is slightly different from his. I'm a slightly more "traditional" runner than a true barefooter. I trained exclusively barefoot for nearly a year, but now I run in whatever foot covering fits the bill best.

The Trail Glove was a long-anticipated shoe for me, along with the rest of the barefoot and minimalist shoe crowds. In previous months, the shoe's release was a bit overshadowed by the murmurings of the New Balance Minimus line. I'm proud to be a small contributor to that murmur when I was able to test both the wellness and trail versions of the shoe.

Wearing the Minimus Trail in the Woodstock 50mile
The New Balance Minimus line would certainly be hard to top. I loved both models I tested, and desperately wanted to keep them. Maybe I'm just being nostalgic because I won Woodstock in the Trail model and just missed 1st in the wellness. I was able to cover both courses sans socks and feel great in them.

In comes the Trail Glove. I remember picking them up, and thinking about how similar they were to the Minimus Trail.
The fit/upper
The shoe is aptly named-it truly does have a "glove like" fit. The midfoot and heel wrap snugly around the foot, but the toe box provides ample room for the toes to wiggle and the forefoot to splay. This does give the shoe a bit of a clown shoe look, but form follows function and functional look of the shoe makes them cool...get it? When the shoe fits properly, all of the flex points of the upper are nearly perfectly placed. The unrestricted feel of the shoe is a real plus when coming from a barefoot background. The upper is made to be worn sockless, which earns it a big "thumbs up" from me. I experienced no heel rubbing, which is usually the game ender when I attempt to go sockless(unmodified New Balance MT101s gouge the heck out of my heels, but are also meant to allow sockless wear). The only negative points I can make about the fit is an issue that arises when the shoe is brand new. The EVA sole  has slightly thicker portions in the midfoot that feel a bit...lumpy. The shoe feels just a little uneven when standing in them. This nearly disappears when running, and absolutely fades with some breaking in. After less than 100 miles, the shoes conformed to my feet and felt like a worn in pair of slippers. I would suggest that Merrell eliminate the extra EVA, but the Trail Gloves fit me so well now that I'm glad the materials used are there currently. I guess if you wanna make an omelet, you gotta break a few eggs.

Pictured on the left are the Trail Glove(my feet, furthest left), the women's Pace Glove(Shelly's feet), Vibram TrekSports(Mark), and Rick with some sweet snow chains on.


The shoe simply grips well. Upon closer inspection, the sole of the shoe bears a striking resemblance to that of the Vibram Fivefingers Trek Model, but without the separated toes. While on a training run with my friend Mark(who was wearing TrekSports), I noticed that he and I were leaving almost identical footprints on the beach of Lake Michigan. Since the Treks are, prior to the release of the Merrell line, my favorite shoe for road/trail combination excursions, I took this as a sign that it was going to be a great shoe.

The Vibram outsole design works superbly on a variety of terrain.

Like the Trek, the Trail Glove has large "toe grippers" that allow for excellent traction on uphills in loamy soil and snow. This was of particular interest to me. With barefoot running, we're told not to "push off," but instead to lift. The only situation this doesn't apply to is loose uphill terrain. Merrell must have really done their homework when they put the traction devices where they needed them and saved weight and bulk where it was unnecessary. This indicates an advantage over the outsole of the Minimus Trail, which seems more well-suited for rockier terrain. Another benefit over the Minimus is the weight. The EVA midsole of the Trail Glove not only privides a marginal amount of cushion(of debatable value), but saves weight over a solid Vibram sole. The lugs on the rest of the outsole are rather small, but effective on a wider variety of surface. The smaller sizing of the lugs makes a very slight sacrifice in traction for a great gain in ground feel, flexibility, and versatility. Though I still prefer a more minimal shoe for 100% road running(Vibram KSOs), the Trail Glove is one of the best shoes for runs requiring road running that connects neighboring trail systems together.

Though not identical, it's pretty obvious what the inspiration of the Merrell outsole is. Our Vibram "one finger" has arrived.

I touched on this briefly before, but I'll mention it again. The shoe has a bit of a utilitarian look, but the color schemes and design are in line with the rest of Merrell's outdoor offerings. Though not as attention-grabbing as the orange  NB Trail Minimus, The low key look of the shoe has certainly grown on me(note: the Trail Glove also comes in a crazy electric yellow/greenish color, and its pretty awesome looking).

