Saturday, March 31, 2012

Guest Blog: Gear Review: Merrell Lithe Glove

Today's post is another guest blog from my minimalist friend Julie, who you may remember as the trail runner who wrote the Saucony Grid Type A4 review. This time, she's got a review of the Merrell Lithe Glove, which is the women's companion to the men's Merrell Sonic Glove. Both shoes are part of the Merrell Barefoot Collection. So this one is for you minimalists who might wish my reviews came from the perspective of someone with a barefoot background!

Before we get started, I'm going to pull the description off of the Merrell website for you guys:
The supple design of our women’s Lithe Glove lets you move in sync with your natural stride over any terrain you choose. True to barefoot design, its breathable, flexible softshell upper molds to your foot while releasing moisture to keep it dry. The Vibram® sole gives you close-to-the-ground protection, traction and unlimited access.
• Fabric upper
• Microfiber footbed treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution resists odor
• Merrell Omni-Fit™ lacing System provides a precise, glove-like fit

• 4 mm compression molded EVA midsole cushions
• Vibram® Trail glove Sole/TC1 Rubber

Women’s Weight: 6.5 ozs (1/2 pair)
And now, on to Julie's review!

Merrell Lithe Glove in their natural habitat

Shoes I REALLY Wanted to Like.

For some reason, lots of shoe companies are coming out with awesome looking "minimal" shoes recently that I really want to like, and then essentially aren't as good as I hoped.  For me anyway.  The Merrell Lithe Glove is one of those shoes, and it drives me crazy, because the idea is awesome.

The heel to toe drop is zero, which basically means you should be able to have a close to barefoot type stride, bio-mechanically.  This is a good thing for those of us who like to run in less shoe than average.   Coming from wearing Vibram Five Fingers and then Saucony Grid A4 racing flats, I like less shoe.  My stride is more natural and I feel like I am flying, instead of being weighted down by cement blocks.  There is a limit to how little shoe I choose to wear though, mostly because of terrain and length of runs.  Eventually, I start wanting and liking more protection from the trail.  Saucony A4's serve this purpose very well in the 50k and under trail racing realm, but they do not have trail tread or durability.  I was hoping the Merrell Lithe Glove would fill that role.  They weight around 6.5oz for the women's size 8, which is just noticeably heavier than the Saucony A4 at 5.4oz, but still not too bad.

Examples of the trails that Julie runs on

In my opinion, the best feature of this shoe is the sole and rock plate.  Its sort of like this: on mountain trails, a backpacker might wear a leather hiking boot, that compared to a true mountaineering boot is pretty flexible, but still provides protection needed for backpacking.  A mountaineer is going to be kicking steps in scree, ice, and snow, and needs a stiffer, more technical mountaineering boot.  My A4s are the backpacker boots, and the Merrell's are the mountaineering boots, on minimal running shoe scale.  The Lithe Gloves are absolutely amazing on scree.  I don't know how they did this, but it feels like a technical tool.  The tread is the best I've used so far for dirt/sand/rock desert mountain trails (the Angeles National Forest and San Bernardino mountains).  They give me a confidence on slippery sandy conditions I don't get with any other shoe.  On piles of small rocks and scree, it just digs in and holds in place so I don't slide back down the mountain.  I fell in love with this feature.  The rock plate offers total protection, as far as I can tell, and they were my favorite shoe for this type of terrain.  Note that the sole of this shoe is much stiffer and more substantial than Five Fingers, New Balance Minimus 10s, and Saucony A4s.
Merrell Lithe Glove tread

I loved them, except for a couple of things.  These shoes chewed up my feet.  The Lithe Glove has a softshell upper, which in theory is good, in practice is not so good.  When I toe off, the upper bends, stiffly, and bruises my little toes.  It turns them purple.  And makes them hurt enough I don't even want to wear the shoe walking after my run.  I put up with this because the on mountain performance was great, so it was worth it to me.  I went to the store to try on a smaller size, hoping it would fix the bending into my little toes issue.  If I went small enough, the problem went away, but then the shoe was just a little too short.  Too short is unacceptable because it will turn my toenails purple instead and they will fall off.  I'd rather have bruised little toes than no toe nails.  So maybe my feet are just not the right shape for this shoe.  Speaking of sizing, I am normally an 8.5 in running shoes, which are probably a little big so I don't hurt my toes.  I got a size 7 in these and still had a little room.  Also, I can't wear these sockless due to blisters.  Again, a smaller size could fix that, but then the shoe would be too short.  If you can, try these on before buying them, and if they fit, I'll be very jealous.  I do know of people who love the fit, so I guess I am just unlucky this time, I think due to my narrower than average feet.  Aside from the bending and bruising problem, the softshell upper is nice when running through shallow streams and snow, since it keeps my feet dry as long as I'm not standing around in the water.

