Thursday 20 October 2011

Merrell Trail Glove vs New Balance Minimus vs Vibram FiveFingers

In recent years the running community have witnessed the rise of barefoot or minimalist running, in which keen enthusiasts strip down their chosen footwear to almost-not-there lightweight, uncushioned and minimal shoes. Some brave hardcore runners even head out the door with nothing on their feet but the mud splatters picked up on their way!!!
I say thank goodness this has come about. For too long shoe manufacturers have wrongly convinced us that cushioning, arch support and mattress like shoes are the way forward to injury free running. This has not been the case. In recent years running related injury has soared. Runners such as myself were left with weak arches, sore knees and painful backache.

In walked (or ran I suppose) the barefoot running revolution. With exception to some individuals taking a 'jump in the deep end' approach thinking it to be the panacea they had been waiting for, barefoot running has provided the running community with a wake up call we needed.

I'm not going to go into this in too much detail in this post as I want to review the shoes, and there is plenty of info already at hand in a click of a mouse and a tap of a few keys, but just think about it in this way; our feet have evolved to function on their own with no support at all over millions of years. The cushioned, arch supporting running shoe has existed for about 50 years. Or in building terms, would you ever support an arch from underneath???

Here I provide a review of what I believe are the best minimalist running shoes on the market today. But before we start lets get something straight....

You are only barefoot when you have nothing on your feet. When wearing any type of minimalist shoe you are not barefoot running! Whilst searching for a more acceptable term for running in minimalist shoes I stumbled across what I feel best describes minimalist shod running. Merrell (manufacturers of the Trail Glove) refer to this type of running as 'Bareform' running. A form similar, almost identical to barefoot running but with some form of minimalist shoe on to provide protection. Therefore from this point on I will refer to barefoot running in minimalist shoes as bareform running.

A good minimalist shoe for bareform running allows the natural biomechanics and feel of running barefoot whilst also providing good grip and some basic level of protection for the foot from the environment.

I will compare the NB Minimus, Merrell Trail Glove, VFF KSO, Speed, Classic, Komodo Sport and Flow Trek. I will score them 1 - 10 (1 = low, 10 = high) on the following categories which encompass a good minimalist shoe, giving them a score out of 100:

1) Lightweight
2) Ground feel (minimal or no cushioning, more ground feel and less cushioning = more points )
3) No arch support (any support felt will lose points)
4) Zero-drop heel to toe (shoe will lose 1 point for every mm raise in the heel)
5) Wide toe box allowing natural toe spread
6) Comfortable to wear
7) Good traction and grip on a variety of surfaces
8) Good durability and quality materials, well made
9) Value for money
10) Attractive design (always helps when they look great!!!)

New Balance Minimus (MT10): £69.99 (approx)

1) Weight                                   7
2) Ground feel                           7
3) No support                            10
4) Zero-drop heel to toe           6
5) Toe box                                 9
6) Comfort                                9
7) Traction and grip                8
8) Durability and quality        9
9) Price                                     10
10) Design                                10

TOTAL                                   85/100

Merrell Trail Glove: £85 (approx)

1) Weight                                 8
2) Ground feel                         8
3) No support                          10
4) Zero-drop heel to toe         10
5) Toe box                                8
6) Comfort                               9
7) Traction and grip               8
8) Durability and quality       10
9) Price                                    9
10) Design                               9

TOTAL                                   89/100

Vibram FiveFinger KSO: £98.99 (approx)

1) Weight                                   10
2) Ground feel                           10
3) No support                            10
4) Zero-drop heel to toe           10
5) Toe box                                 10
6) Comfort                                 8
7) Traction and grip                 5
8) Durability and quality         7
9) Price                                      6
10) Design                                 8

TOTAL                                     84/100

Vibram FiveFinger Speed: £98.99 (approx)

1) Weight                               9                                                       
2) Ground feel                       9   
3) No support                        10   
4) Zero-drop heel to toe       10 
5) Toe box                              10 
6) Comfort                             8 
7) Traction and grip             6   
8) Durability and quality     8   
9) Price                                  6 
10) Design                             7