Positives- I think the traction, protection, ground feel, and flexibilty of this shoe is near perfect...for the niche that its designers intended it to fill. It offers slightly more protection than a Terra Plana EVO or Vibram Fivefingers(even the Trek model), and provides the groundfeel and barefoot-like performance that is unmatched by any other offerings thus far(ie, the MT101, Inov8 x-talon 190). I could get wordy, but the bottom line is that the shoe is great. Durability is  clearly a non-issue. I abuse the hell out of these shoes. I run in cold temperatures, on roads, trails, rocks, and whatever else I come across. I usually leave them outside when Im done, and occasionally wash them in hot water when I hop in the shower after a run. While at home over holiday break, I dried the shoes by putting them next to our wood stove that usually warps shoes and deforms gloves due to the heat. The Merrells still look great and seem to perform better with break in. My pair is currently approaching 600miles and a single stitch has come undone.

I'm not sure why, but the feeling of running sockless is almost as important to me as running shoeless...

Negatives- I love the Trail Gloves, but I have to paint its portrait, warts and all. Barefoot purists may be put off by the amount of "squish" in the shoe when it's new. When initially standing in the Trail Glove, it doesn't have the "barely there" feeling of Fivefingers or Huaraches. Others may take issue with the "arch" of the shoe. When tied snugly(the way I prefer), the lacing system pulls the upper and the sole tightly around the midfoot. Though offering a negligible amount of pressure(dare I say, the snugness had NO effect on my running gait, nor did it lead to any foot pain. I'll take some of the responsibility for this, but I have to make a note here. These things freakin' stink! They have the same smell as my Vibrams, a stench unlike anything else I own. I have other running shoes that don't smell this way with regard to the type or magnitude of stank. Finally, the biggest issue I had was during a frozen 33 mile run in December. For some reason, The upper tore the crap out of my foot. I attribute this isolated incident to the cold temperatures(single digit below zero). I was so cold pre-race that I could barely tie the shoes properly. The shoe has yet to give me this problem since, and I've run further in them.
...socklessness does come at a price sometimes. My feet after a 33mile race in the Trail Gloves. So far, a fluke.
 That's one hell of an image to leave you with, isn't it?


  1. Nicely done review, Jesse. I've had a isolated incedence of weird rubbing while wearing the Trail Glove too. I think "wearing a glove" can sometimes lead to nasty blisters... Hence it both of our cases -- heat seemingly not the issue --, with enough moisture and friction, one will get sores. I am DEFINITELY a fan though! +Andy Grosvenor

  2. Nice review! (Even the last photo...)

  3. So the real question; which did you like better, the minimus or the trail glove?

  4. Erich, Its certainly a tough decision. The zero heel/toe drop of the Trail Glove puts it in the lead, as does the slightly lighter feel. I also forgot to mention one thing about the minimus(this wasn't meant to be a head-to-head comparisson, but it ended up coming out as such). After the 50miler at woodstock, I had a slightly bruised navicular bone on both feet. I'll post some pics later to show it, but mine protrude from my foot alot. The upper of the minimus has a strap that crosses right over the bony prominence, causing soft tissue damage. I couldn't wear shoes for about 4 days post race. I'll edit this into the review. I will say that not all feet are like mine, so others may not experience this.

    1. hi jesse. i'm from the philippines and i will be running the north face 100kms here. i'm still in search of the best shoe to do the job. it will be a 70% trail 30% road. the trails will be sick uphill and downhill trails with a lot of loose slippery pine needles loose soil sharp rocks sudden steeps. i'm a hurrache vff and m10 trail user. i used the m10 to do 35km summit runs on tought mountains but i'm just not sure if it can hack the poundage and terrain of the 100kms. i'm contemplating on the mt101, trail glove, mt110. hope you can help me out. tried the chunky traditional tnf trail shoes they suck it hurt me more

    2. Hey Alfred!

      If the terrain is really rough, I'd go with a more substantial shoe than the trail glove. For mountainous courses, I like the MT110. I wore it for the Pike's Peak Marathon in 2011 and it worked perfectly. If you like the fit of the Merrell last better, the Bare Access has a bit more protection than the Trail Glove. Another good option is the Inov-8 f-lite, either the 195 or 230. Since you run in very minimal shoes, things like heel height and ground feel might be more important to you. On technical courses, I don't notice slightly raised heels very much. Good luck at the TNF Challenge!

  5. Hmmm, I still don't know which one to get. lol I have heard negative things about the trail glove when it comes to traction on wet stone. For the minimus, I hadn't heard anything negative until your post. It is probably going to come down to looks, since it appears that the minimus is not going to be available in stores and one will have to purchase them directly from NB. Even if it were available in stores I doubt either would be in my local stores.

  6. BTW, Jason Robillard had the exact same abrasion as you on the same race in the same shoe. So, this gives me some concerns.

  7. Jason Robillard was there?

    yeah, we've discussed it so some extent, and neither of us had the issues again.

