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Merrell Bare Access 2 (and Arc 2) Shoe Review

Posted Nov 13 2012 12:00am

Perhaps more than any other company, Merrell is an ideal example of how an established shoe manufacturer can evolve in response to changing times. 

They were the first major company to embrace the barefoot running movement, and produced an entire line of minimalist products as good as anything else on the market.  However, they also realized that not everyone is ready or willing to go completely minimal, so they created a separate line that incorporates all the biomechanical advantages of minimalist shoes, but with just enough structure and cushioning to welcome transitional or “moderate” minimalists.

Merrell Bare Access 2 (men's, left) and Bare Access Arc 2 (women's, right)

That line is the M-Connect series, which is being progressively introduced over this fall and next spring.  And since I happen to live with a moderate minimalist, I’m curious to see how the M-Connect line appeals to each of us.  We received our first test pairs, the Bare Access 2 (men’s) and Bare Access Arc 2 (women’s)*, just prior to our trip to Zion this fall, so we had some great opportunities for testing.

At the top of Angels Landing in Zion

(*To simplify things for the purpose of this review, I’m going to refer to them both as simply Bare Access men’s or women’s – but female readers take note that your version has a slightly different name.)

As the name implies, the Bare Access 2 are updated versions of a model first released in 2011.  They have traditional running shoe styling, and weigh in at a very light 7.0 oz for the men’s shoe and 5.5 for the women’s.

Much of the lightweight construction is thanks to the thin mesh uppers, which are reinforced by long stability overlays incorporated into the lacing to secure the midfoot in place …

... but are airy enough to provide outstanding cooling and/or drying as necessary.

Both men’s and women’s models are built on the same last as Merrell’s popular Barefoot line, although the fit of the Bare Access feels noticeably wider through the midfoot and arch area.  I’ve never had a problem with the Barefoot series lasts, but if those models proved too narrow for you, the Bare Access will be an improvement.

The toe boxes are plenty wide on the Bare Access 2, allowing your feet to splay naturally …

… and the entire shoe is flexible enough to let your entire foot move in any manner it wants as well.

Like most of Merrell’s Barefoot line, the heel collar of the Bare Access is thin and soft, and interior of the shoe is designed for sockless use.  The microfiber footbed (along with the lacing system) prevents slipping on hills, and the entire interior fees very comfortable against bare skin.

Stack height for the shoes is 13.5mm for the men’s version and 12.5mm for the women’s.  8mm of that is from EVA midsole cushioning with zero drop from heel to toe, and the rest is from the insole and outsole. 

Merrell once again uses high-durability Vibram rubber for its Bare Access outsole; the pattern is sort of similar to the Road Glove shoe, and like that shoe, the Bare Access outsole is ideally suited for hybrid road and trail use.  I’ve done an equal amount of each in my pair, and I feel confident using the Bare Access on everything but highly technical trails.

As a transitional – or moderate, as I’ve described it – shoe, the Bare Access is an outstanding option; there’s enough cushioning and protection to keep you comfortable, but all the construction aspects you need to allow for natural running.  From a minimalist standpoint, the midsole is higher and ground feel is lower than what I prefer, but the Bare Access would be great for long distance road (or light trail) running to give you a margin of error when your legs get fatigued and your form may start to fall apart.

Merrell’s Bare Access 2 (men’s) and Bare Access Arc 2 (women’s) shoes retail for $90 from the Merrell website.  They are also available from at the links below, where some sizes and colors are discounted:

*Products provided by Merrell.  Affiliate sales support Running and Rambling.

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