Two years ago Merrell—the brand that you may associate with hiking, trailblazing, and outdoor, hard-core, get-your-traction-on walking shoes—ventured into the minimalist running market with their Barefoot line, and now they've added a new collection of less-is-more shoes: Merrell M-Connect.
We had the chance to try them out, and I won't lie: I was skeptical. Merrell has been a long loved and much appreciated shoe brand in my closet for years, but any Merrell shoe I've ever owned was a far cry from minimal.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, at the range of shoe styles and colors that showed up in our office. Foremost among them: the Run Bare Access Arc 2, pictured in pink (Merrell.com, $90), and the Mix Master Move Glide, pictured in blue (Merrell.com, $95).
Run Bare Access Arc 2
Extremely lightweight (only 5.5 ounces per shoe!), their signature characteristics are the wide toe box and supportive arch. They actually use Vibram sole on the bottom, which gives you the feeling of being barefoot but without the constriction of the toe shoes. One SHAPE editor commented that after working out in them for two weeks, her feet were more sore than usual but added, "It's probably because I have been working some of the small foot muscles that aren't typically activated when you wear super-cushioned running shoes."
In general she loved the shoes saying, "They are so comfortable and lightweight. I was surprised by how supportive they felt around the arches of my feet." Another perk? The minimal design made them super easy to slide into an already-crammed gym bag. The shoes also helped her get back in the groove after the holidays. "They make me feel very light on my feet when running—and after a few weeks away from the gym, that little boost made a big difference!. Overall I've really enjoyed testing these out and actually prefer minimalist running shoes now," she said.
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Mix Master Move Glide
These minimalist shoes were built with the outdoors in mind, which is obvious by the traction you can see just by looking at them. They have a more slender look and seem to merge what Merrell is known for (outdoor sport, hiking, and walking) with a barefoot running shoe. Another SHAPE editor found that they're good for the gym: "I've been wearing the shoes while lifting and really like them. I feel more stable since I'm closer to the ground due to the minimal padding. When I did pikes on a medicine ball, I really noticed a difference from my other shoes and felt it helped me balance better, which meant my form was better. They're a little loose in the toe box, though."
To find your perfect barefoot shoe, testing out different amounts of support is the best route since some people need more cushioning than others. And make sure you start out slowly when running—work you way up to your usual 10-miler to build your foot strength.
One thing is for sure, I, too, am a minimalist convert and am thrilled to see more lines like Merrell release these new shoes!