2012-03-12

Review: Merrell Tough Glove

I've had these shoes for 7 months now.

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Here's a new pair:

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Since purchasing these they've been my primary shoe - though for some time I was wearing huaraches around the office, until I lost them.

In any case, this is some pretty serious wear. I recently wore through the outer sole of the right shoe into the midsole, and so felt it was time for a review. For comparison, in the past I've done this in 2 months to an entirely reasonable pair of shoes, in more recent years it's taken me 3-4 months for my primary shoe. Translation: these shoes don't have wear problems.

I currently use these for all of my running, walking, and backpacking, excepting one special case for which they simply are not suitable, which I'll explain shortly. As someone who's wanted a simple, flat thin and flexible soled, leather shoe for years, I have to say this is the single best shoe I've tried by an order of magnitude. This shoe has kept me buying shoes instead of making my own (for good or for ill :P).

Before we dive into the details, a few quick notes. The Merrell Glove was designed as a competitor to the Vibram 5-fingers. It DOES have a slightly padded midsole. It is shoe shaped. It has an unusually large and widely shaped toe-box so your toes can spread kindof like 5-fingers or huaraches, but it doesn't quite achieve the same affect. To a barefoot walker it providers arch-support because it laces tightly around the foot, but no normal-shoe wearer would say it has arch-support.

In other words, the Merrell Glove is basically half-way between huaraches or 5-fingers, and a "normal" shoe. If you loved the old puma trail racers, but thought they were a bit too much shoe, or a bit too weird shaped a sole, these are the shoes for you.

Awesome things:

  • Super flexible: In the picture I'm applying very little pressure.
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  • Super light: 13 3/4 ounces for the pair. Yes, you minimal shoe weenies might call that heavy, but remember, these are LEATHER. Jess' gillies she made herself weigh 1 lb 3/8 ounce, that's with no rubber sole.
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  • Leather: This is hard to express to people who haven't had trouble, but grass seed is an evil menace to us hikers. If you hike rarely traveled trails, or bushwhack across fields in the lowlands in the right season, then you'll hit this stuff. If you are wearing mesh shoes you'll find hundreds of seeds bristling out of your shoe, slowly worming their way in to stab your foot. If you don't do something about them they will stab your foot, and then work their way into THAT too! Because of several trips where I had to take off my shoes every 2 miles and spend 10 minutes pulling seeds to keep them out of my feet I've become a huge proponent of non-grass-permeable shoes. Leather breathes, and can also be made very water-resistant (I mean, usefully water-resistant, not just afraid of water) with a wax treatment. So it's my and Jess' preferred material.
  • Tough: I bushwhack, I run, I do parkour sometimes, I rock hop, I slide down hillsides regularly, I'm VERY hard on my shoes. I get tired of replacing them, and I need to trust them for a trip. I once wore a brand new pair of street racing shoes on a trip, and destroyed them in just 9 days. I threw them out when I got home. Optimally a shoe should wear out everywhere at once. If you look at the picture below, you can see that the top of the heal cup on my shoe has been stitched back together. That occurred within a week or two of wearing through the sole. The sole is also coming unglued, but the leather itself hasn't torn or cracked anywhere, thanks ironically to it's thinness and flexibility.
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  • Good traction: As just mentioned, I bushwhack, rock-hop, and slide down hills. I rock-hop in pouring rain if that's what's going on. I cross streams dynamically usually, nearly running across. Having a shoe slip when you don't expect it is a great way to split your noggin open when on rocks if you hike like I do. So far these are second only to 5-fingers KSO trek soles. Those things stick to rocks like nothing else. I did a good chunk of the AT in Merrell Moab's, which are a "traditional" trail running shoe. Those were unusually good for that class of shoe, but it just doesn't compare to being able to wrap your whole foot around a rock and grab it with your toes.
  • Nearly neutral: They are basically flat. No support, no nothing. They don't *quite* feel like walking on a flat surface, but it's not far off and is pretty much the closest I've yet found in a commercial shoe. I usually throw away shoes due to the mid-sole collapsing. As it collapses unevenly it causes my ankle to roll inwards, which stresses my knees and aggravates my ITBS... it's also just biomechanically wrong. Having little padding, being close to the ground, and being basically level, means shoes are more comfortable, better for my ankles, better for my knees, and wear longer.
  • Almost minimal: See above, being close to the ground and having little extra support I find to be by far the most comfortable for shoes. My feet are GREAT springs, they do the job super well. Shoes mostly just get in the way. To me, shoes are so I can walk and jump on broken chert or obsidean without cutting my feet, and run crushed rock without being in pain. The rest my feet are better at than shoes.
  • "Barefoot" shoe. This is an odd term, and I'm stealing the terminology as used by leming footwear. What I mean by this is that it has a large toe-box and allows your toes to spread out a lot more like walking barefoot. It's not "barefoot" of course, but it's the best standing term to describe this.


