Of all the shoes I have reviewed on this blog, the Merrell Pace Glove 2 has received by far the most rigorous testing, and in the least amount of time. That is, indeed, if you can call what I do “testing.” Some might consider it more like beating the hell out of a new pair of shoes, and then waxing poetic about what happened. Either way, prior to throwing them in the washing machine for proper review photos, my pair of Pace Glove 2s were “tested” out on pavement, dirt, sand, mud, run through puddles and have been completely submerged in waist-deep streams. They have run on endless flat ground, run uphill, run downhill, run sideways, climbed on sheer rock and skidded across beds of algae. I’ve worn them to the beach, to the grocery store, to a hair appointment, to clean my dog’s poop in the backyard, to walk said dog, and yes, I’ve even worn them running.
Because of my positive history with the original Pace Glove, I had a feeling that this second incarnation was also going to become one of my go-to trail kicks. And for the most part, it has. There are many things about the PG2 that will make it one of 2013’s best minimalist trail shoes, and a few things that might have been better off left unchanged.
This Shoe Has Some Sole
First, I want to talk bits and parts. The PG2 has kept a lot of the same great features as the original, and left a few behind. So what’s the same? First and foremost, the amazing zero-drop, 4mm Vibram sole. You know, the sole that earned this shoe the Runner’s World Best Debut award, and Shape Magazine’s Best Shoe in 2011. You may not have ever heard of such accolades, but that sort of stuff is a big deal to shoe manufacturers…probably a lot like the Motor Trend award is to car makers. But, I digress. The sole is exactly the same, except the update has just a tad bit more cushion and stack height, at 9.5mm. The original had somewhere around 5mm with the rock plate, if I remember correctly. Anyway I don’t notice a difference, so really it’s neither here nor there.
One interesting aside I have about the sole of this shoe is its amazing traction. This shoe is made for trails so naturally it’s going to do well at grabbing onto dirt and soil. But in my travels I have come across a few giant boulders that just needed to be scaled (Hey, I like views. I also like pretending I’m 8 years old), and I really didn’t expect the PG sole to be so insanely sticky. Climbing rocks in these shoes is akin to sticking suction cups onto a car window. It felt like cheating! After my first rock-playground encounter in this shoe, I decided that I would have to make a note of it in my review.
The upper of the PG2 is also made of the same breathable mesh, which is excellent for escaping heat…and also for draining rain puddles, slush or stream water, if necessary. And for those who cared, they also use the same anti-slip laces as before.
What’s the Difference
Now I’ll talk about what Merrell changed in this model. Superficially, they made the shoe look a hell of a lot cooler. They gave it a sportier look, more reminiscent of what they did with the Dash Glove (and less like a typical Merrell-brand hiking shoe). So far there are only two colorways up on the site, green/blue and gray/pink, but I’m guessing that they’ll add more as the model gains traction. They’ve also added a membrane-like rubbery material over parts of the upper. I’m not sure if there’s any practical use for this material, but either way I’ve managed to rub some of it off on the outside edge.
One of the biggest and most questionable changes in this shoe is the heel cup. Due to popular demand (my source at Merrell tells me), the elastic has been taken out of the heel cup on the Pace Glove 2, so that now it mimics that of the Men’s Trail Glove. I will admit that as I’ve started running harder trails, I’ve come to have mixed feelings about the original Pace Glove because of this very feature. The elastic heel would occasionally force my foot forward and squish my toes against the front of the shoe. I earned many a black toenail from the original Pace Glove, and as a result I wished I had ordered a half size larger. Without the elastic on the PG2, My heel doesn’t slide forward anymore, and I don’t foresee any more toenail injuries. Problem solved. However, I am going to admit that I actually do miss the elastic now because the PG2 feels looser, and somewhat less secure, than the original Pace Glove. But this feeling could also be due to the other big change: the lacing system.
Merrell does pretty well with its patented “Omni-Fit” lacing system, which is fancy talk for lacing that is integrated into the tongue and upper, to give you a more adjustable and secure fit. In the original Pace Glove and Trail Glove, the Omni-Fit parts were made of heavy-duty non-stretch nylon webbing. But on the TG2 they included some elastic. The really great thing that this addition does: it makes offering a Wide-width version of the shoe’s last (which is what I needed in the original PG) pretty much unnecessary. The really not good thing that it does: it makes the shoe never, ever, ever feel like it’s tight enough.
Being that I have wide feet, the added elastic inside the lacing system lends the upper a lot more give. I no longer have that lateral “crunched” feeling that I used to get with the regular-width original Pace Glove. Basic foot space is a lot less limited in the new model. However, the longer I wore the PG2, the tighter I found myself lacing them. Combine that with the new looser heel cup, and my feet are moving around inside this shoe like a hamster on a flatbed truck. Now, that’s not really a problem if I’m running on some semi-flat trails (like a normal person would do), but when faced with some of the crazy-steep, loose-dirt-and-rock descents I regularly encounter out here in the hills of San Diego, a secure shoe fit means better traction and balance for me. It may just be a preference or terrain thing, or because I tend to wear socks on trails to keep out debris, but for me this was a sticking point with the Pace Glove 2.
By most every count, the new Pace Glove 2 (and men’s Trail Glove 2) is an excellent, well-made minimalist shoe, as was anticipated by us minimalist shoe nerds. Being one of those nerds, I will admit that I expect and demand more from Merrell than from any other minimalist shoe brand, because in a lot of ways I’m more emotionally invested in their success. Kind of like the teacher being harder on her own kid than on the other students in her class.
But really, as far as cons go, that’s really it. Merrell was smart not to change any of the stuff that made this shoe one of the best out there. The zero-drop, the great last, the excellent ground feel, durability and trail performance. The shoe is attractive, extremely well-made and even with its aforementioned drawbacks, it still outperforms every other minimalist trail shoe I have tried so far. This is true because Merrell knows feet, and also because they do an excellent job of hearing the needs of their target audience and giving them what they ask for. And what more, I dare say, could you ask for?