The Merrell Trail Glove 4 is a lightweight barefoot running shoe. While it is advertised as being a trail shoe, it is suitable for both on and off road and most weather conditions. It is a very comfortable shoe, despite the lack of padding in its barefoot design. While it might not be a shoe for everyone, it is an excellent way of transitioning from a normal padded design into the world of barefoot running.
HOW IS IT DIFFERENT FROM A NORMAL RUNNING SHOE?
The Trail Glove 4 has a few unique design features that separate it from most normal trainers. It is a zero-drop shoe, meaning that the heel and toe have the same amount of padding under them (11mm in this case). Traditional running shoes have more padding throughout, and especially at the heel. This provides a cushioned base but also encourages a heel striking cadence and a tendency towards overstriding. Barefoot shoes encourage us to run with a mid or forefoot striking pattern, to help reduce in impact instead of relying on extra padding. While the science remains inconclusive on which striking pattern is better, it seems reasonable to me that a cadence benefitting an unpadded foot is more sympathetic to the way we were designed to run.
The slim sole is matched by the rest of the shoe, resulting in something more resembling a school-issue plimsoll than an Air Jordan. The upper is manufactured from a breathable membrane, which helps keep your feet cool but doesn’t do anything to keep the rain out. This may be a trail shoe but you’ll still end up with wet feet in the right conditions.
The Trail Glove line features a unique tongue design; rather than being a separate part, the tongue is an extension of the inner side of the shoe, wrapping over the foot and tucking under the outside. The design helps keep the foot comfortably in place and prevents debris from getting under the tongue – always helpful out on the trail.
One of the most comfortable and unique aspects of the shoe is the wide toebox. This prevents your toes from becoming cramped, which is especially important when landing on your forefoot. Aspects of the design like this point to an evolution in the design that make the fourth iteration one of the best running shoes I’ve tried. I now have two pairs of the Trail Glove 4 in rotation, and despite the name I can happily recommend them as a road trainer. I have also used them off road and on trails where they perform admirably, as the name would suggest. They did suffer in deep mud compared to the more aggressively treaded shoes worn by others, but these conditions were extreme and I would consider them usable in anything up to this type of surface.
The lightweight nature means you are able to feel the ground more than in a padded shoe. While this is beneficial in some respects, when caught unawares on uneven ground their responsive nature can turn your foot more than a padded shoe. It can be both a good and bad feature, depending on how you appreciate it.
The sole is externally sourced from Vibram and used by Merrell on a number of their models. It provides good traction from its 3mm tread depth without providing too much resistance on harder surfaces.
WHY I LIKE THE TRAIL GLOVE 4
The Merrell Trail Glove 4 sits astride various categories of running shoe but to call it a compromise would do it a disservice. First and foremost it is a comfortable shoe. I like the design and colour options, and the shape moulds to your foot snugly and securely. Once laced up, I’ve had no issues with movement in the shoe or any sign of blisters or rubbing. It isn’t a full-blown barefoot shoe but a good introduction to the type, while still having enough padding to be forgiving to first-timers. And although it may be sold as a trail shoe, I’ve clocked up a few hundred kilometres on the roads of Sydney and London without any issues. If you’re more than a recreational runner, I would definitely recommend looking at a pair if you want to try something different for your next purchase.