I was pretty excited when I got hold of the Merrell Trailgloves as the ‘pre-review’ suggested, but I was also wary that I needed to take them on a much more thorough road test before being able to really review them properly. While there are a few things I still want to try with the shoes, I feel like I’m in a position to start commenting on the shoe, but there will be more for you gear junkies!
I’ll give it to you straight with these shoes, they need persistence. The sole is extremely thin and will take some more getting used to. I tried these out on pretty unforgiving terrain, up in the mountains with plenty of loose rocks and gravel – and my feet paid for it a little. I get the concept, you’re meant to run on your toes, but sometimes that isn’t going to be possible, and when you strike your heel on a rock, man alive does it hurt. I have some bruising on my heels to show for my efforts, and I can see a scenario in the future when there will be a few people wearing these who’ll be visiting the A&E department for a fractured heel.
As I mentioned in the pre-review, on the face of it, these are a very robust shoe considering they fall into the minimalist category. The sole is tough, but very thin. The canvas on the top of the shoe is protected on the toe box and all around the outside of the shoe. I was impressed, given how much you can bend and shape this shoe with your bare hands. The inside is also very well constructed, as in an ideal world, you can wear these without socks. Personally I think you’d either be a nutter, or a hippie to do that. Possibly both.
However, here’s where my issue lies with this shoe. It’s a great shoe for the hippies out there. The guys who don’t mind hobbling their way to a 35 hour+ 100 mile finish. The ones who like to hold hands with other runners and say that they feel at one with nature. I can’t really take this shoe seriously in terms of being able to really race hard in it. Show me a man (or woman) who can and I’ll shake them by the hand. As long as they can smile without wincing after a 100 miles in these things.
Another huge flaw from what I can see is the sole. While tough, it collects a hell of a lot of loose mud on wet surfaces. I ran down what was not an overly muddy track in them. Loose and damp, but not carnage in the slightest. The shoes ability to collect mud is quite remarkable, and as a result I felt like I was on an ice rink as all grip was lost. Seriously, my Nike Frees have a better ability to cope with this type of terrain than the Trailgloves, and that’s not saying a lot.
So, they’re not great on really rocky, hard surfaces (unless you want to spend half your life finishing a race) and they’re not great on muddy-ish ones either. What are they good for? Well I can see that for dry bush tracks, these would be a great shoe, and I really do want to take them out on the Great North Walk here in Sydney as I think they could have potential. But at the moment, I’d be reluctant to take them out on any track that had had a substantial amount of rain and was prone to being muddy.
As for the hard rockier surfaces, you can cope of about 20-30kms, but it really does start to grate on your soles after that. Maybe I do need more time with them, and I’m prepared to do that with this shoe as I do believe they have potential, but I think I’m going to make a number of modifications to them to make them more comfortable.
As I said, unless you’re a hippie trying to connect with nature and don’t mind a bit of pain in order to have lots of hugs and congratulations at the end of a race, then fine. However, I wish shoe manufacturers would try to create a happy medium, and it’s here that I implore Nike to make a proper trail version of the Free.
The Free 3.0 is a fantastic shoe. This point was really hammered home to me when I wore them yesterday on my last run over here in NZ after 3 days in the Trailglove. I felt like I was bouncing on air as I glided along the track. But the problem with the Frees is that they’re so flimsy. They’re great for road running and some bush running, but for proper in your face mud, dirt and stones, they get torn to shreds. The soles of the Free are great and perfect for the minimalist trail runner that also wants a bit of protection too. But the rest of a shoe was made as if it were some kind of skinny kid about to succumb to the bullies in the playground – it just withers and dies at the sight of anything remotely tough. Seriously Nike, it really wouldn’t take much to add some protection to the upper layer. In fact, take what Merrell have done with their upper layer and add a Nike Free sole to it – hey presto, the perfect trail shoe for us minimalist non-hippies out there.
Anyway, I digress away from the review at hand. This is a very comfortable shoe to wear. It feels good on the foot, the fitting is nice and the toe-box is large too, allowing for the feet to splay around if need be and you like that sort of thing. What I think I will do though, to overcome this rather thin heel is to add some insoles to the shoe. I don’t know about you guys, but I need a bit of protection on my heels for that odd time when the heel does have to make contact with the earth, as it invariably does in a race or training. Maybe I’m a wuss, but I’m not prepared to tippy toe my way through a 100 miler and seriously consider racing it in them in their current form.
So the trial continues people, I’ll let you know how my modifications go, and you can read about it in the next instalment of the Trailglove review… I want these to work, I really do. They have potential, but they need time… to be continued…