Best Barefoot Shoes

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Posted January 30, 2014 by Joel Schopp in Apparel
Merrell Trail Glove 2

The best barefoot shoes for running, trails, hiking, and adventure is the The Merrell Trail Glove 2.  These minimalist shoes are durable and comfortable out on the trail.

Why Barefoot Shoes?

We’ll start by saying that barefoot shoes aren’t for everyone and we suggest many people would be happier in a more traditional shoe as described in our article Best Adventure Shoes.

However, there is a growing movement towards barefoot/minimalist shoes and we are starting to buy into it.  It all began with the book Born to Run. It is well worth reading.  In the book, a native group of people in Mexico run all the time for fun.  They are amazing runners and they suffer very few injuries related to running.  Even the old people run.   The author goes into great depth about how they wear very thin sandals tied on with thin straps.  He goes into detail on how the foot is designed to absorb impact and how modern padded running shoes have messed us up bio-mechanically.  Every person, and I mean every single person, I have talked to who has read this book went out and bought a pair of barefoot shoes.

I’m not going to say barefoot shoes are a miracle cure all.  My chronic knee pain still comes back when I run a lot even in barefoot shoes.  What I will say is that when travelling around, my feet feel more comfortable and sure footed in barefoot shoes compared to conventional shoes.  Barefoot shoes also are lighter weight, take up less space when packed away, breathe better, and dry faster compared to conventional shoes.

Why the Merrell Trail Glove 2

DURABILITY

We have a crush on Vibram rubber.  In 1935 six Italians died in a Mountaineering accident that was at least partially blamed on their shoes.  A friend of theirs started a company specifically to make adequate shoe rubber for mountaineering.  79 years later that company still specializes in shoe rubber.  We think they’ve figured it out.  They have several formulations but what we can say is that every single Vibram rubber soled shoe we’ve ever owned or know others who have owned has held up amazingly well.  It’s pretty common for footwear with Vibram rubber for the sole to outlast the rest of the shoe or boot.

Merrell has a reputation for quality and their other shoes and boots seem to hold up quite well also.  More specifically the Trail Glove has been out long enough to get a lot of field reports and most of them have been glowing as to durability.

Expect to put a lot of miles on these shoes.

COMFORT

The Trail Glove 2 are quite comfortable.  So comfortable that when I first got them I found myself looking down at my feet from time to time to make sure I hadn’t forgotten my shoes at home.  You can wear them with or without socks. Most people prefer to wear them without socks.  If you do wear them with socks, not a bad idea in winter, expect to only wear a medium weight sock as super thick socks will likely feel a little tight.

The sole of the Trail Glove 2 is 4mm thick, which is much thinner than traditional shoes, but thicker than some other barefoot shoes. We are quite happy with the balance.  We’ve hiked enough in our thinner more flexible Vibram five fingers to experience that side.  The five fingers are more flexible and natural, but they get tiring after hiking on uneven rocky terrain for a few miles.  With the five fingers all those little rocks sticking up like miniature icebergs out of the trail jab your instep and the ball of your foot where you land.  This can really get annoying if you are carrying a heavy backpack or a small child.  On the other hand traditional shoes protect your feet from rocks but the stiff platform leaves you unable to feel anything.  The lack of bend in a traditional shoe makes it more likely for you to roll your ankle on a fist sized rock.  Traditional shoes are also hard to boulder hop in because they are hard to land precisely and don’t bend during takeoff.  The trail glove protects you enough from the jabbing rocks that you can hike farther more comfortably.  At the same time it leaves you enough flexibility and feel that you can still be agile while you hike.

FUNK FIGHTING

All man made materials like nylon and polyester are hydrophobic.  This means they repel water.  The upside to this is that they are quick drying.  The downside is that all the water sits on their surface and breeds bacteria and fungus.  You eventually smell the result.

