Product Review: Merrell Bare Access Trail GTX Shoes

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The first few years of running OCR I was not wearing the correct shoes. I was wearing Reebok Reezig shoes. Honestly, I had no idea there were shoes specifically geared towards OCR. It wasn’t until 2015 that I discovered that some of the biggest shoe companies (Reebok, Merrell, Salomon) were making these types of shoes. I thought I could use any type of running shoe and be fine, but this wasn’t the case. The Reezig’s were nice, but not for OCR. They didn’t drain, were bulky and heavy (especially when wet). Obviously, none of those are appealing to a runner. I decided after the 2015 race season concluded it was time to make a change.

I spent a lot of time doing research on the best types and brands of OCR shoes. I didn’t realize there were so many options. I started with Reebok since they have their own Spartan Race shoe. After reading lots of negative reviews and pictures of damaged shoes after one race I quickly eliminated them. Then I found Merrell. I did a lot of research on Merrell and decided their shoes would work for me. After shopping at a nearby Merrell Outlet store I found the Merrell Bare Access Trail GTX. I couldn’t be happier about these shoes.

I had a few important factors in mind about my first pair of OCR shoes. Price, durability, comfort, drainage, post race cleaning and protection. I broke these up into separate categories below.

Price: I got these shoes and another set of Merrell’s for around $125.00 total. At the time they were having a BOGO 50% sale. The retail price was around $100.00. This is a pretty average price for a good pair of OCR shoes.

Durability: Even though my Reezig’s weren’t meant for OCR they held up pretty well so I was hoping these Merrell’s would even be better. After 45+ miles of various terrain and 100+ challenging obstacles the shoes still look like new. There are no tears in any of the material and the tread only has minor scuffs. These shoes are still considered new so I’ll have to wait until next year to determine the full durability factor.

Comfort: I spent around a month breaking these shoes in for the season. This included a good amount of walking with the occasional road run mixed in every so often. I’ll admit it was a rough break in period that left me asking myself if I made the right decision. After the Spartan Beast I did get a blister (still not 100% healed), but my heels, feet and all my ligaments were all in good shape. Since the Spartan Beast I have been blister free. I feel more comfortable in these shoes as the race goes on. However, initially they feel a little uncomfortable.

Drainage: Compared to the Reezig’s these shoes drain a lot better, but aren’t the best. A lot of OCR shoes have drainage holes located at various parts of the shoe. Unfortunately, these shoes do not have drainage holes, but the mesh does help with water removal. These shoes dry rather quickly especially when left outside for just a few hours.

Post Race Cleaning: They rinse off easily and dry fast (if left outside). However, little stones get stuck in the mesh part of the shoe. I cannot see them, but I can hear them when I pick the shoes up and move them around. These little stones have no effect on me during the race. I cannot feel them in any part of my shoe.

Protection: I can feel rocks, stones and other types of debris in these shoes. Sometimes it hurts, but most times it’s just a temporary uncomfortable feeling. I will say if I accidentally catch a rock with my toe or toes I will feel it. This happened to me during the race season and resulted in some sore toes for a few days.

I have two issues with these shoes. First, the shoe laces almost always come untied at some point. This especially happens with the right shoe. Second, almost every single rock, stone or pebble somehow finds its way into the shoe. So I constantly have to stop to remove everything that collects in there.

Overall Assessment

I enjoy these shoes, but I would probably try a different shoe when the time comes for my next purchase. These shoes are lightweight, comfortable and easy to clean which are my highlights. I have full confidence in Merrell shoes and would recommend their brand to anyone looking for a casual, running or trail running shoe. Their prices are good, but their product is even better. I might have to try their Tough Mudder branded shoe at some point while they still offer them. If you buy or wear a pair of Merrell’s I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

In the next mile I’ll return to pre-race reports with the NJ Rugged Maniac, which is only 6 days away.


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