Merrell Trail Glove vs. New Balance Minimus Trail Review

Two minimalist trail shoes simulating a barefoot running style are being released this winter to major hoopla (the Merrell Trail Glove in February and the New Balance Minimus Trail in March) and I was privileged enough to receive a pair of both. Rather than review these shoes separately, I thought it would benefit discriminating readers and potential purchasers to compare and contrast the shoes as well as their relative performance on the trail.

I should note that both shoes were tested on very soft trails that provided me with enough protection to test and enjoy these shoes to the fullest.  Also, both shoes are designed to be worn sockless and were tested in that manner.  I would recommend a deliberate and delicate transition to training in either of these shoes, and both manufacturers’ websites include warnings and training tips to incorporate barefoot style running into your regime. Merrell feels strongly enough about needing to educate runners about transitioning to barefoot running that it ask all media to hold off on publishing any reviews of the Merrell Trail Glove until the Merrell Barefoot website with extensive educational materials launched yesterday, while New Balance educates runners about Good Form Running.

Merrell Trail Glove

The Merrell Trail Glove features a Vibram outsole with a zero drop from heel-to-toe, which is sure to please many of the minimalist purists out there.  Weighing in at 6.2 oz (men’s size 9) the Trail Glove lives up to its name by being highly flexible and snug fitting throughout the heel and, especially, the midfoot area.  The toe box is very wide and allows the wearer to splay their toes at foot plan.

Merrell Trail Glove

Upper
The Trail Glove’s upper features a highly breathable microfiber fabric with synthetic overlays that connects to a traditional lacing system creating the aforementioned snug forefoot feel.  Because the Trail Glove is designed to be worn without socks, the ankle collar is snug and the inside of the shoe is smooth and plush to prevent rubbing and blistering.  If I were to wear shoes sockless at all times, I would look like the poster boy for moleskin. With that in mind, during my first four mile jaunt in the shoes I developed some rubbing on the medial (inside) of my forefoot right before my big toe metatarsal.  This happens to be where the toe overlay connects to the microfiber mesh.  Upon inspection I found that a piece of extra fabric from the interior of the shoe designed to prevent friction had come loose and caused the rubbing. The problem was alleviated simply by cutting the offending material out.

Merrell Trail Glove upper

Midsole
The surprising thing about the Trail Glove is that it does have a 1 mm forefoot shock absorption plate to protect from rocks.  This plate is not noticeable and does not hinder flexibility at all in the shoe.  The shoe’s very limited cushioning is provided by 4mm compressed EVA contained mostly in the heel of the shoe.

Outsole
Merrell teamed with Vibram to construct a rounded, foot conforming outsole that seems very durable and sticky. What the outsole lacks in lugs and traction devices it makes up for in its ability to allow the foot to flex around and over obstacles, such as rocks.

Merrell Trail Glove in motion

Merrell Trail Glove in motion

New Balance Minimus Trail

The Minimus Trail features a 4mm heel to toe drop and weighs in at 7.5 oz in a men’s size 9.

New Balance Minimus Trail

Upper
I wish I had a better way of putting it, but the Minimus Trail’s upper feels like a snug and running-ready Nike Aqua Sock.  C’mon, everyone had a pair of Aqua Socks, no?  Alright, I will embellish.  The upper features a mixture of stretchy underlays covered by a non-stretchy and durable mesh that, together, keep out debris while allowing the shoe to truly conform to the contours of your feet.  The upper also features synthetic leather overlays on the outside that lock the foot down to the shoe, especially in the midfoot area, and the toebox is wide and open.  I have not experienced any rubbing or blisters while running in this shoe.

New Balance Minimus Trail upper

Midsole
New Balance Minimus Trail in motionThe midsole of the Minimus Trail features a bit more cushioning than the Trail Glove. The midsole works seamlessly with the outsole to provide protection, some modicum of cushioning, and support.  The supportive aspect of the shoe comes almost entirely from the outsole’s arch support. This support was appreciated greatly during longer runs (8-10 miles) in the Minimus Trail.  I cannot find any evidence that the Minimus Trail has a rock plate and most of the protection/ support of the shoe is offered by the overlays and Vibram outsole.

Outsole
The Minimus Trail’s outsole is difficult to explain.  It is a thicker Vibram outsole than the Trail Glove and more protective, as well.  There is a very unique flush hexagonal pattern to the sole with very small spaces where you can see the midsole foam.  I did experience the unfortunate event of taking a sharp rock directly in one of those small gaps and it was not pleasant, but it was nothing that curtailed my run or left a lasting impression in my forefoot.

