If you approach this shoe as an ultralight trail runner, we would put it at the top of its class. But from the stance of a minimalist running shoe, the Trail Glove 5 misses the mark. While we found that the Barefoot 2 construction does a good job of mimicking the shape of the foot standing still, in motion it resulted in an unnatural change to our gait. The flex of the Trail Glove is adequate in the toe box, but a relatively thick midsole makes the shoe much more torsionally rigid — sacrificing barefoot accuracy for the sake of added stability. A well-lugged outsole makes for a grippy ride through any trail conditions, which boosted our confidence in response to making quick adjustments to balance. Unfortunately, the current version of this shoe is heavily augmented, and as a result, the Trail Glove hardly fits the mold of barefoot running shoes. But for the minimalist who is looking for a versatile trainer, this shoe makes a compelling case when compared to bulkier trail runners.
Trail Glove 5 vs. Trail Glove 5 3D
It is important to note that while these two share a name, they are very different shoes. The knit upper of the Trail Glove 5 3D affords a lighter, sock-like feel compared to the regular laced version. But we found the 3D very difficult to size properly, with our normal size feeling nearly two-sizes too big — we highly suggest trying these on in a shop before purchasing.
A wide toe box allows toes to splay, but a higher stack height kept them from fully contacting the ground for barefoot accuracy.
The Trail Glove is a versatile running shoe. The merits of its construction are highlighted on uneven mountain trails, and the shoe has a low-profile design that is lightweight and airy, keeping feet cool over miles of pavement. However well it ran, it was difficult for us to rationalize the concept behind Merrell's Barefoot 2 design.
The midsole puts pressure on the inside of the foot that made us want to pronate and land on that "sweet spot" of the forefoot between the fourth and fifth toes. But for those of us who already have a comfortable amount of pronation in our gait, we found ourselves pushing back against it, and actually supronating — something that is not a normal part of our running posture. We believe it is important for a minimalist shoe to get out of the way and allow us to run naturally, not dictate through design how natural should feel, since we each have our own individual way of running — a way that is natural to our individual design, not the design of a shoe.
Even ground contact in the heel and forefoot, but not much sensitivity under the midfoot.
As mentioned above, the Trail Glove's most significant update is the new Barefoot 2 construction: an articulated midsole that is designed to enhance the micro-movements of the foot in motion.
Whatever the intention of design, the addition of a 4mm midsole significantly decreases ground-feel, flexibility through the midfoot and forefoot — which results in diminished flexibility in the toes — and the feeling of conventional arch support. Add a rock plate, a 1.5mm outsole, 3mm lugs, and we reach a total 7mm of material between your foot and the ground. While the Trail Glove is impressively responsive, we felt separated from the trail.
Whether it's the midsole or rock plate, these shoes are not as flexible as we had hoped they would be, particularly in terms of plantar flexion.
On the outside, the Trail Glove is a very comfortable, lightweight running shoe. The exterior mesh of the upper is supplemented by an interior mesh lining — a combination which results in an exceptionally breathable shoe, while also doing an impressive job of keeping water out.
Supplementary cushioning in the midsole helps with impact over long mileage, and a rock plate further helps protect the bottom of your foot from sharp objects on the trail. But after long runs, the outside of our feet — particularly underneath the arches, near the heel — felt strained, likely as a result of pushing back against the "support" of the midsole construction.
The widely spaced lugs on the outsole easily shed mud and water. And even though the upper of this shoe is predominantly mesh, these shoes did a good job staying dry running through water.
Tips for Sizing
The Merrell website notes that this shoe fits 1/2 size larger than their normal sizing. We found this to be consistent in our testing, and ran in a US 8 (EU 41.5) rather than a US 8.5 (EU 42.) But make sure to check their size chart for the proper conversion — one half-size in US does not always correlate directly to one-half size in EU.
We found this shoe to be a responsive trail shoe, and light enough to make those long, uphill slogs a bit easier to enjoy.
Traction is a crucial factor for trail runners, and in this category, the Trail Glove scored high marks. But unlike other barefoot designs, grip does not come from our toes' ability to splay and flex into the ground.
Instead, the Trail Glove makes use of a particularly sticky rubber over the forefoot, and well-designed lugs across the outsole. The 3mm lugs resemble the teeth of a chainsaw blade, and switch directions at the midsole — a thoughtful design concept that increases grip on the way up, and braking ability on the way down.
Two types of rubber are used in the construction of the outsole. The rubber over the forefoot is particularly sticky, which helped the Trail Glove 5 scramble well.
As more of a minimalist, rather than barefoot design, Trail Glove is one of the most versatile shoes in our review. On trails, the shoe easily adapted to terrain spanning from desert to alpine; it did a nice job of keeping our feet protected from below from roots and rocks, and above from rain. Its lightweight and low-profile, zero-drop platform was nearly equally comfortable over miles of pavement.
The Trail Glove's best attributes are breathability and stability, also making it a great option for the gym. For those looking to switch from conventional to more minimalist running shoes, the combination of an 11.5mm stack height and 3mm of cushion in the insole helps make the transition in this shoe a little more manageable.
Despite our reservations about the Barefoot 2 midsole design, it does a good job of allowing our heels to spread out and create a solid platform when weightlifting.
For its impressive weight, the Trail Glove also sports a sturdy exterior. The outer-mesh is supplemented with bands of TPU — notably, where the lacing eyelets attach to the upper, a common spot for blowouts.
Rather than a full-rubber toe rand, a slightly thicker layer of TPU protects the front of the shoe from abrasion and the potential of the mesh ripping, while also cutting down on weight. Supported by a full-Vibram outsole, we foresee very few issues with durability.
A solid toe rand protects your toes from bashing on rocks, and a TPU laminate on top protects the mesh of the upper from tearing.
The Trail Glove 5 is middle-of-the-pack in terms of price. Considering the extra support and durability this shoe offers up for trail runners, we feel the asking price is fair.
With its lightweight construction and grippy outsole, we enjoyed taking this shoe out on hikes and other alpine adventures.
While not the same, beloved barefoot-runner it was in past models, the Merrell Trail Glove 5 proves its merit as a minimalist trail running shoe. Supportive, low-profile, lightweight, and grippy, this shoe boasts a list of attributes we seek out in responsive trail runners. But with the additions of a rock plate and a relatively stiff midsole that dictates foot movement, this new Trail Glove loses sight of its original intentions as a barefoot running shoe.
The Trail Glove 5 ran well enough on the roads (for short distances), but are definitely better suited for life on the trail.