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June 2, 2011

Merrell Barefoot Tough Glove Review

Despite the recent explosion in minimalist athletic shoe options over the couple of years, the dress shoe market has been very slow to keep pace. Prior to this spring, that market was essentially dominated by VIVOBAREFOOT's extensive collection, along with a few single-model options from various manufacturers such as the Sanuk Boardroom, the Simple Gumshoe, or the Patagonia Pau (review coming soon) that offer reasonable crossover appeal for natural movement proponents.

Merrell Barefoot Tough Glove, in Honey Brown

A few months ago Merrell entered the dress shoe game, and just as they did with their outstanding running shoes, they hit a home run on their first time at bat. The Merrell Barefoot Tough Glove is good looking enough to wear in practically any formal setting, comfortable enough to wear all day long, and has all the features and biomechanics that minimalist users desire.

Full-grain leather upper; yellow antimicrobial insole

The uppers are constructed of full grain leather that’s available in three colors: black, aluminum, and honey brown. The colors are somewhat oddly named, as you can see on this Merrell product page: the aluminum actually has kind of a beige tint, the honey brown looks more like dark chocolate, and the black … well, OK – it looks black. Both the black and brown colors are very office friendly, and go quite nicely with a shirt, tie, and khakis, or even formal slacks and a jacket. Having leather uppers instead of mesh doesn’t add a whole lot of weight, as the Tough Glove weighs in at 7.1 oz compared to 6.2 for the Trail Glove.

Thin ankle collar padding; anti-microbial footbed

The thin leather also happens to be super comfortable, and softens very nicely around the contours of your foot as it gets worn in. The shape of the upper is similar to Merrell's Trail Glove, with a relatively narrow midfoot area secured by the same Omni-Fit lacing system that the trail runners have. Putting the Tough Gloves on isn’t as tricky as I described with the Trail Glove, perhaps due to the fact that my dress socks tend to be very thin compared to running socks, and very slick compared to bare feet. Just like the Trail Glove, the toe box of the Tough Glove has plenty of room for your toes to move around unimpeded, and there’s a 2mm antimicrobial footbed underfoot to provide comfort and to help diminish the stink factor.

Super-flexible midsole and outsole

From the midsole down, all models in the Merrell Barefoot line are essentially the same: there is 4mm of compression-molded EVA with a 1mm forefoot shock absorption plate in the midsole, and zero drop from heel to forefoot. The entire shoe is highly flexible and allows natural foot movement in all directions.  Standing height (outsole, midsole, plate, and insole) is approximately 12mm, which is the one major aspect where Merrell compares unfavorably to VIVOBAREFOOT, whose pure minimalist dress shoes are typically 3 to 5mm off the ground. I discussed this issue in my Trail Glove review: basically, the height and material construction of Merrell’s Barefoot line places it in an ideal crossover position between the minimalist crowd and more mainstream users who want natural mechanics without sacrificing comfort.

Rugged Vibram outsole

Keeping you in contact with the ground is the same outstanding Vibram outsole that Merrell uses on its trail running models. Honestly, the amount of traction this outsole provides is complete overkill when it comes to casual shoes – but I have to say that it’s kind of cool to zip around the corporate office in them. I can stop on a dime in the slate hallway, make a sharp pivot on the linoleum in the break room, or cut tight corners around the long conference room table. And I can grip the asphalt like a gecko when I need to race across the parking lot to beat my co-workers to the lunch truck.

If the midsole was Merrell’s drawback compared to VIVOBAREFOOT, the outsole completely blows it out of the water. Vivos have a shallower tread and can occasionally be slippery on wet surfaces; with the Tough Gloves, you’ll never be in danger of losing your footing, regardless of the weather or any terrain you encounter. Lifespan of the outsole is most likely well over several hundred miles; my Trail Gloves have a couple of hundred miles on them without showing any significant signs of wear.

Essentially, you’re showing up at the office in a pair of shoes that’s capable of running a mountain ultra, so to say that the outsole and midsole are durable for everyday wear is a significant understatement. Combined with the resilient leather uppers, these shoes are built to take just about anything. They’d also be rugged enough to use as hiking shoes, but with their great styling I suspect most people will choose them for business wear – and the pricing of the Tough Glove indicates that this is Merrell’s intended use as well.

Too stylish for the trails!

Retail price of the Tough Glove is $120, which is 10 to 20 dollars more than other models in the Merrell Barefoot line. However, the price is very comparable with most office wear – and since they’ll last you so long, their longevity will rival and possibly surpass the most well-constructed dress shoes from any manufacturer. If you just want a good general-purpose outdoor shoe, save yourself a few bucks and go with the Trail Gloves – but if you want great style along with your natural stride, spend a little extra for the Tough Glove. It’s a great investment to help you look sharp for years to come.

The Merrell Barefoot Tough Glove retails for $120 from TravelCountry.com, a great outdoor supplier who also provided the shoes for this review. They have plenty of stock of the Tough Glove as well as the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove for men and Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove for women.

*Product provided by TravelCountry.com
**See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.

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RD Jim 6/3/11, 8:56 AM  

Meh, I'm not sure even the black version passes well as an office shoe... unless your office mates are wearing bowling shoes to work. I'm actually toying with the idea of getting another pair of Runamock SMOOTHs in black just for casual wear... but still not office stuff in my opinion.

JJ Johnson 6/3/11, 10:04 AM  

I have a pair of the black shoes and they work great around the office. They may have a slightly different look than the standard dress shoes, but what is standard anyway. I guess it is up to the wearer then. I did a review on my own site: YMMV Reviews Take a look and let me know what you think. My office is on the casual side but I do also wear these when dressed up for church. I liked you r comparisons to the Vivo Barefoot shoes. I do not have as much experience with those so it was interesting to read. Good review, keep them coming.

Brandon Mulnix - Owner Modern Photographics 6/4/11, 4:09 PM  

I have been wearing a pair of Tough Gloves in the Emergency Medical Field for about 5 months and I love them. I have the black leather ones and they worked perfectly. There is no "Steel Toe" requirement so they are good for both the office and the field. From hospital transfers to Personal Injury Accidents the shoes are holding up well, no stank! and the only thing they need is a little more polish.

RunningLaur 6/5/11, 8:56 PM  

They are beautiful! Is it wrong that I think they would make a lovely 'business casual' shoe?

Julien,  9/1/11, 1:37 PM  

Thanks for this review !
I'd like to buy a pair of Tough Glove too, but I have a problem with the size : size 10 is just a bit too short because some of my toes (slightly) touch the end of the shoe ; with a 10,5 my toes have much more space but the other parts of the shoe (the heel for example) does not fit as well as 10 does - it's (slightly) too large. So my question is : how does these shoes evolve with the time , and should I choose the "small" ones or the "big" ones ?
Thank you very much !!

Donald 9/1/11, 9:40 PM  

Julien: the leather stretches a bit, but more in a horizontal direction; I don;t think you'll get any additional length after they're broken in.

Julien,  9/2/11, 4:58 AM  

OK, thank you for your answer Donald !

Brad 4/24/12, 2:39 PM  

My toes slam into the front of the shoe when I am running downhill, but otherwise it feels fine. Does this mean it is too small?

Donald 4/25/12, 7:33 AM  

@Brad: sounds like a half-size small to me.

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