Merrell M-Connect Series Review

Steve AnkneyGeneral, Reviews, Shoe Reviews1 Comment

merrell_march_mconnect_intro

When Merrell first asked us to review the M-Connect Series running shoes and apparel, we were thrilled because our previous experiences with Merrell have always been very positive.  The Merrell M-Connect Series is the company’s rebranding effort and update to their barefoot line.  As you might recall in my Flux Glove review post, I mentioned how confusing their naming scheme is, but it seems that this has been addressed with the release of this new line.  As Merrell so elegantly puts it on their site, the M-Connect Series is:

“The connection, speed, and glove like fit of Merrell Barefoot now with added cushioning for your hiking, training, and running adventures.
Connect to Your World”

I think this slogan sums it up best, because the shoes included in this series are designed to allow you to truly connect you to the outdoors.  Whether it be cross-training, running, trail-running, or hiking, the M-Connect Series is with you wherever you go.  As hinted in the quote above, the M-Connect Series also gives you many options when it comes to the level of cushioning you desire.  From the barely-there, sock-like feel of the Vapor Glove to the more heavily-padded transitional, or some might even say more traditional, Mix Master, this line can pretty much cover all of your minimalist needs and also includes some pretty awesome clothing.  Read on to get the details!

Cross-Training/Hiking

Flux Glove

Specs:

  • Weight: 6.8oz per shoe (13.6oz per pair)
  • Drop: 0mm
  • Other: 4mm compression molded EVA midsole cushion
  • Price: $100

This barefoot multisport shoe has a 0 mm drop heel to toe, with minimal 4mm cushioning for bruising protection without a heel rise. The glove-like mesh upper breathes, protecting the toes with a rubber rand. Vibram® Road Glove sole grips varied surfaces.

Summary from Steve:

As I mentioned in my review of the Flux Glove, this is a minimalist shoe meant for cross-training and not necessarily designed for running.  The Flux Glove is comfortable, relatively light weight, touts a wide toe box, and is designed for stability and traction.  It isn’t, however, a very flexible shoe and it requires a very lengthy break-in time.  I have decided that the Flux Glove is a shoe that I won’t be running in but I might pull them out for calisthenics, lifting, and walking.

Proterra

Specs:

  • Weight: 1 lb 9 oz for the Vim Mid Sport (mid-ankle height), 1 lb 8 oz for the Vim Sport (low-ankle height)
  • Drop: 4 mm
  • Other: 20.5mm stack height; minimal design PU midsole increases ground contact and enhances stability
  • Price: $120 for Vim Mid Sport, $100 for Vim Sport

Revolutionizing lightweight hiking footwear, the Proterra Vim Mid Sport is a minimalist-inspired hiking shoe designed to give you a greater connection to the ground.

Summary from Meagan:

The Proterra is, in many ways, very similar to other pairs of Merrell hiking shoes I have owned in my day. It is well-made and comfortable, the construction of the uppers feels familiar, and I expect they will last me for many years. However, in other ways, it is entirely different from the traditional hiking shoes I have worn. The low drop, more flexible sole, and wide toe box is a completely new experience to me when it comes to hiking boots. The Proterras are marketed as “speed hiking” shoes, which I gather means that they are not meant for extended, or particularly intense, treks through the wilderness. In that regard, I can see how the natural fit, flexibility, and light-weight nature would be ideal. It also means, however, that they are not waterproof (although they are designed to be quick-drying), so getting caught in the rain or a particularly wet section of trail might leave you with soggy feet. That said, the Proterras are fairly beefy when compared to any other minimalist shoe I own. I’ve done a fairly intense 8 mile hike in my Invisible Shoes, so I think that on a dry day, the Proterras would work well over any distance if you are already accustomed to minimalist footwear. The mid-height version provides a comparable amount of stability to the ankle as a traditional hiking boot, meaning that it could handle rougher trails. I, for one, can’t wait to hit the trails in these this summer.

Running

Bare Access Arc 2

Specs:

  • Weight: 5.5 oz (11 oz/pair)
  • Drop: 0 mm
  • Other: 8 mm stack height; Lightweight EVA Midsole
  • Price: $90

You want the feel of barefoot, but also some cushioning? Enter our Bare Access Arc 2, which adds uniform toe to heel cushioning that buffers impacts while still letting your foot land flat. Lightweight and low cut, this is perfect for transitioning to barefoot, and features a synthetic leather and breathable mesh upper with rear heel stability. Vibram® pods on the Bare Access Shape sole stick and spring off of any surface.

