Merrell Vapor Glove 5 Review
Cons: Diminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky laces
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Merrell Vapor Glove 5
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|Pros||Superlight, exceptional natural feel, flexible, affordable||Super flexible, amazing feedback, spacious fit, breathable, optional insole||Super low-profile sole, comfortably padded, designed for durability||Incredible natural feel, extremely lightweight, tacky outsole||Grippy, breathable, glove-like fit|
|Cons||Diminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky laces||Heavier than most, potential durability issues, short laces||Tapered toe box is a bit restrictive, traction is compromised by dirt, lack of versatility||Lack of durability, difficult to size correctly, goofy looking||Uncomfortable midsole, difficult to size correctly|
|Bottom Line||A barefoot trainer that continues to define the category, this shoe’s ultra-thin outsole helps deliver superior natural feel||From its airy fit to its free range of motion, this barefoot shoe offers the best in lightweight running performance||An incredibly thin outsole, supportive padding, and reinforced sidewalls make this an ideal barefoot gym trainer||An improved version of the original FiveFingers shoe, this unique option offers the opportunity to go as close to barefoot as possible||We were psyched on the fit and feel of this completely redesigned trail-runner, only to be disappointed by an overdesigned and uncomfortable midsole|
|Rating Categories||Merrell Vapor Glove 5||Xero Shoes HFS||Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3||Vibram FiveFingers...||Merrell Trail Glove...|
|Natural Feel (40%)|
|Specs||Merrell Vapor Glove 5||Xero Shoes HFS||Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3||Vibram FiveFingers...||Merrell Trail Glove...|
|Best For||Road Running||Road Running||Gym||Road Running, Gym||Trail Running|
|Stack Height||6.5 mm||5.5 mm (w/o insole)||1.5 mm (w/o insole)||5 mm||12 mm|
|Heel to Toe drop||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm||0 mm|
|Weight (per shoe)||5.8 oz (size US 8.5)||7.9 oz (size US 9.5)||6.8 oz (size US 9)||4.6 oz (size EU 43)||7.7 oz (size US 8.5)|
Vibram XS Trek
|Midsole||None||None||None||None||Merrell Barefoot 2
(Includes Rock Plate)
4 mm EVA
|3 mm High Density EVA||3 mm Power Footbed||2 mm EVA + Drylex sockliner||Integrated Bloom Performance (Ortholite)|
|Upper Material||Mesh and TPU||Mesh and TPU||Mesh and Rope-Tec TPU||Mesh and TPU||65% Recycled Mesh|
Our Analysis and Test Results
This well-loved barefoot line sees a significant overhaul with the Merrell Vapor Glove 5. Borrowing and substantially improving upon a previous full-wrap style, this shoe utilizes a stretchy collar to envelope your foot. Merrell's Barefoot 2 construction is specifically designed to contour the shape of your foot without providing any additional support or structure. With an upper that is 40% recycled mesh and a Vibram Ecostep outsole made of 30% recycled rubber, this shoe is an all-around more natural solution to running and training.
Much like its beloved predecessor, the Vapor Glove 5 continues to define excellence within the barefoot running category. Interestingly enough, the current design is, in many ways, very similar to the Vapor Glove 3. This will certainly be joyful news for longtime fans of the Vapor Glove line — many of whom disliked the last update and others who claim that the current version is simply the best yet. So what makes the Vapor Glove 5 so special?
The key to greatness for this shoe, and all barefoot trainers, is an ultra-thin, ultra-flexible outsole that does not receive any support from a midsole or other stability control devices. At a mere 2mm, the Vibram Ecostep outsole of the Vapor Glove 5 is one of the thinnest of any shoe in this review. An integrated, 4mm EVA-foam insole brings the total stack height of this zero-drop trainer to 6.5mm, putting your foot right against the ground for superior feedback and improved proprioception.
A simple structure and thin breathable upper help to round out the key barefoot attributes of the Vapor Glove 5. The ultralight mesh upper is improved by a stretchy collar, which helps to seamlessly integrate the shoe with your foot. Whether running roads, trails, or in the gym, this translates to improved responsiveness and thus a more natural feel. Another highlight is the combination of a perfectly pinched heel pocket and the wide toe box, which allows for natural movement of your foot without the shoe feeling oversized or floppy. The feel is reminiscent of a water shoe but with the running performance of a racing flat.
