The Merrell Vapor Glove 3 is a great barefoot road trainer that offers an incredibly lightweight feel and terrific road feedback. In a stacked competition of barefoot trainers, it was hard to single out the best from a review containing so many good shoes. Some comfort issues revolving around hotspots under the big toe, which we saw elsewhere reported, lingered even after an expected break-in period and docked this pair some points. The same is true for the unnatural buckling of the toe box, which caved in during movement and probably was the culprit behind the hotspots.
Merrell Vapor Glove 3 ReviewPrice: $80 List | $79.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Inexpensive, adaptable, lightweight, stylish
Cons: Flimsy, uncomfortable in places, minor durability issues
Bottom line: The Vapor Glove 3 from Merrell perfectly mixes the road and trail style into a road trainer that delivers a superior barefoot experience.
Cushion (mm): 3
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Minimalist and Barefoot Shoes of 2018
Our Analysis and Test Results
This review evenly split the competition between road trainers and shoes for on the trail. Some of those staked out one territory exclusively, like the inov-8 X-Talon 225 did for trail shoes or like the Stealth 2 did for road trainers. Both offerings from Merrell did well at performing well on each terrain while not suffering performance issues.
On the chart, you'll see that the Vapor Glove 3 stood up there with the competition. It's a great barefoot shoe and incredibly light in a genre already known for being as lightweight as possible. This 6.9oz trainer weighs almost exactly as much as the Vibram FiveFinger KSO, a shoe that looks remarkably lighter. What that translates to in user experience is a phenomenal road-feel without being cruel to your feet.
As you can imagine, Merrell knows what they're doing when it comes to building a quality shoe in the minimalist realm.
In a field of minimalist and barefoot-style shoes that shrunk over its span, going back to when FiveFinger shoes first came on the market, Merrell showed up and stuck around while other brands backed out of the market or eliminated their genuinely barefoot, 0mm drop, lightweight, minimalist brands.
But, just like the Editor's Choice-winner, the Trail Glove 4, the moniker "Barefoot" is plastered on the side as a status symbol and sign of their commitment to the lifestyle you're after. The road feel is better than the slightly heavier Primus Lite, which tends to be cruel in translating the harder surfaces to your feet. It's comparable to the Stealth 2, another excellent road trainer.
Like we've said before, you just can't beat this commitment put into developing a barefoot shoe.
The Minimus 10v1 shirks away from it by incorporating a slight 4mm drop, but these shoes are giving you the full true-barefoot experience. If that's what your after you'll find it here in road-shoe form and the only better barefoot experience would be our award-winner, the Trail Glove 4.
These are also far more breathable than the sister Glove shoe and developed fewer odor issues. Maybe that's not something that bothers you, but it's noticeable enough to bring up here that some people might prefer a shoe better adapted to hot climates. If that's what you're after, these are for you.
These perform slightly worse than the slightly more comfortable Prio when it comes to general comfort.
As we alluded to above, there's a slight hotspot below the big toes that never entirely went away after breaking them in. At just 6.9oz, we wonder if maybe the material is too thin in places and causes abrasive, hot areas. In this photo right here, you can see exactly what we noticed where my finger is pointing, ignore the black spot — that's from a beach run a week prior.
Just like the Stealth 2 and Primus Lite by Vivobarefoot, the Merrell's have a TrailProtect outsole for increased protection in rough, uncertain ground areas. The overall feel of that robust protection serves the shoes well, but we just couldn't get over why this particular version of Merrell's Glove line had a hotspot while the other didn't.
This is as good as it gets in the road category for traction.
When it comes to road traction, the formulas get a lot simpler than it does out there on the trail where you can be a beast like the X-Talon 225 with their 19mm spikes or a sleek, multi-purpose trail outsole like the Trail Glove 4.
You can see that among all the road trainers, the Vapor Glove 3 has a more diverse surface area and it's clear that it's better traction in slick environments comes from that design. Compare the two in the middle from the two Vivobarefoot soles on the sides, which are almost uniformly sleek except for the presence of rounded divots. In some of our other reviews of road shoes, we had to divulge some weird slipping on wet cobbles and brick paths, that's not an issue here.
When picking a trainer, most people are after something to get them through a training season; only maybe they will swap it out with their trash pair on a day with a downpour, or slip on their flats for a race, but other than that, they want to make it all season with no issues.
We had a slight tear on the toe box of the review pair, and that's a solid problem. During regular use, a shoe shouldn't have defects, and Merrell typically puts out a good product, and that's a big part of why they won our Editor's Choice award with the Trail Glove 4, so it's likely we just got unlucky.
The strange part is it happened around our troublesome hotspot area we mentioned above. The only other issue in this whole review never fully manifested, but we were skeptical how the Primus Lite would have fared had we let this review play out into a full season. Nevertheless, the way the thing mesh upper folds brings the comfort issue forward in a big way, and we wager it's why it develops such a nasty hotspot in the toe box. Sure, they are more breathable and feel much more natural and light, but it does not matter when you stack those features against the apparent downside of the coming blister plague.
For a road trainer from a versatile brand that puts out a product adept at performing on and off-road, you cannot get much better. We put these through some trail runs on moderate and beginner trails, as well as dozens of miles out on the road and they, performed exactly as we have come to expect from a brand as committed to putting out a great minimalist product. These shoes offer a superior barefoot experience on the road, and their adaptability to multiple environments helped push them over the edge to earn one of our Top Pick awards. We recommend these to anyone else who wants a great shoe for using predominantly on the road but want the option to take them out on the trail as well. They also do not look half bad as a regular sneaker to take around town in the Dark Grey color scheme that we reviewed.
At just $80, it does not get much better for a barefoot shoe. When the whole mantra of the genre you want to shop in is minimalism and doing more with less, the idea of spending more than a Benjamin kind of feels insulting. We appreciate the value we got out of this pair and their versatility, breathability, and performance on the road fully live up to what you should get out of them. Merrell stuck it to the competition in this review and the value you will get from this and the Trail Glove 4 are proof that they know what they are doing in the barefoot shoot market.
The quality of performance and endurance these shoes had during our testing period put them in one of our Top Pick spots in the category of barefoot-style shoes. Despite losing a few points for durability and comfort, they outperformed a number of the other trainers we tested and should deliver more than you would expect throughout the training season.
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: February 23, 2018
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