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Merrell Vapor Glove 4 - Women's Review

This is an excellent pair of minimalist shoes for smoother trails, or for days you want to train your foot strength
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $80 List | $39.83 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, precise, nimble, great foot strengthening
Cons:  Less durable, too thin for rocky trails
Manufacturer:   Merrell
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 10, 2020
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#3 of 10
  • Performance - 30% 9
  • Barefoot Accuracy - 25% 8
  • Weight - 15% 7
  • Traction - 15% 7
  • Versatility - 10% 5
  • Durability - 5% 4

Our Verdict

The Merrell Vapor Glove 4, our Best Buy Award Winner, is like wearing a Vibram FiveFingers without separated toes — and sometimes we prefer this. The soft and thin sole provides excellent ground feel, and the soft uppers let you lift your toes with hardly any impediment. The toe box is wide enough to allow the toes to splay, but still narrow enough to feel nimble on technical trails. And the zero drop 6.5 mm stack height makes the shoes feel like little more than a durable sock on your feet. We love the laces — they are a bit stretchy and hold the fit very well. If your feet are well-conditioned, strong, and ideally accustomed to a little time actually barefoot, these are likely to be a pleasing trail running shoe for smoother trails at a very nice price.

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Our Analysis and Test Results

The Vapor Glove 4 is a very light, thin, supple trail running shoe that feels more like a super durable sock than a proper shoe. This will make most barefoot enthusiasts extra enthusiastic.

Performance Comparison


Taking a hike on the Russian-Georgian border wearing the Merrell Vapor Glove 4.
Taking a hike on the Russian-Georgian border wearing the Merrell Vapor Glove 4.

Performance


The Vapor Glove 4 is one of the best minimalist shoes we have tested. If it had separated toes, we are sure it would be our overall award winner. For those who like to keep their toes together, however, this is the best minimalist shoe we have gotten our hands — or feet — on.


With a minimal total stack height of 6.5mm, you feel just about everything under your feet when wearing the Vapor Glove. If this is not what you're looking for, check out a model with a thicker sole for more protection in rough terrain — or a more restful ride on even terrain. But if you're looking for maximal foot proprioception, read on.

We have spent countless days over many months, and even years, strengthening our feet — and keeping them strong year-round. As such, the Vapor Glove line-up has come to be our favorite go-to trail running shoe to help us keep our feet strong, especially when we are in and out of climbing shoes and mountaineering and ski boots, depending on the season.

The Vapor Glove 4 is a nimble  agile  lightweight minimalist shoe.
The Vapor Glove 4 is a nimble, agile, lightweight minimalist shoe.

The stack height of the Vapor Glove ensures you feel everything under your feet. These shoes feel more like an indestructible sock than a shoe. In rough terrain, this can be too challenging, or even dangerous — but we trained our feet enough to venture off-trail on one trip in the Colorado Rockies. These shoes were up to the task — they hugged securely to our feet through all terrain, and were even soft, supple, and sticky enough for some scrambling. This is well beyond the scope of these shoes, but we were psyched.

Disclaimer: these kinds of activities come after years of progressive training, and involve very careful attention to terrain, as well as adjustments to movement style. To land softly, we had to glide low over the rocks and talus, often using our hands and moving like a spider — a style of movement we thoroughly enjoy. If ever a pair of shoes made us feel like a ninja, these are those shoes.

Lightweight shoes make our feet fast! Testing the Merrell Vapor Glove 4 on soft trails was a blast.
Lightweight shoes make our feet fast! Testing the Merrell Vapor Glove 4 on soft trails was a blast.

Barefoot Accuracy


The Vapor Glove 4 shoes fit like, well, a glove. These shoes are a purist minimalist shoe, with zero drop, a minimal and very soft sole, a relatively wide toe box, and a secure and snug fit that hugs close to the foot. This is a shoe that gets out of your way.


The updated version 4 seem to have a little more room in the toe box, which we thoroughly appreciate. Over time, when you train your barefoot strength, your toes and feet will spread out. They may even become functionally a size larger. This is because you're using your toes for grip and balance more than before (hence the bigger toe box), and also because to cushion each step, your arches need to bow and flex — and this means your feet will spread out and then retract with each step.

We love the suppleness of the sole  it really improves ground feel.
We love the suppleness of the sole, it really improves ground feel.

