Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Durable, doesn't get stares from strangers.
Cons: Expensive, doesn't give a true barefoot feel.
Best Uses: Running, hiking, working out.
These shoes fall in tricky category: halfway between a true barefoot-feeling shoe like the Vibram FiveFingers KSO and a regular running shoe. They perform well but don't give you that "Wow, this is a whole new way to hike/run!" feeling that the FiveFingers do. They are ideal for people who want a shoe that is as close to barefoot as it gets without getting lots of stares from strangers. They may also be ideal if the FigeFingers put too much strain on your toes. If you are going to get a Merrell barefoot shoe, we prefer the Merrell Trail Glove because it breathes better and is more flexible.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Unlike the Vibram FiveFingers, you can wear this in public without attracting attention. You just look like you are wearing a European style shoe. During the testing, whenever it was time to go to a BBQ or just hang out downtown, I usually switched out of the FiveFingers and put these on. People would occasionally ask about the shoes, but I didn't get stares from strangers or have the shoes constantly dominate the conversation.
These are much more durable than the FiveFingers and are really durable in general. The sole showed little signs of wear after months and months of hard trail pounding.
These give a lot more toe support and protection than FiveFingers. After a long run my toes were fine. With the FiveFingers, sometimes the bottoms of my toes (under the knuckle) got sore.
Unlike the FiveFingers, you can wear these with normal socks if the temperatures drop (it will have to be a pretty thin sock).
The main downside to this shoe is that it doesn't give you the same barefoot feeling as the FiveFingers. Instead of each toe getting to move independently, they are all clumped together as with a normal shoe. You don't get that barefoot toe wiggling freedom and you can't wrap your toes around stairs, bike pedals, rocks, etc. I felt I could wear the FiveFingers surfing and still feel the board, but not with Merrells. Second, unlike the FiveFingers, which have a thinner sole that looks more like the bottom of a foot, these have more of a standard shaped sole. Again, instead of letting your feet be in a more natural position, they need to conform more to the shape of the shoe. If your foot is shaped just like these, that is no problem. If you have a wide foot, these may be too narrow. With the FiveFingers, they are flexible enough that no matter how your foot is shaped, they still feel more like wearing a sock that stretches to match your foot shape than wearing a shoe with not much stretch so your foot has to fit the shoe shape.
I found these very hard to fit right. For starters, their numbering seems off. I wear a US 8.5 in these, which they equate to European 42… but I have never before heard of that conversion (usually a 9 or 9.5 equals a 42). So I would not trust the US shoe size if ordering online. Go off the European size.
But even once you get the numbering figured out, it is still tricky to get these sized right. Since I have feet that are a half size different, I got these originally in a 9 because it was the most comfortable on my bigger foot. But my smaller foot then developed a bad heel blister (insert photo) after only 30 minutes of wearing them. I returned them to REI and got a size smaller. The heel blister is still an issue and I have come across a number of online reviews where others had a similar problem. It seems they need to redesign the heel to be more forgiving. By comparison, the FiveFingers has a big cushy heel pad and generally seem to give more flexibility in the sizing. I wore a pair of FiveFingers that were a size to big for a month and had few issues.
Because these shoes are intended to be worn barefoot and don't have the best breathability, they have a bit of a swampy foot feel. This is a small issue if it is warm out but a big issue if it is hot. The Merrell Trail Glove breathes a little better. These also don't dry that fast. After using them to stand-paddle board, they took four times longer to dry than my FiveFingers.
These shoes do not to the best job of keeping rocks out. Compared to the FiveFinger KSO, which has a more flexible seal around the ankle, there are bigger gaps around the ankle with the Merrells that let rocks in. Once they are in, you REALLY feel them.
These are the most expensive barefoot shoes we tested. However, they are also the most durable and not THAT much more expensive than others. So overall, they are a solid value compared to the FiveFingers. Compared to regular running shoes…very expensive.
The Merrell Trail Glove has a more breathable and flexible mesh upper and a synthetic leather rear foot sling. We prefer the Trail Glove.
— Chris McNamara
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Most recent review: April 13, 2011
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