    That being said, Im no shoe salesman and not on the payroll at Merrell. Thats why I showed the ugly gash. I get abrasions in fivefingers occasionally too, but consider it a worthwhile trade off. I also loved the minimus and would buy a pair if I felt the need(and still might, Im a shoephile).
    The problem would easily be remedied by a pair of nice socks, possibly injinjis. The toe box still allows enough room.

  8. How do feel it compares to the Vivobarefoot EVO and Neo range??

    I am considering either the Merrell or one of that range and it very hard to go check in local store in UK. All need to be ordered online :(

  9. I stopped using FFs because they caused abrasions on my arches every time I ran in them, unless I was wearing Injinjis. But, Injinjis hurt my feet; the toe slots are just too tight for me.

    This is going to be a tough decision. If they were only $50 I would buy both.

  10. I'm about two weeks into wearing the Trail Glove. I'm one of those that take issue with the arch. I've been running in VFFs for almost 2 years now and wearing some Feelmax most days to work so I've gotten very used to nothing on my arches. It seems that the rubber in that area is too thick and doesn't flex enough and the shoe provides "support". I notice it most based on the freedom my feet feel when I take off the TGs. I like the snuggness of the TG around my foot and I like the feel of the sole on trails but miss the ground feel I get with the VFFs, maybe as I wear them in some more. The VFFs will be my road shoes.

  11. Would you recommend them for everyday walking and running? I occasionally hit the trail, but I do a lot of pavement walking also. Should I go for the Vibrams?

  12. Berused, For dry road running, I still like my KSOs, or maybe my treks. I have a hard time staying off gravel trails, so I like the Merrells. If you're truly running on pavement for a vast majority of the time, I'd go with vibrams. The thinner the better. That, of course, depends on your background.

  13. I just got my first pair of Merrell Trail Gloves and went for a 10km run but half-way my foot had already rubbed raw, in the same place as on your photo. I think it's the fabric of the lacing box rubbing and pressing on the top of my foot. What's worse is that I was wearing thin socks so I can't even try that.

    Anyone else had this or can offer some suggestions on what to try to fix this?

  14. I just bought a pair of Trail Gloves today and got a rub about half as bad as Jesse's, in the exact same spot, after only two miles. The issue was only with the left foot, no problems on the right. It looks to me like the culprit is a bit of excess fabric at the edge of the tongue, which is curling over and creating an edge/protrusion of sorts. I'm going to try cutting it off, will report back on whether that fixes things.

  15. I ended up trying both the Trail Gloves and the Minimus. I ended going with the Minimus. I like Kevin had an issue with rubbing in the Trail Glove, but didn't have the same issue in the Minimus. My wife went the opposite route; she likes her's and I like mine.

  16. I had the exact same rubbing issue on my left foot after running only 5k in these shoes. Interesting that it's been on the left for all of us.

    I haven't tried them with socks yet, and I guess I will, although I really would prefer to go without.

    I hope that someone can come up with a reasonable solution.

  17. hi jesse. i'm from the philippines and i will be competing the north face 100kms here. i'm still in search of the best shoe to do the job. it will be a 70% trail 30% road race. the trails will be sick uphill and downhill trails with a lot of loose slippery pine needles loose soil sharp rocks sudden steeps. i'm a hurrache (home made), vff, and m10 trail user. i used the m10 minimus trail to do 35km summit runs on tough mountains but i'm just not sure if it can hack the poundage and terrain of the 100kms. i'm contemplating on the mt101, trail glove, mt110. hope you can help me out. tried the chunky traditional tnf trail shoes they suck it hurt me more. i am a minimalist all terrain runner and i love the ground feel but at the same time i want to be realistic a about the demands of our 100km race thanks a lot!

  18. Hi Jesse, I've been wearing fivefingers for a couple of years now. I love them and they have helped with a lot of knee problems traditional running shoes gave me. I am thinking of switching and trying other minimalist shoes though. I have long toes and the fivefingers sometimes make my toes feel all jambed up and during a long run really sore. I'm hoping a minimalist shoe without the individual toe sleeves will solve this a problem. Your review of the Merrell Trail glove has been great. My question concerns sizing. I have a shoe size of 9 1/2. When I bought traditional running shoes I was always bought up and got a 10 1/2 or 11 depending on brand. Do I need to do the same with the merrell minimalist shoes or any minimalist shoe?

    1. Scott,
      I typically wear the same size running shoes in everything, including the trail gloves. I wear a 10.5 in New Balance(minimus lasted shoes and race flats), Merrell, Nike,and Brooks. It often depends on how the shape of the shoe lines up with the shape of your foot. The minimus last from New Balance fits my foot best. Extra room, especially for longer runs, is better than too little room. Actually, I ran a 50 mile race in a pair of size 12s once. :)