Merrell MTL Long Sky - Women's Review
Cons: Short laces
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Merrell MTL Long Sky is our Editors' Choice award winner for its supportive and cushioned midsole, excellent traction, and superior stability. It's built for long (or short) days on the trail, with the ability to perform on any run, through any condition.
We wore these shoes while running over rocky, snowy, and sandy terrain. We took them over the rock-laden trails found in Ouray, Colorado, hiking up steeps and sprinting down singletrack. We are overly impressed by the protective underfoot cushioning and rugged upper that keeps your foot protected all day long.
On any trail, underfoot protection is paramount, especially when you're running upwards of marathon distances. This shoe is stacked with 27.5 and 19.5mm of responsive cushioning in heel and forefoot respectively. Over sharp, rocky trails, very rarely did we feel these underfoot obstructions penetrate. We tested them on all sorts of distances, up to 25 miles. After those 25 miles, our feet were fresh and didn't feel sore, even after moving over sharp rocks and sand all day long.
The upper is quite breathable. The mesh features porous holes that aid in breathability, making it dry out quickly after tromping through creek crossings. While it doesn't have any dedicated holes for drainage, the mesh functions as the drainage itself, which actually works better than any shoe we've tested with holes in the construction.
When running in sandy conditions, the secondary mesh layer offers good protection so pesky particulates don't enter the shoe. The only caveat is the toe bumper is quite flexible, making toe stubs more painful than other more protected options.
Sensitivity in this shoe is surprisingly above average, considering the amount of protection. In a lot of ways, Merrell has figured out the perfect balance between being able to feel the trail while protecting your foot.
While flying down rocky and root littered trails, we could feel underfoot undulations and correct our body position easily for uneven landing. This shoes' sensitivity is just so to get you intimate with the trail but protected enough to keep your feet comfortable for short or ultra distances. If you're a fan of barefoot shoes where you can feel absolutely everything, avoid this shoe as it's more cushioned and protected than most.
Superior! The Vibram sole and 5-mm lugs offer excellent traction. We tested it while scrambling up granite ridges, over snowy surfaces, and while chugging away over kitty-litter laden rock. The lugs are durable enough for cross-over terrain on both dirt and pavement roads. Push off the ground is efficient and feels light. They also shed mud well.
This shoe was tested primarily in the dry climates of Ouray, CO, home to the Hardrock 100, and Ouray 100. The trails are steep, slippery, strewn with river crossings, snowfields, and rocks. They have literally seen it all. The chevron-shaped lugs are burly and durable. They offer superior traction when heading up steeps and while crushing the downhill.
Many shoes offer questionable lateral traction, but the pattern of the outsole, in addition to its stable design with built-in stability posts (even though they don't feel like stability shoes) adds excellent lateral traction when treading over slippery terrain. Basically, when faced with the decision to choose from over 15 other options for technical terrain, we typically opted for this one. It helped us choose to go faster on the downhills, without fear of slipping out and falling on our butts.
Again, wow! The Merrel Long Sky provides excellent stability on even the rockiest or uneven of terrain.
Our main tester is an ankle roller by nature, plagued with flashbacks of ankle rolling events, especially when traveling over rocky, unstable trails. However, this shoe gives her confidence. It might be the stiffer heel or the medial post that's inserted into the design. It might be the excellent traction or the flared skirt of material around the outsole, increasing posterior stability. Or, it might be the wider platform in the toe box, which equates to better balance. Whatever it might be, the result is clear. This is a stable shoe, but not rigid, that is built for stability. It's still flexible throughout its body and lightweight. Feel confident flying down the most technical or non-technical trails.
Comfort and Fit
We absolutely love the versatile fit and overall comfort of this trail runner. It features a wider toe box, a little arch support, and a tight-fitting heel cup. The fit, when running, feels specific. Comfort is heavenly. It has a traditional design with an 8-mm drop from heel to toe in its level of cushioning.
Fit is versatile. The toe box is surprisingly wide, even though it looks narrow at first glance. There is a tiny bit of arch support and a well-fitted heel cup. The heel cup is quite rigid but comfortable. The collar is thin with a broad profile across the Achilles and doesn't rub in any weird spots while running. The pull-on tabs make the shoe easier to get on and off, especially if you don't like tying laces.
The tongue is attached to the upper and super thin, offering comfortable protection and breathability. It doesn't dig in or sit in an uncomfortable position. We especially love the lacing options. The eyelets are plentiful so you can easily lace your shoes the way you need. They are also placed far enough to really cinch them down if you have a narrow foot, or let them out if your foot is wide. Our only complaint is the laces are a bit short and come undone easily. Switch them out, and you'll find yourself stopping less on the trail.
Dare we say, this shoe will fit most ladies, whether your foot is wide, regular, or narrow. We gave these shoes out to local runners with feet of all different profiles. One of our testers has a large bone spur on the widest part of her foot, and this shoe was accommodating, so much that she bought a pair after running in them once.
At only 8.9 oz, it is among the lightest in this comparative review. It feels light on the foot, dries easily, and isn't built for just long-distance training runs but is race-ready. It's hard to find a trail runner with impeccable performance across the metrics, at such a low weight.
The retail price of this Editors' Choice winner is fair and sits right at average as far as trail runners are concerned. We've run in this shoe for over 60 miles, and the only wear and tear we see is along the collar (which is a result of our main testers running style). Aside from that, the lugs have hardly worn, and the upper is doing quite well—an excellent value, considering the price and performance. We expect to get a few hundred miles out of these beauties.
The shoe developers at Merrell have built an impeccable product. It balances all the most important aspects that any great trail runner should have. It's lightweight, stable, comfortable, and quite protective. The MTL Long Sky is designed for all types of trails, covering a range of distances. It features a traditional design (8-mm drop) that'll easily take you from the roads to the technical terrain of high mountain trails. This is a new favorite that's really hard to beat when considering performance and price.
— Amber King