Tipping the scales at an incredible 5.8-ounces per shoe, the Vapor Glove 5 feels as ultralight in your hands as it does on your feet. This is a slight weight gain compared to the previous version — fractions of an ounce likely attributed to the spandex in the stretch collar, a bit of extra rubber in the outsole, and extra TPU film around the big toe — all benefits worthy of an otherwise inconsequential change in weight.
Although we wouldn't necessarily describe the Vapor Glove 5 as "airy," a recycled mesh lining effectively and efficiently wicks away moisture from the inside of the shoe. This makes them ideal for running through the heat of the summer, even if you're pounding miles of hot pavement. Ultra-lightweight and breathable, these shoes really do live up to their name — they are practically unnoticeable on your feet, allowing you to move freely whether on the road or in the gym.
One of the major revisions made to the Vapor Glove 5 is a complete redesign of the outsole. Opting for a homogeneous pattern of 2mm lugs instead of a more conventional directional pattern, this new design maintains the key component of a thin outsole while hopefully improving upon previous durability issues. All of the empty space is filled in this outsole, eliminating thinner, blank spots between lugs that tend to wear through faster, especially if you are prone to foot-dragging or regularly run on off-camber technical terrain.
Another benefit of this new outsole pattern is that it creates a perfectly flat platform. This, combined with the already supple nature of the thin outsole, highlights the natural gripping ability of your feet. This only adds to the even-flow of the already low-profile platform, particularly when running on pavement.
Unfortunately, this redesign significantly diminishes this shoe's ability to move over trails — at least the dry, dusty variety available to our lead tester in the drought-stricken desert Southwest. To the benefit of a natural running style, the uniform lug pattern forces you to flex and engage your toes more when running on dirt. But the similarly thin, flexible soles of the previous version (that had directional lugs) still allowed you to flex and propel with proper form, so why abandon them to the detriment of trail runners on the Vapor Glove 5?
While the crossover capability of the Vapor Glove 5 has slightly waned, all is certainly not lost — these shoes still present themselves as a fantastic barefoot trainer, even if their performance on trails is slightly worse. The change of lug design — both shape and compound — offers a tackier outsole with a more even platform. While these shoes tend to slip a bit more over dirt, this change improves their performance over pavement and in the gym.
As we noted above, a highlight of these shoes is their responsiveness — or rather, their ability to accentuate the natural responsiveness of your feet. This makes them incredibly nimble for dynamic exercises like box jumps and kettlebell lunges and even flexible enough for yoga. While they don't afford much padding, the wide toe box and even platform make them equally suitable for weight lifting. However, like running, these are much too minimalist to be considered a transition shoe — although the 4mm adds a slight amount of padding, these are better left to the diehard barefoot crowd.
Though the structure is thin and lightweight, the Vapor Glove 5 is still reinforced at key points to improve durability and hopefully increase longevity. A thin TPU film covers the big toe, pinkie toe, and across the heel pocket to help prevent damage from abrasion. Although the majority of the upper is recycled mesh, TPU is also employed to reinforce the eyelets and provide some structure to the otherwise sock-like wrap.
There is no genuine rand, but the outsole does extend to an elongated toe cap to help protect against toe bang when running in rocky terrain. While our testing period is limited, our hope is that the redesign of the outsole also improves upon previous issues with durability. At the very least, the uniformly distributed 2mm lugs should wear evenly, preventing uneven and untimely wear at pressure points.
Across the board, the Vapor Glove 5 is an apparent upgrade, all while maintaining an exceptional value. This barefoot runner easily earns our accolades as a top pick for economy, delivering top-notch performance and superior natural feel at a price point unmatched by competitors. For newcomers and diehard fans alike, this current iteration carries on the accomplishments of the Vapor Glove line.
As a fully-developed barefoot runner, the Merrell Vapor Glove 5 continues to help set a high bar for the barefoot shoe category. A superlight design balances flexibility, responsiveness, and breathability for an amazing natural feel. While better suited to seasoned barefoot runners than those just switching over from conventional running shoes, the Vapor Glove 5 offers top-notch performance at an unbeatable price point.
— Aaron Rice
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