Wednesday 4 September 2013

Merrell Ascend Glove Review

Over the past few years reviewing shoes on CavemanClarke, I must admit that it is a very rare occurrence to come across a minimalist trail shoe that ticks all the right boxes and leaves me very impressed. Most of the time a shoe performs well in some areas or in specific conditions, but final conclusions leave me writing 'could have been better.....' or 'if only they had.....' and quite often 'i can see what they have tried to do but.....'. In the case of the Merrell Ascend Glove I am pleased to say straight away that this is certainly not the case for this shoe.
I have been using the non-GTX version for a few weeks now and the GTX version for the past week and I can say that these are fantastic minimal trail shoes. In this review I hope to point out the reasons why I have been so impressed with this shoe, focusing on the non-GTX version that I have had a few weeks now to put through their paces. Later this month I will be posting a comparison of the non-GTX vs the GTX versions of the Ascend Gloves.
So lets start with a few pictures to familiarise you with what the shoe looks like.

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

Introduction from Merrell: (this is what Merrell say about their Ascend Glove)
Cushioned for longer runs and more demanding terrain, our lightweight and durable Ascend Glove shoe stays true to your natural stride with its barefoot profile. Charge over mountains and rocky terrain with its aggressive, grabby lug design and TrailProtect pad for extra off-road support.

• Fabric and synthetic upper
• MotionMesh engineered for optimal breathability and range of motion
• Breathable mesh lining
• M-Select FRESH naturally prevents odour before it starts for fresh smelling feet
• Wash as needed in cold water (gentle cycle). Air dry.

• 0mm Drop / 6mm Cush/ 10.5mm Stack Height
• TrailProtect pad in the forefoot and heel offers additional support for the roughest terrain
• Non-marking outsole
• Vibram® outsole
 (See more at:

To help you understand just how good this shoe is I am going to revert back to an updated version of my original scoring system I used many years ago to review the original Merrell Trail Glove (full review here: 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) Weight
2) Ground feel
3) Protection
4) Natural foot position
5) Natural shape of foot
6) Comfort
7) Grip/Traction
8) Durability/Quality
9) Pricing
10) Design

1) Weight: 10/10
These shoes weigh in at 220g for a UK10/Euro44.5 so they are certainly light for the protection and grip that they offer. Putting on the shoes they feel like part of your foot and the weight is certainly not an issue. When running through water the uppers drain immediately and the the foot bed soaks up minimal amounts of water leaving the shoe still very light even when wet. They are not the lightest trail shoes available, but they certainly are when you take into account the grip, protection and durability that they provide, so 10/10 reflects these points.

2) Ground Feel: 7/10
The Ascend Glove contains a Trail protection plate in the forefoot and heel sections of the Vibram outsole to improve comfort on longer runs over more technical terrain. The lugs are more aggressive than on previous models to improve grip over a variety of conditions and surfaces and there is 2mm more cushioning in the Ascend Glove (6mm total) over the Trail Glove (4mm total) therefore leaving the foot a little higher off the ground. The total stack height is 10.5mm. Therefore, what you gain in grip and protection you lose in ground feel. This being said I am very happy with the level of ground feel in the Ascend Glove, and it is more than welcome on longer runs on rocky surfaces and terrains.

3) Protection: 8/10
The protection provided by the sole is an ideal balance, leaving enough ground feel to feel confident your feet know what they are running over. Where the Ascend Glove loses a couple of points is in the upper. Although the upper is lightweight and breathable as I will discuss later in the review, it lacks some protection in the main sections of the uppers; the sides and above the toes are left a little exposed to sharp sticks and vegetation poking into the foot. But this is only likely on certain terrain types through fields and forest so is a minor point really.

4) Natural foot position: 10/10
When something is ideal, that is all there is to be said really! The heel-toe drop, or differential as you may have heard it called is 0mm leaving the foot in its natural position to work as efficiently as it can. Perfect.

5) Natural shape of foot: 10/10
The fit of these shoes is amazing for me. The forefoot is wide and allows natural toe-splay, the midfoot sits snug and the heel is comfortably held firm into the shoe. I have not wished it to be any wider or narrower and I feel it allows my feet to work in their natural unhindered form and way.

6) Comfort: 9/10
No blisters, no movement inside the shoe, no hot or sore spots. I wear them without socks and have found them to be extremely comfortable straight out of the box. This is a must for me as shoes that start uncomfortable very rarely 'wear in' and remain somewhat uncomfortable. These are super comfy and you hardly notice your wearing them. The lacing system holds the foot in well and prevents movement within the shoe, and allows for adjustment across different parts of the foot. The point lost is due to the fit around the ankle; I find them a tad loose which lets in some dirt during a run, potentially making them a little less comfy. This would probably be rectified through wearing socks but I prefer not to. It also may be due to my individual fit and may not be a problem for people with slightly larger ankles (mine are particularly thin!!!).

7) Grip/Traction: 8/10
The Ascend Glove grips fantastically on dry and wet rocks, dirt tracks, compressed trails, forest trails, roads and grass. Where it loses a couple of points is in the same category most minimalist shoes fall short; wet and muddy conditions. I don't see how this individual shoe could be improved in this way as it would make it a different shoe altogether if you put large studs on it like the Salomon Fellcross or Inov-8 Baregrip 200/X-Talon-190, but I would like to see Merrell produce a mud/fell version of the Ascend Glove.

