As some of you may know, pretty much all the footwear I’ve worn for the past two years or so has been minimalist footwear. Even at the office, I wore zero dropped, wide toe-boxed shoes (they were somewhat goofy looking – people laughed at me regularly). So when I decided to do the trail, I of course had to stick to my new footwear philosophy, and continue the minimalist way.
Trail Gloves: Merrell has a great series of minimalist shoes (they call them their Barefoot line). I got my first pair, the Trail Gloves, probably about two or two and a half years ago. They got some heavy use in that time, lots of street running, a bunch of mud runs, and even a lap at the World’s Toughest. Needless to say, they were a bit worn in. Even so, I took them as my first pair of shoes on the trail. Here’s a picture of them:
Amazingly, even with all those miles on them, they lasted until Pearisburg, Virginia, at about mile 700. I was very impressed they lasted that long. However, I had to turn them in for a couple of reasons. First, the sole just started to wear too thin. Even with a rockplate in the forefoot (the rockplate is just a 1mm piece of hard plastic), I was just feeling too much ground (I’ll explain this a little more later). And secondly, the sole started to peel away from the upper at the toe, you can see it a bit in the picture above. That issue would result in me clipping the toe on rocks or roots, making me trip up a bit. Pretty amazingly, those are really the only two issues I had with the shoes. The uppers held up well. There was some slight wear at the heel on the inside of the shoe where the fabric tore away at the seam, but that was pretty minor. Color me impressed with the wear and tear these suckers can put up with.
Sonice Gloves: My replacement shoes were another type of Merrell’s Barefoot series, the Sonic Glove. In effect, the Sonic Glove is the Trail Glove, but with a modified upper. Whereas the Trail Glove has a mesh upper, the Sonic Glove has a hard shell upper that is somewhat water resistant.
For the AT, I think the Sonic Glove is a better fit. The slight waterproofing ability of the shell upper keeps your feet dry when you’re walking through dewey grass in the morning, or stepping through small puddles. However, it is nowhere near water proof, and the water resistance is minor. The shell upper also adds a bit more backbone to the overall shoe. This may be in my head, but I think I stubbed and hurt my toes more often with the Trail Glove than the Sonic Glove. I think the added structure that the shell affords may have something to do with that, but who knows. I haven’t a clue!
I did make a modification to my Sonic Glove to take into account the peeling of the sole at the toe. In town a week or so ago, I got some super glue, and I glued all around the front of the toe, where the sole meets the upper. On top of that, I took some stuff called Tenacious Tape (it’s tent repair tape), and put a layer of that over the toe for added protection. So far it’s worked well. I need to replace the tape every week or so – but that’s not a big deal.
What I Would Change: Thus far, I think I’m going to stick with the Merrell Barefoot series for the rest of the hike. There have been some times along the trail where I wished I had less ground feel however. Especially on very rocky portions, I want to take my shoes off and throw them, and just wear my cushy Crocs along the way! But that’s something you need to deal with when wearing minimalist footwear. So although it is frustrating sometimes, it’s the nature of the beast.
There are a couple of things I would modify if I were some the footwear developer at Merrell… and I was making a hiking shoe. Because keep in mind, these shoes aren’t for hiking – they’re trail runners. So things like the intense ground feel are just what you need to put up with when wearing trail runners out here.
1) Thicker Rockplate – I’m no footwear expert, so this may be a rockplate issue, or it may be that the sole would need to be slightly thicker. I believe the soles are only 4mm thick on these shoes, and at the forefoot, there is a 1mm rockplate. Obviously, that is super super thin. And obviously, the ground feel is immense. That’s a good thing for what these shoes are. However, for hiking, I would prefer a little more protection. There are some days where rocks are just eating my feet for breakfast, so a little more thickness on the sole would be preffered. But again, this isn’t a knock on the shoe, it’s merely something that I would benefit from looking at it from a hiking standpoint.
2) Toe Bumper – There isn’t really a toe bumper on these shoes. It’s just the sole that comes up at the toe. It’s thin and flexible. Again, that’s fine. But on the AT, you jam your toes on all kinds of terrible things. So having a little more protection at the toe would be a plus.
3) Lacing System – These shoes have a pretty cool lacing system, but I honestly don’t use it. I don’t even lace them up as you can see in the pictures. I like the feel better without the restrictions of the lacing. So I would like a non-tying, adjustable system that allows for loose fitting closures. I have no idea how to do that, but that would be sweet. The RunAmocs have a pretty neat closure system. It’s literally just a lace that goes around your ankle. Very simple, but seems to work well.
4) Water Proof Upper – Water proofing may be too much, but they could use more water resistance. They are very slightly resistant, but more would be a big help. Dew and light wetness don’t get through, but a slight drizzle does on the current design. If it can be upped to resist a light rain and keep my feet dry, that would be huge! Because hiking in wet feet is a disaster – not fun at all.
Overall: So Merrell, awesome job with these shoes. I love them, and the Barefoot series is what I’ve worn out of work for the past couple years. I prefer them over Five Fingers immensely. I’m hoping as I hit some rocky areas in PA and NJ, I can continue to deal with the ground feel issues I’ve had. I think I can, but I admit, there are some times where I get very frustrated (not with the shoes, but just at the general situation). But I have realized one thing – with minimalist ideals come great physical sacrifice!
And Merrell, feel free to contact me, or simply hire me as a C Level executive specializing in minimalist footwear if you so please. I believe my mother would be very happy with that! (see Ma, I’m doing some job searching even when I’m on the trail).
PS. I hope this post wasn’t too disjointed. I wrote it over several sittings, and had to post it finally – it was annoying me sitting in my drafts!