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Review: Merrell Run Barefoot Bare Access 2

The buildup
After finding the ultimate replacement for my Vibram SeeYa’s in the Merrell Vapor Glove from their M-Connect line, I had some issues that meant I needed some more padding underfoot, as discussed in my recent review of the Vapor Glove (read it here: Review: Merrell Barefoot Run Vapor < Barefoot Run Access 2).

I picked the yellow ones since they looked similar to the yellow in a lot of my Skins compression clothing, and close to what I use in the newbodi.es logo. More on that later.

What it is & how it works
This is the second-most minimalist member of Merrell’s M-Connect line, and an update to the Bare Access (hence the number 2 in its name),  The shoe supposedly breaths, but I found my feet getting hot, especially with any socks on. You can also wash it, which is good considering the heat issue I noticed, and it’s very light for its structure.  I’m used to shoes that feel far more flexible and unstructured, so this shoe is surprisingly light to me.  It has laces, but, like most of the M-Connect shoes I’ve tried, I found they’re helpful but the fit still isn’t glove-like around where my foot and ankle meet.  In other M-Connects (like the Sonic Glove), this has been a problem, but not here or with the Vapor Glove.  The shoe sort of bows out at the sides of the collar, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t feel unstable or like there’s slop.

The shoe comes in a lot of colors (black, two whites, blue, green, yellow, etc), and has a good, wide toe box – a must for minimalist runners.  I’ve really come to feel my toes constrained in most shoes, and fell in love with the space the Vapor Gloves and Bare Access gave my toes.  The Vapor Gloves stretch a little better, but these are still great.

The sole is made of a very thin piece of Vibram rubber mounted to a foam cushion layer.  The shoe is zero drop, but has a 13-14mm stack height (I see conflicting reports online).

My impressions
When I put them on, it was immediately the most firm shoe I’d worn to run in for a long time, and the arch support was noticeable.  These two things really concerned me.  I’ve been reading a lot of shoe reviews lately, and have learned that things you noticed when standing or walking don’t necessarily get noticed when you’re running.  Since this is a running shoe, I reserved judgement.

I’m glad I did.  As soon as I started running, I felt zero issue with flexibility, and didn’t have any sensation of an overly intruding arch design.  I don’t have high arches, so I’d be more sensitive to this than most people, and I had no issue.

The shoe’s cushioning was firm but good enough to eliminate any of the pain I was getting with the Vapor Glove.  All in all, I really liked the shoe. It will be a tough contender for my top shoe vs the Adipure Gazelle. There are signs that this will surpass the Gazelle, though, as I find the Gazelle to be getting sloppy as it ages.  The upper is a sort of spandex-like material, so you can imagine it would stretch out and lose elasticity.  The Bare Access isn’t made of this kind of material, and the cushion seems denser, so I’d imagine it will resist wearing down while the upper resists stretching out.  I’m expecting the Bare Access at 50 miles to be noticeably better than the Gazelle is at 50 miles.

My depressions
My only issue so far is the color.  It isn’t yellow (or “sulphur”, as Merrell calls it).  It looks nothing like the pictures.  It’s more of a fluorescent yellow-green.  It’s that sort of ‘safety neon yellow’ you see a lot of night running jackets in.  It’s the shade Nike uses for their SportWatch and Nathan offers for it’s ID bracelet.  It’s not bad, but it’s nothing like I expected.  I should have wised up with I saw City Sports refer to it as “Lime”.  It’s not quite lime green, but it’s definitely a more accurate description than yellow or sulphur.  Think “lime juice”.  Incidentally, City Sports describes that shade on the SportWatch “Lime”.  At least they’re being honest and consistent.

Since I have an all “Lime” (or “Volt”, as Nike calls it) SportWatch, these ended up matching my absurdly bright wrist accessory perfectly.  Still, I would have preferred actual yellow.  If I was to buy them again, I think I’d get the gray and orange, or maybe the white with black and red.

To buy or not to buy
I wouldn’t pause on recommending these to anyone. They’re a great first minimalist running shoe, but also great for the experienced minimalist who wants something with a bit of cushion in their arsenal.  At $90, they’re not cheap, but no shoes are anymore, and, unfortunately, $90 is becoming ‘cheap’ for brand-name shoes.  You can get the Barefoot Run Bare Access 2 at Amazon in all of their myriad colors, and do check out the Ladies versions if you’re not a dude. They have some great color options in the women’s model.

I haven’t totally decided yet, but these are a very strong contender to be my shoe of choice during my upcoming 5K race.  I wanted to run in the Vapor Gloves, but there’s too much liability with those right now. The other contender is yet to be run in and yet to be reviewed – the ugly but enticing Adidas Adipure Adapt (they finally came out with a cool color combo…at least to me – yellow and black) – stay tuned.

I’m a firm believer in minimalist running, and to work toward using as minimal a shoe as you can.  These don’t look like that shoe, but they run much more minimal than they look. As my own struggles to get back to a more pure shoe prove, it’s ok to take your time when getting in touch with your inner Chi runner while you enlighten.your.body.

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

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