Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove Review: First-ish Impressions

Merrell Road GloveOnce again, I'm fashionably late to the shoe-review party. While the other running bloggers have already reviewed and re-reviewed the Merrell Road Glove, I'm just now posting my own insights on this groovy shoe.

For those of you who prefer not to read through my typical drivel, I'll go ahead and give you the conclusion to my review now (Don't expect this kind of Brechtian courtesy in forthcoming shoe reviews, though):

Conclusion

After running 60-or-so miles in my pair of Merrell Barefoot Road Gloves over the past couple of weeks, I can confidently confirm that what you've already read about the shoe is all you'll need to know. The other reviewers got it right, especially the ones who corrected the more critical ones. The only thing left to do is pick a color, try on the shoe, and make a final decision.

Still Reading?

Ah, thank you reader! I'll be sure to make the rest of this post extra wordy and full of superfluous remarks encased in parentheses (just for you).

Merrell Makes This

The numerous Road Glove reviews already in existence online are a testament to Merrell's marketing strategy. For instance, when I first read about how Merrell "gets it" on Jason Robillard's blog, I thought he was just being nice to his sponsor.

But, if you pay attention, you can see that Merrell strives to maintain a palpable connection with their customers. The Merrell facebook posts are frequent and friendly, making fans feel valued. And, the overall approach Merrell is taking to crafting their Barefoot line seems enthusiastically well planned.

And, of course, the fact that so many bloggers have already reviewed the Road Glove at least once indicates to me just how much value Merrell attributes to virtual-word-of-mouth marketing, so to speak.

With that kind of attention to quality and grass-roots promotion, It's no wonder that Merrell is so highly regarded. I mean, who doesn't like Merrell? The company is practically synonymous with outdoor activities. And, the name—"Merrell"—rolls off the tongue as if one were speaking to a loyal dog.

Disliking Merrell is like hating trees and mountains. What kind of person hates a tree?

In my mind, Merrell's corporate policy mandates that offices close early when the weather's nice. The coffee is probably always awesome. And, every employee is exposed to natural light for no less than 100% of the day. Even the bathrooms in Merrell offices have a skylight so as to allow for appreciation of the outdoors.


There's a video about barefoot running, too. But, this one's more amusing.

More importantly, or, perhaps equally so, Merrell wants people to have fun. Would a company make a commercial like this if they didn't rank fun and humor up there with breathing and general well being? No, such a company would not.

And, that's an important thing to consider, the promotion of fun. The fact that a fun-loving company like Merrell makes the Road Glove is a big deal.

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove lateral right and bottom

Barefoot is Best, Especially with a Barefoot Shoe

The irony of describing a shoe with a term that means the exact opposite of what that descriptor means probably strikes several people as strange. Rightly so. How many of us would want a "shirtless shirt" or "commando underwear"? (Okay, the latter is pretty funny, now that I think about it)

But, there's already been a discussion or two about the appropriateness of using the term "barefoot shoe". And, I'll leave that to the authorities. My point is that irony ads a good dose of fun to this particular shoe.

I mean, Merrell also calls it a glove, when, in fact, it looks more like a mitten minus a thumb. (Coincidentially, one of Merrell's primary offices is in Michigan; which, as everyone knows, also resembles a mitten)

So, really with at least two contradictions in the name of this shoe, Merrell is practically daring you not to give it a try!

"Barefoot? Pfft, it's a shoe. How can a shoe make you barefoot? Lemme see that!"

"Road Glove? Pfft, VFFs are more like gloves. This is just like a regular ol' shoe! Lemme try that!"

See? It works, the contradictory product naming. The counterintuitive adjective-noun combo breaks down your mental defenses. And, you're open to putting these bad boys on your feet for a run, because, really, they happen to look damn good.

And, then you put them on. And, you run for a bit. And, you find that all that natural form stuff you've been practicing is easier than ever in the Road Gloves.

But, you're uncertain about the grip that the shoes have around your midfeet. Yet, your toes splay wildly and securely and happily. So, the grip around your midfoot makes sense. And, you just start running further until you realize that the store employees are chasing you, because it looks like you're trying to steal the shoes. But, you're not. (You swear)

Honestly, more than any other minimal-ish shoe I currently wear, the Road Gloves are the ones that make me want to kick 'em off at the end of a run and finish the last mile or so running barefoot. That's a good thing, not a negative remark about the shoes.

The Road Glove's zero-droppedness and flat outsole make running on pavement with proper form fun and efficient. And, for me, this really makes barefoot running more accessible. (Bold text intentional)

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove bottom view

The Road Glove's Arch Enemies

Let's just talk about this arch thingy for a moment: If you've read more than one review of the Road Glove already, you've read something that's either negative or defensive about the "arch support" built into the shoe, comments denouncing the shoe for being far from minimal.

