Orange. The only thing that really bugged me about the Merrell Sonic Gloves is the colour. I’m not a ‘look at me’ kinda person, so when I have glowing orbs distractingly flashing in the lower reaches of my vision, I get annoyed. Not just because I feel like a clown, but because at the speed I run, it risks setting off some kind of fit, such is the strobe-effect.
(That’s sarcasm in case you missed it. I’m not that fast.)
Nevertheless, the answer: get these muddied brown as soon as possible; thereafter they relish the conditions. (They do come in a toned down blue/grey – none were available when I took delivery).
However, the lairy colour of my pair is an orange herring if you will: fact is, in the minimalist world, these are a serious trail shoe offering providing performance that delivers far beyond that which the peacockery may suggest (in my opinion, in the shoe world, flashiness is often cover-up for poor functionality).
And boy do these function on trail.
The caveat is that we’re assessing these in the context of a runner seeking out the minimalist style. Lead-footed heel smashers need not apply, nor comment. These are for those dedicated to at least exploring the run-light philosophy that’s currently booming.
A minimalist shoe needs to tick certain boxes. It has to have minimal and preferably no drop between heel and forefoot. This gives true barefoot function and in the trail world the best trail ‘feel’ – something of the point of going minimal. It needs a wide toe box to allow toe splay, important in achieving a correct barefoot running action. The upper should be minimalist in terms of it interfering with foot action, but it also need to provide some glove-like hold to the foot. Many will also say that the inner needs to be so comfortable that no socks are required. And finally, it needs to be lightweight.
The Sonic ticks all these boxes. Easily.
Essentially new model Merrell Trail Gloves (tested in TRM Ed#1), the Sonics are upgraded with a non-permeable, water resistant upper (rather than mesh) which primes users for running damp or sandy trails, the enclosed upper keeping both water and grit out.
On trail, the Vibram sole offers good (for minimalism) protection against rocks and sharp ground, while giving brilliant grip. One minor gripe here: when speeding around tight corners, there did seem to be some sideways slippage. But in a linear motion, grip is fantastic, the design not sucking on too much mud and the back-kicked toe grip in particular customised for the increased toe kick-off that barefoot running delivers.
Some will find the tightness around the metatarsal area off-putting at first, but this actually provides good glove-like hold between the upper and your foot, keeping excessive movement within the shoe to a minimum. This combines with a phenomenal comfort factor inside the shgoe – no rub zones, no seams to annoy. Go sockless with confidence.
The ultra roomy toe box is important, allowing toes to be able to splay, which experts tell me triggers a muscular reflex that helps coordinate muscle contractions, which leads to more efficiency when using a midfoot gait.
Reviewing the Trail Gloves (again, relevant because they are essentially the same design dynamics as the Sonic Gloves) Jason Robillard of the Barefoot University (barefootrunninguniversity.com) writes: “The trail performance of the shoe is first-rate. It provides enough protection for the most technical trails…while still allowing enough ground feel and proprioception to prevent injury. For trail running, I am hard-pressed to find a single negative characteristic of this shoe. [It] is the best true minimalist trail shoe I have ever tested.”
Apart from two factors – sideways slip and I found downhill grip on the fly suffered a tad – I’d agree. Although he’s done a lifetime testing than me. So you’d listen to him first.
And what about that exuberantly non-mimimalist orange bedecking?
Dear Santa (aka Mr and Mrs Merrell), this Christmas may I please have a BLACK pair of Sonic Gloves…
[SEE MORE SHOES REVIEWS IN THE FREE ONLINE EDITION OF TRAIL RUN MAG available as a pdf download at www.trailrunmag.com/zine]
Great For: those after the pure sensation of the trail, go-fasts, minimalists who aren’t quite ready to go to traditional sandals, minimalists looking for performance and protection
Not So Great For: going super fast on muddy, super-twisty trails, massive downhills, cheapskates (they’re exxy for ‘minimalism’, but most are)
Test Conditions: wet trails mostly, fairly soft, with debris, some sand stretches, slippery surfaces, softer forest trails. Approx. 48km (I’m a beginner minimalist!)
Tester: Chris Ord
Tester mechanics: slight pronator, dodgy hip, undergoing treatment for ITB so can be grumpy and blame shoes for bad biomechanics…is minimalist the answer? TBC.