Merrell Sonic Glove Review
Get outside in the Sonic Glove.
So let’s face it. The latest craze is barefoot running. Love it or hate it, it’s the “in” thing right now, and companies all over the globe are scrambling to put out shoes that fit the bill. Merrell is not one of those companies. Read that again – nobody at Merrell had to scramble to put the glove line up out. I’ve now tested both the sonic glove and the trail glove, and I can tell you this – it is an innovative and well-engineered line up. Merrell didn’t just take a regular old road shoe, shave off some weight in the cushioning, and put it on the shelf – both the sonic glove and the trail glove had time, money, and energy put into the conception of the shoe. There’s no question about it – this is my preferred choice for any barefoot shoe on the market.
Since you’ve landed here, I’m going to forgo the traditional speeches on barefoot running. The warnings are plentiful, and everywhere to be found. Instead, I’m going to focus on what I feel makes the Sonic Glove stand out from the rest of the crowd. There are many barefoot options out there; many companies make shoes that they call barefoot, but still have a heel to toe drop. Other companies put more material between you and the ground (I know, it seems counterintuitive and guess what – it is) and still others shed almost the entire shoe in favor of lacing, strings, and other material. Merrell is unique in the fact that the glove has all the hallmarks of a barefoot shoe – 0mm drop heel to toe, thin vibram exterior with cloth midsole for comfort, thin upper – but it still has what I’d say is the closest of all to a traditional shoe model (outsole, upper, lacing, complete closure of the toe box). Many other choices will include extra straps, lack of lacing, webbing, stretchy bands, and any other numbers of flashy items to attract market share. Merrell stuck with what works, and frankly does it pretty darn well.
Let’s start from the ground up. I’m sure Merrell has a shoe with an outsole NOT made by Vibram, but I’ve never seene one. This makes Vibram a logical choice for the Glove lineup, and I for one am glad Merrell went this direction. Vibram has found a way to create a compound that’s extremely long lasting without sacrificing any traction, and they do it successfully for a number of different shoe companies. What I like about the Vibram outsole here is that it’s thin enough to be supple, but thick enough to protect your foot from sharp objects that you may encounter while running on city streets. I liked it for all variety of terrain, from concrete sidewalks all the way to single track trails. The difference between this iteration and the last is that the rubber toe lugs (seen in the photo above) are slightly less aggressive now. This was a smart choice, as they tended to feel a bit imbalanced while running on pavement before. Now, they are just big enough to give your toes an additional bit of grip during the toe off phase of your stride – the sensation is enjoyable, and holds up well for the length of your run.
The upper is another variation from the trail glove, and features a thinner, skin like material all the way around from your heel cup to your toe box. This did draw some complaints from a few testers, as they found it to be not as breathable as they’d have liked. Merrell specifically created this upper to be used in colder conditions (check out their website for proof, the guy says it in the video), and I for one really liked the feel of it. As the weather turns a bit crisp, I haven’t had any issues whatsoever with heat. I can see, however, how lack of breathability would create blistering and rubbing issues if you struggle with foot sweat. I’d recommend a pair of lightweight socks with these if you really have an issue with it, but bear in mind – this shoe is my only exception to my abhorrence for running without socks, and it’s really refreshing. Even though my foot sweats a ton, I never have issues with these – I largely attribute it to the fit of the shoe itself.
Fit is a very important issue with any barefoot inspired shoe. Unless the fit is just right, the shoe never really achieves what is was designed for. The shoe should feel as if it’s an extension of your foot, not a barrier between you and the ground. This means that if you do test these out (and I think you should), and find yourself with slip issues or comfort issues, it probably means the fit is off. The shoe itself is designed to accommodate a fairly narrow heel, provide snugness around the arch (hence the name – glove), but widen out significantly in the toe box. What’s great about this is that the shoe is restrictive in the areas of your foot which don’t flex during a running stride, but free around the area of your foot which expands with every footfall. I’d say that the actual pattern of the shoe runs a bit larger than usual, and I’d recommend going down a half size to accommodate this. Any running store expert will be able to assist you with this, but don’t just take their word for it – give them a spin in the store to match up with your best size. The snugness in the heel and arch match up great with the widened toe box in order to create a feel that entirely unique to the barefoot movement; if the fit is off, however, you’ll never gain that experience.
What I like about the glove series (and the sonic glove specifically) is that every time I take them for a spin I’m reminded of how simple it really is to just pick up and run. Putting less shoe between you and the ground allows you to feel the world beneath your feet, and helps strengthen your muscles in a way that traditional shoes can’t.