So I went ahead and spent the $ and bought a pair of Merrell's new Barefoot shoes...the Trail Glove. After wearing my trusty Vibram KSO's on runs both long and short, trails and roads, a few races, plenty of physical therapy sessions and out and about, I decided a "shoe" would be a nice tool to have. I subscribe to Jason Robilard's theory that shoes are tools to be used when needed. I read many a review on several minimalist shoes including the New Balance Minimus Trail , Terra Plana's Vivio Barefoot II, other Vibram models (treks and trek sports) and all sorts of make it yourself huaraches and the "buy them from me start ups" as well (I have made my own recycled running/trekking sandals and they are quite a great piece of equipment). I was sold after reading Jason's review, you can read it here too...http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/2011/01/04/merrell-trail-glove-review/...I was convinced.
I brought my wife to the mall and told her a few things looked great on her and spent a nice sum of money on her wardrobe and as we left the store slipped in the comment that went something like this, "now that you spent all this money on your clothes, I can buy those new shoes I wanted right?" Amy replies, "if you really need another pair of shoes, go ahead". So as soon as we got home, I was on the Merrell page and ordered up my sweet black and yellow (smoke/adventure yellow) Trail Gloves and waited impatiently for the UPS man to arrive. He did several days later and off to the trails I went. Okay, so I didn't run off to the trails just yet. I was nursing a pretty severe overuse injury on my Achilles and IT tightness, so I wore the to the gym to cross train and to the store and everywhere else I could. They felt great and the fit was phenomenal...all I had done was walk around at this point remember.
I decided to test them out on my next race, without doing any runs in them first. I had been walking around in them alot, so I wasn't totally unprepared and on race morning I did a few strides and a quick mile along the levee to get warmed up. I already wrote about the Red River Run 10K in a previous post, so feel free to go back and read that as a first look type of review. This is going to be more focused on the comparisons between my tried and true KSO's and these new kids on the block. So here it goes, we will do a few vs. comparisons of the features.
FIT: My Vibrams fit great, they are a bit loose on my foot and I like that, it allows for some extra adjustments when they get wet and I can throw on a pair of wool injinji's if it is too cold out. The Trail Gloves have a similar fit to them as far as size goes...I was put off by the tight mid-foot design at first, but am beginning to accept it as a great feature. The Merrell's do turn in on my big toe, causing a bit of a hot spot on longer runs (6 or more miles) and the toe box could be a bit wider for me. This would probably cure the hot-spot issue as well.
SOLE: The Vibram KSO has the solid, almost smooth razor siped sole that leaves a bit to be desired for traction on the trails. This being said they are about as close to a barefoot feel (traction wise) as I think you could get. The KSO sole is super flexible, thin and provides awesome ground feel (in my opinion) and I am not sure this can be improved on. I am making a new ultra-minimalist huarache out of some 2mm rubber that may be better for ground feel...but I digress. The Trail Glove's sole is just amazing...traction, yes... flexibility, yes...ground feel, yes, but not as good as the KSO. The overall feel of the shoe on rough terrain makes me long for gravel roads and root and rock covered trails.
UPPER: This is a toss up. The Vibram upper is super thin, stretchy and breathable. The Merrel's upper is also thin and breathable but not stretchy. the lack of stretch is compensated by the laces and traditional "shoe" design. I enjoy the lace up design and really think that getting them on is much easier than my Vibrams. The closer systems on both shoes are great, I am interested in a "LS" model of KSO's much like the new lace up Bikilas.
STYLE: I am really not as interested in this as many people I have read online are. When I bought my Vibram's, I looked for the most neutral color I could find and chose the grey ones with the green highlights. I thought black would be too hot and the other colors were just too loud for me. The Merrell shoes are a nice mild black, grey and yellow combo that is both pleasing to look at and hide dirt well (much like the grey Vibrams). The toe pockets of my KSO's attract alot
OVERALL: I think that both of these offer alot for me. I love my KSO's for trail running and road running and will continue to put miles on them until they breakdown and I need a new pair. I will probably buy a pair of Trek Sports at that time. My wife has a pair of them and she loves them. I also think that they are probably a bit closer to the Merrell shoes as far as the soles are concerned. The Trail Gloves are my new favorite shoe. I probably will not wear them on any long road runs and will stick to my KSO's for that, but I will be doing plenty of hiking, off road running and heavy duty trails in them. In fact I am not sure if a better heavy duty trail shoe is available...if you are a shoe company insider and would like me to test your trail shoes out I will certainly give it a shot, however, you have a tough row to hoe.
I have run about 200 miles in my KSO's and about 50 in my Merrell's so far. I am sure after a bit more "breaking in" the Merrell's will grow on me even more than they have already. I only wish that I had a pair of Merrel's with a thin sole like my KSO's and that I had a pair of Vibrams with a thick sole like the Trail Gloves...looks like another trip to the store with Amy in the future to validate my next purchase of shoes. Or maybe by the time I actually get around to buying them I can just ask Vibram to send me a pair to review...we'll see. Stay tuned for more and remember to "like", "follow" and most importantly...share with your friends please.