With its spring 2013 line, the folks at Merrell prove they’re listening to runners’ feedback and revamped the brand’s minimalist running shoes into a more unified range of active footwear. The line even has a new name: M-Connect. Aesthetically, it’s more obvious that the styles are related whether you’re checking out men’s or women’s versions. Color options are fantastic: bright and clear without looking cheap. Uppers are more breathable and lightweight than past offerings.
In a nutshell, the M-Connect collection is a solid arsenal for the minimalist aficionado, offering a shoe for every purpose and mood, from the uber-minimal Vapor Glove running shoe to the sturdy yet remarkably lightweight Proterra Vim Sport hiker. I’m tempted for the first time to become a one-brand runner and ditch all my non-Merrell shoes. Here’s a rundown of the M-Connect shoes Merrell sent me to try out. I’m sure you’ll find one or two that’ll suit your needs.
[Note: I tested some other brands' minimalist offerings for spring, but only Merrell's stuff made it into my regular rotation and onto the blog. And even though the Merrell peeps are generous about sending sample shoes, Josh and I have bought loads of their shoes on our own because we like them so much.]
- $80, shown in black (3 more colors available)
- Zero drop, 2mm cushion. 5.5mm stack height
- 4.5 oz (women’s size 8)
Simply put, the Merrell Vapor Glove is the winsome starlet of this show. It’s the shoe our household was dying to get our collective feet into. When mine arrived long before Josh‘s (he’s still waiting—ha!), he did his best impression of a man who doesn’t care about being left out. It’s kind of pitiful, so I try not to gloat or gush too much every time I return from a run in them. Because the Vapor Gloves are sweet indeed. I redubbed them the VaPR Glove when they helped me clobber my old 5K PR.
At just 4.5 ounces in a size 8, the Vapor Glove is aptly named. Light as air, crazy flexible, fits like a glove—everything the ultraminimalist wants in a shoe. Super-fun to run in. The Vapor Glove likes to remind me that my other shoes aren’t quite as minimal as I think. It makes my feet and legs do a lot more of the work and forces me into a lighter, more forefoot landing.
You get the usual durable Vibram outsole we’ve come to expect from Merrell, but this one is unbelievably flexible. The meshy uppers are very durable. Early photos of the Vapor suggested a thin, stretchy, more Hattori-like fabric, but the construction is surprisingly durable yet formfitting and breathable. The interior is smooth and cozy for those who prefer to go sans sock.
One blogger claimed that the Vapor Glove gives you no reason to buy Five Fingers anymore unless you really like that toe thing. I agree. If you buy one superminimal shoe this spring, make it the Vapor Glove.
Road Glove Dash 2
- Price $100, shown in blue/green (5 more colors available, including black)
- Zero drop, 4mm cushion, 9.5mm stack
- 5.5 ounces (women’s size 8)
Having just returned from an 18-miler in the Merrell Road Glove Dash 2, I can honestly say it’s my new favorite everyday road and light trail shoe. It’s also my likely choice for the Umstead Marathon in March. It’s simply a well-built lightweight, zero-drop road shoe that’ll take you from 5K to—well, as far as I know so far, 18 miles and beyond.
The updated Road Glove Dash 2 is a big improvement on last year’s model. Merrell ditched the stretchy elastic around the ankle collar that bugged me and created a perfectly soft, not-too-rigid collar. They reworked the overall style from what felt like the little sister of the men’s Road Glove to what is now a real womenalist’s running shoe. The upper is meshy and breathable, with colors that pop without looking tarty. Love the lacing system on this one, too.
If you buy one all-around minimalist road shoe this spring, make it the Road Glove Dash 2.
