Whoever coined the phrase the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree was clearly not familiar with Merrell. In a recent review, the footwear company’s attempt at a comprehensive trail running shoe fell short compared to the competition, setting the expectations rather low for their next offering, the Trail Glove 4. This fourth generation barefoot trail runner promised a lot on paper, but with a rough review in the books and a product aimed at one of the most polarizing outdoor activities around, was the acorn about to fall too close to the Merrell trunk?
Full disclosure- Merrell sent us a pair of their Trail Glove 4s for review at no cost. And, as clearly evident by our last review of a Merrell product, this does not sway our objective opinion at all. So, how did the Trail Glove 4 do after 50 miles of single track running in Park City, Utah? Well, in a word the shoes are superb. Here’s why:
- Fit: As the name suggests, the shoe fits like a glove. A snug wrap around all areas of the foot reduce any internal movement, which is essential to a barefoot running platform. This is accomplished by eliminating the tongue and essentially having the mesh upper tighten in one motion. Think of it like wrapping a burrito. It’s a ridiculously comfortable shoe, both for running and daily use.
- Responsiveness & Trail Feel: A major issue that most barefoot running shoes face is far too much trail feel. Strike a jagged rock with your heel and you’ll be feeling that for days. So to counter this, many companies will throw on loads of tread for protection and grip, resulting in a spongy, non-responsive feel to the ground. Merrell’s Trail Glove 4 strikes a perfect balance between trail protection and responsiveness. While not impervious to the occasional painful rock hit, it sets the expectation what a barefoot platform should offer for foot protection against the elements.The Trial Glove 4 provides good protection against moderate sized stones and rocks, but you’ll still feel everything that’s underneath you.
- Vibram Tread: That last point brings us, of course, to the excellent Vibram sole. Merrell typically has some of the better applications of Vibram in their products, and the Trail Glove 4 is no exception. It is grips with an intensity only surpassed by Merrell’s Peak Agility Flex. The layout of the Vibram nobs was also methodically thought out, allowing for huge flexibility while sporting different layouts for zones of pressure when the foot strikes the ground.
- Lacing: The Trail Glove 4 features a bungee-styled lacing system, making it very easy to achieve the dialed in feel of the shoe. The short end of it is that nobody does lacing better than Merrell.
- Performance on Trail: All four points above add up to a barefoot trail shoe that is just a blast to run in. With astounding grip and virtually no stack height, rounding tight corners and passing through technical segments is done with confidence that only a barefoot shoe like the Trail Glove 4 can give. While it’s a fast shoe, peed does need to be kept in check as not to plant your foot on any jagged outcropping or rocks. But such is the case with any barefoot trail running shoe.
Personally, I’ve never really been into barefoot running. Most shoes that I’ve tried do horrible on single track and end up being fine for daily use when standing at my desk. The Trail Glove 4’s have changed my outlook on barefoot running, especially when it comes to running on trail. It’s not only a viable option now, but something I constantly find myself turning toward when it comes to choosing what to run in.
Will they replace favorite traditional trail shoes like the Adidas Terrex Agravics? No. But that’s no what the Trail Glove 4 is trying to do. Instead it tries to give you a whole different perspective on just what running single track could be. And it does that very, very well.
The larger takeaway, however, is just how much better of a product the Trail Glove 4 is compared to the last shoe we reviewed from Merrell, the Peak Agility Flex. They’re on completely opposite ends of the spectrum, and begs the question- how good could a non-barefoot Merrell running shoe be if they built it with the same approach and methodology as they did with the Trail Glove 4? We’ll wait and see, but in the meantime, just know that this acorn has fallen very, very far from the tree.