Summary from Meagan:

The Bare Access Arc 2 is designed for runners who want a minimalist feel, but need or want a little extra cushion. Although I prefer to have minimal cushioning most of the time, I do appreciate having a little extra padding sometimes, and that is exactly what these shoes provide. However, I have to admit that when I first wore these shoes, I was not a fan. The arch contouring that is present in most of the Merrell Barefoot line (which feels suspiciously like arch support at times) felt pretty aggressive at first, and was honestly a bit painful when I first tried to run in them. I’m very glad that I didn’t give up on them, though, because it only took wearing them a few times casually for the cushioning and contouring to start to mold to my foot shape. Now, they are one of my favorite shoes to wear casually, when the extra cushioning keeps my feet comfortable if I need to be on them most of the day, and they are great for running if my feet are feeling a little more tired than usual. I also think they would make a great transitional shoe for someone who is new to minimalist running.

Mix Master Move

Specs:

  • Weight:  8 0z per shoe (16 0z per pair)
  • Drop: 4 mm
  • Stack Height: 19 mm
  • Other: Float midsole is 10% thinner and 25% lighter to provide more feel and ground control and the air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
  • Price: $95

For those who crave the ground feel, but like the idea of a little extra cushioning for longer miles or easing the transition to barefoot, here’s your minimalist running shoe. Built for the road with reflectivity and a lightweight breathable mesh upper, our Mix Master Move features a low profile 4mm heel to toe drop, getting you closer to the ground to experience the benefits of a barefoot stride. Mix Move sticky rubber sole grips hard surfaces.

Summary from Steve:

Maybe it is because I am used to a more minimal approach to shoes and transitional shoes don’t really work for me, but the Mix Master Move is easily my least favorite running shoe in the M-Connect line.  They have a more compact toe box than the “glove” models, they are heavier, and, like Meagan, I greatly dislike a 4mm drop even though it shouldn’t really make that much of a difference.  To top it off, these shoes use a different type of material for the upper, which makes them feel much cheaper than the rest of the line.  To say the least, these are not the shoes for me.

That said, I can see their benefit for those who may be transitioning from a more traditional shoe.  The added cushion and the 4mm drop lends itself well to anyone who may be a severe heel striker toying with the idea of going for a more natural stride.  Lastly, although not my favorite material, the aesthetics of the Mix Master Move work well in a casual setting.  In fact, the extra cushioning and 4mm drop do extremely well for someone who may do a great deal of walking.

Road Glove 2

Spec:

  • Weight: 7 oz shoe (14 oz per pair)
  • Drop: 0mm
  • Stack Height: 9.5 mm
  • Other: Barefoot construction and Vibram Road Glove 2 Sole
  • Price: $100

This is “where the rubber meets the road”. Our Road Glove’s simplicity frees your sole with its barefoot, road-specific design, connecting your feet with the pavement. Its back to basics with this runner: a 0mm drop midsole enhanced with a protective toe cap, midsole cushion and reflective, washable mesh upper. Durable Vibram® Road Glove sole.

Summary from Steve:

I have had the pleasure of being able to put over 30 miles and a race on these shoes and I am prepared to say that they are, like the rest of the M-Connect line, of a very high quality.  The Road Glove 2 is a running shoe that offers a substantial amount of ground feel, a sufficient amount of space to splay your toes, and an adequate amount of cushioning.  You’ll notice I’m keeping most of my adjectives neutral and that is because that is my exact opinion of these shoes.  Not that I have a “neutral” opinion, but that I feel they are a very neutral type of shoe.  Although not at the “neutral” level of transitional running shoes, these shoes offer a near perfect amount of cushioning that offers plenty of ground feel but still limits the impact between your foot and the ground, which should help when running longer distances.

Trail Glove 2

Spec:

  • Weight: 7 oz shoe (14 0z per pair)
  • Drop: 0mm
  • Stack Height: 9.5 mm
  • Other: Vibram Trail Glove 2 Sole
  • Price: $100

A proven barefoot winner on the trail the Trail Glove 2 delivers a reliable, close to the ground fit while protecting feet from cold conditions and rough terrain.

Summary from Steve:

I only had a short stint with the original Trail Glove about a year ago, but I wasn’t ever able to give them a real trial because my time was so short lived (I returned them to REI soon after my purchase because I was in need of a more winter friendly shoe, hence the review on the now discontinued Embark Glove).  Over the last year, I’ve heard hoards of people mentioning the greatness of the first Trail Glove, including our friend from Berkeley Running Company, Rolando Cruz (the ultra-marathoner I did an interview with back in August – check out part 1 & part 2).  Now that I’ve been able to experience the Trail Glove 2 in all its glory, I’m beginning to understand why so many people love this pair of minimalist running shoes.