[iRunFar’s Bryon Powell previously published a review of the New Balance Minimus Trail.]

Performance Comparisons

The Merrell Trail Glove and New Balance Minimus Trail are two shoes aimed at the same niche-but-growing community of trail runners looking for shoes that allow their feet to function unimpeded, but with protection from the trail.  I truly enjoyed running in both shoes and I will continue to utilize them as a tool in my running, both to increase my foot and lower leg strength and for the sheer enjoyment of it.  I will, however, stick to soft trails when running in these shoes and would not attempt to take them on anything burly or rocky.  That’s just my personal preference.

The Trail Glove is the more flexible, but despite having a minimal rockplate, it was the less protective of the two shoes.  You can certainly feel its zero drop, which forces you right onto the ball of your foot.  The shoe also offers the most forefoot room for toe splay. I also think that the forefoot in this shoe is the most flexible and widest of any shoe running shoe I’ve ever worn.  This shoe allows the foot to be completely unimpeded while the thinner Vibram outsole flexes easily.  This flexibility may come with a price.  On my second run in the Trail Glove I hit a sharp rock that resulted in bothersome pain in the ball of my foot that lasted for several days.  This was on the smooth, soft trail, but all it took was one rock to cause me significant pain.

The Minimus Trail features a better designed shoe interior that did not cause any rubbing on my virgin feet.  It also fit more consistently throughout the shoe and felt like it locked my foot down better.  The shoe felt more structurally substantial as the midsole and Vibram outsole combine to provide a tinge of support.  I felt more protected in the Minimus Trail and the 4mm drop did not give me any calf tightness the following day.  While the Minimus Trail is not as flexible as the Trail Glove, it offers increased protection.  Now, this is nowhere near the protection offered by your typical minimalist/ racing trail shoe.  However, it gave me the confidence and protection to run over the same rocky area where I had bruised my foot in the Trail Glove.

I think both shoes are well made, fully idealized barefoot trail shoes into which both manufacturer’s invested much thought and passion.  I think the decision of which shoes to choose comes down to the reasons for which you want to incorporate this type of shoe into your training.  For runners fully indoctrinated in barefoot running or zero drop shoes, I would recommend the Trail Glove as a go-to trail shoe for non-technical trails.  For those hoping to break into this new world of barely there trail footwear or those running higher mileage on rockier trails, I would recommend the Minimus Trail to keep your feet feeling nearly bare, but protected.  Either way, running in trail shoes which simulate barefoot performance is freeing and exhilarating. I’ve definitely noticed benefits in my foot strength and injury prevention.  Just transition with caution!

Call for Comments
Which of the shoes are you looking forward to most? Which features of both stand out as positives or as negatives? Would you even consider running in shoes this minimal or is all that you’ll run in?

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar's Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 101 comments

  1. stan

    can anyone compare the NB minimus (and the new version) and the merrel glove to the Brooks Puregrit shoe? I tried to minimus but had to return it as it was too narrow and seems impossible to get the range of width sizes in the uk and am thinking about the brooks puregit shoe as an alternative.

  2. Sue

    Bought both the Merrell Pure-Glove and the NB Minimus 20 last week. I've had spinal surgery three years ago, and pain is my ever-constant companion due to imbalanced leg length and scar tissue.

    Wore the Merrell's for one day, and I had my first pain free day in years. The next day I wore the New Balance sneaks, and the pain was back. Wore the Merrell's for two more days, and have decided to get as many pairs as I can find in both cloth and leather, and Goodwill the rest of my shoes.

    Life is too short.

  3. Cesar

    Sue, first of all, glad to hear you are experiencing no more pain, hopefully you´ll be completely healed soon =)

    On the other hand I find it quite interesting that the MT20 were causing you to have pain while the the PureGlove did not.

    Since running with FiveFingers I experience no ankle or knee pain while running anymore which was a revelation to me. 5 weeks ago I injured my left foot by hitting a piece of concrete I didnt see (running with the VFFs) So I decided to buy some more substantial shoes, I was about to order the Trailgloves, but since I am fairly new to barefoot running the 0 drop, drove me away, and ended up buying a pair of minimalist shoes, the MT10 to log more than 12K and on dirt paths, and the Saucony Kinvara2 to run a marathon in October.

    What or why do you think is the main reasion the PureGlove has stopped your pain, while the MT20 did not?

