I am a barefoot runner at heart and have worked long and hard to program my mind and body to run efficiently with a gentle and smooth midfoot landing and strong upright form. When trying out shoes I will critique them based on whether or not they aid or impede my barefoot running form.
Quite simply, the Merrell Pace Glove is like a Vibrams One Finger. They have an excellent balance between protection and ground feel. I have gathered a nice tool box of minimal shoes so I have a basis of comparison.
I also was fortunate enough to try both the Pace and the Trail. This will be a review of the womens Pace gloves however I must add in some points about the Trail to have a balanced review.
The sole of the Pace Glove is the same as my VFF KSO Treks although a bit thicker to provide added protection. They have lugs on the the sole where the toes would be and make the One Finger reference even more fitting.
When I first was offered the shoes I was dubious about how minimal they were. They look like a much more substantial shoe in photographs. When I received them I was surprised and very pleased that they were so light and the sole so thin.
The first thing I did when taking them out of the box was to roll them into a ball and test how flexible and thin the sole really was. I also weighed them on my kitchen scale. The size 10 womens Pace Gloves weigh in at 6.1 ounces. The Pace Gloves are light, attractive, and have zero heel toe drop. They have great traction and seem very durable. These are excellent characteristics for a minimal shoe.
Both the Trail Glove and the Pace Glove have a protection area on the medial side of the sole that I find very hard not to think about. It does not support the arch however it is thicker than the same area on other minimal shoes like the VFF and Evo's. You can see it in the above photo above where you can see the sole of the shoe. Its like and extension of the sole. I do think it provides added protection however I think it is not necessary for most conditions.
During the Living History Farms Race I was racing along through the woods and stepped on a 3-4 inch cut off sapling hidden in some leaves. I was a bit bruised however the KSO Treks protected my foot with just the leather material. I think that replacing this area on the Gloves with thinner material would be a benefit in later versions. For the sake of brevity, that area of the shoe throws off my groove for the first couple miles until I forget that it is there. From another perspective, these shoes are the trail shoe in the Merrell barefoot lineup and meant to offer protection off road.
The pace glove has a stretchy area on the back of the ankle at the heel tab. It has led to much discussion on the forums and facebook. I personally did not notice any discomfort nor did I notice any distraction from the different style of the heel tab.
I found both the Pace and Trail to be comfortable with or without socks. The Trail Gloves rubbed on my right arch the first time without socks and then not a problem after that initial run. Due to the Pace gloves being a bit narrow I have not run over 12 miles at a time in them.
They are more comfortable after they have had some miles put on them although this is the case with most shoes after you break them in like a good pair of jeans! The Pace and Trail gloves both have two areas of EVA padding that makes them feel mildly cushioned. This was a strange feeling to have such a light shoe feel padded. The padding does seem to break down over time and reduce the cushioned feeling. It did not pose a problem with my running form and I did not experience any discomfort like I would with a conventional trainer. These shoes are pleasingly minimal overall.
I do however think the heel cup is much smaller in the womens Pace than the mens Trail Glove. I have narrow feet and even after considerable widening of my forefoot from running barefoot, I still have relatively narrow feet. I felt like the Pace Gloves were a hair too narrow overall. After a long run I expect my feet to swell and the shoes become uncomfortably tight and there is not enough give in the lacing system of the womens to accommodated this.
In comparison, the Trail Glove is wide enough to accommodate adequate splay yet the lacing allows for control over the tightness that keeps the shoe from sliding around on my feet as I run as well as room to accommodate swelling.
For shorter runs the Pace gloves do have enough room for me to wear wool socks. This does reduce the ground feel a little but not enough to sacrifice warmth when in the snow! I was very pleased at how warm my feet stayed despite being in very cold environments. The above photo was taken on a sunny 12 degree day here in Des Moines. The route I ran was my "hilly route" and I felt confident in my footing on the slick terrain. The upper of the shoe is mesh and has excellent breath-ability in the warmer months and yet kept my feet warm enough in the colder months as well.
Merrell has a reputation for making shoes that last for years and years and I think that the Barefoot Collection will be no different in this regard. I wouldn't be surprised if they become more comfortable as the miles add up. I think that you will be happy with either the Pace or the Trail depending on the width of your foot. If you have the opportunity to try them on before purchase I would recommend that.
They are available in select stores now however they will be available at the first of February.
I have been quite happy to work with Merrell and look forward to trying the the other styles in the womens line. I plan to wear the Merrell shoes to supplement my efforts at Mind the Ducks in May.