words // Sara Accettura
photography // Zac Dubasik
Merrell’s new line of barefoot running shoes combines the best of both a minimalist shoe and a heavy-duty outsole that can hold its own on both street and trail running. As someone who has enjoyed minimalist running shoes for a few years now, I have been lucky enough to try out a handful of these types of shoes, and Merrell is definitely one of my favorites. Not only was it super light, but it was extremely flexible and durable. Whenever I had these shoes on, I forgot that I had anything on at all, but at the same time, I felt like my feet were protected while running in a variety of environments. It was an overall great experience.
The first time I saw the Pace Gloves in the box, my thought was: They’re really cute. When I picked them up, I was in shock. Even with a heavy-duty Vibram outsole, these shoes were light, extremely light, weighing in at a mere 4.7 ounces. But, I’d have to say, looks are deceiving, because they really do appear to look like any regular shoe. Only, they’re not. After interviewing Hy Rosario, Vice President of Men’s Product Development, I learned that everything was a deliberate choice all pushing towards the end goal of making these shoes as minimal as possible. So far, I think they’ve done an amazing job.
Rosario summed up the inspiration behind all of the barefoot line by saying that it’s, “a manifestation of that idea of less is more.” And in the technology of the shoe, that is the guiding force you will notice. There isn’t a whole lot to these shoes, but what is there is deliberate and has a functional purpose. A good example of that is the toe bumper, which is fused onto the extremely breathable, ultra-light microfiber and air mesh upper. The toe bumper is actually one of my favorite parts of this shoe, because it almost looks like a styling element, but it’s really there to give a little bit more protection, and I found that it also serves to generally keep some small stuff out of the shoes (such as dust and small debris). Another of my favorite parts of the Pace Glove was the Omni-Fit lacing system secured with welded TPU. Not only do you have your heavy-duty laces, but the top two eyelets are connected via horizontal strips that are stitched to the tongue. These strips then extend out of the first two eyelets, where the laces are threaded through them. This allows you to tighten your laces for a secure fit, but it also serves the purpose of holding the tongue in place as well. The heel is as minimal as it gets as there is no heel counter, only a synthetic leather foot sling with an elastic band at the top to also insure a secure fit. This setup offers a very close, almost a glove-like fit around the heel and midfoot as nothing is shifting around, which means there’s no chafing. For the outsole, Merrell teamed up with Vibram, which has yielded a flexible, durable, custom outsole. While you can see traces of similarities to Vibram’s FiveFingers in this outsole, the toes are fused, which is one major distinction between the shoes.
Inside of the shoe is just as impressive; the footbed is non-removable (and thankfully treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution that resists odor) and there is no insole/sockliner. While there is no insole, there is a 4mm compression molded EVA midsole and 1 mm forefoot shock absorption plate to help protect the foot by distributing pressure. But, these shoes still maintain a zero drop, which basically means that there is no difference in height between the heel and the ball of the foot. So, while you can feel a very, very tiny bit of cushion in the midsole, it is extremely thin and doesn’t disturb how in-tune to the ground you will feel. I know people interested in the barefoot experience might not be thrilled to hear about this cushioning, but truth be told, when I have the shoes on, I can’t really detect cushioning. So, I put a Vibram FiveFingers on my left foot and the Pace Glove on my right and ran around a little bit to see if I could tell a difference, and while running, if I concentrated really hard, I could feel a slight cushioning in the Pace Glove. But, let me emphasize slight, because it isn’t the springy, pillowy feel of a traditional shoe or even of lightweight shoes. This is such a small difference that I had to really pay attention to even feel it.
I think part of the reason I love barefoot running so much is because I like to be barefoot as much as possible in my normal day. I go without shoes as often as I can, and if I have to have shoes, I hope I don’t need to wear socks. I also don’t want running to be something I have to prepare for. With two very busy kids, I don’t have a lot of time to myself, so when I have the time to squeeze in a run, I’m out. If I have to take time to get ready, I run the risk of hearing a kid yell, “Mom!” I’ve got to get out of the house before that happens. Or if I’m traveling, I want to be able to pack a pair of shoes that doesn’t take up as much space as my clothing. These shoes are amazing because they are so flexible, they can be packed into small pockets in my luggage, but they have everything I need: they protect my feet, and they fit well sans socks. So, I did wear socks the first time I ran in the Pace Gloves, and all went great. They felt wonderful, and I decided to ditch the socks and see how things went then. Thankfully, I had no problems; I didn’t come across any hot spots or areas of rubbing. The inside of the shoe has a thin layer covering all stitching that could cause irritation. I think the fact that I didn’t experience any chafing also had a lot to do with the secure fit around my heel and midfoot, because the toe box had ample room, even for my wide feet. So while the lacing system kept the shoe in place, my forefoot had enough room to spread out and provide maximum contact with the ground. I’ve read some reference to rubbing in the heel portion, but I did not have any issues whatsoever there. I have a more narrow heel, and that could be part of the reason. But, the materials overall are very soft and breathable.
These shoes not only look durable, but they have held up extremely well for messy trail runs and runs in the rain. Merrell is a trusted name in outdoor shoes, so I really didn’t expect anything less, and partnering with Vibram, a trusted name in outsoles, only solidifies my confidence that I will be wearing these shoes for a long time to come. During the many miles I ran in this shoe, other than getting dirty, these shoes did not show any other visible signs of wear. I know these shoes were mainly created for trail running, but I tested them on a variety of surfaces, and I was amazed to see how well they held up. So, aside from getting a little dirty (my own doing), the shoes look just like new. And the best part is they can even be washed and air dried.
I would strongly recommend these shoes to anyone who is interested in trying out minimalist shoes or anyone who is a minimalist shoe enthusiast. In fact, I was gushing about these shoes to my neighbor who had no experience with minimalist shoes, and she ended up purchasing a pair in pink (they are absolutely adorable), and she loves them. (Although, if you’re new to barefoot running, be sure to take it slowly; check out more information on barefoot running in the Athletic Resource Center.) I would give this shoe an A overall. What would I change? I’ve been wrestling with this question for a while now, and I can’t think of anything major. All I can think of is lose the laces, but I don’t want that to compromise the amazing fit of the shoe. I love these shoes and strongly recommend them for runners or active people looking for a more minimalist shoe.