Available in a standard and a more expensive Gore-Tex version, this is a highly versatile and technically capable shoe, with a rich range of features designed to optimize performance during long runs on technical mountain terrain, where it’s most at home. That said, it’s also good for training runs along easier trails, so long as you don’t mind the absence of trail feedback, which has been sacrificed to the altars of comfort, protection and performance.
Lots of technical features
Some recycled material used
No toe protection
Zero trail feedback
High stack (31mm-25mm) won’t suit all runners
Too rigid and over-specced for some low-level runners
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Merrell Agility Peak 5: first impressions
The Merrell Agility Peak 5 is the latest version in a line of trail running shoes that have been bounding along alpine trails on the feet of mountain runners since 2017. But the design has evolved significantly over the last five years, with the American brand bringing the weight down, introducing new features and upping the performance level with each new generation they release.
• List price: $140 (US) / £140 (UK); GTX version: $170 (US) / £170 (UK)
• Weight (per shoe, men’s size 11): 309g / 11oz
• Drop: 6mm
• Materials: Mesh and TPU upper / EVA foam footbed (50% recycled) / FloatPro Foam midsole / Vibram Megagrip rubber outsole
• Colors: Men’s: Black / White / Black & Tangerine / Oyster & Coyote / Tahoe & Cloud / High Rise & High Viz / Tahoe & Tangerine; Women’s: Pear & Burgundy / Atoll & Cloud / Black / White / Black & Tangerine / Oyster & Coyote
• Compatibility: All kinds of trail running, up to and including alpine trails and skyrunning routes
Accordingly, the Agility Peak 5 is lighter and more technically capable than its forerunners. Merrell have increased the amount of roll in the rocker (the rounded reverse-camber shape of the sole), upped the level of cushioning in the midsole and made adjustments to the heel cup, so it supplies more support and increases your confidence when running the kind of tricky trails this shoe has been designed for.
Despite the extra-pronounced rocker, which is designed to assist with forward momentum (especially for heel-strikers), there is a 6mm heel-to-toe drop in these shoes, which is modest enough to maintain a good, low center of gravity and will suit most trail runners.
Although the weight of the new shoe is low, the amount of FloatPro Foam in the midsole is now super generous, and the height of the stack (31mm at the heel, dropping to 25mm by your toes) is substantial (if not quite at the dizzy extremes of Hoka hoofs). Below all this foam is a protective rockplate and the tried-and-tested Vibram Megagrip outsole, with intelligently arranged 5mm lugs.
The standard version of the Agility Peak 5 has a very breathable, mostly mesh upper, but there is a Gore-Tex-lined option too if you prefer waterproof trail shoes. The integrated tongue creates a kind of inner sock, which prevents grit and debris from getting into the shoe. Technical features include fixture points for gaiters and sling locks.
It’s also worth noting that quite a lot of the materials used in the construction of these shoes has been recycled, including all of the mesh lining, the webbing and the laces.
It’s an impressive-looking shoe, but to find out whether Merrell’s Agility Peak 5 deserve to join the ranks of the best trail running shoes around, I have been taking the men’s version for multiple runs on my local trails, while my advnture colleague has been testing the female version of the shoes in the actual Alps (not that I’m massively jealous or anything…)
Merrell Agility Peak 5: on the trails
While I wasn’t lucky enough to go and test Merrell’s new Agility Peak 5 shoes on the wonderfully technical trails and terrific terrain of the Alps around Chamonix – like Julia was, amid the excitement of this year’s UTMB no less (read her excellent feature about the experience here) – I have been wearing them while running around the more modest hills, tracks and trails around the South Coast of England.
And this parallel experience actually reflects one of the most impressive things about these shoes, which is that – despite their high-end capabilities and bristling array of super-technical features – they’re still perfectly good for 5km-10km runs around local trails. Although, of course, if that’s all you ever do in them you will have paid over the odds for a level of functionality and performance you’re not coming anywhere close to utilizing, but that’s up to you. My point is: they’re a versatile pair of trail-running shoes.
While I haven’t yet needed to use some of the funkier features designed for skyrunners doing high-level mountain routes – such as the gaiter D-rings just in front of the laces, and external sling locks on the heels – I have run across lots of slippery coastal rocks and encountered plenty of mud while out on the wet woodland trails around my home, and the Vibram Megagrip outsole has provided good security on such surfaces. The 5mm lugs are super grippy, and they’re intelligently arranged to supply traction while climbing and brilliant braking control during descents, while being sufficiently spaced so they don’t accumulate loads of mud.
There’s a lot of midsole going on in these shoes, with the towering FloatPro Foam–loaded stack supplying plenty of cushioning and positive rebound. Of course, while it might be great for your knees on longer runs, all this suspension and bounciness comes at a cost, which is a complete lack of trail feel.
Feedback from the terrain would be limited anyway, though, because a protective rockpate runs along the length of these shoes, preventing sharp rocks and sticks from puncturing the sole and injuring your poor feet. This plate also gives the shoes a decent degree of torsional rigidity that might feel a little over the top on low-level trails, but will prove its worth when you venture higher and start negotiating rocky routes with technical scrambles.
There is a Gore-Tex version of these shoes available, but I’ve been testing the standard issue, which would be my choice anyway – except in very specific, extremely cold circumstances, I don’t see the point in waterproof trail running shoes; I’d rather have shoes that drain quickly and breath better, and these do exactly that.
The Agility Peak 5s aren’t perfect – for such a highly specced shoe designed for use in high, rocky terrain, there’s barely any toe protection – but they are a very good trail-running shoe that will serve you well, whether you’re intending to tackle technical alpine terrain or just jog around your local trails.
Author of Caving, Canyoning, Coasteering…, a recently released book about all kinds of outdoor adventures around Britain, Pat has spent 20 years pursuing stories involving boots, bikes, boats, beers and bruises. En route he’s canoed Canada’s Yukon River, climbed Mont Blanc and Kilimanjaro, skied and mountain biked through the Norwegian Alps, run an ultra across the roof of Mauritius, and set short-lived records for trail-running Australia’s highest peaks and New Zealand’s Great Walks. He’s authored walking guides to Devon and Dorset, and once wrote a whole book about Toilets for Lonely Planet. Follow Pat’s escapades on Strava here and instagram here.