|Merrell Bare Access Trail
|Fresh out of the box and looking great! Better get testing.....
Designed as part of the M-Connect Trail series, the Bare Access Trail is for trail runners who still want a natural ride but with a bit more protection underfoot. If you want the feel of the earth beneath your feet, to help maintain a smooth and connected ride over rugged trail terrain, but you feel you need a little more cushioning than some minimalist 'natural running' shoes offer, without compromising agility and natural stability through lack of proprioception, these shoes are for you.
The Merrell Bare Access Trail in numbers:
- 0mm heel-toe drop (differential)
- 4mm depth of outer lug pattern for grip over a variety of terrains
- 8mm cushioning from the M-Bound and UniFly midsole foam
- 15.5mm stack height
- 240g approximate weight of UK10 shoe
- £85 or £115 RRP (non-waterproof/waterproof)
|Shows the stack height of the Bare Access Trails
- Highly breathable mesh uppers
- TPU protective toe cap wraps toes and protects them well
- Uppers treated with M Select FRESH odour control
- Machine washable on cold delicate cycle
- Specifically designed midsole for increased protection for the foot, while allowing good ground feel and a stable platform for increased agility and stability
- Available in both GTX and non-GTX versions (waterproof or not).
|Showing off the great design and multi-directional grip
Certainly a handsome shoe straight out of the box, I instantly loved the design and 'Molten Lava' colours. Upon putting on the shoes for the first time you are immediately aware that this is going to be a very comfortable shoe to run in. The toebox is more than adequately wide enough, and the overall shape of the entire shoe matches the natural shape of the human foot perfectly (something that many shoes on the market somehow get wrong?). Inside the heel/ankle of the shoe, there are cushioned protrusions which improve both the comfort and fit of the shoe. Traditional laces tighten the shoe around your foot and hold it firmly in place, allowing excellent custom fitting over the arch of your foot. The laces pull on the structure of the shoe which both wraps the arch and secures the heel in place, and can be seen in the design of the shoe in the photo below.
|The solid structure of the shoe can clearly been seen in the yellow and black bands
With an ultra-light pair of very thin socks on (which is how I prefer to run in most shoes these days to avoid hot spots and blisters over long distances), the Bare Access Trails are very comfortable indeed. They suit the shape of my feet, allow them to spread out naturally and do not crease across the toes or create areas that rub or agitate my feet. The welcome zero-drop also allows for a natural foot position and therefore natural running experience. Proprioception is reduced in comparison with other minimalist running shoes without as much cushioning, but not too much so that your stride is affected in a big way.
|Great natural shape and wide toebox
If you want a really breathable trail running shoe that drains well after immersing your foot deep in puddles or rivers, I would advise the non-GTX version and put up with wet feet on wet days. If, however, you really want to keep your feet dry, then opt for the GTX lined version. Remember though, breathability is somewhat reduced in waterproof shoes, especially in hot weather, and if you somehow manage to get wet feet, such as a stream crossing, your feet may not dry out for the rest of the run. For this reason, I always run in more breathable non-waterproof shoes to allow quick drainage and maximal airflow to my feet, but it is your choice to suit your needs and requirements.
Grip and Traction:
Although the grip is somewhat more aggressive than previous trail running shoes from Merrell, it is still clearly aimed at dryer, compacted and rocky trails found in abundance in places such as America; the home of Merrell. This isn't to say that the Bare Access Trails are of no use here in the UK. Far from it in fact! I have happily run many trails in them over the time I have been testing and have not had any issues with grip or traction in most circumstances. Where the grip does start to struggle is over very wet and muddy terrain. I have plenty of shoes specifically designed to churn their way through endless mud-glorious-mud, and so in one of these situations I would be happy to use a different shoe. If, however I was to run a dryer, stony and gravel ridden, multi-surface trail, I would happily take the Bare Access Trails out for a spin. 'Horses for courses', as they say!
|Grip is excellent for a variety of trails
If you are heading out on a long run over dry, hard-packed, rocky, rugged or mixed terrain then the Bare Access Trail are an excellent choice of shoe that will not let you down. Even if you encounter some unavoidable road or paved sections, this shoe will happily take it all in its stride. The zero differential puts your foot, and therefore your body, in a natural position. The wide toebox and natural fit of the shoes lets your feet work as nature intended, and the shoe certainly provides adequate protection for your foot from whatever the trails throw at you. You are pretty much guaranteed a comfortable and hassle-free run, especially with a thin pair of decent socks to further reduce the chances of blisters or hot-spots on longer, more demanding runs. Got a long way to go and need a comfy but natural feeling friend for your feet, then the Bare Access Trail are for you.
Things to watch out for:
A couple of pointers here. Firstly, if your heading out in deep, slippery mud, you may wish to opt for something different. The grip is fine for the majority of terrains a trail run may take you across, but oodles of mud just isn't the best idea in these. Granted, any shoe can get through a sticky, muddy situation, but there are specific trail or fell shoes for the really muddy and wet days. Secondly, more cushioning can allow a runner to get away with bad habits and running technique. This was one of the arguments for transitioning into a 'natural' running shoe in the first place; less cushioning results in increased proprioception which in turn improves feedback to the brain to alter and improve running form. Therefore, don't be lazy. It is certainly possible to run naturally and correctly in the Bare Access Trails. Spend some time perfecting your technique and watch out for old habits returning, such as looking down at the floor in front of you or over-striding and landing on your heels. Also, schedule in some sessions somewhere safe and run barefoot or in very minimal shoes to ensure, when you do head out for a long run in the more cushioned Bare Access Trails, your form is spot-on!
Scoring 1-10 on 10 categories that make a good natural trail shoe:
1) Weight: 9/10
2) Ground Feel: 6/10
3) Protection: 9/10
4) Natural Foot Position: 10/10
5) Natural foot shape: 10/10
6) Comfort: 9/10
7) Grip and traction: 8/10
8) Durability and Quality: 9/10
9) Pricing: 9/10
10) Design: 9/10
I have been really pleased with the way the Bare Access Trails have performed. They are an ideal natural-feeling shoe for longer, dryer and rocky trails, and I look forward to my continuing use of them for both training and racing. The comfort is outstanding, the quality is excellent, and the grip performs well over a variety of terrains, with the only exception being deep mud. On top of all this the Bare Access Trail is a fantastic looking trail shoe that comes in a variety of great colours and even with the option of being waterproof or not with the addition of a Gore-Tex lining. Some care must be taken so that the added cushioning doesn't lead to a lazy and incorrect running technique due to a reduced level of proprioception, but when used correctly, the Bare Access Trails are a fantastic addition to anyone's collection of natural running shoes.
If long, rugged trails are your choice of runs, then the Bare Access Trail could well be a top contender for your choice of footwear to help you reach your peak!
Happy running everyone, and as usual, any comments or questions, please feel free to leave your reply in the comments section below!