About a year ago I reviewed a pair of Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) barefoot shoes while I was hiking in Canada. I’ve since switched to Merrell Trail Gloves due to having destroyed 3 pairs of VFFs in a single summer of barefoot hiking.
The Marrell Trail Gloves have served as my only shoe while travelling through Central America and I have to say they’ve faired quite a bit better than the VFFs would have. Over the last month or so I’ve been using the Trail Gloves while acting as a hiking guide for Quetzaltrekkers in Leon Nicaragua. The shoes have been subjected to sharp volcanic rock, loads up to 30kg and more cow poop than I would care to remember.
Yes, I said 30 kg, not pounds, its hot here, our gear is heavy, and the clients generally can’t carry as much as we can.
If you’re interested in barefoot running or hiking you may want to look at my article on Vibram Five Fingers as well, but I’ll be drawing some comparisons here.
The way VFFs mould to your feet is second to none, when I was walking in them I would almost forget they were on, as long as I had toe socks on however. Without the toe socks the occasional hot spot might develop over a longer hike. The main issue with toe socks was that similar to the shoes themselves, they didn’t last long, and they were expensive.
One of the advantages to the Trail Gloves are the ability to wear regular socks. I’ve not tried the Merrells without socks to date, but with socks I have to say they are amazing shoes. I’ve yet to have a blister in them, even when walking all day with wet feet. They mould fairly well to the foot, they flex with each step, and they generally let you feel what’s underfoot.
The name Trail Glove is a bit of a misnomer, yes they’re barefoot shoes, they mould well to surfaces, but they just don’t have the flexibility that I had with Five Fingers. I also find that while the toe box is big, its not quite as big as I’d like to be able to splay my foot out and spread my toes.
That said, they still provide the ability to flex your foot to a surface in a way that just isn’t possible with regular shoes or boots.
One of the nice things about the full toe box on the Trail Gloves is the added protection. With the Five Fingers I was constantly getting things caught in between the toes and occasionally hitting an individual toe. With the full toe box I spend more time hiking and less time picking things out of my foot.
The added strength of the full toe box also seems to minimize impact a little when I slam my foot into something on the trail. The Trail Gloves won’t however protect you from a broken toe if you decide to kick a steel plate wall during football (soccer).
If it weren’t for durability concerns I’d still be wearing my Five Fingers to this day, but after killing a pair on a single 8 day hike, I knew they wouldn’t stand the test of time for my world trip.
The Merrells have served as my main shoe while travelling through Central America and they’ve faired very well. There is a small amount of separation of the fabric from the foot bed, but hardly a concern yet and I doubt it will be the failure point. The tread is starting to wear out, however considering how much they’ve been used this year I’d say they’ve lasted well.
I currently have a new pair sitting in my closet here in Leon Nicaragua for when I finish up my stint as a hiking guide. I figure by then my original pair will be nothing more than smooth bottomed slippers.
Though they aren’t quite as ground hugging as my Five Fingers were, the Merrell Trail Gloves have proven themselves to be a very well-crafted and durable barefoot shoe. They fit well, don’t produce blisters, and have held up to a fair amount of use over this past year. I’m still hopping Vibram gets their act together with regards to durability, but until then I’ll be more than happy to keep using my Trail Gloves for backpacking, hiking, and general use throughout my travels.
Have you used your barefoot shoes beyond the running for they’re designed for? Share your story below.