The Merrell Trail Glove 4 Knit version is an impressively designed minimalist shoe. It is on the thicker end of shoes in this review with a stack (sole) height of 11.5mm, but it retains a zero drop from heel-to-toe with a wide toe box that allows a relatively natural, unimpeded gait. The sole is on the heavier side, so it isn't our favorite shoe for running, but we loved it for rest days or recovery hikes after long barefoot runs when our pads and foot muscles needed a little break. It's so great for this use, in fact, that it wins our Top Pick Award for Rest and Recovery. The soft, knit upper feels like a sock, so we love wearing them without socks, but in cooler weather, we could add some warmth by wearing a pair of toe or regular socks. The biggest and best surprise with these shoes, however, is how well they keep water off our feet—the knit is so tight that it is not very permeable to water while remaining highly breathable for warmer, sweaty weather.
Merrell Trail Glove 4 Knit Review
Cons: Thick, stiff sole, weight focused in sole feels clunky
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Merrell Trail Glove is on the stiffer end of shoes in this review. It features our favorite attributes of minimal shoes, however, with a wide toe box and supple forefoot. The heel feels stiffer than many shoes in this review, however, so the flex of the shoe feels more variable as a result.
This shoe blunts much of the stimulation you would get from the ground if you were fully barefoot, but this makes it a good choice for sharp, rugged terrain or when you're recovering from a fully barefoot run. They still promote lower leg and calf strengthening by allowing more foot motion than more built-up running shoes.
This shoe does very well without socks due to the knit, sock-like upper material, making it easy to slide them on and go. The simple lacing system is also fast and often doesn't even need to be cinched tight if you're walking around town or running errands in them.
On our runs, these shoes felt quite clunky. They are not the heaviest pair of shoes in this review, but they do not feel particularly lightweight. We think this is because most of the weight of the shoe is in the sole and not in the knit upper, making it feel imbalanced and weighed down (bottom-heavy) on your foot during a quick running stride.
As a result, we liked this shoe for walking—the slower stride and stiffer sole made it a great rest day shoe or an excellent choice for a recovery walk after a long barefoot run.
The Trail Glove is an aptly named, minimalist-inspired shoe. The fit features our favorite attributes of barefoot or minimal footwear. It has a wide toe box that allows your toes to splay, and the soft, supple upper knit fabric lets your toes rise and fall with your stride.
The sole is a bit thicker and stiffer than some truer-to-barefoot style shoes in this review, but it still allows you to feel more heavily textured ground surfaces, providing some stimulation. The total stack height of the sole underfoot is 11.5mm, which is just over the strictest (if somewhat arbitrary) definition of minimal footwear—which typically calls for sole thicknesses under 10mm. It does not have a raised heel, so it features the "zero drop" design which is a key attribute of minimal footwear.
This shoes was not the most true to barefoot in this review, but it still managed to retain our favorite foot-freeing attributes, making it a strong competitor nonetheless in this review.
At 15 ounces for a women's size 9 (European size 40), it's far from the lightest shoe in the review. They are lighter than the Xero Shoes Prio, but they felt clunkier due to most of the weight being in the sole and not the knit upper. The Xero Prio's weight was more distributed throughout the shoe, making it feel more balanced on our foot and thus perform better on our runs. The Trail Glove is a better option for hiking on rugged or sharp, rocky trails with its stiffer, burlier sole.
The Vibram soles of the Trail Glove are sticky enough for rocky terrain, and the lugs grip well on variable trails. The only challenge for these shoes seemed to be slick rocks covered in a thin veneer of dust—and that's a big challenge for the grippiest, stickiest, burliest off-road shoe.
No barefoot shoes reviewed are stunning regarding traction. Deep, aggressive lugs, granting better purchase and commonly found on trail running shoes, don't fit well with the minimalist design models of the shoes in this category. That said, the New Balance 10v1 proved the grippiest across all surfaces of all the models we tested.
The knit upper of the Trail Glove is so tightly knit that it keeps out water surprisingly well without having a waterproof liner or any other barrier fabric. Additionally, the slightly thicker sole helps carry you over wet terrain without instantly getting your feet wet, and the TPU toe cap helps deflect some splashes as well.
These shoes are highly breathable due to the knit upper, which made them nearly as easy and enjoyable to slip on as a pair of flip-flops on a hot day, but with more protection for use hiking or in colder weather.
It is very comfortable to wear these without socks, as the knit uppers feel like socks. This means you can wear them in a vast range of temperatures—just add socks when the temperatures start to dip.
The Trail Glove performed very well in this metric. We were concerned that the knit fabric would snag or scuff during testing, but the plastic toe cap kept this area of high risk for abrasion well protected. There was also a sewn seam at either end of the toe cap that raised concern, but again, we did not manage to scuff or snag it during our various runs and hikes on rugged trails and through sticky forests (as in, forests full of sticks).
The Trail Glove is a great shoe for trail use where you want a bit more sole thickness to protect your pads from sharp rocks. It is an excellent minimalist hiking shoe, and decent for trail running, though the weight of the sole made it feel less precise for a quicker running stride. The shoe still allows our toes to splay and rise naturally, though not quite as fully or freely as some even more minimal models. For more uninhibited footwear (though with less protection for rugged trails) you might prefer the Vibram KSO EVO or even the Xero Shoes Prio.
We really appreciate these shoes for traveling—they were comfortable throughout a wide range of temperatures, breathable, expandable for when our feet swell during airline travel, and easy to slip on and off at airport security. It was like wearing flip flops—but we didn't have to worry about tiptoeing in dirty airplane restrooms to keep our mostly-unshod feet from touching the sketchy-gross floor.
At $130, the Trail Glove 4 Knit is a decent value. It is very comfortable and impressively durable despite its soft knit upper. These shoes are very well made, so if you're looking for a minimal shoe that tips more toward the supportive end of the spectrum of barefoot and minimal footwear, this might be your shoe of choice.
The Merrell Trail Glove 4 Knit is an excellent minimalist shoe for trail use. It has a stack height of 11.5mm which is on the thicker side of soles in this review, but it still features some of our favorite attributes of the barefoot or minimalist category of footwear. It has a wide toe box, zero-drop sole, and soft upper fabric that allows the foot to bend and flex with relative ease. It is highly breathable while offering full foot coverage, so we liked it for travel in warmer areas where we were hesitant to wear sandals for hygiene concerns but missed our flip-flops. These shoes were great for a rest day after a longer barefoot run due to the stiffer sole and thicker protection which blunted some of the ground stimulation for our tired pads. It's delightful for lightweight hiking, but not our favorite, ultimately, for running, due to the weight of the sole feeling less balanced and more clunky on the bottom of our foot.
— Lyra Pierotti