TOTAL                                 83/100 

Vibram FiveFinger Classic: £84.99 (approx)

1) Weight                              10                                                     
2) Ground feel                      10
3) No support                       10 
4) Zero-drop heel to toe      10
5) Toe box                             10
6) Comfort                             8
7) Traction and grip             5 
8) Durability and quality     7 
9) Price                                  5 
10) Design                             7

TOTAL                                 82/100

Vibram FiveFinger Komodo Sport: £135 (approx)

  1) Weight                              9
2) Ground feel                        9
3) No support                         10
4) Zero-drop heel to toe        10
5) Toe box                              10
6) Comfort                             10
7) Traction and grip              6
8) Durability and quality      8
9) Price                                   4
10) Design                              8

TOTAL                                  84/100

Vibram FiveFinger Flow Trek: £120.00 (approx)

1) Weight                                 9
2) Ground feel                         9
3) No support                          10
4) Zero-drop heel to toe         10
5) Toe box                                 9
6) Comfort                                7
7) Traction and grip                7
8) Durability and quality        6
9) Price                                     4
10) Design                                7

TOTAL                                   78/100


I would like to start by concluding that every shoe I have reviewed here stands out as an excellent shoe in its own field and area. There is very little difference between many of the shoes as you have seen, and some of the areas in which I have reviewed are a matter of my own opinion and experience with the shoes. I am well aware and accept that many of you may feel differently in some of the conclusions I have reached, and this is fine with me. I merely wish to help people thinking of purchasing some minimalist bareform shoes by providing them with a rough guide to my experiences with the shoes.

In order of scores from 'best' bareform shoe, to the 'not quite as good but still amazing in its own right' bareform shoe:
1st Merrell Trail Glove
2nd New Balance Minimus MT10
3rd Vibram FiveFinger KSO and Komodo Sport
5th Vibram FiveFinger Speed
6th Vibram FiveFinger Classic
7th Vibram FiveFinger Flow Trek

Some final thoughts and recommendations:
Some of you will be set on a pair of vibrams even though the Trail Gloves take my 1st place. This is fine. I have run in vibrams for nearly 2 years before buying any other minimalist shoes. It wasn't until a couple of weeks before my first off road marathon that I purchased the NB and Merrells. This was because, looking at the terrain I was expected to cross during the marathon, vibrams just didn't fill me with confidence. I love VFF, but they do have 2 downsides; the high price for such a minimalist shoe with very little material and stone bruising due to the incredibly thin soles (a plus in other areas though!!!). If I had received a bruise from a large stone early in the race, it would have made the whole experience a lot less enjoyable. After buying the 2 new pairs and trying them a little, I opted for the Trail Gloves due to their 'true bareform shoe' attribute of having a 0mm drop.

The fourth time wearing them was the marathon. "You're stupid" I hear you say...well check this out. I ran the marathon in the Merrell Trail Gloves. No pain, no aching, no leg pains, very comfy and the shoes performed amazingly. On taking them off at the finish I only had one very small blister on top of my right big toe joint. I couldn't even feel it. I was more amazed at a pair of shoes than I had ever been before. And just to settle any debates; I wear all the above shoes sockless at ALL times.

Anyone transitioning to bareform running, I highly recommend the NB Minimus MT10's. I can feel the 4mm drop heel-to-toe which I would rather not be there, but anyone starting out with a minimalist pair of shoes would be thankful to this. They are a well-made, comfy and sexy looking shoe that performs well on the trail. Had they had a 0mm drop they would be up there with the trail gloves.

Sizing: PLEASE ignore the sizing of these different shoes and TRY THEM ON FOR YOURSELF!!! Just as an example, I am a 9 in VFF, 10 in Trail Gloves and an 11 in the Minimus (UK sizing). Work out what's comfy for you and ignore what the manufacturers say. This is especially true for the Minimus. I initially thought the band over the forefoot was too tight for me and hoped for a wider sizing option. It wasn't untill I went up 2 sizes that it felt perfect. The length hardly changed and the width seemed to expand hugely?! The band also loosens upon wearing the Minimus, but only slightly, so don't buy a pair too tight hoping they will suddenly widen a huge amount.