8) Durability/Quality: 9/10
The seamless and stitchless motion-mesh upper material is pure quality! It moves from large weave holes to tight weave holes where needed around the foot. In places where air and breathability are needed the weave is larger, allowing greater air flow. But where the shoe needs more durability the weave becomes tighter and tougher. Genius!!! After around 75km the shoes show no signs of wear on the upper or the Vibram outsole. The toe cap protects the toes and front of the shoes from damage and the upper seems pretty resilient to breakdown. The only reason I have deducted a point is the lack of protection for the upper in the metatarsal flex points where most shoes rip and fail first. I would have liked to see the toe protection continued around the side a little more to protect the upper from debris and rips. Apart from this minor point the Ascend Glove is a quality product all round.

9) Pricing: 8/10
At £100 for the non-GTX version these are a reasonably expensive pair of running shoes, especially as they are so minimal. It always surprises me the cost of minimalist shoes, but Merrell have priced themselves alongside other companies producing products of a similar type. My problem is not with Merrell's pricing, but rather the pricing of the whole minimalist shoe industry. Still, they are no where near as expensive as some Vibram FiveFingers or Salomon S-Lab products, so they sit around the right price in their market.

10) Design: 9/10
This is purely a matter of opinion I know, but a descent looking shoe screams for you to take it out on the trails! I give the Merrell Ascend Glove 9/10 as I think they are a very good looking shoe, however I don't think they are the best looking shoe on the market. I prefer the look of a more aggressive trail shoe, but this is only my opinion I know. You make your own mind up whether you love the look of this shoe or not, but in the end, it performs extremely well, and that is what really matters.

TOTAL SCORE: 88/100 

The Merrell Ascend Glove is an amazing 'all-rounder' minimalist trail shoe. It provides the ideal balance between grip, protection and durability vs weight and ground feel. I would be happy using the Asend Glove in a variety of terrains and weather conditions and since trialling them they have become one of my favourite trail shoes to run in. The only improvements I could suggest would be to bring out a 'mud and snow' version with much deeper lugs and a continued toe protection cap around the side of the shoe for deep winter and wet conditions in the UK. Well done Merrell, the Ascend Glove is a prime example of a well balanced minimal trail shoe. Keep up the good work!!!

Any comments or questions are welcome below. Anyone interested in grabbing a pair and getting out on the trails in them; Merrell footwear can be purchased from

Until next time; Happy Running.


  1. Hi Caveman, I recently went for the Ascend gloves and love the fit and feel of them they just seem to, well, fit like a glove. They have a great combination of low stack height coupled with a great combination of ground feel and just enough cushioning. I tried the NB MT10v2, but they were a little lacking in general traction and not as roomy up front. However, the only criticism I have of the Merrell’s is that they cannot cope with the worst of what UK winters throw at it. They are great all rounder, but cannot cope with muddy conditions. Could you advise of something with a similar fit (roomy toe box), weight & feel, but with a more aggressive lug pattern? Oh and whether to size up or down based on your recommendations! I did look at the Walsh PB Elite Racer, but I cannot find many detailed reviews.

    1. Hi Rob. I totally agree. The Ascend Glove fits amazingly, and is one of the best all-rounders I have ever tried, however, as you point out; they are not so hot in the mud and slop that the British weather throws at us for about 4-5 months of the year. The best option I have come across, and the shoes I have run in for the last few months is the Salomon Fellcross 2's ( They are very durable and super grippy. However, they are not as roomy upfront and will probably need to be worn with thin trail socks as I have discovered the hard way. However, I have run 100's of Km's in them and am very pleased with their performance. You would need to size up 1/2 a size from your Merrell's to fit in Salomons, and improve ground feel and toe box room by removing the insole (read the review for more info). Hope this helps!
      P.S. I have no experience of the Walsh line of shoes, although I hear they also come up a little narrow.

  2. I am on my 3rd pair of the Ascends. My foot is somewhat wide and I keep ripping the sides open after a couple of months. Other than not having a 'wide' option, they are my current shoe preference. Best shoe since the MT100 for sure!

  3. Thanks for great reviews. It seems we have almost the same size and shape of foot so your reviews are good for me. I will be grabbing a pair of these as I thought the trails gloves I used last summer were excellent and could do with the extra cushioning as I increase mileage. I have been using inov-8 fell running shoes through the winter but these really don't agree with the shape of my feet. Can I ask where you got the above colourway from as I can only find these in one online retailer who don't have a 10.5. Cheers.

    1. Hi Matt, I think they were available from at the time so you could try there, or Wiggle often have a good selection too.

  4. Im trying to decide between the trail glove and the ascend. Which do you prefer as an all round trail shoe?

    1. As an all round trail shoe I would say the Ascend Glove is better as there is a little more grip and protection making it usable for a wider range of trail conditions.

  5. Just a note to say I managed to get hold of this colourway (which is now discontinued) via Amazon USA. I knew what size I needed before ordering, and managed to get these along with postage and import tax for less than £50!!! First few runs and these are great. Perfect fit, nice grip on the drier trails, First long run this coming weekend.