Welcome to my review of the Merrell Bare Access Trail women’s trail running shoe, the trail version of Merrell’s popular Bare Access barefoot running shoes! My goal in this review is to tell you as much about the shoe as I can to help you find out if this is a shoe for you.
Category: At the more cushioned end of barefoot trail, zero offset shoes
Data: 15,5 mm stack height (of which 8~ mm are cushioning and 4 mm lug depth), 0 mm offset between heel and forefoot
My chosen size: EU 40 / UK 6,5 / US 9 / 26 cm [compare my size in other shoes here (soon to come)]; colour: “Blue Moon / Gold”
Fit: Unusually, seriously wide in the toebox and around the forefoot, which is a must for running shoes to fit my superwide feet. In this size, the heel and midfoot could be a little more snug for me, but they hold my foot firmly enough. For narrower feet similar to mine, I think a EU 39 would work, too.
Materials / feel
The mesh upper is rather thick for a barefoot shoe, but very supple. That makes it a comfortable combination if you don’t mind the flexibility of the material around the midfoot and heel.
The toe cap extends all around the sides of the entire forefoot to make up for the softness of the mesh. It is the perfect mix between hard and protective and flexible enough to let the foot feel free.
The shoelaces work nicely and feel good, although they cannot be compared to Salomon’s quicklace system’s ultrathin and strong kevlar laces in terms of their ability to secure you in the shoe. Then again, I expect the Merrell laces to last longer, they feel good and solid.
The outsole & profile are perhaps the features I think turned out best – they offer the perfect mixture between sure footing on stony ground, earth, wet leaves and in deep mud as well as on the street, and neither have I ever thought the sole too firm nor too flexible. I’m a big fan!
One unusual characteristic is that the inside of the shoe is of a single make, so there are no removable insoles. Instead, the inside is one smooth thing. This may be to allow for sockless running, but I have yet to try that. I also think the arch is fairly high, but I have not tried enough more widespread shoes for a reliable comparison.
All of this combined, the shoe might be a little too flexible for longer, stony alpine trails, but for anything less stony than that, the features are put together well to work on all kinds of trails.
Ride / running impressions
Let me say first that I like having running shoes molded to my feet firmly along with a lot of flexibility in the shoes themselves. The lower the offset, the more fun I have flying over the trails. That being said, these shoes feel great! I love the feeling of almost dancing over any kind of trail that these shoes offer. They are a great mixture between the minimalism and flexibility of a barefoot shoe (if you like the 0 mm offset feel) and enough traction and protection for all kinds of trails, and, if necessary, some road running. The cushioning turned out very well; it is barely noticable in itself, but offers a softer land than full-blown minimalist barefoot shoes along the lines of, say, Saucony Hattoris [which I am going to write a review about as well].
For runs longer than 20 km on the trails or incorporating more than 5 km over asphalt street, they could have some more cushioning (I reckon it is exactly for this Merrell has introduced their relatively new Bare Access Ultra shoe, but I haven’t tried that one).
They are neat enough even in rainy weather – it takes a while for steady rain or wet ground to penetrate the mesh, and they seem to drain rather well when running through puddles and don’t stay too wet and squishy inside. When I ran these through a lot of puddles and some steady downpour the other day, the water inside always turned warm enough to feel comfortable again within half a minute or so.
Overall impression / verdict
I love the way these shoes feel when running. They are a great combination of being very close to a minimalist, barefoot experience in terms of flexibility and ground feel, and at the same time feeling very secure amidst all kinds of terrain – broken stones, rooty and muddy paths, anything. The unusual fit is a matter of foot form and preference, of course, but I think it would work for anyone but those with the narrowest feet around midfoot and heel.
The only changes I would like to see would be a slightly firmer hold around the heel and an even wider toebox around the location of my little toe, but this may be just a personal foot form issue. If everything else I described is what you are looking for, I highly recommend these shoes!
Note: I also own the GTX version and will review it here soon!
Gallery of all pictures