Color Options: 4 – Deep Olive/Kryptonite, Black/Olympia Blue, Castle Rock/Adventure Yellow, Castle Rock/Dark Cheddar
Weight: 9.2 oz (1/2 pair) (varies with size)
Drop: 0mm ball to heel
Other: GORE-TEX® lining (waterproof), Vibram® Trail Glove sole
The Embark Glove is one of few solutions for a quality minimalist shoe for running during the winter months. Any minimalist runner will tell you that the problem with cold-weather running in most minimalist shoes is not the cold itself, but the wetness that makes things difficult. The Embark Glove solves this problem by lining the shoe in a layer of GORE-TEX which keeps the wetness out and the warmth in.
Although I can’t speak to the “training” aspect of the shoe because my cross-training is done indoors, I can speak to the running crowd when I say these things keep your feet insanely warm. For those of you who haven’t caught us saying it in the past, we live in Wisconsin, so as you can imagine our temperature can get extremely cold and the snow can become unbearable. That being said, our Winter this year has been a record breaker in terms of warm weather, so I wasn’t able to get a ton of time with these in extreme cold, but I managed to get outside a few times in 10 degree weather. I can’t say it enough, the Embark Glove keeps you toasty! To put this in perspective, I went out for a run in 15 degree weather (5 degree wind chill) without socks on and still managed to find my feet sweating before I made it back inside. I found that even though the shoes provided a great running experience, the lack of breathability really hurt the shoe because my feet kept slipping and sliding around. The only answer I can think of to solve this problem would be for Merrell to make the inside of the shoe out of some sort of wicking fabric or for the user to make sure to wear socks made out of sweat-wicking material.
All criticisms aside, the Embark Glove does keep your feet safe from the cold, which is its primary purpose. Considering the nature of our winter, I was able to get out for a day where the running paths were covered in slush and the grass was a muddy mess. I found that they performed extremely well, to the point where I could run through slush and puddles that ran half way up the side of the shoe and not feel a drop of water in them (that is until I went a little overboard and jumped in slush hard enough that it got inside the shoe from the ankle opening). I also took them off the path into the muddy mess and found that they performed beautifully. So much so that I ran the last half of my run in the mud.
Because they are made with GORE-TEX, they do take some time to wear-in as it is a stiffer fabric. I found, however, that after about 3 runs and some casual wear they got to the point where they fit comfortably and performed as intended. The only criticism I have about comfort is that I can’t seem to get the back part of the shoe to fit properly. The heel opening is a little wide and the sides of the the shoe seem to buckle, which makes for some very uncomfortable rubbing. I have been able to remedy this by wearing thicker socks which, unfortunately, makes my feet even warmer so the solution only provides fuel to the sweat-pooling issue mentioned earlier. These small problems are very easy to overlook once a bare foot is inside. Like most of the Merrell Barefoot line, they pay close attention to the seams, stitching, and fabrics on the inside of the shoe to ensure comfort. The middle of the shoe is snug around the foot to make sure you stay put, while the toe-box is wide enough that there is plenty of room to splay out. The ground feel is decent, but if you are looking for something that allows you to feel finer textures like rocks or grass, then this is not the right shoe for you. As for flexibility, they aren’t anywhere near as flexible as a FiveFinger, but you can bend and squeeze them relatively easily.
It is hard to look at these shoes and not smile. When they first arrived at the apartment I was extremely excited to get them on my feet. The Castle Rock/Dark Cheddar color scheme is colorful and sort of intimidating to look at. They look awesome with a pair of jeans and I feel like a rockstar when I have them paired with my running tights. The only complaint I have is about the laces. They are much to long (even after lacing the extra eyelets) which is unfortunate because Merrell provides laces that compliment the color scheme of the shoe.
If you are looking for a shoe that is minimalist, zero-drop, waterproof, warm, and aesthetically pleasing you won’t be disappointed by the Embark Gloves. The only fine tuning these shoes really need is finding some magical way to make GORE-TEX a little more breathable and fixing the back half of the shoe so that it doesn’t rub. The price tag is also a little steep at $170, so some may be better served by other winter-oriented options. You could purchase a pair of water resistant (not waterproof) VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trails or New Balance Minimus Multi-Sports for $130 or $110 respectively.
Steve is an Executive Recruiter at Robert Half Executive Search in Madison, WI with a business degree in Information Systems and E-Commerce from the University of Toledo. Steve loves spending his time away from work; running, gaming, watching movies, checking out new social networking tools/sites/start-ups and blogging.