Last winter I had the pleasure of testing out the Merrell Road Glove 2 , a zero drop, fast road shoe which I quickly fell in love with. I used these on 90% of my road runs over the winter period and found them particularly great when running uphill.
I believe these were one of the reasons I got a personal best of 8:47 at the South Downs Way 50 back in April as my uphill running on that gentle course had improved a lot over the winter.
When Merrell offered me the chance to review the new zero-drop Bare Access Trail, which is a new trail shoe for 2014, I was very keen. If these incorporated many of the things I loved about the Road Glove 2 I would be on to a winner.
The option that I was sent were the Gore-Tex version, which are water repellent. In the past I have found Gore-Tex shoes sluggish, heavy, sweaty and also once water does inevitably get inside, it won’t repel so your feet slosh and blister. Gore-Tex shoes sound great on the surface, but given several hours in the mud and puddles, no shoe can keep water out.
So when I opened the box and picked up the Bare Access Trail I thought they had sent me the non Gore-Tex versions, as they were so light and didn’t have that thick feel that most Gore-Tex shoes have. At just 235 grams each (8.3 ounces) these are a very light shoe.
Despite the light weight nature of the shoe, they offer a heavily padded inner and especially around the heel and the tongue. This creates a snug fit but with plenty of room for flexibility. As the shoe is of a more minimal design than the likes of most (similar in height to a Salomon Sense), it doesn’t encase your lower ankle so there is a lot of flexibility when you turn corners or twist coming off a rock or a root. This is good in many senses as you feel free, but can make you feel a little more exposed than more traditional shoes and takes some getting used to.
Following the success of the previous version, the Ascend Glove, Merrell have built on this to create the Bare Access Trail. They have taken elements from shoes I love like the Pearl Izumi Trail N1, such as a single fabric upper with no stitching which drastically reduces the amount of friction, rubbing and irritation this can cause on long runs. As a result, even though I don’t, you can run in them without socks.
There are a whole host of features such as technology called ‘M-Fresh’ which eliminates odour causing bacteria. Right now this seems to work- but we will see in a few months and I will let my wife be the judge of this. If it works, it’ll be my first pair that aren’t consigned to the garage permanently. ‘ConnectFit’ is another trade mark and is based on the supported and comforted level of fit and they are incredibly comfortable with minimal movement over a variety of terrain.
As with the Road Glove 2 and several other itineration’s of the Merell brand, these are zero drop shoes. As the barefoot craze wanes, Merrell have stuck to their guns and are of the belief that natural is best. Having spent the summer running in the N1’s and TNF Ultra Guides, which offer 4-6mm of drop, it was a bit of a shock to the system to go back to a zero drop. Initially I felt very sore in my calves but this soon subsided and I quickly adapted to a lesser drop. I always feel faster for some reason in barefoot style shoes but they did make me realise they are better for shorter distances and I would unlikely wear these for further than a marathon distance.
However, with autumn very much in the air, these are an excellent shorter distance or cross country training shoe and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lot of fell runners wearing these over the winter. Their comfort and support is great, but what really sells them is the Vibram outsole. The lugs are simply fantastic and grip on steep muddy paths, rocks, roots and wet roads. I wore them a few weeks ago during a stormy deluge and they performed on and off the road. I have rarely worn a shoe that is so dominating in terms of grip, yet transitions through the seasons well. I would put these up there with the N1 or the Ultra Guides as one of my favourite shoes, but if you are new to a zero drop they do take some getting used to.
I would like to see Merrell modify this shoe a little to offer a second version. To also offer a 4mm drop for those who prefer a more mid-foot strike and also lift some of the padding to encase the lower portion of the ankle. I believe if these changes were made, it would be a virtually unbeatable shoe. In the meantime, I will be using these for the majority of my shorter training runs off-road.
You can find retailers for the Bare Access Trail here.