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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 | $47.97 at Amazon
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  ⋅  Jul 24, 2019
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79
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 8
  • Performance - 30% 9
  • Barefoot Accuracy - 25% 8
  • Weight - 15% 8
  • Traction - 15% 8
  • Weather Adaptability - 10% 6
  • Durability - 5% 4

Our Verdict

The Merrell Vapor Glove 4 is like wearing a Vibram FiveFingers without separated toes—and sometimes we preferred 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 your 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 loved 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.


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Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $47.97 at Amazon
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Pros Lightweight, precise, nimble, great foot strengtheningLightweight, nimble, extremely minimal, moderate priceSimple, spacious, soft and suppleSoft sock-like interior, durable, rock plate for rough trail use, tread promotes toe articulationGreat trail traction, supple forefoot, wide toe box, soft interior, good weather protection, breathable
Cons Less durable, too thin for rocky trailsPermeable to water and dust, some may experience frictionPadded upper materials feel bulky, heavyThicker sole blunts ground feel, heavy, lacing system doesn’t cinch wellTight in the midfoot, heel less secure, heel-toe drop of 4 mm may be more than some barefoot users desire
Bottom Line This is an excellent pair of minimalist shoes for smoother trails, or for days you want to train your foot strength.The FiveFingers are a truly novel concept for a shoe that is as close as possible to barefoot in a closed-toe shoe.The Prio is an excellent, simple minimalist shoe that nails all of the important criteria and looks like many other “ordinary” shoes.The Trail Glove is an excellent minimalist shoe for rocky terrain.New Balance reintroduced the Minimus with a slight heel-toe drop to make it more approachable while retaining much of what users want in a minimalist shoe.
Rating Categories Vapor Glove 4 FiveFingers KSO EVO Xero Shoes Prio - Women's Trail Glove 5 3D Minimus 10v1
Performance (30%)
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Barefoot Accuracy (25%)
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Weight (15%)
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Traction (15%)
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9
Weather Adaptability (10%)
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Durability (5%)
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5
Specs Vapor Glove 4 FiveFingers KSO EVO Xero Shoes Prio -... Trail Glove 5 3D Minimus 10v1
Style Barefoot trail Barefoot road Barefoot road Barefoot trail Minimalist trail
Total Stack Height (mm) 6.5 mm 5 mm 5.5 mm 11.5 mm Not reported by NB
Weight (oz) per pair 11 oz 8.5 oz 16 oz 14.5 oz 14.5 oz
Drop (mm) 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 4 mm
Outsole Thickness (mm) 1.5 mm web, 2 mm lugs 3 mm 5.5 mm 1.5 mm Not reported by NB
Midsole/Insole Thickness 3 mm 2 mm Optional 2 mm insole 4 mm Not reported by NB
Widths available Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular, Wide
Upper Material Mesh and TPU Polyester fabric Mesh with synthetic leather overlays 3D knit Sythetic/mesh
Best For (running, hiking, etc.) Running, hiking Running, gym Running, gym, casual Running, hiking Running, hiking

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 very 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, truly minimalist shoe we have gotten our hands on—or, feet.


With a minimal total stack height of 6.5 mm, you feel just about everything under your feet. 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. We feel best when our feet are strong.

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 we feel everything under our feet. These shoes feel more like an indestructible sock than a shoe, really. 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 Colorado's Rockies. These shoes were up to the task—they hugged securely to our feet through all terrain, and were soft, supple, and sticky enough even for some scrambling. This is well beyond the scope of these shoes, but we were psyched. Disclaimer: this came after years of progressive training, and involved very careful attention to terrain, as well as adjustments to our 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 enjoyed. If ever a pair of shoes made us feel like a ninja, these are those shoes.

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 your foot. This is a shoe that gets out of your way.


This updated version 4 seemed to have a little more room in the toe box, which we thoroughly appreciated. 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 Gloves allow 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).

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.


Weather Adaptability


The Vapor Glove felt just like that—a lightweight glove for our 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 Merrell Vapor Glove 4 minimalist shoes are 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 Merrell Vapor Glove 4 minimalist shoes are 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.

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 dream come true.


Part of our consideration for traction with minimalist shoes is actually 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.

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 start with. For this reason, we appreciate that Merrell uses some of the best materials—like a solid Vibram rubber sole. To further boost the durability of this shoe, Merrell wrapped the sole 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 shoes 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 Merrell Vapor Glove 4.
Going off road in the Merrell Vapor Glove 4.

Best Applications


The Vapor Glove 4 is an excellent trail running shoe for those who are serious about their barefoot experience. We loved these shoes for adding challenge to an easy hike—to ensure our feet got their strengthening workout. These are also great running shoes for those who have spent time strengthening their feet—the impressive low weight and improved, wider toe box lends excellent ground contact and balance, and a whole lot of fun as you move like a ninja over any terrain.

Value


The Vapor Glove is a stunningly good deal. So good, in fact, it is our Best Buy! 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 Women's 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—or you want 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