The Merrell Trail Glove 4 nails the trail category down for generalists out there and wins our Editors' Choice award for our barefoot review. In general, both the Merrell's outperform other barefoot shoes in this review because of their commitment to nailing down all aspects of exactly what it means for a contender to be as close to barefoot as possible. In fact, we would recommend this baby to ultra-light hikers as well as trail runners seeking a light, authentic barefoot shoe, and if you want to just use this for all your runs, road or otherwise, you won't notice a difference in feedback or quality.
Merrell Trail Glove 4 ReviewPrice: $100 List | $99.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Multi-purpose trainer, rugged, great design, great value
Cons: Wear fast on roads, may be tight on some
Bottom line: The Trail Glove 4 is a fast, light, balanced trail shoe that can perform in any task a barefoot runner or hiker could put at it.
Cushion (mm): 3
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Minimalist and Barefoot Shoes of 2018
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Merrell Trail Glove 4 is best for trail runners and can be used on hikes. We do not recommend that someone who has never run in a zero-drop shoe goes right out and does a 5-mile trail run in these. In fact, that is true for this entire review. The versatile shoe offers seldom seen design elements that perform exceptionally well and ought to be standard throughout running shoes. If you are looking for something new to break out on your trail days, then take a shot with this shoe: it was our top pick for trail shoes. These shoes have decent toe-box protection against stubbed toes on roots and rocks; they are zero-drop — there is 0mm difference between the heel and toe - they have no unneeded padding under the sole and offer the minimum your feet need for support and protection.
While the Vapor Glove 3 has an annoying hotspot above the toe, and lacks in a few other areas, the Trail shines in almost all aspects. These shoes crushed some of the hilly trails in the area as well as delivered consistent grip, ruggedness and water-resistance over a damp 10-mile speed-hike through the Shenandoah. Throughout the review, you'll see a reference to the shoe's burrito tongue design. Check it out right here.
There's an inner elastic flap that keeps the tongue wrapped over your foot in an Ace bandage fashion and almost every time I put these on I felt like a Ninja. While it doesn't seem like a big deal at first glance, we encourage you to try it out before you knock it because we struggled to find anyone upset by this design and most user comments were overwhelmingly positive.
As a trail shoe, it nails the generalist role down in this category but might fail to measure up on a muddy slog or when crossing a river.
While it handled damp grass and light rain well, we noticed it started to get bogged down quickly and would likely fail to perform when wet. We found it does an excellent job of incorporating trail spikes and a rugged outsole that grips to sand, dirt, and rocks, but does not feel impractical when getting to flat patches like the inov-8 X-Talon 225. However, these were more impressive on trails than the Vibram KSO and the Minimus 10v1. We expect trail shoes to keep in mind all the problems that come up on a trail: small rocks, roots, boulders, mud, streams and the like. This shoe has you covered in almost all areas. It does allow quite a lot of small rocks in and also does poorly when the rain starts coming down, but that's why you wear gaiters and other hiker staples, right?
We set out our terms for this already. To get high points here, a shoe needs to be light, minimally designed, with little support, have zero drop and cling to your foot like a glove.
Here, unsurprisingly the shoe with the name glove in it does exceptionally well. The burrito-tongue design keeps the shoe snug on your foot and does not slip or slide around. In fact, many runners rave about this design when shoes choose to implement it. We only had the one model with a burrito tongue design in this review and found that every other shoe in the fleet would have been helped by incorporating this design element.
Merrell does an excellent job of letting you know exactly what to expect in this shoe. Barefoot is slapped right on the side and it is not just a gimmick; this is also true for the Vapor Glove 3. At only 8oz and with no insole, these shoes are all you get. We found they did an incredible job of blocking annoying sharp rocks and roots and do not remove any more of the feel of the trail than necessary, the only shoes that gave a more relentless barefoot feel were the Vibram FiveFinger KSO.
Again, we found the burrito tongue design helps here. The tongue is connected on the inward part of the shoe, and an elastic belt runs against the outer part of your foot inside the shoe giving your foot a comforting hug.
We initially thought this might be a spot for blisters, but after rigorous long-distance hikes and trail run, there was naught a hotspot on these. Also, some runners prefer a looser fit than others, and we can assure them here, that some of our reviewers in this very review felt the same way, but not when wearing this bad boy right here. However, the Stealth 2 has a looser, blister-free fit if it just has to be loose. Whereas if you want a tighter fit, nothing will match the Precision Fit of the X-Talon 225 from inov-8.
Just about the only point we found slippage a problem was on the mud-caked rocky terrain. But, most runners tend to slow down and walk around or avoid obvious mud pits.
If you want real mud sloggers, we recommend the inov-8 X-Talon 225 or the Vibram FiveFinger KSO. Additionally, the sleek way the spikes are implemented on the outsole allow for comfortable running across hardtop and deeply packed trails while still offering plenty of grip in sand and dirt. On an 11-mile hike that had scrambles and exposed granite summits, we felt no point of failure on any point with these shoes.
These trail shoes can take a beating on the trail and off it. Whether in the gym, on a road run or some serious day hikes, these shoes barely showed any wear at all.
The trail groves on the outsole are still in tip-top shape after dozens and dozens of miles, and besides some sand and grit caked on the toes and heel, there's nothing visibly wrong with them. Unlike the Primus Lite and the Vapor Glove 3 we saw no potential future durability issues with these.
We recommend this shoe to barefoot runners or minimalist runners looking for a lightweight trail trainer or ultralight hiking shoe. We found they did well on uneven terrain and perform equally well under high and low-impact scenarios.
This rough and tumble shoe costs $100, and that's about right. Again, before making the investment, we encourage runners to consider whether they are comfortable running on trails with no heel-to-toe drop and minimal support. However, these shoes are some of the least pricey on our review, and most seasoned runners would enjoy the great performance they would get from these. Especially since they look decent and can be worn in place of normal casual sneakers without any noticeable difference.
Merrell stuck to it with barefoot quality on this shoe. They offered an unrelenting commitment to a minimalist, barefoot design. We found that in general the Trail Glove does well on nearly all trails, but lacks in some rare situations and may not be for all runners. On roads, it does very well but not as well as the Xero Prio or the Vivobarefoot Stealth 2. We found it did very well on hikes and hilly trails, but not on aggressive trails which the inov-8 X-Talon 225 is better suited for. Still, it provides superior support and comfort compared to its competitors and we are more than happy with the performance of this shoe.
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: May 7, 2018
100% of 1 reviewers recommend it
I think the editor's review is generally accurate. This is a great trail running and hiking shoe that can also be used on pavement, though the tread will quickly and is better suited for trails.
Ventilation is average - that's my only minor criticism. They're more well-ventilated than boots, but inferior to New Balance Minimus 10v1, which are exceptionally well ventilated.
This is one of the best options for trail-running, hiking, and are adequate on pavement. New Balance Minimus 10v1 are better for general purpose use on both pavement and trails.
Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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