I have always been intrigued by barefoot shoes. These are shoes that offer only a protective layer between your feet and the ground – not a great deal in the way of cushioning or waterproofing or special support – just a decent sole and thin upper to stop your feet getting cut and bruised when out and about. They allow for natural movement, and a connection with the terrain over which you move. I like the idea.
Merrell sent me a pair of their women’s Train Lithe Gloves to try out to see if I liked in reality what I liked the idea of.
These particular barefoot shoes are designed for women and with “training activities” in mind – that is, walking, the gym, team sports, and pretty much anything else you can think of. They are the all-rounder of Merrell’s barefoot range. Being well out of running still that was good for me, these have a shape more suited to the outdoors activities I like to do like walking.
They are designed with a breathable, flexible softshell upper which molds to your foot while releasing moisture to keep it dry. Underneath they have a Vibram sole and minimal cushioning give you protection, traction and unlimited access. The lacing gives a really snug fit, and the insole has properties to prevent odour.
I’ve been wearing these on and off for quite a while now. My first walks in them resulted in quite a lot of knee pain I have to admit; my knees haven’t been wonderful since treatment for a hockey incident resulted in the diagnosis of grating knee caps, and so sometimes they just ache or cause pain, so it may not have been totally the shoe’s fault. I am very heavy footed (I’d love to be more graceful and lighter on my feet!) and when walking on tarmac or concrete my feet slap down on the ground over and over again. Raising the tempo helped a bit; walking at a really good pace took some of the pressure off.
Having the all-rounder version of a barefoot shoe I had to take these for walks around the local countryside. It’s been pretty damp recently and the ground is muddy and slippery, thankfully the vibram sole did its job and I stayed upright. Walking on the trail in these feels fast, I wasn’t as clompy as I might usually be in walking boots, I even had a little jog and found that quite enjoyable. After my little jog I discovered it was much easier to walk fast on the uneven ground using the ball of my foot (rather than my heel) as the main point of contact, and on hills and banks I could really feel my toes working to keep me balanced. These barefoot shoes take a bit of getting used to, but they do provide a very responsive “feel everything” way to travel. And on the trail I haven’t had the same problems with my knees as on tarmac pavement.
The number one thing I noticed about these was how natural they felt to wear. They are really light and are shaped to fit your foot just right. The fact that these are an all-rounder designed for all sorts of uses means that bit of toe protection is very welcome – I wasn’t worrying about what was under my feet the whole time. You can feel everything, every contour of the ground, which I am really learning to appreciate – when it’s damp and muddy you can feel the cold slimy terrain, and when it’s solid tarmac you can feel little stones and bits of gravel as you step on them. The sole, thankfully, offers great protection for the bottom of your foot.
As far as styling goes these are certainly not dull. I was always told that blue and green should never be seen without a colour in between; but colour combinations don’t seem to matter when it comes to outdoor footwear and I don’t mind the use of clashing colour on these Merrells. They are bright, colourful, cheerful, and wash up well with a hosepipe after an afternoon stroll on the trail.
I remain intrigued by barefoot shoes and all that they can offer. I like them. I really like the natural connection with the terrain. But I am still concerned about what the lack of cushioning is doing to my ankles and knees. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up my range of shoes and boots just yet.