One of the techniques of barefoot running involves lifting your toes slightly, just before landing on your forefoot. This pre-tensions the arches of your feet in order to better absorb the shock. The Vapor Glove allows impeccable ease of toe-lift, by far the best in this review.

The soft uppers allowed us to easily lift our toes for a properly pre-tensioned arch for landing when running in barefoot or minimalist shoes (this is one of the important techniques of barefoot running styles).
The soft uppers allowed us to easily lift our toes for a properly pre-tensioned arch for landing when running in barefoot or minimalist shoes (this is one of the important techniques of barefoot running styles).

Weight


The Vapor Glove again lives up to their minimalist design with their extremely low weight. They are among the lightest in this review, weighing just 11 ounces for a pair of size 10 women's shoes (41 European).


Traction


The Vapor Glove is a relatively simple trail running shoe. The Vibram sole features 2mm deep lugs and a generous toe rand. The lugs are spaced well enough to let fine dirt and sand sift through while still gripping most surfaces. This shoe is the closest thing to a climbing-shoe-turned-running-shoe, which is our personal dream come true.


Part of our consideration for traction with minimalist shoes is how well the shoe preserves ground feel. What minimalist shoes lack in lugs, they make up for in your foot's natural ability to grip the ground. The Vapor Glove is a prime example: the very thin sole allowed us to bend our foot swiftly to match the surface, thereby improving traction and balance through the terrain.

The 2 mm lugs were enough for trail running  and the soft and supple sole allowed our feet to grip the terrain as well  an ideal and powerful combination for excellent traction.
The 2 mm lugs were enough for trail running, and the soft and supple sole allowed our feet to grip the terrain as well, an ideal and powerful combination for excellent traction.

Versatility


The Vapor Glove feels just like that — a lightweight glove for the feet. They provide adequate protection from the elements while allowing some adaptability to different climates. These are best suited to warmer temperatures, though a pair of socks may be helpful for cooler days. These shoes keep water out impressively well; when we stood in a babbling brook or otherwise held the shoe under running water, the only leakage point was the non-sewn tongue. Water would trickle through that space.


The Vapor Glove is impressively versatile — if you've trained your feet adequately to handle the terrain. The uppers are abrasion-resistant enough even to handle some mild scrambling. These shoes feel like a minimalist version of a climbing approach shoes with the combination of excellent traction and durability.

The Vapor Glove 4 is made of an impressively water-resistant fabric. Water leaks in first through the gaps in the tongue. Once water is inside  however  it does slosh around for a bit before slowly leaking back out.
The Vapor Glove 4 is made of an impressively water-resistant fabric. Water leaks in first through the gaps in the tongue. Once water is inside, however, it does slosh around for a bit before slowly leaking back out.

Durability


Minimalist shoes are thought to wear out faster than ordinary running shoes. This is largely due to the fact that their soles are much thinner to begin with. For this reason, we appreciate that Merrell uses some of the best materials available, like a solid Vibram rubber sole. To further boost the durability of this shoe, the sole wraps around the toe for a generous toe rand.


The Cordura mesh and TPU upper materials held up during our testing, and even after miles of rugged trail, the Vapor still looked nice enough for a casual night out in town. However, our main caveat with this shoe is indeed its durability. We aren't sure how long the thin upper will last over time. Compared to the other models we tested, we don't think the Vapor Glove is especially durable. Merrell did try to mitigate this, though, by using quality materials.

Going off road in the Vapor Glove 4.
Going off road in the Vapor Glove 4.

Value


The Vapor Glove is a stunningly good deal. So good, in fact, that it is our Best Buy Winner! The thinner and lighter materials would suggest this may not be the most long-lasting shoe in this review, but our testing did not reveal any notable problems.

The Vapor Glove 4 at home on trails.
The Vapor Glove 4 at home on trails.

Conclusion


The Merrell Vapor Glove 4 is one of our favorite shoes in this review. It falls just slightly behind the Vibram FiveFingers series, though we suspect if Merrell separated the toes, there would be some serious competition for Vibram. That said, sometimes we really don't want separate toes, as this can make them feel more vulnerable. The Vapor Gloves are the best "normal" shoe for long trail runs where you want a good foot workout, excellent foot proprioception, and to enjoy the benefits of super lightweight footwear.

We enjoyed the Merrell Vapor Glove 4 on softer surfaces where the thin soles still let us feel the ground in its many textures.
We enjoyed the Merrell Vapor Glove 4 on softer surfaces where the thin soles still let us feel the ground in its many textures.

Lyra Pierotti