Normal-shoe looks with zero-drop, foot-shaped chassis and minimal feel, the Merrell Bare Access XTR is a good option for natural runners
- Uncontroversial recommendation for most people
- Good value
- Nice looking
- Midsole could be livelier
- Tightly spaced lugs limit mud grip
Straight out of the box, the Merrell Bare Access XTR look very high quality shoes – probably not a surprise from a brand like Merrell. They’re not super wide, but the shape is perfect for me so they feel accommodating. Using the thumb test, the midsole feels very firm but that should help with protection.
At first glance the Merrell Bare Access XTR have a distinctly ‘normal’ running shoe appearance, but delve a little deeper and their foot-shaped and minimal principals shine through. As an example you’d think there was a heel-to-toe drop, but your foot actually sits in the midsole, rather than on it, and more so at the rear.
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The mesh upper is foot-shaped and broad but not super wide. The gusseted medium padded tongue help with comfortable lacing; a good lock down and secure heel lock are easily achieved. Overlays, heel counters and toe bumper features are all subtle but present.
• RRP: $100 (US) / £95 (UK)
• Gender availability: Men’s, Women’s
• Weight (per shoe, men’s UK11): 260g / 9.2oz
• Colors: Magma (Deep Red) / Black
• Drop: 0mm
• Compatibility: All trails
On the trails
For some barefoot/natural runners these won’t be ‘bare’ enough. But they’re zero drop, low stack and, for me, a great all-rounder. They are super useful for summer trail running, and you could run longer in the Bares than in most more-minimal shoes, especially if you’re new to natural running.
In terms of grumbles, I wish the midsole was a bit more responsive, with a more bouncy TPU feel. The lugs ‘fill in’ a bit after mud sections too – more spacing around the studs could help, and some more obvious directional lugs might increase grip on slimy surfaces.
There’s 17mm of stack, rear and fore, including a Vibram outer which uses 3mm lugs for grip. It’s not super sticky but performs well, only sliding around dramatically for me in some deep snow and sticky mud.
The midsole is firm but still provides comfort over rough terrain without muting ground-fell completely. The minimal design and light weight encourage fast feet while the midsole adds a level of protection for worry free fast descending.
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