Sunday, August 26, 2012

Shoe Review: Merrell Trail Glove/Pace Glove

merrell barefoot trail glove shoe review

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.

The Basics
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.
merrell barefoot pace glove shoe review

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
Uploading that last picture I just realized that the Pace Glove also doesn't have one of those loops on the back of the heel. So if you're one of those women who depend on loops on the back of your shoes to get them on, then you might be out of luck.
"A woman of true inner beauty will have feet which fit into a shoe without effort." --Merrell  promotional material
On the other hand, if you are one of those people who have always wondered why shoes need loops on the back in the first place, you might be okay.

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.

Fit
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
For those of you with especially wide feet, or who just want more room, a wide version of the shoe is available, although there aren't as many color options (only two for men and three for women).

Comfort
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. 
I also don't find them very comfortable for wearing around town. In fact, I never wear them except when running because I find them uncomfortable and constrictive.

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
Performance 
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.
merrell barefoot sonic lithe glove shoe review
It's $25 more, but at least you ladies finally get a heel loop
As for durability, at this point I have several hundred miles on my pair and while they wouldn't pass for new, they seem to still be near the beginning of their lifespan. I expect them to last much longer. The Vibram sole is most likely going to last forever and the upper still looks as good as new. In fact, at this point it's impossible to tell what the weak link is going to be since nothing is showing much wear. This is an extremely well-made shoe.

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.

Conclusion
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.


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Order my children's book about barefoot running: What Should I Put on My Feet to Go Run?



6 comments:

  1. What's with the reviews? They are a dime a dozen throughout the Internet. If you are not getting paid or some other perk please stick to your running. Try lifting some weights also. And Sedona and I are still waiting for your apology. Don't make me initiate a legal action for defamation.

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    1. Peter, you can't sue; you don't have standing.

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  2. I have done quite a few miles in my trail gloves. The build quality is superb. They feel a little thick soled after running in Vivo barefoot shoes but I can see their use on long tough trails. They fit really well but I struggle without socks, they rub a bit.
    Chris
    www.barefootbeginner.com

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    1. Where do they rub? do you normally run without socks?

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  3. I have been running in my Pace Gloves for 3 months. They were my first minimalist shoes, and I didn't really ease into them like I was supposed to. They were just so comfortable and easy to run in. I managed to run a solid 25 miles/week in them without injury, until this week. I ramped up a little too much and strained my calf :( I guess I'm going to have to rotate in my Asics again.

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    Replies
    1. That's a story that I've repeated many times, unfortunately. It's funny--when I first started running, it took so much discipline to run; now, it takes discipline not to run (or to run less).

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