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Merrell MTL Cirrus Review

A top dollar shoe heavy on fresh designs, which unfortunately don’t perform as we expected.
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Price:  $160 List | $159.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Firm, supportive midsole, solid underfoot protection with rockplate
Cons:  Uncomfortable creasing upper, baggy heel, exorbitant price tag
Manufacturer:   Merrell
By Andy Wellman ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Aug 1, 2019
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55
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#20 of 20
  • Foot protection - 30% 6
  • Traction - 20% 5
  • Stability - 15% 5
  • Comfort - 15% 4
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Sensitivity - 10% 7

Our Verdict

The newly released Merrell MTL Cirrus is designed to be an uphill specific shoe that thrives on the steep, technical terrain found in Skyrunning races and Vertical K's. They purport to be lightweight, comfortable, and have great traction, but compared to the competition that we tested them against, they are not remarkable for any of these attributes. We found them to be the least comfortable shoe in this review, due in large part to the oversized bagginess of the upper material which creases up to annoy and sometimes pinch the midfoot around the arch. We also shake our heads at the outrageous price tag. With this shoe you get the least comfort for (nearly) the most money, which obviously isn't much of a value. If you've got money burning a hole in your pocket, spend it on the Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 instead.


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Merrell MTL Cirrus
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Firm, supportive midsole, solid underfoot protection with rockplateVery protective midsole and upper, sock-like fit, grippy traction, lighter than previous versionPrecise fit, very grippy on rock, comfortable upper effectively keeps out debrisGreat traction on soft slippery surfaces, extremely comfortable, no increase in priceVery protective, stable, comfortable straight out of the box, good traction, wider fit
Cons Uncomfortable creasing upper, baggy heel, exorbitant price tagExpensive, durability concernsNarrower than average, a bit pricey, not the lightestMidsole foam compresses out over time, easily collects rocks and debrisA bit heavy, expensive, not very sensitive
Bottom Line A top dollar shoe heavy on fresh designs, which unfortunately don’t perform as we expected.The shoe that best balances foot protection and sensitivity, all while providing an incredibly fine-tuned fit.A well-rounded shoe offering high performance for short or long distances.Our Best Bang for the Buck winner for great comfort and traction with a price lower than the other top scorers.A great choice for ultras or long distance training due to the excellent foot protection.
Rating Categories Merrell MTL Cirrus Salomon S/Lab Ultra 2 La Sportiva Kaptiva Saucony Peregrine ISO Scarpa Spin Ultra
Foot Protection (30%)
10
0
6
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
5
10
0
9
Traction (20%)
10
0
5
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Stability (15%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
9
10
0
7
Comfort (15%)
10
0
4
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
9
Weight (10%)
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
5
10
0
4
Sensitivity (10%)
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
4
Specs Merrell MTL Cirrus Salomon S/Lab... La Sportiva Kaptiva Saucony Peregrine... Scarpa Spin Ultra
Weight (per pair, size 11) 22.0 oz. 22.7 oz. 22.3 oz. 23.1 oz. 23.9 oz.
Heel-to-Toe Drop 5 mm 8 mm 6 mm 4 mm 6 mm
Stack Height (Heel, Forefoot) 30 mm, 25 mm 26 mm, 18 mm 17 mm, 11 mm 22.5 mm, 18.5mm Not disclosed
Upper Mesh, TPU Mesh Sock-Like knit IsoFit Mesh, TPU
Midsole FlexConnect grooved EVA midsole Compressed EVA Duel-density EV PWRFOAM, Everun Compressed medium-density EVA with low density EVA inserts
Outsole Vibram MegaGrip Premium Wet Traction Contagrip FriXion XF 2.0 PWRTRAC Vibram MegaGrip
Lacing style Traditional Kevlar Quicklace Traditional Traditional Traditional W/ lace garage
Wide version available? No No No Yes No
Sizes Available 8 - 13 4 - 13 38 - 47.5 8 - 14 40 - 48 EU

Our Analysis and Test Results

We could tell that something was off with this shoe after the very first step. On both of our feet, on the inside of the arch, we immediately noticed uncomfortable rubbing as we walked in a way that no shoe should. A closer inspection reveals that the mesh upper appears to be made of plastic fibers that lack the suppleness and softness of the fabric uppers found in most shoes. In the arches of both shoes, this mesh is creased and bent and is then overlaid with TPU films that seem to lock these irregularities into place.