See, there's a smooth bump on the insole that conforms to a person's arch rather snuggly. And, at first, the sensation might make a runner think his arch is being overly supported.

I was concerned about my arch area, too, at first. But, that's because I was not used to the way Merrell's barefoot shoes are made to embrace the foot. After a few minutes of running in the shoe, I realized that this arch security exists to allow the toes to enjoy that roomy toe box without having to endure a sloppy fit.

This is where the "glove" part of the name applies. This snug midfoot area makes the shoes fit "like a glove." They don't fit like a mitten. No one says something fits like a mitten. And, if they did, they'd probably be talking about a mitten.

Consequently, this glove-like fit can make taking the shoes on and off a bit of a challenge. People who wear the Trail Gloves are familiar with this quality of the design. And, well, hey, at least the shoes don't fall off your feet.

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove front view

The Trail Runner's Road Shoe

Most people might think of naturey stuff first when talking about Merrell. But, most people are also aware that the company has been making urban footwear for a while. So, the Merrells are no strangers to pavement.

But, thanks to the success of the Trail Glove, I think that Merrell was a bit hesitant to take too much away from their original barefoot outsole. (MGBG thinks something like this, too) Either that, or they're just incredibly practical shoe designers who consider the fact that a person buying this for road wear might like to take it off pavement for a few miles.

Due to the density and exceptional grip of the Vibram outsole, the Road Glove is well made for trail running. That "specialized forefoot plate" and tough Vibram rubber stuff protect the feet from pointy things on the ground. And, I've seen numerous pictures of a fellow Merrell Road Glove wearer traipsing over wet rocks and loose leaves. Even I've had a chance to test the Road Glove's muster over some lightly technical trail with splendid success.

Granted, the Road Glove is probably not going to be my first choice for a trail run. But, that's because I have an abnormal number of shoes in my arsenal. So, I can be picky about my shoe-to-terrain decision. (Essentially, I'm partial to the more flexible, plateless trail shoes that allow my feet to bend over pointy things. That's just me)

Not the Conclusion

I like the road glove. Lots of other reviewers like the Road Glove.

Some shoes fit people perfectly. Some shoes are the exact opposite of what a person needs.

Feel free to ask questions below. And, as always, Thanks for reading!

Merrell Barefoot Road Glove again

Review
Product provided by Merrell.

16 comments:

  1. Great re-re-review Ash! Now, the question is, will I see these orange shoes come blasting back by me on Turkey Creek during Umstead?

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    1. Thanks Scott! I'm undecided about my shoe choice for Umstead so far. Maybe the weather will help me decide that day.

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  2. I see no reason to bother with any other rigid-ish soled shoe.

    I might need to break out the komodos for Umstead, though - neon green highlights!

    I would like to see Merrell get in the moccasin business.

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    1. Yes, I suppose the neon green would coordinate well with your tick shirt, Josh. The Merrell Barefoot Moccasin would be interesting to see.

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  3. Hi Ash, I was one of those that was super excited for this shoe to come out and then was left wondering wtf when I tried them on. I have fairly flat feet and let me tell you, the arch in these actually hurts me. I wish it didn't have the arch or I had higher arches because I really liked the looks of these.

    I saw you reviewed the Inov-8 Bare-x Lite 150's also, do those have arches in them too? I didn't see you mention this on either review. I can't find them locally so will have to order them from running warehouse to try them and I don't really want to waste my time if they have arches in them. Thanks and great reviews by the way.

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    1. Thanks for the question, Nick! It's a bummer that the Road Glove's are irritating your feet. I've considered my feet to be on the flat side with somewhat low arches. And, I can definitely say that the Bare-X Lite 150 does not grip my arch area in the same way as the Merrell Road Glove. I'm nervous about telling you there's no arch in the 150, because the 3mm insole has a bit of a curve to it on the outer edge. But, that insole can be easily removed. And, it's flat under there.

      Also, if you'll look at the 150 in profile from the medial side, you'll see that there's some kind of added structure on the instep. I wouldn't call this and arch. Rather, it's some sort of outer element to support the fit of the upper, I think.

      What kind of shoe are you wearing now? When I get back home, I'll look at the inside of the 150 and see if I can compare that for you.

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    2. Wow, quick response. Thanks! I currently have the Altra Adams as well as the Vivobarefoot Neo's. I love the fit of the Adams but my pinky toe does rub a little on the outside edge of the shoe and I also get toe pain in one foot while running in them. They are currently my daily wear shoe. The Neo's I've never been all that wild about but I can't really nail it down to one specific thing.