The Trail Glove 2 is clearly a relative of the Road Glove 2, which is perfectly obvious when you consider the very similar specifications of both shoes.  Even with all of their similarities, however, the Road Glove 2 comes up short when it comes to traction, which is where the Trail Glove 2 excels. Of course, this is obvious keeping in mind one is made for the road and the other for trails (hence the name…duh!).  Despite this being a trail shoe, a large portion of my running in the Trail Glove 2 has had to be on sidewalks, and occasionally a muddy path next to a sidewalk.  This winter has not been kind to us Wisconsinites and, as a result, the concept of “trail” running has been rendered impossible due to the deep snow covering most of the dirt paths.  That said, the experiences I have had with mud, snow, and dirt trails have been nothing but impressive. A loss of traction only became a problem when I got too cocky running over a patch of ice (my iPhone paid the price for that mistake). All in all, the Trail Glove 2 is one of the best contenders Merrell has presented us for trail running shoe of the year.

Vapor Glove

Specs:

  • Weight: 5 oz shoe (10 oz per pair)
  • Drop: 0mm
  • Stack Height: 5.5 mm
  • Other: Vibram Vapor Glove Sole
  • Price: $80

Give your feet a breath of fresh air on the run with the barefoot breathability of our Vapor Glove. Zero drop cushioning lands your foot pancake flat for full ground contact, merged with its all mesh upper (washable!) that molds to your foot while ventilating heat and moisture.

Summary from Steve:

I’m going to start my summary just by saying wow… The Vapor Glove is easily my favorite shoe in the M-Connect line, if not my favorite minimalist shoe of this year.  It is light weight, insanely flexible, has an incredible amount of ground feel (comparable to a Vibram FF), and is a beast in regards to breathability.  It also represents one of the first times I’ve seen a “bigger” name in the minimalist/barefoot shoe market produce a shoe with a stack height that is less than 6 mm (excluding Vibram FFs), and Merrell has accomplished this in the best way possible.

Apparel

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Men’s Clothes (Steve’s impressions)

Along with the M-Connect shoe line, Merrell also allowed us to check out some of the new apparel.  Among the three items I tried, the only one I felt won’t make it into my rotation of running apparel is the RFE shorts.  That isn’t to say I thought they were poorly made, I just happen to prefer either very short/nearly naked shorts or running tights, and the RFE shorts are on the longer side.

As for the two coats I received, they have basically replaced all of the other running coats I own.  The Torrent Shell provides a great deal of breathability while still being water and wind repellant.  I find that the 20-40 degree range in temperature is perfect for the Torrent Shell.  In fact, I even ran our Easter weekend race in it in 35-degree-Windy-City-weather.  The full range of temps noted above can be accommodated by merely changing the shirt I am wearing underneath the Torrent Shell. As for the Mix Master Wind Shirt, I find that it is appropriate for temperatures that are a notch colder than what works for the Torrent Shell.  With an Under Armour base layer, the Mix Master Wind Shirt is plenty warm in 10-degree-weather.  Notable still is the fact that Merrell was able to keep both coats very lightweight, yet they still provide adequate warmth and protection even in extreme conditions.

Women’s Clothes (Meagan’s impressions)

I absolutely love the women’s clothing in the M-Connect Series. The Thelon t-shirt and tank top are reminiscent of Lululemon gear in terms of quality of materials and design, and add a little style to your workout gear. The Afton shorts have become a staple of my running gear. The inseam runs a little longer than some other brands, so they look appropriate even on my extra long legs, and the loose, breezy fit at the leg openings keeps them from riding up. As Steve found with the jackets he tested, the Orenco jacket is amazing. It is a great top layer for a wide range of temperatures, and even though it is wind- and water-resistant, strategically-placed vents and the lightweight fabric make it very breathable. By selecting the appropriate base layer, this jacket keeps me as warm or cool as needed. As with the Thelon tank and t-shirt, it also has some cute details that give it a more stylish appearance. One thing I would note about the clothing line is that the sizing is generous. If you are in between two sizes, I would suggest ordering a size down.

Summary

Merrell has managed to come up with one of the most complete line-ups in the minimalist/barefoot/running shoe industry.  Although other companies tout a line that covers everything from hiking to minimalist road running, none cover all areas with such prowess.  The only major complaint that we were able to come up with is that a great deal of these shoes have over-pronounced arch contouring (excluding the Vapor Glove, Proterra, & MixMaster models), which requires a longer break-in period to mold the shoe to your foot.  Once you can get over the lengthier, but required break-in time, though, you’ll be enjoying some of the best minimalist shoes on the market. The clothing is really the icing on top of the M-Connect Series cake, and, when combined with the shoes, you are completely covered to connect to the outside world, the gym, and everywhere in between.

Steve is an Executive Recruiter at Robert Half Executive Search in Madison, WI with a business degree in Information Systems and E-Commerce from the University of Toledo. Steve loves spending his time away from work; running, gaming, watching movies, checking out new social networking tools/sites/start-ups and blogging.