Merrell Vapor Glove 5 - Women's Review
Cons: Less versatile, too minimalist for untrained feet
Compare Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Merrell Vapor Glove 5 holds up this line as a long-standing award-winning minimalist shoe. With just 6.5mm between you and the earth and a sock-like fit, this is a great addition to your barefoot shoe quiver.
The Vapor Glove 5 fits like a glove made of nothing — like vapor, perhaps. The snug fit reminds you there's something on it, but this can be a satisfying feeling as you bounce nimbly down the trail, your feet swinging light and fast and precise with this close-fitting shoe. The heel is secure, and the shoe fits close through the laces in the middle of the foot. Some barefoot purists may not like the snugness, but we appreciate the precision.
The Vapor Glove 5 features a trim 6.5mm stack height and zero heel-to-toe drop. The sole is supple with minimal resistance, bending and twisting to allow the natural movement of your foot. We especially like how well our feet could bend over uneven ground in these shoes (like logs and large river rocks), ensuring they got the training benefit from running around on rough terrain. These are great shoes to get a solid foot strengthening session in (and wise to be well transitioned to minimal footwear with very strong feet before venturing out in this pair).
These shoes can be worn comfortably without socks, too, ensuring a close-to-ground feel and improved proprioception. In fact, the shoe itself is designed almost like a sock. The uppers are essentially one smooth piece of fabric. This reduces seams which can rub and cause blisters on longer runs. We liked to wear toe socks or regular socks also, especially when it was colder outside. The stretchy uppers can accommodate either.
The Vapor Glove 5 is solidly above average in the weight metric — in a good way! A size 10 pair weighs only 11 ounces, which earns the shoe one of the better scores for this metric. There is little to this sock-like, minimalist trail runner; the upper is made of a single layer of stretch material with a durable coating, and the sole feels as if it is painted upon the bottom of the sock.
What we're really thinking about when we draw out the importance of weight in a minimalist shoe is how much (or little, hopefully) it impacts your stride. With every step, we have to pick up our feet and our footwear and swing them forward. So as we wore each pair of shoes in this review, we also paid attention to how much they affected our stride. If the sole was heavier than the upper, the shoe tended to feel more clunky and imprecise. Those where the weight was more evenly distributed throughout the entire shoe felt more nimble. The glove-like style of the Vapor Glove ensured this shoe swung easily and quickly through each stride, making our footwork feel more precise and our fatigue minimal (if you have strong feet that are already well acclimated to minimalist footwear…)
We love the tread and sole on the Vapor Glove. The sole is made of Vibram rubber, sticky and durable enough to be used in a lot of climbing shoes and mountaineering boots. The tread is highly textured with a design that parts as it flexes. Combined with the suppleness of the sole, this meant that our feet felt gecko-like on a variety of surface types and terrain features.
The sole has good surface area contact on roads, but as the terrain changes, so does the tread — the lugs spread apart, exposing more surface area to grip soft and variable surfaces. This is an excellent and versatile design that uses the suppleness of the minimalist design to improve traction. We often felt as if our feet were gripping the earth in these shoes, exactly as they would when bare.
The sole also rounds up around the foot, which improves traction on steep or angled trail surfaces when you are side-hilling or descending. This ensures some lugs are available around the heel for steep descents and helps to deflect dust and debris on the trail.
The Vapor Glove 5 is very light, thin, and, well, minimal. This is a shoe for those well acclimated to barefoot running. Even so, this was not our daily driver. Rather, it was our go-to for speedy days or activities that required higher performance, agility, balance, or endurance (and when our feet were feeling strong and recovered from any previous activities).
The Vapor Glove is an excellent minimalist shoe to have in your quiver, which is something many barefoot enthusiasts will recommend. It is smart to change up your footwear sometimes to give your feet a break. We liked to do this by having an extremely light and thin pair, a middle-of-the-road (or trail) shoe, and a third shoe with a much stiffer or thicker sole for really rough and rocky terrain (we like shoes with rock plates for this).
The Vapor Glove 5 is an impressively burly shoe for how minimal it is. The sock-like design has no folds for dirt to get into, which minimizes degradation over time. The uppers are made of highly durable mesh and TPU that looks and feels almost like the scales on a snake. They deflect debris and even a fair amount of water. These shoes stayed cleaner than others made of looser mesh, which helps keep them feeling and looking new.
The Vibram rubber soles are among the most durable in our lineup while also being very sticky and improving traction. The outer material is impressively abrasion-resistant as well, and the rounding of the sole plus the light toe rand reinforces high impact areas.
The Vapor Glove 5 is an excellent deal for an excellent shoe. This is not likely to be your minimalist quiver-of-one shoe, however. We like to reserve this pair for the days we want truly minimal footwear. Other days, we opted for a thicker sole, sometimes even one with a rock plate depending on the terrain. But if you're looking for an excellent shoe to help strengthen your feet while weightlifting at the gym, a nimble shoe for agility or HIIT training, and a lightweight companion for trail runs (providing you have really strong feet), this shoe checks all the boxes.
The Merrell Vapor Glove 5 is another impressive iteration in this family of minimalist footwear. Sometimes we preferred minimalist footwear that was loose enough to barely feel (so long as the fit was secure), but other times we enjoyed the tighter sock-like feel with excellent heel security of the Vapor Glove. This is not the most versatile shoe, but it certainly fills a niche on the most minimal side of the minimalist shoe category. It will not likely be your one and only, but we think it's a great value and a wise addition to your fleet of running footwear.
— Lyra Pierotti
Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.
GearLab is commited to honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year. We buy all the products ourselves. We won't accept manufacturer's freebies. No ads. No "sponsored" content. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing.Learn More