  4. Jim

    I think of myself as still something of a tenderfoot so was surprised at this review. I haven't tried the Minimus, but bought a pair of Trail Gloves as my first foray into minimal running shoes. I run on very rocky trails and haven't had the slightest discomfort – quite the opposite, in fact. I ran 15 miles in them first day out of the box and have been running 50 miles a week in them since (longest run 23 miles). I have decided they are still too much shoe for me and am now eagerly awaiting my huaraches from Invisible Shoes.

  5. Nick

    Good article. Would have found it more interesting before buying both but, oh well. Just wanted to add that the article seems right on. I've sized my trail gloves on the small size and I think that greatly improves the precise ness of their feel compared to the minimuses. The NB have more cush, but are sometimes too soft for sharp roots and stones (my opinion). It's all good.

  6. Julia Magnusson @ It

    Thanks for this review. I run really sharp, rocky trails (in eastern Massachusetts) and have gotten some nasty sole bruises in my Vibram FiveFingers. I now run in the NB Minimus and my feet feel much more protected. I suspect the Trail Gloves would be too thin for the trails I run.

  7. Tom

    I ran my first 50 miler in the first gen Merrell Trail Glove. It was one of my favorite pair of shoes I have ever owned. That being said I constantly would get really terrible foot pain on the top of my feet. I started to notice this pain more and more while wearing the Trail Gloves. I have an average foot though I probably am a bit wider than some. I finally came to the conclusion that the narrow mid portion of the shoe was contributing to tendonitis in my foot. I tested the theory out by going back to my VFF Bikilas and voila, no foot pain. I ran a 30 miler the following month in the VFF and was fine. I'm on the market looking for a shoe that is similar to the Trail Gloves but maybe wider in the mid section. I am looking for a "grippy" low stack, 0 drop minimal shoe. Does that exist right now?

  8. Mike

    I own a pair of each (compliments of that great discount site SAC…), though so far I've only run in the Merrells. The one issue I have had so far (which I'm totally okay with!) is that the Merrells eat the outside of my ankle. I ran a lot in Merrell Bare Access shoes in 2012 and had the same problem. I thought the Trail Gloves might be different, so I tried them out this year but still ended up with a blood-stained shoe after only an 8-mile run. Does anyone have experience with this? I'm wondering if it's a size issue and if I'd be better off with a smaller and tighter shoe.

    One comment on the difference between the two shoes… I've not run in the Bare Access shoes since 2012 (it's winter here in Alaska!), but I don't recall the toe box being tight. With the Trail Gloves, I got pressure on the bones behind my small toes. Same size shoes. I suspect it's an issue with the curvature of the Trail Glove's Vibram sole. Looks like I'll be developing yet another brand new callous.

    At any rate, I did get a pair of Minimus shoes and look forward to running in those this year. I'm hoping I don't have the same issue with those, too. They look like they might be cut a little differently, so we'll see.

    FYI, the way I get around the ankle-eating issue: Leukotape D. I just put a little Leukotape around my ankles (loosely, so as not to impede movement). It has worked fine and when I've been taped I've not had any issues, nor has friction caused any problems with either surface (tape or shoe).

  9. Staci

    I am getting ready for my first big ultra: Laurel Highlands 70. I have been training in the Merrell Trail Glove but after reading the blog about how rocky LH is, I'm wondering if they are going to be protective enough. I did my first 50K in VFF with no porblems other than a blister from a ripped seam but it was not especially rocky. Any guidance?

  10. Pol DeNais

    Hi, I have the NB MT101s at size 8.5 UK…I normally wear an 8. Im just wondering if this will be the case with the Minimus as well and that I would need to go a half size up to 8.5?

    Thanks,

    Pol

  11. Barry Edwards

    Hi

    I have been using the Trail Glove for 2 years now and have had no problems at all on Rockier terrain. In fact I was out running along a rocky undulating coast path with a friend who was wearing an Asics cushioned shoe and they went over on their ankle after 5 miles whereas I was fine. I am on my second pair now and rate them very highly although I do do not find them that grippy in the wet

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  13. Scott

    You said re: protection, “Now, this is nowhere near the protection offered by your typical minimalist/ racing trail shoe.”

    Having just run a 48km trail in my favourite Merrell Trail Gloves and ending up with sore soles and a bruised heel, to what other minimalist (zero or very small drop) shoes do you refer which offer more protection underfoot/underheel?

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