Bad things:

  • Thin, non-insulating sole. So they can't be my only hiking shoes:
    Sadly, thin soles have a downside. While they are wonderful for not rolling ankles and all those things, they aren't nearly as insulating as a thicker sole (surprise surprise). I do not recommend hiking in cold weather in the gloves, because they simply don't insulate you from the ground enough. So, for now I'm still using a more normal pair of trail runners or my pair of winter hiking boots for truly cold weather. I'm hoping I can find a magical insulating insole, I believe some were invented recently, but I've yet to find/test this.
  • Pick up grass seed: Despite being leather, and quite tough, they lack a gusset down he tongue. In one of the first major commercial "barefoot" shoes this is not exactly surprising. But... it allows an avenue of entry for that pesky grass seed. It slides in over the tongue and under the shoe, and works it's way down the side. I have a number of seeds perminantly embedded in the inside sides of the shoe because of this.
  • Sole is still slightly shaped: Sadly, although it's "nearly" neutral, it's not entirely neutral. The sole also has some padding, though not much, allowing for a small amount of collapse. Because of both of these they are ever-so-slightly off level , and thus I cannot say they are completely neutral. My knees are still slightly happier with no shoes than with these.


Weird things:

  • Primary traction wears out fast: The part of the shoe that you most need traction on, right under the ball of the foot, has very small bumps. This means they wear out rather quickly and then the shoe becomes a bit slick on the ball. You won't notice on rocks or that sort of thing, but on a steep descent I find myself sliding a fair amount on a well-worn shoe.
    Shoe
  • Shoe wears through faster than they should: Although they wear well, the thinnest part of the entire shoe is the spot that you'll wear through first. Right under the ball of your foot. This is directly related to the above point, but I consider a different failing of the shoe because it could be caused by a different flaw.


FYI, if you don't care about the leather property, check out http://www.lemingfootwear.com/ , as his shoes are somewhat cheaper, and look to be more minimal, more barefoot, and more neutral. I haven't tried them yet, as they aren't leather, but I've put in a uh... feature request?.. for them to make leather ones in the future. Cross your fingers, and if you agree maybe send them a note yourself!

2012-03-04

Ski bumming in the Sierra

On friday Jess and I decided we should go skiing this weekend.

So, we drove up on friday, found an untraveled road up near where we were headed and slept in the truck that night. Next day we grabbed breakfast and rented ski's from the village at bear valley. They were super friendly. Then, we headed up to bear valley ski area. In general everyone at and around Bear Valley were friendly and happy and would joke back and forth with us. It was a great atmosphere.

I'd never ski'd before, I'd been on a real mountain on a snowboard once, and cross-country ski'd once. Jess was a great teacher (I.E. she explained the basics, ski'd behind me, etc. :P). After 4 green runs I decided it was time for blues, we did several blue runs, then ended up somewhere we couldn't see another way down, so came down a black.

I actually never fell until the black. On the black, despite it being short, I fell a lot, but I made it down! :D.

It was super warm, so we were wearing ran pants, short-sleeved shirts (Jess was in a tanktop), and sunglasses. I only wore gloves part of the time. The lifts weren't even cold.

We stopped for lunch and heated up some clam chowder at the (surprisingly nearby) car, then went back for a bit more. As it turned out we could've even brought in a picnic lunch. After a couple of runs though I realized my knees were out of juice - it turns out skiing when you don't know how to ski uses a LOT of knee muscle. By then I had decent control, but my muscles were starting to max out, and I was losing control of my skis. So, we called it a day before either of us got damaged.

We still had some day left, so we drove back to the village and returned the skis. Then, after a few U-turns, we stopped by the sherrif's office to get fire permits, then to the cross-country place to get a sno-pass. Then, it was off to the end of 4 where the road is closed. We parked here and after some repacking walked off down a snowmobile trail for the night with our packs and snowshoes.

We ended up camping in what is actually an established campground! It was closed though, and it's on national forest land, so we figured no problem. Our spot was on the edge of a beautiful lake with a view off to the mountains. We spent some time stomping down a spot to sleep, and then hunted up a bit of firewood.

One tree obliged me greatly when I found a very dead limb and tugged at it slightly, the tree let go. I thanked the tree and carried it back to camp. We bemoaned the irony greatly and kept considering, but decided we really shouldn't cut enough pine boughs to support a fire on top of the snow. So, we gave in and cooked dinner (ramen) on my woodstove. That worked fine. A bit of rum and chatting until after dark, then sleep.

It got *much* colder than we expected that night, we both woke up quite chilly, and didn't sleep terribly well. Our water-bottles froze enough that we couldn't get water out of some. Oh well, so it goes. Because of the warmth the previous day there was tons of hoar frost everywhere! Our sleepingbags were a bit damp. If I was on my side the shoulder that was up would get cold, despite having shifted all of the down to the top side of the bag. Overall we were certainly fine though, and it was so pretty we both agreed it was absolutely worth it. So much better than a hotel.

Next day we wandered our way home stopping at a couple of parks, including mount diablo. After some searching we found a way in on the backside. Walking around we marveled at the biome there. Beautiful pine nuts and oak trees. Tons of nice open space with grass and some water. We saw a lot of dug up ground where pigs had clearly been rooting about. The greenery was fresh and tasty looking. We sampled the stalk of what we believe was a wild artichoke (it was definitly a huge flowered teasel). It had an interesting flavor, pretty good though a bit strong.

So... total recurring costs to go skiing: Ski passes, gas to get there, food. In addition we had to purchase a snow park pass for this winter. Overall, pretty awesome, and WAY more fun than any hotel. This was a great use of boondocking.