The Merrell Proterra Sport is a unique shoe. It’s part of the M-Connect line of minimalist footwear from Merrell, but if you were to line up most of the shoes in a row with the Proterra, it would look like a game of “one of these things is not like the other.” Until you put it on, it doesn’t look much like a minimalist shoe. But when you start moving, you realize the beefy look on the outside is hiding a low profile hiking sneaker designed to give you a minimal feel while still protecting your feet. How does it work? Read on …
The Proterra isn’t quite as form-fitting in the midfoot as the other shoes in the M-Connect line that I tested. In some ways it isn’t necessary, since the Proterra has more material and a tougher, more supported upper than the others. There’s a plastic/rubbery material that frames the heel and midfoot. It doesn’t add major support, but it does give the shoe more structure. Merrell says they use the framework as a way to keep the upper supported without being heavy. The heel and toe cap also have thicker protection, but that makes sense since this shoe is designed for use on rough terrain. This also explains why the sole is thicker, with lugs and holes to add traction.
Despite the thicker sole, you don’t completely lose your connection to the ground. The shoe is stiff, but between the pattern on the sole and the fact that there is some flex and give, you do feel the texture of the terrain as you walk. There is some cushion to the shoe, but it isn’t particularly soft. The closest I can describe it is like an extra-extra firm memory foam mattress. It gives with pressure, but it isn’t what you would call soft. Even as someone who prefers a very minimal sole, I find the Proterra to be remarkably comfortable.
More importantly, I have found this to be a great shoe for rough areas. I haven’t had much time to hike, but I did take these shoes to Vermont and Maine, and used them during last weekend’s snowstorm. I headed out in snow and ice, took my dog for a walk on a steep dirt road, and even wore them snowshoeing. Even though these aren’t waterproof, I found that my feet stayed dry and warm in sloppy weather. Just be careful, because these are low-cut shoes, so you will get snow in your shoes if you get into ankle-deep snow without gaiters. The Proterra has a 4mm heel to toe drop, but it wasn’t noticeable to me at all.
I have a pair of zero drop hiking sneakers, and compared to the Proterra they feel like a slab of wood on your feet. It is really hard to make a shoe that is comfortable, minimal, and protective, but Merrell manages to nail it with the Proterra. If you hate overbuilt hiking shoes with stiff soles, take a look at the Proterra. It brings the ground to you while still offering some protection from the pointy spots!
Here’s a quick video look at the Proterra Sport:
MSRP: $100 from Merrell
What I Liked: Lightweight upper compared to regular hiking shoes; good traction on the soles; still allows for ground feel despite sole thickness.
What Needs Improvement: 4mm drop may bother some people.