Friday, December 28, 2012

Shoe Review: Merrell Tough Glove

  OK, so here is the long awaited shoe review.

Here's the deal...  Merrell Tough Glove shoes, a barefoot shoe, designed to let you walk "naturally" and protect your pretty feet from damage.  They have no arch support, wide toe box and zero raise from toe to heel, or zero drop from heel to toe depending on your perspective.  You can find more on the whole barefoot concept elsewhere on the Internet so I won't bore you with the details here.

I first learned of the barefoot concept from a friend who ran a marathon in the infamous Vibram Five-Fingers Shoes (the toe shoes).  He loved them but suffered a stress fracture after wearing them (with little break-in time) during the marathon.  Shortly after he told me the story, I read "Born to Run," a fabulous book about barefoot running, adventure, etc.

I did a lot of reading on the topic on the Internet and did some research on the different types of shoes.  I decided that I didn't want a barefoot running shoe, but a barefoot general-purpose shoe that I could wear to work with khakis and a button-down shirt or a pair of jeans.  It so happens that Merrell just introduced a line of casual barefoot shoes that are made of leather and fit what I had in mind.  I almost bought one of these shoes, but stumbled across the Merrell Tough Glove, a first-generation barefoot shoe that may have been designed as a barefoot hiking shoe.  It has a leather upper and the high-traction Vibram sole.  I thought it looked formal enough for khakis, yet casual enough for jeans.  Unfortunately, Merrell discontinued the shoe right when they introduced the new line of casual shoes.

Luckily, I was able to find some old-stock Tough Gloves from Zappos.com and ordered a pair.  The first big decision was size.  I checked all of my old shoes and learned that they range from 9.5US to 10US.  The one thing that was consistent among all of them was the EUR size, 43 in my case.  In the Merrells, the 43.5 EUR was the same as a 9.5 so that is what I ordered.

When I first got them and tried them on, the first thing I thought was, oh no, these are too big.  They felt loose in the toe, but after wearing them around, they fit nice in the heel area.  I remembered that barefoot shoes are supposed to have a wider toe box, thus the larger feel.  So I decided to keep this size.

For the first two days of wearing them, they felt awkward.  The lower heel almost makes it feel like your toes are higher than your heel.  My feet had weird aches each time I wore them.  After the first two days, however, they felt great.  They felt like slippers.  They felt better than my running shoes.

After I got over the size, I noticed that I felt pressure on my arch.  I have high arches.  I though, wait a minute, these shoes are supposed to provide no arch support, why can I feel them in my arch?  After some prodding and thought, I realized that the arch actually provides no support, but the sole wraps around the foot so much, that the arch part does touch the inside of the arch but provides no support.

I am on my feet all day at work.  These shoes have almost zero padding and zero support.  Despite this, they still feel great.  I have worn them both barefoot and with socks of varying thicknesses and they still feel great.  I have none of the pain that I would get from wearing my regular shoes all day.

I also enjoy playing soccer and freestyle juggling.  These shoes feel great with the soccer ball, better than most soccer boots.  You have tremendous touch and feel on the ball.  They are so light and thin that it is like being barefoot but better; your feet are protected from scuffs and scrapes.

The traction of the shoes is also fantastic.  I have been on slippery wet surfaces, hard tile and concrete, wet grass and mud, and through it all, I have never felt less than sure-footed.  I have also noticed that you have a much better feel of the ground in these shoes.  On rough and rocky surfaces, you can feel the rocks, but not so much that it is painful.  It really feels like you are more connected to the ground.

So these shoes are great.  On the downside, however...  The toe box area is larger than your normal shoe, great for letting your toes spread and grip, but bad when you catch the front edge of your shoe on the ground.  It doesn't happen that often (and maybe I'm just clumsy), but occasionally I can feel the larger front edge of the shoe catch briefly on the ground when I'm moving around in a less than normal way.

Second thing, is the leather is so thin and so lightweight, that I think it will scuff and wear too easily.  So far it hasn't really been that bad, but after a couple of months or so, I do have some light scuffs on the left toe area.  That is a minor inconvenience, however, and despite this, the shoes are still worth the high price you have to pay.

So if you are thinking about barefoot shoes or at least just want to try them out, this is the shoe for you.  It is a great introduction to barefoot shoes.  You can use them as your daily walking shoe to help build up the muscles needed for the barefoot life, and prevent those nasty stress fractures when you finally decide to run that marathon in a pair of Merrell barefoot running shoes.