I loved them and would simply get another pair, but Merrell has stopped making any leather versions of their minimal models at all. So, as mesh shoes are not an option for me for reasons like grass seed (see http://www.blog.smalladventures.net/2012/07/grass-seeds-and-burs.html) my search began anew.
I was looking for a pair of all leather boots with no lining and found myself in a Keen store. It turns out they've joined the minimal shoe craze, and with an all leather unlined shoe of classic design, excepting a modern sole. It's called the Keen Bleecker. I was dubious but I'd been hunting for some time already, so I picked them up. http://www.keenfootwear.com/us/en/product/shoes/men/casual/bleecker%20lace%20cnx/black#
Let me be clear about this review. These shoes are clearly not made for my use-case. That being said I've used many many shoes not made for my use-case and learned a lot from it. I've used dress shoes as running shoes, street racing flats as hiking boots, and hiking boots as running shoes. Surprisingly a pair of hiking boots was one of my favorite pairs of running shoes, and except for upper material racing flats with just a little more traction are basically my ideal hiking boot. With that in mind, here we go.
Short versionWhat these shoes are is an absolutely classic shoe design with a modern sole. What these shoes are not is a minimal shoe.
For me, sadly, this is just not what I need. I've tried various dress-shoe designs in the past, even those with slick soles, and found them usable for hiking. Usually not really for running due to the drop caused by a standard heal. This is like that but with a modern sole, and no separate heal. The problem? It's a modern sole, and not a "minimal" one.
- The toe-box is terrible. This is a flaw with every Keen shoe. That signature wraparound toe constrains the toe box from flexing. It's also not tall enough at least for my toes. Keen branded socks have extremely thin toe areas and are thicker everywhere else. It seems probable that this is to help compensate for the flawed toe design. It *does* protect your toes from ramming into things, but that's really not a big concern of mine.
- The sole is too thick and stiff. As mentioned above I've hiked in flat soled dress shoes before, with a heal, and they were pretty okay. These are about that good, with about that much grip, except a little less feeling of where the ground is. Obviously they weren't made as a hiking shoe, but I like to feel the ground in any shoe. They flex better than they look like they would, but no better than say a Merrell light hiker (What I used for most of the AT).
- The sole has a drop (meaning that the heal is notably higher than the toe). When I first started running toe/midfoot strike this wasn't a big deal for me. As I've done it more and more and gotten a more natural comfortable stride having significant drop in the sole is excrutiating. It shortens my stide by several inches so I feel like I'm running super slow. It makes my knees hurt. And worst, it keeps me from properly absorbing the impact (and bouncing back up) with my calf, because I get stopped short by the heal touching down.
- Unlined leather! Woot! I really hate lining in leather shoes. It absorbs moisture and makes it so your shoes won't dry. It wears through long before the shoe giving you blisters when you wouldn't get any, it's awful. This doesn't have any. That was one of the big reasons I decided to try the shoes. Even better the leather is shiny, not suede or split, so it repells water. If the shoes were better otherwise I'd rub some waterproofing into them and that feature would be perfect.
- Wear. They seem to wear very well. I probably won't wear them out because I don't like them, but the leather and glue is very good and after some wear this summer they merely look slightly broken in.
- Ummm, the heal cup is good I guess? Everything else is kindof lack of flaws. It's a leather shoe, it goes on your foot. It mostly doesn't fall off.