Minimalist running means different things to different people, from zero-drop to barefoot design to little cushioning. Regardless of definition, the Merrell Vapor Gloves qualify; they have zero drop, 2mm of cushion, and they can fold up into your pockets. They are amazingly comfortable while offering an uncompromisingly minimal design, so it’s worth checking them out to see if they’re for you.
I did an initial impressions post on the Vapor Glove, and now after spending more time with the shoes, it is worth going back to see they have performed over a longer time period. So let’s get into some details!
Here are some of the features:
• Barefoot construction
• Breathable mesh upper
• External TPU heel sling for contoured support
• M-Select FRESH naturally prevents odor before it starts for fresh smelling feet
• Reflective details for increased visibility in low light
• Integrated microfiber footbed treated with Aegis®
• Wash as needed in cold water (gentle cycle). Air dry
• Vibram® outsoles
When I did my initial impressions post on the Vapor Glove, noting just how comfortable the shoes were – they felt like thin socks with a rubber bottom. But what about everything else? Let’s look at Fit, Construction, Running Comfort and Overall Conclusions.
Making an ultra-minimal shoe like this is fairly amazing – there is very little material and very little sold, and only a small overlap to hold it all together and nothing can rub on the feet as these are meant to be worn without socks!
The seams where the upper join the sole are held together tightly and show no signs of wear or separation even after a couple of months of daily use. The tongue and lacing system distribute the load of fitting the shoe to your foot without causing pressure points of any friction.
When I look at my shoe collection, it includes new Saucony Kinvaras, a few pair of Nike running shoes, some old Reebok and New Balance shoes, New Balance Minimus, a few pair of dress shoes and two pair of steel toe shoes. They all share one characteristic – they are size 13. My first pair of Vapor Gloves were a 13, but were much too large, so I got swapped out for a size 12, which fit amazingly well. My advice is to drop down at least a half-size.
The toe-box is large, so even if you have wide feet you should have plenty of space for expansion as you run without worrying about your feet sliding around. The lacing system keeps everything under control, no small feat given the minimal material to work with.
Given the issues I had with the New Balance Minimus I was concerned about how the heel would feel, but the material was evenly distributed across the back of my foot and never caused discomfort.
No one is claiming that the Vapor Gloves are trail shoes, and for good reason: with 2mm of cushion and a 5.5mm total stack, that means the sole is 3.5mm thick – which is about 1/8″! Given the flexibility I’ve shown in the videos, it should be easy to figure out what it feels like stepping on a stone of any size! In fact, I took the Vapor Gloves on a run on a crushed stone path – and it seemed like I felt every one of the millions of stones under my feet as I ran. Even on my normal running routes through neighborhoods in my area, there are enough random loose stones that I seldom returned home without feeling some spot on my foot was abused. These shoes are best on clean and clear hard surfaces – or for those with much more robust feet than me!
My other issue was one of my own, rather than one with the shoes – I found that there was just not enough cushion. I ran over 50 miles in the first few days, and felt an immediate punishing toll on my knees and ankles in terms of minor soreness. When I ran 5 miles it felt like I’d run 10 or more; when I ran 9 it felt like a marathon. The core design principle is minimalist, and the Vapor Gloves succeed there – it is just not enough of a cushion stack for me.
While I have cut back from doing much running with the Vapor Gloves – though I still like to take them out once a week or so – I do wear them every day. They are my ‘go to shoe’, because they are thin, light, cool, and extremely comfortable. I wear them walking with my wife, as well as hitting the grocery store or running other errands. I never wear socks, and they are just perfect in terms of comfort.
The Merrell Vapor Gloves are an amazing success, even if I can’t wear them for the majority of my running. They are solidly constructed, fit very closely (once you find the correct size), are durable, and offer a light and flexible experience that is about as close to barefoot running as you can get. My problem was that the very thin cushion layer wasn’t enough for me – but that is a decision every runner needs to make on their own.
So I recommend going to your local specialty store and checking out the Vapor Gloves – these might just be the running shoes you’re looking for!
MSRP: $80 at Merrell Store, also available (variable pricing) through Amazon.com
What I Like: Great design; super durable; extremely comfortable; ultimate in barefoot running.
What Needs Improvement: For many runners there is simply not enough cushion.
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample
Here is my hands-on video review: