Moccasin-like Merrell is ‘most minimal shoe’ ever built by brand

The shoe’s shiny mesh upper material feels almost like snake skin. The soles, a thin ply of rubber, stick to the ground like lizard feet.

Running shoes keep getting weirder. Merrell indeed markets its new Vapor Glove shoe, $80, as something unique. The company calls them the “most minimal shoe Merrell has ever made.”

Merrell Vapor Glove “like a thin moccasin”

On a scale, they measure at 6 ounces apiece — half the weight of regular running shoes. Wearing the Vapor Glove is akin to the sensation you get in slippers.

I laced up and did a 4-mile trail run last week. It was my first test in the shoes, and right away I knew they were wildly different.

On the trail, the shoe gave a “barefoot” feel — it can seem like nothing is on your foot at all. I could feel each stone underfoot as I scampered up a steep bank on a rough part of the route.

So flexible it bends in half in the hand

Merrell touts the minimal design will “stimulate muscles.” I guess that’s what the stiffness in my legs was the day after that first run.

To be sure, you need to start slow with a shoe like the Vapor Glove. The brand cites “zero-drop cushioning,” meaning the shoe is completely flat from front to back. There is no heel rise and very little foam underfoot.

Sole of the Vapor Glove

You can wear them with or without socks. The toe area is wide and unrestrictive. (The shoes also run big, so consider ordering a half-size smaller than normal if you buy.)

The sole, made by Vibram, is sticky and flexible. There’s no tread but I found the shoe to mold to the ground with each step for traction.

Each stride nets “pancake flat” ground contact. Those are Merrell’s words, and it may sound bad.

But flatness is what proponents of barefoot-style running seek as it’s seen as how your feet naturally (meaning truly barefoot) contact the ground.

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Stephen Regenold

Stephen Regenold is Founder of GearJunkie, which he launched as a nationally-syndicated newspaper column in 2002. As a journalist and writer, Regenold has covered the outdoors industry for two decades, including as a correspondent for the New York Times. A father of five, Regenold and his wife live in Minneapolis.