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Merrell Vapor Glove 5 Review

A barefoot trainer that continues to define the category, this shoe’s ultra-thin outsole helps deliver superior natural feel
Merrell Vapor Glove 5
Photo: Merrell
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $80 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Pros:  Superlight, exceptional natural feel, flexible, affordable
Cons:  Diminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky laces
Manufacturer:   Merrell
By Aaron Rice ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jul 23, 2021
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75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#2 of 8
  • Natural Feel - 40% 8
  • Weight - 20% 8
  • Traction - 15% 6
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Durability - 10% 7

Our Verdict

The newly redesigned Merrell Vapor Glove 5 continues to provide a near-perfect example of what a barefoot shoe can achieve for seasoned veterans of barefoot running. Though not as technically sound as a trail runner, this versatile trainer is equally comfortable cruising miles of pavement as it is pushing through tough workouts. Though an integrated 4mm insole provides just enough support to tackle tough terrain, the sheer minimalism of the 2mm outsole on this zero-drop shoe is something to be noted and respected. The outsole has been redesigned to improve durability and direct feedback, while the recycled mesh upper employs a stretch collar to boost responsiveness. For those looking to keep their soles on the street, the Vapor Glove 5 offers a superior natural feel.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Merrell Vapor Glove 5
Awards Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $80 List
Check Price at Backcountry
$124.99 at Amazon$120.00 at Amazon$119.95 at Amazon$84.95 at Amazon
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Pros Superlight, exceptional natural feel, flexible, affordableSuper flexible, amazing feedback, spacious fit, breathable, optional insoleSuper low-profile sole, comfortably padded, designed for durabilityTough exterior, stable, snug lacing systemFlexible, breathable, surprisingly durable, great price
Cons Diminished grip off-road, confining stretch collar, bulky lacesHeavier than most, potential durability issues, short lacesTapered toe box is a bit restrictive, traction is compromised by dirt, lack of versatilityOdd flex pattern, decreased sensitivity, lack of dexterity in toesVery particular sizing, lengthy break-in time, goofy looking
Bottom Line A barefoot trainer that continues to define the category, this shoe’s ultra-thin outsole helps deliver superior natural feelFrom its airy fit to its free range of motion, this barefoot shoe offers the best in lightweight running performanceAn incredibly thin outsole, supportive padding, and reinforced sidewalls make this an ideal barefoot gym trainerRun in comfort and confidence in this tank of a FiveFinger shoeFor those who fully embrace the barefoot lifestyle, this shoe performs well on the road and in the gym
Rating Categories Merrell Vapor Glove 5 Xero Shoes HFS Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3 Vibram V-Trail 2.0 Vibram FiveFingers KSO
Natural Feel (40%)
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Weight (20%)
8.0
6.0
7.0
7.0
9.0
Traction (15%)
6.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
5.0
Versatility (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
5.0
Durability (10%)
7.0
6.0
8.0
9.0
7.0
Specs Merrell Vapor Glove 5 Xero Shoes HFS Inov-8 Bare-XF 210 V3 Vibram V-Trail 2.0 Vibram FiveFingers KSO
Style Barefoot road Barefoot road Barefoot road Barefoot trail Barefoot road
Weight (per shoe) 5.8 oz (size US 8.5) 7.9 oz (size US 9.5) 6.8 oz (size US 9) 6.9 oz (size EU 42) 5.5 oz (size EU 42)
Stack Height 6.5 mm 5.5 mm (w/o insole) 1.5 mm (w/o insole) 5.7 mm 3.5 mm
Heel to Toe drop 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm 0 mm
Outsole 2 mm, Vibram Ecostep 5.5mm FeelTrue 1.5 mm,
Inov-8 rubber
3.7 mm, Megagrip Rubber 3.5 mm, XS Trek Performance Rubber
Midsole None None None 2 mm EVA None
Insole Integrated
4 mm EVA
3 mm High Density EVA 3 mm Power Footbed None None
Upper Material Mesh and TPU Mesh and TPU Mesh and Rope-Tec TPU 3D Cocoon Mesh Stretch polyamide, polyester, Hypalon
Best For (running, gym, etc.) Running Running Gym Running Gym
Width Options Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular

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.

Performance Comparison


The crowd-favorite Merrell Vapor Glove 5 returns to the roots of...
The crowd-favorite Merrell Vapor Glove 5 returns to the roots of some of its design points to build upon an already well-regarded reputation as an exceptional barefoot shoe.
Photo: Jill Rice

Natural Feel


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 thin, flexible outsole is the key to greatness in this category...
A thin, flexible outsole is the key to greatness in this category. With a complete redesign, this one improves upon ground feel and responsiveness.
Photo: Jill Rice

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.

With just the right amount of padding, this shoe is able to provide...
With just the right amount of padding, this shoe is able to provide accurate feedback to help improve your proprioception and coordination on technical trails.
Photo: Jill Rice

Weight


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.

Tipping the scales at under 6-ounces, the Merrell Vapor Glove 5...
Tipping the scales at under 6-ounces, the Merrell Vapor Glove 5 continues to define lightweight performance in this category.
Photo: Jill Rice

Traction


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.

The full-wrap upper improves the traction of this shoe, by keeping...
The full-wrap upper improves the traction of this shoe, by keeping your foot in place within the shoe and allowing you to engage your toes for natural grip.
Photo: Jill Rice

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?

The lack of directional lugs means that this shoe is better suited...
The lack of directional lugs means that this shoe is better suited to roads or softer, loamy trails than the hardpack of the desert Southwest.
Photo: Jill Rice

Versatility


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.

Nimble, lightweight, and breathable, these perform splendidly as a...
Nimble, lightweight, and breathable, these perform splendidly as a gym trainer, especially when it comes to dynamic movements.
Photo: Jill Rice

Durability


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.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

This latest version of the Vapor Glove 5 continues to be a favorite...
This latest version of the Vapor Glove 5 continues to be a favorite of our lead tester, who still regularly -- and comfortably -- runs trails in these shoes despite their change in outsole.
Photo: Jill Rice

Aaron Rice