Merrell Trail Glove vs. New Balance Minimus Trail Review

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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.

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.

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

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.

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.

Midsole
The 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.

View Comments (101)

  • "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."

    Having run several hundred miles in both, I think this quote perfectly sums up the two shoes. As a barefoot runner, I preferred the Trail Gloves. Having said that, both shoes are miles ahead of every other minimalist shoe on the market. Good review, Tom!

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    • Jason, Thanks for your comment, corroboration of Tom's review, and work with Merrell to put out educational materials for the Merrell Barefoot line. I'm so glad to see barefoot and minimalist shoe companies finally starting to take adequate steps to educate the the public on the proper use of and transition to such shoes.

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  • Did you wear socks when running in either shoe?

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  • Thank you for this summary. Based on your & Jason's reviews, I am eager to buy one of these but I was having a hard time deciding which. I don't have the budget to buy both so am looking for something that I can use for training as well as some ultras. Here in Western Canada, the trails are pretty rough with a lot of sharp rocks so it looks like the Minimus is the way to go.

    I even wonder if the Minimus would offer enough protection for longer runs. My feet got bruised when I tried doing even short trail runs in my VFFs so either the soles of my feet are still tender & dainty or the trails are really rough but either way I'd like something to block the rocks.

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  • Peter,

    I did not wear socks in either shoe, which is not my usual practice.

    Jason,

    Glad to hear you feel the same way in the shoes as a seasoned barefoot style runner. Thanks for the kind words.

    Tyro,

    I think that you could do longer runs in the Minimus. I topped off at about 10 miles but I didn't really push it. Just know that you will be less protected than other minimalist type trail shoes. I will say that it is a different sensation to run in these shoes and it feels liberating.

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  • Hi, Do you know if these shoes will be released in the UK

    Also, how do they compare to the MT101's (US version) interms of sizing and feel?

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    • Yes. I just ordered a pair off the Merrell UK site. Not all colours are available yet.

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  • Tom (or Bryon),

    To follow-up a little on Mark's question: how do these shoes compare to the NB MT101 in terms of running feel, foot protection and everyday wear? I absolutely *love* the MT101 and I'm curious to hear how these two new models compare.

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    • Both shoes have good running feel with the Minimus having more protection. Still, in very limited testing I found even the Minimus to be just enough for moderately rocky sections of trail up here in Park City.... but I my feet are NOT acclimated to barefoot-like or other minimal protection shoes. Personally, I find the MT101s to be at the bottom end of my comfort range for nearly every day wear. Ok, so I've not worn the MT101s every day, but I can see myself being able to do so.

      I've put more time in the Minimus (I received the Trail Glove after winter had set upon the mountains) and could see it being a training shoe I wear for one or two real training runs a week OR a shoe that I could wear for the lighter run of two-a-days, if i every get there.

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    • I second this question. Same comments as Mike, same love of the MT101.

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      • Sorry Bryon, didn't see the updated reply before my question. Thanks for answering!

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  • Byron- You will need to look into the Altra Lone Peaks or the Altra Adam next!

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    • I suggested so much to the marketing person at Altra... but didn't get any sort of confirmation. I'd love to have someone check those out.

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      • That's the same response I received. They look good on paper, but have yet to see a really good review.

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        • Hmm... maybe time for a couple of us to point out the value of core/niche new media for getting out the word about a core/niche product. ;-)

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  • Great review - can't wait for the shoes. I did my trail running in Evos for a while and had to literally tip toe/run over sections of my rocky trails. Didn't take me long to realize how silly that was. I am excited for a true minimalist trail shoe.

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    • That was my experience with VFFs. I realize now that I'm far more interested in shoes which enable the mid/forefoot running style with low heel-drop rather than the other features of barefoot running like ground feel. On the trails around my house "feel" is just a code-word for bruised feet and a very slow pace. I can only imagine the damage I could do in an ultra when fatigue makes me a little sloppy, ouch.

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  • Point #2 - I am already ready for some minimal trail shoes with gore tex and decent lugs that I could be using this winter in the snow and the impending sloppy spring.

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    • The Merrell Barefoot line will add the men's Embark Glove GORE-TEX, a waterproof multi-sport shoe, this fall.

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    • While they don't have Gore-Tex, the Inov-8 BareGrip 200 has very aggressive lugs that would do well in sloppy stuff. They have no midsole and a zero-drop profile. They will be out in the next month or so.

