I received a package today that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. It’s been over a month since my first pair of Merrell Trail Gloves arrived, and they just didn’t fit. I’ve tried finding a pair of wides in all the stores around here that carry them (I’m a 13 2E and they only carry normal width) so I could make sure that they would actually fit. And frankly, if I could have found a pair at Dick’s Sporting Goods, it would have cost me $79.99 instead of $110.00 plus shipping. But with no luck, and with a firm sense that these are the best-looking barefoot/minimalist shoes out there, I finally caved and ordered them from the Merrell online store.
I’m glad I did.
These are barefoot/minimalist shoes and they’re made so you can wear them without socks. Without a doubt, they feel like a piece of footwear meant to be worn in the water. The interiors feel like some sort of spandex (I could look this up, but I’m feeling way too lazy, and if you want a real review go to Birthday Shoes) and the laces work easily, tightening the shoe for the right fit. The toe box (I just learned this term, and I feel cooler already) is wide, so your toes can spread out when you’re walking. This leads to a shoe that feels snug in the middle and the heel and too big in the front. At first. Then it just feels awesome.
I set out for a walk though our neighborhood to break them in. We have a gravel driveway, and despite initial concerns I had that the rocks would be sharp and uncomfortable to walk on, the Vibram sole, no doubt only milometers thick (again, not fact-checking!) did a fantastic job of dulling the feel just enough that it was pleasant to walk on them. You could, however, still feel many individual bumps beneath your feet. In the automotive industry, they call this “road feel.”
They were comfy to walk on on the asphalt too. No padding to speak of, just that thin slice of rubber between you and the road, but that was enough. I spend most of my time at home barefoot, in slippers, or in Crocs anyway, so maybe I’m more adapted to this feeling. With the lack of padding, you definitely feel it if your walk is heel-heavy, which mine is. What can I say? I’m a big, clumsy guy. I used to always judge the comfort of the shoes I was trying on by how much it felt like my heels were landing in kinetic-energy dissipating resistance gel. (I just made that up, but I’m pretty sure it’s real.) These are the exact opposite. The Trail Gloves are supposed to have something called a “zero drop” – meaning the heels have the same amount of distance from the ground as the toe, rather than the wedge shape with the heel elevated that most people are used to with standard athletic shoes. I swear these shoes feel as though there’s some design mechanism that makes the foot roll forward onto the ball of the foot and toes, because as you walk your foot just tilts forward as you heel comes up. Maybe that’s just nature taking hold.
Where I felt like these really shined was when I went off-road. We live in a wooded area near a river, and as I headed off the trail down the bank, I felt my toes doing things I’d never felt them doing in shoes before. Spreading out, grabbing a hold of terrain, adjusting for every bump and groove in the forest floor. Come to think of it, I’ve never felt them doing this at all, because I don’t walk barefoot in the forest for obvious reasons. It was as if some instinct was taking over, replacing the usual solid clump of immobile toes you’d find in a pair of hiking boots with living, breathing things. I suddenly realized what an advantage this would be while hiking. I also realized how much less likely I would be to roll my ankle, because I could feel the ground and all its inconsistencies. I mean, who rolls their ankle in bare feet? (OK, I’ve done it, but let’s not go there.)
As I sprinted back up the hill, I felt the advantage of having shoes on my feet that weigh roughly the same as a slice of bread. I’m guessing, but I think I’m close. These suckers aren’t much heavier than socks. Sprinting on the road, though, was another story. I am going to have to wear these for a while before I can adjust to the sort of footfalls that won’t send shockwaves up my spine. Also, my 2nd toe (the one right next to your big toe) is longer on both feet, and particularly so on my left. I noticed that in that big ol’ toe box, it was scraping up against the front of the shoe in an uncomfortable way when I started to run. Hoping that isn’t going to continue to be an issue, but we’ll see. I also felt strain in weird places in my legs, hips, and knees, which, I assume, is due to the change in muscle use that comes with walking any distance in bare feet. No telling if I’ll be sore tomorrow after only a 30 minute walk.
Other annoyances? There’s stitching in these bad boys that rubs against and irritates my feet. I don’t have any super-thin socks, but I may have to invest in some. Only thing is, I like being able to wear shoes barefoot. Especially because the Trail Gloves are hot. After wearing them for a couple of hours, my feet felt like they were going to start sizzling. The shoes have an all-mesh upper, but it doesn’t seem to ventilate very well. (My wife has the same shoes, only about 17 sizes smaller, and hers are fine. She doesn’t have the heat or stitching issues.)
All in all, though, a solid pair of shoes. I think these will be a good entry into the barefoot scene for me. I still want to get a pair of Altra Adams, and I’d love to get some Vibram Five Fingers too. And then I want somebody to invent a barefoot/minimalist dress shoe – leather on top, party underneath – so I can wear them when I need to look dressy. That’d be sweet.