Merrell Bare Access

Merrell Barefoot

Merrell describe this shoe as a useful barefoot shoe for those who require something with a little more padding for long distance running – potentially on hard surfaces OR for those looking to transition to barefoot running for more structured shoes. And my initial reaction was that they have succeeded:

The padding is still pretty minimal with around 8mm of foam. Some of the barefoot zealots out there have been up in arms about this, but if you look at what Merrell have designed this shoe to be, it is great. Running minimalist shoes with negligible padding on roads can be tough on the bottom of your feet, and the Bare Access helps to alleviate this issue. Furthermore, for those looking to try barefoot running it offers a small (emphasis on small) safety net. The impact is not quite as significant as when in ultra minimalist shoes and this helps to alleviate some of the inevitable pain felt the next day in your calves and Achilles tendon. However, people transitioning still need to be incredibly cautious when trying out minimalist shoes.

The shoe is incredibly light, even lighter than the stripped down trail glove. There really is no discernible weight on your feet when running. It has a very wide toe box which really lets your feet move and your toes splay in a natural fashion. So much so that when I tried to run in my old Asics DS Racer 8′s the other day, I had to stop within 15 minutes and take the shoe off because it felt so restrictive. In tandem with their nice wide toe box, the upper is very breathable – although socks are necessary if running in Winter.
The Vibram parts of the sole are fantastically durable, and this is something that seems to be uniform with other vibram soles. After well over 150 miles there is no visible wear on the Vibram parts of the sole, which is very impressive indeed!
They also have a very flexible sole. Not as flexible as the trail glove but that is due to the extra padding.
Finally, unlike Vibram Five Fingers, the Bare Access can pass as a regular trainer thus avoiding weird looks when wearing them.

Barefoot Sole

The Not So Good

The Bare Access is by no means faultless, and the quality of the foam and grip are issues which grow and grow:

Slight Arch – Before I bought these shoes I had read that there was a slightly uncomfortable amount of support in the arch. Now this was on the blog of a few hardcore barefoot runners (like no shoes hardcore) so unless you are part of that band then I do not see this being an issue. When I first put them on I was thinking constantly about the arch, and it was uncomfortable for about 10 minutes. It then subsided and I have never had any thoughts about an over supportive arch ever again.

Foam Wear – As you can see in the picture, the Vibram sole looks almost brand new, but the red foam is wearing at an above than average rate. This foam is similar to that found on normal trainers, just without the protective rubber sole. Really don’t see why they didn’t just Vibram the entire sole.

Grip – The biggest issue by a considerable margin and a severe limiting factor for these shoes. It may well simply be because they were designed for long distances on roads, but either way the lack of grip and tread on these shoes is quite frankly appalling. I am not asking for very pronounced lugs like the trail glove because these would become uncomfortable in long spells on the road, but show the Bare Access any sort of slightly damp grass, mud or even a change of direction on a misty day and they suddenly want to go ice skating. Seriously, be careful out there. Groins will be pulled, hamstrings strained and clothing muddied. Merrell, please do better next time.

Despite the incredible lack of grip, if you are looking for a minimal shoe to run longer distances in then this is a good option. It probably functions better as a transition shoe because I am not sure how effective they would be for say a road marathon. Half yes, but full marathon and the soles of your feet might suffer a little. Either way, great shoe for the price. Just wish they had more grip!

See what the marketing guys down at Merrell think of their shoe:

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