These shoes aren't exactly hot off the press (they came out spring 2010) but this seemed like a good time to write a review because (1) I've run several hundred miles in my pair, (2) they're still Merrell's flagship minimalist shoe, and (3) they're still probably the best minimalist trail shoe on the market right now. In fact, when Emily was looking for a new trail shoe this summer to replace her New Balance MT10s, getting a pair of Pace Gloves ended up being a no-brainer.
First of all, Merrell has different names for the men's and women's version of this shoe. The men's version is the Trail Glove, while the women's version is the Pace Glove.
No, I don't know why they have different names. Yes, it's needlessly confusing. In this review I will refer to both models as the "Trail Glove," mainly for convenience, but also because I'm a sexist pig.
|"A sow's place is in the barn!"
The only difference that I can find between the Trail Glove and the Pace Glove is that the Pace Glove has an elastic material around the top of the heel, while the Trail Glove doesn't. More on that in a bit.
|Trail Glove on the left, Pace Glove on the right
|"A woman of true inner beauty will have feet which fit into a shoe without effort." --Merrell promotional material
Merrell lists the weight as 6.2 ounces for the Trail Glove and 4.7 ounces for the Pace Glove. They certainly feel very light on my feet. The shoe is zero drop (meaning there's no raised heel), with 4mm of EVA cushioning (that's not very much) and a 1mm rock plate in the forefoot.
The Trail Glove retails for $110 and the Pace Glove for $100. Why the price difference? Beats me, unless $10 is what it costs to manufacture a heel loop. The Trail Glove comes in eleven different color schemes (including one with the uninspiring name of "drizzle") while the Pace Glove only comes in six, apparently reflecting Merrell's belief that men are more fashion conscious than women when it comes to shoes.
These are very form-fitting shoes. They fit snugly around the entire foot except for around the toes. This combined with a non-bulky upper makes my feet seem smaller when I'm wearing the shoes. (Emily says my feet look "dainty" in them, so if that's what you're going for, great). The last (shape of the shoe) matches my foot well, without any wasted space. The toe box is roomy enough to not constrict the toes during running, but not so roomy as to feel luxuriantly spacious. In other words, my toes don't feel squished during a run, but if I stretch my toes out they will hit the sides of the shoe. This isn't necessarily a problem but if you spend a lot of time barefoot or in huaraches it is noticeable. I for one would prefer a roomier toe box.
|This is how a barefoot runner's toes respond to shoes
These are not shoes that strike you as comfortable when you put them on. There's virtually no cushioning anywhere so they don't have that bedroom slipper cushiness that many cushioned running shoes have.
|Next year the Brooks Addiction 10 will have more cushioning, advanced motion control, and bigger ears.
However, complaining that the Trail Glove is uncomfortable walking around town is like complaining that the four point seat belt in your Ferrari is uncomfortable driving to the grocery store. Of course it is. The real question is whether the Trail Glove is comfortable while trail running, and the answer to that is yes. They feel great while I'm running, which is to say that they don't feel like much at all. They almost let me forget I'm wearing shoes, which for me is the ultimate test of a running shoe.
Some shoes have bad spots where they rub the foot but the Trail Gloves don't and blisters haven't been a problem for me. I always wear socks but the shoe is designed to be able to be worn sockless. I tried running sockless a little bit and it felt fine, although I can't say whether that would be true for longer distances.
Emily loves the elastic around the Achilles tendon and says that it's extremely comfortable when she runs, especially compared to her New Balance MT10s which often left the back of her ankles bleeding. The backs of my Trail Gloves have never caused me any problems.
|Me about to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim in my Trail Gloves
Okay, now we get to the real question: how do these shoes perform on the trail? The answer is, almost perfectly. Where this shoe really shines is running fast on technical trails. If you've tried this in bulky shoes you know how irritating or downright dangerous this can be, with falls or twisted ankles a constant possibility. The Trail Glove's low stack height (how much material there is between your foot and the ground--not much in this case) makes it hard to twist your ankle, the snug fit and lack of a padded upper keep the shoe from moving around as you run, and the slim profile of the shoe (mainly due to its lack of extraneous material) allow you to place your shoe with precision on the trail, reducing the odds of tripping. Traction is pretty good, with tread that is aggressive enough to work well on most trails without being too pronounced to be comfortable on flat surfaces. You're going to slip around in deep mud or snow, but that's true just about anytime you're not wearing crampons.
Most importantly of all, the shoe allows the foot to function naturally. The sole is very flexible (the rock plate is only in the forefoot) and this combined with the minimal cushioning gives you excellent proprioception and groundfeel. However, groundfeel is a double-edged issue in a trail shoe, since you always have to strike a balance between being able to feel what's under you and being protected from it. Even good shoes will fall on a continuum, with shoes with great groundfeel and terrible protection on one end and shoes with terrible groundfeel and great protection on the other. Where on that continuum your ideal shoe falls is determined by what you are going to be doing--if most of your runs will be 10 miles or less in the daytime then you'll want something on the groundfeel end, whereas if you are going to be running rugged 100 mile ultras in the dark, you probably want something with more protection. I think the Trail Glove has more than enough protection for people running distances less than 50 miles. I have run up to 25 miles on extremely rocky trails in my pair and have never come close to needing more protection. That being said, if you step directly on a sharp rock it's going to feel bad, but that's why you don't step directly on sharp rocks.
Toe protection is something that's an issue for some people. I have extensively tested this quality of the shoe and can conclusively tell you that if you kick a rock or stump in a pair of Trail Gloves it is going to hurt a lot, though much less than if you had done so barefoot.
The mesh upper breathes well, although the flip side of that is that plenty of dirt and moisture is going to get into the shoe, especially into the toe box. Several times I have dribbled water from a bottle onto my shoes and instantly ended up with wet socks. Water-resistant, these are not. On the other hand, once your feet do get wet the shoe drains quickly, although it will still take hours to dry completely. If you want something water-resistant, Merrell does offer the Sonic Glove/Lithe Glove, which is basically the Trail Glove but with a water-resistant softshell upper.
|It's $25 more, but at least you ladies finally get a heel loop
Although the Trail Glove is of course meant for trail running (just as the Pace Glove is of course meant for pacing back and forth), I have done a lot of road running in my pair. They're definitely not ideal for road running (no shoe with a rock plate and off road tread would be) and if you are going to do most of your running on the roads I would recommend getting something else, preferably something farther toward the groundfeel end of the spectrum. However, if you're going to be doing both trail and road running and want to use one shoe for both, then the Trail Glove will work just fine. In fact, I've been surprised at how much I like running on the road in them, although they are a bit loud when they hit the ground.
As I mentioned at the beginning, I think the Trail Glove is hands down the best minimalist trail shoe on the market today, at least for the needs of the average person. If you are going to run 100 milers over rugged terrain you may want more protection, whereas if you do most of your running completely barefoot it may be a bit too much shoe for you. For most people, however, the Trail Glove will be just about perfect.
Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?