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  • I did my first Ultra in a pair of Vibram Bikila. I did fine on the soft trail portion and roared thru mud puddles and everything else the trail threw at me.....the only bad part was the rocks! Once I thought I broke my foot and several other times I thought my feet were reduced to bloody stumps......thankfully niether happened and I finished. All this being said-I adopted the Bikila mode after several injuries and got back in shape for this event, the only thing I would of changed in the 50k was I would of worn better protection for my feet. I have a pair of New Balance 840's (AWESOME)...I'm going with the Minimus when it comes out....next 50k is in July!

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  • cant wait for the new balance

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  • There've been some online! Click through the Amazon link in the iRunFar sidebar and then search for Minimus!

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    • I scooped a pair of the NB Minimus from Amazon 2 days ago! There were only three pairs left at that time. Looking forward to taking them out on the trails!

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  • Currently I´m using a salomon trail running shoe in size 8 1/2. As I want to wear the merrell without socks, I wondered if I should order them in a smaller size. I´m from austria so I don´t have the opportunity to put them on in a shop. Great review, thanks a lot!

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  • Thanks for the review. I was a huge fan of the MT100's and now the 101's. One cosmetic question: I was bummed they didn't release the 100's in the U.S. in orange...do you know if that will be the case with the Minimus?

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  • I was fortunate enough to take a spin in Altra's Lone Peak last month, and I absolutely loved them. The thought that has gone into the design of this shoe is really spot on. The Lone Peak pretty much has you covered for any trail condition you may encounter, and yet it feels like an extension of your foot. During my whole run on snowy, wet front range trails, I never really thought about my shoes- I didn't have to. The best part, I think, is that it really can be a shoe for everyone. Zero drop, wide toe box, snug heel . . . can't wait.

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  • Any information on sizing of the Merrells?

    Should the fit be along the same lines as VFF? I bought a pair yesterday and went a size down from normal but they aren't the "skin tight" fit of the Vibrams.

    Thanks

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  • It took about four - six months to get "use" to my Five Fingers (very minimalist shoe). I love going "natural"...but, take some time with these shoes to get the calves, tendons, and buttocks, up to speed. Since running in the Five Fingers I have noticed decreased knee pain (already had one surgery in my running career) and almost no back pain. I almost stopped running due to lower back pain. After reading "Born to Run" I realized my lower back was taking a pounding from running "conventional" style (heal strike). I plan on buying the Minimus for winter running and running on very rocky/sharp terrain (around Phoenix) otherwise I just run everywhere in the Five Fingers. Hope all this helps, have fun!

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  • just got back from a run, with my nb minimus, and they were great! I only ran 4 miles in them, as my feet were feeling a bit worked. Luckily it was a loop, so i could switch out to my mt 101's for the remainder of the run. My initial thoughts on the minimus:1- they fit like a glove, and left no blisters or hot spots and I was running sockless. 2- really great ground feel, I could really feel the trail underneath me, it was indeed liberating! but were cushioned enough that I wan't worried about running over knarly terrain. 3- they were fairly grippy, but I did slip a few times when running downhill on wet leaf covered ground (I think any shoe would slip here!) I can see myself running in these for about 20-30% of my runs, but will really ease into the full runs slowly. I will still run in my mt 101's for my go to shoes, but the minimus is a great shoe to have in the quiver!

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  • Glad to hear someone else out there still loves the NB 840s. Ugh, i wish they had never stopped making those. I have been doing all my new trail running here in Hawaii in the MT101's which I like quite a bit though the lugs are not quite as "grippy" as the 840s. Oh well, I guess I will have to make due. I wish they would hurry up with the Minimus.

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    • I was wondering if anybody else out there wore the 840's. I love them and wish they still made them. I'm new to Ultras-one under my belt-doing a 50K in July. I just picked up the Minimus....can't wait for Spring to come to Wisconsin and the trails to open up!

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  • The New Balance store here in Vancouver got a shipment of the Minimus in on Thursday. I got my pair and took them out on a 22km trail run and I loved them! I haven't tried the Trail Gloves yet but the Minimus feel great. A couple sharp rocks jabbed up causing no bruises and no pain, just enough to remind you of the trail feel. I'd been having some shin and calf pains when running with my La Sportiva Crosslite's (about 11mm heel drop) and it all went away with the Minimus.

    So well done New Balance. I'm not happy that they made us wait so long but at least there here now!

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