      I normally run barefoot but I am getting into distances that my one foot just can't handle (the first metatarsal head is pointy and is wearing through the skin, from the inside out) so I am trying to find a good road runner.

      I tried on the NB Minimus Road shoe yesterday and a bunch of other shoes but the road almost felt like there was a stiff bar going across the arch. That and these were the first shoes I've worn in a year that had any drop and I felt like I was off balance and going to fall over.

      I did try on the Stems and actually really loved them despite a slight raise in the arch of them. I think that raise is fabric as it squished whenever I took a step and didn't bother me at all. They are billed as an everyday shoe though and not a running shoe so I am concerned about the durability if I were to use them for running. Anyhow, this got way longer than I intended. Thanks for the quick response.

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    3. Ouch! that metatarsal issue sounds painful!

      The NB Minimus Road is awful, isn't it? I remember when I tried those on in the store after they were released. I thought that ridge in the arch was a factory defect, or something!

      I haven't had the opportunity to try the Altra Adams yet. (Although, I really want to once the budget allows it) But, looking at photos of them, they seem to have the widest toe box of any shoe I've seen. So, if your pinky toe rubs the outside edge of those, I'm guessing it's weird like my pinky toe, which rubs the outside edge of every shoe I wear.

      I'm telling you that, because my pinky toe rubs the outside edge of the Bare-X Lite 150. So, yours might do the same in those shoes. However, I consider this a non-issue for me, since the outside edge of the 150's upper is so flexible. So, really, in your case the Bare-X Lite 150 may be worth ordering on a trial basis from a retailer with free return shipping. Or, what about one of the other, more cushioned Altra shoes? Just a thought.

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    4. The Altra Sampsons are supposed to be coming out in March. They look pretty good. Some padding, but much less compared to the Instincts, and according to the Altra guys, an even wider toe box area than the Adam.

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    5. Thanks for the input, Scott. Have you been able to compare the Instincts with the Adams at all?

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    6. Really the metatarsal issue isn't too bad until I reach about 5-7 miles barefoot. After that point it really starts to suck. I tried on the Altra Instincts again yesterday thinking I might give them a try but they are just way too thick for me. I did notice that the toebox felt a little wider to the outside edge of the foot though in them which was nice. I do want to try the Sampson, seems like it may be a nice compromise between the Instinct and the Adam, but man that color scheme is ugly on them.

      I found the Inov-8 Bare-x Lite 150 at runningwarehouse.com for like $90 plus free 2 day shipping in lower 48 and free return shipping. They also look like they will be carrying the minnimus zero road shoe as well, but again I'm afraid of that arch ridge in their other minimus road shoe. Oh and how did the Mizuno Wave Universe fit Ash?

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    7. I own the Instincts and have tried the Adams, and the fit is very similar, although a bit looser in the forefoot area with the Adams. I think that's mostly due to the strapping/velcro binding system of the Adam versus having laces and a more rigid upper in the Instinct.

      Oh, and Nick, I completely agree about the looks of the Sampsons. UG-LY! If I buy them, I plan to immediately dump them into a bucket of black dye.

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    8. RunningWarehouse is definitely the way to go when you can't try on a particular shoe in your local store. And, the Minimus Zero Road will supposedly have that arch issue corrected, or so I've read.

      I forgot about the Universe 4, Nick! That might be one for you to try, because the forefoot and toe box are soft and loose. And, the insole is flat. However, there's a 3mm differential between the heel height and forefoot height. So, that might be annoying to you. Maybe not, though. You'll probably want to try them in whatever size fits you for the Merrell Road Glove. That's how their size corresponds to me. RunningWarehouse has the orange ones on clearance sale right now.

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    9. So today I went around to a couple running stores locally and I tried on a shoe that I thought I would hate, I was shocked to find it was my favorite shoe by far that I tried on recently. It's the Saucony Grid Type A5. Have you tried these? They have a 4mm heel-toe drop but they feel very stable. 14mm heel and 10mm forefoot. I did have to go up a full size so they must run really small. They were not as wide as I would typically like but with the soft fabric this was a non issue. Still in shock that I liked them.

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    10. Hmm... That's very interesting, Nick. I'd dismissed Saucony long ago, because their shoes tended to be pretty narrow on my feet. But, I haven't tried their racing flat. Are they very long on your foot, since you had to go up a full size?

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  4. Ya, I haven't had a pair of them for a long time either. I normally wear a 10.5 in most running shoes and I was not able to get my foot in these in that size. Had to go up to 11.5 and they fit just perfect. Not too long and not too narrow. I think if the upper was made in a firmer material I wouldn't have fit, but since the upper is really soft I was able to fit pretty well.

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