Merrell Trail Glove 5 ECO - Women's Review
Cons: Thicker sole, less purist minimalist design
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Trail Glove 5 ECO is a highly durable, rugged trail running shoe made with recycled materials. The 11.5mm thick sole isn't quite a pure minimalist design, but these still retain excellent performance across all the metrics we use to assess minimalist footwear.
The Trail Glove ECO performs as well as a minimalist shoe can with a thicker 11.5mm sole. This is over the typical 10mm sole thickness limit to be considered for this review category, but the shoe performs well enough otherwise that it still holds up to the competition.
These shoes promote a barefoot-inspired running technique with the wide toe box and consistent flex of the sole, made of a single material type. The soft uppers allow natural foot motion, and a well-placed groove in the sole creates a hinge which makes it easier to raise your toes prior to landing — this pre-tensions your plantar fascia, a critical part of barefoot running technique which prepares your feet for impact.
The Trail Glove are excellent for more rugged and rocky trails due to the thicker sole. For those who spend a lot of time running on particularly rough terrain, this may be the ideal shoe to let you move more quickly and with more confidence, since the stiffer and thicker sole can blunt bigger and sharper rocks and debris than most thinner-soled shoes.
These shoes have also become our go-to approach shoe for rock climbing (the hiking shoe we wear to get to the base of our climb, which typically has stickier rubber and a toe rand). We have not yet found a zero-drop climbing approach shoe, and the tacky sole and durable design of these fit the bill for most of our "approaching" needs!
The Trail Glove 5 ECO is constructed with Merrell's Barefoot 2 technology, which the company says is designed "for enhanced proprioception and stability during variable movement." Overall, we agree. The shoes meet most of the criteria laid out for barefoot accuracy in this review. In our research, we compiled the most important attributes of a shoe which allow your feet to move freely, as if unshod, while wearing a shoe.So how does the Trail Glove do with our checklist?
- Zero drop from heel-to-toe? Check.
- Sole made of one material? Yep.
- Soft and flexible sole? Reasonably so, given the thickness.
- Thin sole, less than 10mm thick? Nope, 11.5mm.
- Non-restricting but secure lacing? Definitely.
- No arch support? There's a tiny bit…
- Breathable uppers? Definitely.
- Straight axis, no in-flared shape or curve? Check.
- No forefoot concavity? Check.
- Wide toe box? Yep.
When we assessed these shoes in our bend-and-flex test, we were impressed at how smoothly and evenly they flex and rotate (due to the use of a single material in the sole). They are stiffer overall than thinner shoes, which seems intuitive, but they certainly don't feel clunky. We loved these shoes for those days our feet were just tired of having to work so much, or for after a long run, or a short run on aggressive terrain that made our feet tired. These shoes offer a bit more protection with minimal weight and bulk penalty. Great to have in your minimalist shoe quiver.
At 14.5 ounces for a size 9.5, the Trail Glove ECO are not the lightest in our review, but for the protection they offer for rugged off-road use, they are impressively lightweight. The shoes are made of lots of recycled materials, without any apparent penalty to weight or durability.
The Trail Glove series from Merrell has long had one of our favorite soles for traction on a variety of surfaces. It has a relatively smooth and even profile that feels good on roads and smooth, flat surfaces. The lug design, however, is very effective for all types of off-road and trail use, and the rubber is a good balance of sticky (for traction) and stiff (for durability and support in rough terrain). The pattern of the lugs passes water and wet earth to either side and ensures quick contact with something more solid underfoot. And the easy bending and suppleness of the sole means the shoe will conform well to the surface, even if it's an uneven rock. These became one of our favorite all-day hiking shoes for rocky and rough trails.
While the sole is too thick to bend with your toes to grip the ground, as is possible with the thinnest of minimalist shoes, we still enjoyed feeling the sensation of the ground through these shoes, and the excellent rubber and lug design along with the flexibility of the sole make for reliable traction on all surfaces.
The Trail Glove series is likely one of the most versatile minimalist shoe designs we have tested. The thicker sole and slight amount of arch support make it less of a pure minimalist shoe, but provide an excellent shoe for those transitioning to minimalist footwear or wanting to strengthen their feet gradually. They are comfortable and soft enough to enjoy on even terrain — like on a long day visiting museums in your favorite city — yet rugged enough for the roughest trails we were able to find (so long as your feet are adequately strengthened). These shoes are also an excellent multi-sport shoe, offering a svelte and smooth enough upper to work for indoor soccer, and a close-to-ground profile that makes you feel quick on your feet in sports where you need to change directions fast.
The light fabric uppers of the Trail Glove 5 ECO is not the most durable material, but it is reasonably tough for a lightweight shoe. The uppers are made of 30% recycled plastic mesh and 60% recycled TPU. The integrated insole is 30% recycled mesh, and the BLOOM performance midsole foam is made of 10% recycled algae (which transforms green water into clean water in the recycling process). The sole is made of excellent and durable Vibram EcoDura rubber, also 30% recycled.
If consumers assume that recycled materials are inherently less durable, we certainly did not find any issues in our rigorous field testing, and Merrell reassures their consumers by stating that these shoes were built with the dual goals of making the most durable shoe with the most recycled materials possible. Those are two goals that line up well in our minds — make something that lasts a long time, so that it reduces waste, and make it from things that we have reclaimed from other waste. Bigger net gain!
This ECO version is a little bit more expensive than the regular version, but not enough to turn us away. As the saying goes with organic agriculture, we get to vote with every dollar we spend — so we like putting our dollars toward sustainable (and durable!) products and the companies focusing on making their gear from ethically sourced and environmentally friendly materials. This pair of minimalist footwear is a great value for the variety of terrain they can cover, the fun minimalist feel underfoot, the durable design, and the reasonable and competitive price tag.
The Merrell Trail Glove 5 ECO is an excellent minimalist trail shoe that holds up to a wide variety of rough terrain types — and is still enjoyable to wear around town. These are not as competitive in this review for the simple reason that they are a little bit thicker underfoot than is typical for the minimalist and barefoot-inspired category of footwear. However, the materials and design do a great job of retaining what we love about minimalist footwear. These shoes allow our toes to splay, keep a good grip on the ground, and let us feel the texture of the ground just enough through the sole to give us a little bit of that joy we feel when running around barefoot.
— Lyra Pierotti