Tuesday 30 September 2014

Merrell Bare Access Trail Review

Merrell Bare Access Trail
For the past few years I have tried, tested, analysed and reviewed many minimalist 'barefoot' trail shoes. In the early days, when barefoot, or 'Natural Running' first came into the spotlight, many companies were quick to produce a more minimalist shoe to meet the demands of the emerging market. They did this by attempting to strip back every aspect of the new shoe to an absolute bare minimum. This sometimes led to a fantastic product which clearly met the needs of a runner who wanted as little as possible on their foot to provide just enough protection from the environment and grip for the terrain. But often, it led to a product with reduced durability, that was far too extreme for the average runner wanting to transition into natural running. 

Over this period, Merrell have produced some fantastic shoes with a more minimal approach. The original Trail Glove still stands in my mind as a milestone in minimalist shoes, along with the likes of the brilliant but slightly stranger looking Vibram FiveFingers. Now, today, Merrell produce a wide range of trail and road shoes that meet a variety of requirements for people looking for a low, light and natural feeling running shoe. Whether it be zero-drop, a low drop, a wide toebox, natural foot shape or minimal cushioning, Merrell has the shoe for you. 

So where does the new Merrell Bare Access Trail fit in? Well, with a zero-drop differential from heel to toe, a natural foot shape and wide toebox, as well as weighing in at around 240g per shoe (UK10) it is certainly not anywhere near the likes of a heavy, traditional built-up running trainer. But it does have 8mm of squishy cushioning underfoot. For some, wanting a totally natural ground feel and maximum proprioception, this may put them off. But, what about those new to natural running, those wanting a softer ride and who run long distances over harsh, rocky mountain trails and dry, hard footpaths? After including the Bare Access Trails into my rotation of trail shoes over the past few weeks, I can safely say I have a thing or two to say that may help you decide if this could be the shoe that is right for you!

Fresh out of the box and looking great! Better get testing.....
The Merrell Bare Access Trail runner:
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
The Merrell Bare Access Trail facts:
- 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
First Impressions:
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
Running in the Bare Access Trail:
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
Gore-Tex or not?
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
What the Bare Access Trail are good at:
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

CavemanClarke score: 88/100

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!


  1. Thanks for this review! Can you comment on how the tread compares to that of the TrailRoc 235, or even the Spyridon LS/MS?

  2. Hi Steve. I would say that the tread performs very similar to the Trailroc series, apart from in mud where I feel the Trailroc performs marginally better due to larger gaps in between lugs resulting in shedding mud quicker. Please bear in mind that this is only a very slight difference. In terms of durability, I feel the Merrell tread will last longer as the Vibram rubber is harder wearing than the Inov-8 Trailroc tread. Vibrams grip in a completely different way, allowing your toes and feet to do more of the work, therefore it is hard to compare these. However, with exception of, once again, deep mud, Vibrams, the Bare Access Trails and the Trailroc all perform very well indeed over all other trail terrains.

  3. Hi again,
    That´s right the review I was looking for !
    If you don´t mind borrowing some time, I got a couple of questions: My favorite shoe is the Trail Glove but for my races (mountain ultras) I used to run with the Ascend Glove since they offer a bit more protection and grip, especially the down hills I can run much faster in those.
    My number one concern, do you know, does Merrell discontinue the Ascend Glove now in favour of the Bare Access Trail ?
    You ran in both of them, how do they compare ? I´m afraid that the BA offer more cushion because of the additional 2mm and the heel collar seems to be softer, too ?
    How do they compare cushion-wise to the Trailroc 235 ?
    ( they are a bit too soft for my liking, somehow my achilles always starts to hurt after running with them )
    My last question, I never really liked this (don´t know how to call it) bump on the medial inside of the shoe. Looking at the pictures it seems to be there in the BA, too.
    Any idea what this one´s good for ? An arch support shouldn´t be in the books of a barefoot shoe I suppose ?
    Thanks in advance !

    1. Hi Wolfgang.
      The Ascend Glove is still available to buy in many places, although I don't think Merrell are continuing its production (please comment below Merrell if you read this and I am wrong). The grip and uppers are better on the Bare Access, but they do offer more cushioning.
      I don't notice the arch shape as I have very high arches and so do not touch it really, although I do know what you are talking about. I think it is there to wrap the shape of the foot firmly in the shoe to prevent movement. Also, the Bare Access Trail do have more cushioning than the Inov-8 Trailroc 235 and similar to the more cushioned Trailrocs.
      I hope this helps?!

    2. Great, many thanks for taking the time for your reply !
      So it looks like I´m gonna stock up on Ascend Gloves :-)
      Thanks and keep up the great work !
      Yours Wolfgang

  4. Thank you so much for this review — and ALL of your reviews! They have been very helpful. I am primarily a walker. I have young kids and am currently pregnant and we just moved to a very walkable neighborhood. I have been loving my minimalist Merrells (I believe I have the Pace Glove); however, when pounding the pavement, especially while gaining the pregnancy weight, I need something that has more padding. Anything with arch supports hurts my feet and knees and I need a wide toe box, so in the summer I usually just do flat flip flops. With a new walking neighborhood, I am just worried that there will be too much walking for flip flops. Any suggestions? I love flat shoes, I just need more cushion and a wide toe box. I eagerly await your response!!! Thank you!!!

    1. You are welcome. I would suggest trying these Bare Access Trails. I have just been away walking and I used these for the whole week away. I walked on trails, steep hills, beaches and pavement and they performed flawlessly. I find a lot of Merrell's running shoes double up very well as walking and everyday shoes due to their lightness, wide toebox and great comfort levels. I didn't notice any instep at all come to think about it and they are zero-drop. Other options are a pair of Vivobarefoots? Have you come across these?

  5. Thank you SO much for your advice! The Vivobarefoots sound and look amazing (we hadn't come across them, yet), but I think I will try the Merrell Bare Access Trail, since they have a thicker cushion. I am so happy to have found your website! Have a wonderful holiday!

  6. Hi - sure you get these questions all the time but how would the sizing compare to previous models of trail glove? - i had version 1 in uk 11, flux gloves in 11, inov 8 trailroc 235 in uk 11 etc etc (a trend of uk size 11 here ;) but have heard (certain reviews/runningwarehouse size shoefitr thingybob) that these run small - it doesn't help when inov8 size 11uk is a us12 and eu 45.5 and merrell uk11 is us11.5 (do they size them for the us market, probably) and an eu46, vivobarefoot changed their uk 11 to a 12 to match the us12, man sizing is not made easy these days! If i had a local store, it would be easy but i have to order online due to no availability in ireland at all, let alone local (asics kayano and the brooks beast are still very popular here and the kayano is talked about as if it were a vivobarefoot pure). anyway, enough said, hoping you can help.

  7. This shoe lacks breathability. It has some kind of lining that prevents air pass through.

  8. Thanks for the review! I found these for $35 CAD (clearing them out?) and wasn't sure if they'd perform. Going to Shanghai and Taiwan for two weeks (mainly paved roads), then backpacking in Laos for another 2 weeks (including some mountain climbing). Considering it's monsoon season, so there will inevitably be some wet days/nights, and it's over 30 degrees over there - I've decided to pick these up as my only shoes for the entire trip. Sounds like they'll be able to handle the elements I'll be throwing at them!


  9. My sister wear best shoes for flat feet. One day i can't find my shoe than i wear her. After wearing that i understand why this type shoes my sister like most. This shoes really very comfortable.