The Merrell Trail Gloves do feel a little wierd when you first put them on. The shape of the sole is felt under the arch and the heel feels slightly unstable. This is immediately rectified upon starting to run, where the shoe literally becomes the most comfy, grippy, natural feeling and best shoe I have ever worn for bareform running (on certain occasions they can be better than VFF's due to added protection and durability making it a better all-round bareform shoe). The only downside to the Merrell Trail Glove is getting them on. The lacing system is fantastic when the shoe is on and laced up, making the shoe feel like it is part of your foot, but it is hard to get your foot in as the laces do not loosen enough in my opinion.

What I will be using them for from now on:
Vibrams: the majority of short and medium runs, form training, walking about in every day life
NB Minimus: recovery runs, harder and rocky trails, sprints (extra protection from sprinting over stones...ouch)
Merrell Trail Gloves: sprints, long and very long distance runs, tempo runs over hard and muddy trails, very muddy and wet trails.

Although every shoe is amazing in what it offers the bareform runner (see individual scores for the different categories and you will soon see a lower scoring shoe can score highly where other overall higher scoring shoes score lower!!!) for the time-being the Merrell Trail Glove will be my main trusted shoe for longer runs on technical trails. For this purpose, it is the best shoe I have ever bought or run in to this date. That said, if Vibram were to bring out a trail specific shoe for tougher terrain then who knows...

Happy Bareform Running


  1. Hi,

    Great post, very helpful and informative.
    Any idea where you can get NB Minimus in the UK, or did you have to order yours in from the US?


  2. 19/01/2012

    CavemanClarke reduced the score of the Merrell Trail Glove from 91/100 to 89/100.

    After months of wearing the shoe I have decided to reduce the score of the toe box and grip/traction by 1 point each. This is due to the toe box not being quite as wide as I had originally thought, but only by a fraction and nothing much to worry about. It is still an awesome bareform shoe. The traction and grip is not great in very muddy conditions and you can slip and slide a little compared with say, the Vivobarefoot Neo Trails awesome grip.


  3. 19/01/2012

    CavemanClarke reduced the score of the NB Minimus from 86/100 to 85/100.

    Due to the same reasons for reducing the score on the Merrell Trail Gloves, when the terrain is very muddy and slippy, the grip on the NB Minimus MT10 struggles a little compared with the likes of the Vivobarefoot Neo Trails.


  4. Hi there. I was in search for a vibram shoe that is not shaped as a foot and was undecided whether I will buy NB or Merrell. Very informative take on the two! I think I'm gonna buy me one for my next trail run!

  5. Well, whichever one you choose I am sure you will be very pleased with it. They are both incredibly awesome bareform shoes.

    Just a heads up...remember you now have the Minimus Zero MT00 to add into the equation of choice! It's just what ever suits you best really. Enjoy

  6. Awesome post! I've been training in NB WT20 for several months and want to buy the VFF Komodosport LS. I have my first race in 2wks (Spartan Sprint) and was wondering if I should stick w/the NB or if I've been "broken-in" long enough to switch to the VFF. Comment?

  7. Hi DonnaS

    VFF's are incredible. They are, however, as barefoot as you can get whilst still providing some basic protection underfoot. As you can see, your toes are able to work individually, placing extra strain on untrained weaker toes.

    I think the WT20's also have a 4mm lift?? Due to these factors and the fact that VFF's are incredibly minimal and a whole new experience, I would recommend racing in what you are used to. I would then train in the Komodo Sports until you are used to them and then consider racing in them.

    I hope this helps, and all the best in your up and coming race :)

  8. Hello Cavedude!

    Three years later, how do the trail gloves compare to the new VFF Spyridon MR?

    1. I still have my trail gloves, although for off-road use running I prefer my Spyridons. But for everyday use in warmer and dryer months I prefer to use the trail gloves as they are better on-road and general use.