Action shot of the Merrel Lithe Glove, showing how it "creases onto [Julie's] toes."

The real problem for me is a personal biomechanical one that seems to be sort of unique to me.  I can't wear stability shoes because they will give me achilles tendonitis within one or two runs.  I've tried many, many shoes and its a pretty consistent trend that I notice right away.  I assume that this would not be an issue with the Lithe Gloves because they are not supposed to be stability shoes and have none of the normal stability shoe features.  However, they caused the dreaded achilles tendonitis in about two weeks of wearing them.  So unfortunately for me, I just can't wear these shoes.  They are now hiking shoes that will probably be mostly used for rock climbing approaches.  Ironically, I originally purchased the Lithe glove because I was having other tendon problems near the arch of my foot.  This shoe supported those tendons (something between the inside arch and ankle bone) very well and actually allowed me to heal from that injury, which was caused by simply too much hard down mountain running without enough support or working my way up to it.  I had been injured for a year and a half, and this shoe cured my feet in about 3 weeks.  It was magic (even though it was gradually hurting my achilles the whole time).

Merrell Lithe Glove lacing (and them in the water)

The other stand out feature is the lacing system.  Someone at Merrell did a great job with this.  Its the best lacing system I've seen on a shoe yet.  The laces start lower down on your foot, allowing for more adjustment of the shoe's fit.  It works.  I love it.  You can adjust how the shoe fits to a degree I've never seen before.  The laces seem to do better tighter than most shoes, which is okay, because the shoe hugs the top of your foot rather than puts pressure on it.  I can actually lace them to provide functional arch support.  Again, I just love this.

So in the end, the Merrell Lithe glove should be my favorite mountain running shoe, but it has some fatal flaws that keep me from wearing it anymore for running.  It is the best running shoe I've worn to date in terms of rock and scree performance.  The lacing system allows for an incredible, varied fit that is also the best I've seen in a running shoe yet.  However, the softshell upper bruises my feet, even walking, and is far too rough for me to wear without socks.  I think if Merrell fixed those issues this would be a much better shoe, considering the idea is just about perfect, but in practice it isn't quite refined enough.  Also, I won't be able to wear this shoe (this probably doesn't apply to almost anyone else) unless either 1) the sole gets more flexible or 2) I figure out how to deal with my achilles tendonitis issues in more stability type shoes.  I really, really wish I could wear this shoe on all my mountain runs, but I just can't.  Maybe someday Merrell will come up with a version that is compatible with my stride...

Merrell Lithe Glove in action

Notes from Becki:
The Merrell Lithe Glove retails for $125 and is available on Merrell's website. The men's version is the Merrell Sonic Glove, and also retails for $125 on Merrell's website.

Full disclosure: Julie purchased these shoes herself, and the opinions expressed in this review are hers and based on her experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Saucony or the blog's regular author.

Julie chronicles her running and other adventures on her blog 2. Travels b. An account of one's journeysIf you enjoyed her review and want to read more, check out her blog!


  1. Is it the flexibility (or stiffness) in this case that aggravates your achilles? In a thread on runnersworld Deana mentioned about the wear on her Brooks shoes, and I also made this suggestion. I think I was late to the thread though and she never saw it. The suggestion is to cut your own deeper flex grooves across the front of the shoe. I don't know though if on these the rock plate would still make it too stiff, but on the Brooks pure it would help them not wear as fast.

  2. Interesting suggestion on the Connect! It never seemed like it wasn't flexible, so I guess I never thought of modding it that way. Although, I'm getting wear on the lateral toe of the Mach 13, despite its being a very flexible shoe, but since it's got hard outsole rubber I'm not wearing it down as quickly. So I'm not sure how much that would change things, but it's worth a try. Thanks!

    I have no idea whether Julie checks my blog comments, but we talk all the time, so I'll pass your suggestion along! I know the midsole is very thin, so I'm not sure whether you can make cuts in it without cutting through the shoe completely, but I'll let her know and see what she can do to it. She's pretty good at MacGyvering things, so she may be able to figure out a way to do it.

  3. Hmmm I'll have to check it out and see. I think I might end up accidentally cutting through the rock plate but maybe I'll do a little test cut. It very well could be the stiffness that is the issue, although I am confused as to why?


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