When taking a simple step on flat ground, the "fabric" in this area folds over itself, rubbing noticeably against the inside of the foot, and this problem is exacerbated when going up or especially downhill. Combine this poor design with a loose heel cup that has virtually no padding and allows for slippage and hot spot buildup, and you get one poor, uncomfortable fit, that most certainly does not lock our feet securely in place. We searched the internet for confirmation of our negative experience but found only a few reviews total, which simply regurgitated the marketing speak (a solid reason why you should only trust independent review sites like OutdoorGearLab when combing the internet). The final insult is the $160 price tag, which is the second-highest among shoes we tested but is preposterous for shoe that either has a production flaw or wasn't fully quality tested before production began. Spend your money elsewhere.

Performance Comparison


The Merrell MTL Cirrus are a newly released shoe designed to be light and sticky for uphill specific running and gnarly terrain such as Skyrunning races. We found them to be a bit dissappointing  and were also frustrated at their extreme price tag.
The Merrell MTL Cirrus are a newly released shoe designed to be light and sticky for uphill specific running and gnarly terrain such as Skyrunning races. We found them to be a bit dissappointing, and were also frustrated at their extreme price tag.

Foot Protection


The compression-molded EVA foam found in the midsole of this shoe is firm, with little springy bounce or absorption often found in EVA foams these days. It is augmented by a rock plate that is designed to still allow for flexibility in the midsole and accomplishes this fairly well. This shoe is reasonably protective underfoot, and yet still allows for a lot of sensation, especially when stepping on the pointy ends of rocks, to sneak through and affect the foot. The mesh upper is heavily reinforced by TPU film overlays that should enhance its durability, but there is little in the way of a toe bumper beyond the curled up outsole on the front. This shoe felt about as protective as the Nike Terra Kiger 5, but nowhere near as protective as the Scarpa Spin Ultra.

This shoe feels stiff underfoot  and is thus relatively protective  allowing us to balance around on the pointy ends of rocks all we liked without hurting our feet. At the same time the shoe is reasonably flexible as well  a rare combination.
This shoe feels stiff underfoot, and is thus relatively protective, allowing us to balance around on the pointy ends of rocks all we liked without hurting our feet. At the same time the shoe is reasonably flexible as well, a rare combination.

Traction


Despite using a Vibram Megagrip compound in the outsole, a rubber which we usually find to be very sticky and highly durable, we found this sole to be one of the hardest and least sticky that we tested. On dry talus, it positively struggled to grip, in stark contrast to the Megagrip outsole found on the Hoka Speedgoat 3. The lug pattern is multi-directional but surprisingly short, less than 3mm for most lugs, and many of which seem to be spaced too closely together. Overall, this shoe was among the least grippy we tested on almost all types of terrain.

The sole of this shoe is made with Vibram Megagrip rubber  but has relatively short lugs that are spaces a little too close together  and is also quite firm. It didn't provide the best grip compared to the competition.
The sole of this shoe is made with Vibram Megagrip rubber, but has relatively short lugs that are spaces a little too close together, and is also quite firm. It didn't provide the best grip compared to the competition.

Stability


This shoe feels low to the ground, despite the quoted 30mm of under the heel stack, which we can't see at all in comparison to the supposedly 31mm of under the heel stack in the Hoka Challenger ATR 5. The 5mm drop is moderate and doesn't contribute to a lack of stability. What does though is the previously mentioned terrible fit. Our feet were sliding all over in this shoe, both side-to-side and forward when going downhill. Worse, our heels easily slid upward when going uphill, creating hot spots (which we never allowed to become blisters). Having the shoe grip your foot securely and comfortably is a critical component of stability, and this shoe drastically misses the mark.

Stability is a must when cruising down steep  loose dirt and scree such as this trail. With a loose and sloppy fit  we didn't find these shoes to be as confidence inspiring as we would have liked.
Stability is a must when cruising down steep, loose dirt and scree such as this trail. With a loose and sloppy fit, we didn't find these shoes to be as confidence inspiring as we would have liked.

