If I could only choose one minimalist shoe, it would be the Merrell Road Glove. It’s not the ultimate minimalist shoe (if that exists), and it might not even be my favorite, but I think it’s the most versatile and functional minimalist or “barefoot” shoe out there. They are quite light weight at 13.2 ounces per pair (Vibram FiveFingers Bikila weigh 12 ounces), are very pliable, have zero heel lift (zero drop), and the footbed and liner are finished incredibly well (socks aren’t required). The wide toe box provides plenty of room for toe-splay, with or without socks. The reasons I would choose these over FiveFingers is because of the closed toe, cushioning and ground protection, better grip on varied surfaces, and they can get by in more non-athletic situations (in other words, people don’t look at me funny while hanging around town).
The closed toe is great for wet and/or cold conditions. I have worn FiveFingers well into winter (with socks), and they even do alright in the snow, but they get pretty miserable as soon as it gets wet. No matter how hard you run, it becomes very hard to heat up your toes when they are separated in their little isolation chambers. The slight amount of cushion is perfect for those days when your feet need a break from the pavement. It also provides a little bit of ground protection from trail obstacles, but doesn’t overly mute ground feel. It doesn’t have a “rock plate” so I wouldn’t consider complete protection. Sharp roots and rocks still hurt, but it has a lot more protection than FiveFinger Bikilas or KSOs. Finally, the outsole pattern is great on the road and most trails, unlike the Bikila which doesn’t do well in wet or snowy conditions.
Like I said, I wouldn’t necessarily call the Road Gloves my favorite shoes, but they work well in pretty much any condition, at any time of year.
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