New for this autumn, the Merrell Mix Master builds on the success of the Barefoot range but with more cushioning and less drop.
We previewed the new for autumn 2012 Merrell Mix Master just the other week, but we now have some early samples in for review. In a nut-shell, the Mix Master is a less extreme take on the Barefoot range - it uses more underfoot padding and isn't quite as flat.
More Cushioning, More Drop...
Having a little more protection than a pure barefoot shoe will make a lot of sense to many people. We found the original Merrell Trailglove great on softer terrain, but a tad unforgiving on rocky stuff. The Mix Master has significantly more underfoot cushioning thanks to a thicker EVA foam sole unit - 9.5mm/12.8mm - while it also has a little more drop between heel and toe at 4mm compared to zero drop for full Barefoot models.
The other big difference is that the rubber outsole has a lot more grip plus a bit of a plate backer to give some protection from sharp rocks underfoot - something we found to be the, erm, achilles heel of the Trailglove.
So on paper, you're getting more cushioning, more protection from jaggedness and a little more slant from back to front of the shoe, but not as much as conventional running shoes.
In the flesh, our samples in an orange, green and red combo, are entertainingly garish, however less extrovert colours also exist. The uppers are a sort of soft-shellish, wind-resistant fabric, but there's also a waterproof version available called Mix Master Tough. On top of that, there's a toe protector, but also a light but protective rand which runs around the base of the uppers to added rock resilience.
And they are light. Our size 43 test shoes weigh in at just 502g for the pair. That's a tad more than a barefoot shoe, but then you're getting more grip, more cushioning and more protection generally. Once on they feel feathery light with a snug fit heel and forefoot, for our medium broad, medium volume, British test foot.
Lots of flexibility underfoot, but appreciably more protection and cushioning too. Experimental standing on jagged things was encouraging. It feels like that stiffer outsole does add a bit of protection. The uppers too seem to offer a bit more weather resistance than mesh-based fabric, closer to a soft shell-type performance.
We reckon you could use them equally well for off-road running or lightweight walking with that lugged outsole threatening to give decent all-round grip. Walkers who want a little more ankle protection and tougher access for gravel and grit might want to take a look at the Mix Master Mid.
All in all, early signs are that the Mix Master might be an ideal compromise between a traditional lightweight approach shoe and super minimalist barefoot models. Lighter and more flexible than the approach shoe, but with more grip, cushioning and protection than a pure barefoot one.
Out this autumn 2012 in shoe and mid versions, with and without a waterproof lining. More info at www.merrell.com.