Comfort


Due to the issues with the folds and creases in the upper material already described above, not to mention the very loose heel and overall fit, with little to no comfortable padding, we found this to be a very uncomfortable shoe. Comfort is king when it comes to running shoes, and we recommend you check out the Saucony Peregrine ISO or the The North Face Ampezzo for some seriously comfortable shoes.

Our primary complaint with this shoe is the folds and creases  shown here in the arch of the foot  that are very noticeable when wearing the shoe and rub as you rub. These creases form any time that you take a step in the shoe  whether on a downhill or simply on a perfectly flat surface. They were present in both shoes. Not only are they uncomfortable and annoying  but the fit is not lock-down at all  but rather quite sloppy  affecting comfort and performance.
Our primary complaint with this shoe is the folds and creases, shown here in the arch of the foot, that are very noticeable when wearing the shoe and rub as you rub. These creases form any time that you take a step in the shoe, whether on a downhill or simply on a perfectly flat surface. They were present in both shoes. Not only are they uncomfortable and annoying, but the fit is not lock-down at all, but rather quite sloppy, affecting comfort and performance.

We found the fit of the heel of this shoe to be very wide and spacious  with virtually no padding for comfort and improved fit. This issue could not be fixed by simply cranking the laces down tighter  and was one of the aspects of this shoe feeling very sloppy on our feet.
We found the fit of the heel of this shoe to be very wide and spacious, with virtually no padding for comfort and improved fit. This issue could not be fixed by simply cranking the laces down tighter, and was one of the aspects of this shoe feeling very sloppy on our feet.

Weight


On our independent scale, these shoes weighed exactly 22 ounces for men's size 11 US. While this isn't by any means the heaviest shoe we tested, it is not nearly the lightest either and is merely average. All shoes these days are described as lightweight, but the Hoka Evo Jawz (16.0 ounces per pair), or the Altra Superior 4 (18.8 ounces per pair), genuinely back up these claims.

While they are touted as being super lightweight for uphill running  these shoes are merely average on the scale. By no means heavy  but we also tested far more comfortable and protective shoes that weighed less.
While they are touted as being super lightweight for uphill running, these shoes are merely average on the scale. By no means heavy, but we also tested far more comfortable and protective shoes that weighed less.

Sensitivity


Despite the hard EVA foam and the rock plate in the midsole, we found this to be a relatively sensitive shoe. This is a good attribute for running uphill, as one would do in a Vertical K race, which these shoes were designed for.

These shoes are reasonably sensitive considering how firm the foam underfoot is. We liked how we could charge across scree fields like this one with impunity  and yet still had a bit of feel of the trail.
These shoes are reasonably sensitive considering how firm the foam underfoot is. We liked how we could charge across scree fields like this one with impunity, and yet still had a bit of feel of the trail.

Best Applications


These shoes are designed for short and steep mountain races. Due to the lack of comfort and relative lack of traction when compared to so many other trail running shoes these days, it would be hard to recommend them for this purpose over the Scarpa Spin, a fantastic shoe also designed for the same type of races.

The Merrell MTL Cirrus are designed for the steepest and gnarliest mountain races in the world  and are thus a good shoe for running up hills and down. They are also a good choice for wetter climates because they don't absorb much water.
The Merrell MTL Cirrus are designed for the steepest and gnarliest mountain races in the world, and are thus a good shoe for running up hills and down. They are also a good choice for wetter climates because they don't absorb much water.

Value


These shoes retail at $160, which is a bit extreme, regardless of performance. If they were one of the best shoes you can buy, then maybe the money would be worth it, but in this case, we'd recommend you spend your money elsewhere.

Conclusion


We had high hopes for the new Merrell MTL Cirrus based upon its design collaboration with Joe Gray, one of the best trail runners in the USA, and its stated intent of being able to tackle the most technical mountain terrain. However, it disappoints in a major way and is not a shoe we would recommend purchasing.

Running some of our favorite trails in Smith Rock State Park near our house  while wearing the Merrell MTL Cirrus.
Running some of our favorite trails in Smith Rock State Park near our house, while wearing the Merrell MTL Cirrus.


Andy Wellman