|Click on any photo of the Merrell Road Glove for a larger image|
This summer, I ran 122.8 miles in Merrell Trail Gloves (not all at once!). That may not seem like much to the die-hard marathon crowd, but for a guy like me with about 14 pairs of running shoes, it is a lot for a single pair in a single summer. What that says about the Merrell Trail Glove is that I love the shoe, especially in its native environment, the trail. The Trail Glove was my go-to shoe for my regular Thursday night P.R. Fitness Trail Run, and it absolutely killed it on the rolling, packed dirt trails of the Pinckney Recreation Area here in Michigan, where I did my long trail runs in my Stumpjump 50k buildup. In fact, I also bought the Sonic Glove (the Trail Glove’s water-resistant cousin) and the ToughGlove (the all-leather variant, for my business casual day job).
Given my overall affection for the Trail Glove and for Merrell, it comes as no surprise that I was very anxious to get my hands on the Merrell Barefoot Collection Road Glove. As much as I liked the Trail Glove, it has a few shortcomings that prevent it from being a true all surface minimalist shoe. First, it has a contoured sole that prevents full-ground contact (in other words, you touch the ground mostly in the heel and ball of your foot while the midfoot hovers a bit). Second, it has a plate in the forefoot designed to provide a little protection and distribute force. What the plate seems to do for me is provide an uneven laydown of the foot while running on hard surfaces, putting me in a sort of “clip-clop” stride as my forefoot hits first, then my heel comes down. Third, the arch wrap and midfoot area could feel too snug at times, even though the wide toebox and overall flexibility of the shoe are fantastic. So, I used the Trail Glove and the Sonic Glove almost entirely for trail running.
The Road Glove hits the nail on the head, addressing many of the limitations of the Trail Glove and its variants for road running. First, it maintains all that was good about the other Merrell Barefoot shoes. Durable Vibram outsole, natural foot shape, wide toebox, high production quality, premium materials, innovative looks, pure zero drop (level platform, no raised heel), and a plush interior for sockless comfort. The Road Glove also adds a few new features that I like a lot. It has a full-contact outsole with no “dip” in the midfoot. It has even better looking materials, colorways, and design. It provides slightly more dense cushioning than the Trail Glove. It also loses the forefoot plate, which is a good thing, and loses the Trail Glove’s Omni-Fit lacing system, which is a bad thing. Still, the Road Glove fits well, laces up securely, and provides road stance and ride that I think will suit many natural/minimalist/barefoot runners.
As with many of my reviews, this is a technical analysis and series of first impressions. I just received these pre-release shoes the other day and have yet to log any miles in them. I will provide a second review after I get a few months of miles under me, but this review will serve to get some of my annotated photos out there, provide you with a better idea of what the Road Glove will be like in-hand, and let you in on some features and characteristics of the shoe you might not get from the usual marketing pieces and cursory reviews that are out there already.
As you can see in the photos, the shoe is a Stroebel lasted, natural shaped, zero-drop shoe with ample toe room and a soft, flexible upper. What I wasn’t prepared for was how stiff it is. In my mind, I pictured it as flexible as a Trail Glove, but without that nuisance of a forefoot plate that hindered the Trail Glove’s road performance. I pictured it as supple and flexible as the rubber midsole/outsole of the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) Komodosport LS. I imagined it would feel about the same as the Altra Adam, a very thin, extremely flexible, flat minimalist shoe. I was wrong, but I am OK with it. The Road Glove is far more structured and stiff than I thought. Admittedly, it will likely soften up with miles, but it is a rather firm shoe. Underfoot it feels great, but there is a somewhat noticeable arch curve bordering on a mild arch support. The EVA foam in the arch area is more substantial and rigid than the similar area on the Trail Glove’s sole. Again, I think I am ok with that, as it does not seem to truly interfere with foot function and it will provide a little relief for tired feet over longer distances. In fact, I can already tell you this will likely become a favorite of mine for that reason. I feel limited to about 10 road miles in my Altra Adams, my VFFs, or without shoes at all, as my feet just get fatigued when pounding the pavement. The Road Glove strikes a balance by offering a little more impact protection and a wee bit of support.
The Road Glove trades off ground feel to achieve that slight support and impact protection. I never felt like the Trail Glove was very good with ground feel because of the forefoot plate, and even without the plate the Road Glove follows that path. You can definitely feel the overall ground contact and I think you’ll be able to maintain good, solid, natural form with the Road Glove…but just don’t expect to feel every little pebble like you would in a pair of Vibrams. I would even venture to say that the Road Glove will undoubtedly become a favorite mild trail running shoe for many runners. It has plenty of protection due to its durable blown rubber outsole and dense, but thin, layer of cushioning.
Finally, the upper. I expect the Road Glove to drain well, breathe easy, and fit regardless of whether or not I am wearing socks. It is soft and comfortable, and seems to do just enough to keep the foot safely centered over the sole unit. It even looks great, in my opinion. Very sharp colorways and I received the best one, black and lime (just like my Vibrams and Sonic Gloves…this is a favorite combo for me). The logo is well positioned, there is a pair of little reflective bits for safety (though they could use more), and the lacing system is adequate.
I am impressed with the build quality and design of the Road Glove overall, and I think it will also make a great gym shoe. I wore it for a full-body strength session last night and found it very effective for squats and other exercises where a good solid foundation is a big benefit. I look forward to matching this guy up to Skoras, as they seem to sit in a similar spot in the rotation. I also look forward to logging some real miles indoors and out in the Road Glove over the winter. I wasn’t disappointed in the looks, finish, or fit when I finally had them in-hand, so let’s hope they measure up over the long haul.
The Road Glove is available at Elite Feet, and they ship nationwide, just give them a call. By the way, if you enjoyed this review and analysis, please visit my homepage at www.averageblog.org and see what else we have online. Also, I am cultivating a new Facebook page, so you can get my reviews and posts as soon as they come out. Please consider "liking" the Average Guy Hits the Road Facebook page and following me on Twitter today!
This media sample shoe was provided free of charge by the manufacturer.
This media sample shoe was provided free of charge by the manufacturer.