To combat this inherent bacteria factory most outdoor companies treat their fabrics with some antimicrobial.  The common antimicrobials come in three varieties.  The first variety is heavy metals like silver or copper, which are effective but not common because the metals leach into the water when you do your laundry and because the metals themselves are expensive. The second variety is Triclosan, a chemical that the FDA has decided is safe for humans in low doses (they even approve its use in toothpaste).  Some skeptics are averse to Triclosan and I myself am uncomfortable using it in toothpaste.  However, the amounts of Triclosan absorbed through the skin from clothes treated with it are very minuscule.   The more immediate problem with Triclosan is that it wears off over time, especially when washing.  That’s why a lot of your old polyester stuff smells terrible almost as soon as you put it on, while when it was new it smelled good even after a day sweating in the hot sun.

The third variety of antimicrobial treatments is the nano-coating Aegis Microbe Shield.  This is the variety used in the Merrell Trail Glove 2.  It essentially forms tiny spikes measured in atoms all along the surface of the fabric.  Bacteria are impaled on the spikes and die.  However, the spikes are so small the fabric feels soft and won’t cause any irritation of the skin.  The bonus upside is that this layer of spikes is incredibly durable.  It far outlasts Triclosan or heavy metal treatments in number of launderings.  You don’t absorb it into your skin so it’s not toxic to people.  It is in fact so awesome that shortly after being on the market the major manufacturer of Triclosan treatments for fabric (Microban) purchased the company.

YOU CAN WEAR THEM IN PUBLIC

Other than the Merrell Trail Glove 2 the most popular barefoot shoe is the Vibram Five Finger line.  The major problem with those are that you look silly and people will comment on how silly you look.  When we are out on the trail that’s not a big deal, but sometimes we like to wear the same shoes to the office or out on a date and in those cases we actually do care a bit what other people think.  Five Fingers look silly.  Trail Gloves look like normal shoes.

Others to Consider

The number one complaint about the Merrell Trail Glove 2 is that they are not minimalist enough.  They are fairly thick and their downward flexibility is compromised.  We consider it a good balance but recognize some people might want a more pure barefoot experience.  For these people we do recommend the Five Finger KMD Sport. We’ve put a lot of miles on them and find them very flexible while still having decent traction on trails.  Just don’t try them on and go for a long hike or run on very rocky terrain.  You really need to work up to longer use of these shoes. The number one complaint about the Five Fingers in general and the KMD Sport is the sizing is hard to get right, so be sure to buy them somewhere you can try them on or somewhere with a good return policy so you can size up/down.

Changes from the Trail Glove

The original Trail Glove is almost identical to the Trail Glove 2.  The main differences are that the mesh upper is more breathable and the interior fabric is “softer.”  The tread pattern seems identical.  The lacing is almost identical.  The diagonal styling in the trial glove is more grid like in the 2.  But if you didn’t have your magnifying glass out and I showed you both you would think they were the same shoe, and if you put them on you might well think they were the same shoe.  We like that.  As a result of the almost imperceptible changes we can recommend both the Trail Glove and the Trail Glove 2.  We also think that because of the almost identical nature that feedback from the original trail glove applies well to the trail glove 2.

What Others Say

55 Amazon Customers rated the Trail Glove 2 4.3 out of 5 stars 

732 Amazon Customers rated the original Trail Glove 4.6 out of 5 stars

59 Backcountry Customers rated the original Trail Glove 4.6 out of 5 stars 

3 Backcountry Customers rated the Trail Glove 2 5 out of 5 stars

41 REI Customers rated the Trail Glove 2 4.4 out of 5 stars

148 REI Customers rated the original Trail Glove 4.5 out of 5 stars

Toe Salad awarded the Trail Glove it’s Reader’s Choice Award for Outdoor Shoe.

Outside Times Review rated the Trail Glove 2 9/10 stars

Outside Magazine called the Trail Glove 2 one of the best summer trail runners of 2013

National Geographic Magazine called the Trail Glove their Gear of the Year in the Minimalist Shoe category.

Outside Times gave the Trail Glove 2 9/10 stars


About the Author

Joel Schopp

Joel is a a rock climber, canoer, backpacker, camper, father, skiier, programmer, swimmer, cyclist, zipliner, kayaker, and adventurer in no particular order. He is president of the Central Texas Mountaineers, Texas regional coordinator for the Access Fund, and sits on the board of the non-profit Ascend Outdoor Adventures. Joel wants you to have the best gear so you don't think about your gear and instead focus on the wonder that is the outdoors.

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