Bare Access Arc 2
- $90, shown here in Aqua (5 more colors available, including black)
- Zero drop, 8mm cushion, 8mm stack
- 5.5 ounces
I reviewed the Bare Access Arc 2 last fall (read it here), so I won’t go into huge detail here, but in a nutshell, it’s a great road or light trail shoe if you’re looking for a lightweight, zero-drop option with a bit more cushion. Compared to last year’s model, the upper mesh fabric is more breathable and the ankle collar is more streamlined. Aesthetically it’s 100% cooler than the original. Vibram pods on what Merrell calls the Bare Access Shape sole provide good traction on pretty much any surface. I enjoy the Bare Access Arc 2 on days when my sciatica is giving me grief—that extra bit of cushioning seems to be just what my flipper foot ordered.
If you buy one zero-drop road shoe with extra cushion this spring, make it the Bare Access Arc 2.
- $100, shown in pink (3 more colors available, including black)
- Zero drop, 4mm cushion, 7mm stack
- 6.5 ounces (women’s size 8)
Is this not the pinkest shoe you have ever seen? It’s so insane that even I love it! The Merrell Crush Glove also comes in more subdued black (yay!), yellow, and blue. It’s a zero-drop cross-training shoe that’s perfect for step class, gym workouts, or shorter runs. It features uniform cushioning to buffer impact while still letting your feet land flat, as well as a flexible sole with sticky Chrysalis Glove Vibram traction. That mesh upper is super-breathable (and vegan-friendly). The insole, like all styles in the M-Connect line, include anti-funk Aegis antimicrobial action. The Crush Glove works fine for me on short runs, but as a cross-trainer it’s really at its best in the gym, where that lateral stability comes in handy.
If you buy one zero-drop cross-training shoe this spring, make it the Crush Glove.
Mix Master Move Glide
- $95, shown in Island Green (4 more colors available, including black)
- 4mm drop, 8mm cushion, 18mm stack
- 7 ounces (women’s size 8)
Merrell designed the Mix Master Move Glide specifically for harder surfaces like roads and hard-surfaced trails. Although it’s more shoe for the road than I prefer, I love the Mix Master on trails. In fact, they’ve totally replaced my old New Balance WT110s, thanks to the more ample toebox and lightweight upper. The nice thing about the Mix Master Move Glide being designed for hard surfaces is that they work great on those stretches of asphalt that always seem to show up in trail races.
Cutaways in the sole enhance flexibility, and the upper fabric is meshy and breathable. Sweet colors, too! At 7 ounces, the Mix Master Move Glide is the burly beast of the M-Connect running shoe line, but it’s still far lighter than most footwear in this category. You won’t experience a ton of ground feel in the Mix Master, but you will get plenty of protection from rocks and roots, plus decent grip on most terrain.
If you buy one beefed-up minimalist shoe for roads or trails this spring, make it the Mix Master Move Glide.
Proterra Vim Sport Hiking Shoe
- $100, shown in pink (3 more colors available, including black)
- 4mm drop, 9.5mm cushion, 20.5mm stack
- 11.5 ounces (women’s size 8)
Merrell’s Proterra Vim Sport is the hiking shoe I wish I had when I was backpacking the John Muir Trail. Back then, the only styles available weighed a ton and never had enough room in the toes. When you weigh little more than a marmot and are bombing down steep trails at 12,000 feet with a 35-pound pack, you want—need—a light, flexible shoe with a wide toebox! The Proterra Vim Sport is that shoe. I can’t wait till we move out to Washington so I can really put these to the test in the Olympics.
The Proterra Vim Sport has an ultra-breathable upper that molds to your foot unlike any other hiker I’ve tried. Also unlike traditional hikers, the 4mm drop allows greater ground feel and responsiveness without sacrificing control and stability under the weight of your pack. If you aren’t into backcountry madness, the Proterra Vim Sport makes a sweet day hiking shoe.
In the hiking category, this shoe is nothing short of revolutionary. If you buy one lightweight, 4mm drop hiking shoe this season, the Proterra Vim Sport is your only choice.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this roundup of the new Merrell M-Connect line of minimalist shoes. Their designers are really listening to what runners (and gym rats and hikers) want in a minimalist shoe and have created styles to fit every purpose. Check out the full Merrell M-Connect line >>