Merrell Bare Access XTR Review

Pip Haylett tries out a pair of the Merrell Bare Access XTR shoes, which are designed to offer a barefoot feel but with more cushioning, grip and protection.

Overview

The Merrell Bare Access XTR provide a great zero drop trail shoe, offering grip and some protection underfoot, whilst retaining a low to the ground, ‘barefoot’ feel you would expect from a Bare Access shoe.  For hard packed, fast flowing trails, these are one of the best shoes I’ve worn in a while.

Merrell Bare Access XTR shoes on leaves
The Merrell Bare Access XTR in their natural habitat

Spec

  • Weight: 240g
  • Drop: 0mm; Stack height (heel/toe): 17mm/17mm
  • Upper: Quick drying mesh
  • Grip: Vibram TC5+, FLEXconnect® dual-directional flex-grooves in the midsole for enhanced ground connection
  • Other tech: Merrell Barefoot 2 construction for enhanced proprioception and stability during variable movement, TPU film heel counter for security

First Impressions

Out of the box, these shoes are incredibly light. They look and feel like they will make you run fast.  The Vibram sole has some decent looking grip and appears flexible but tough.  There is some padding / protection across the bottom of the shoe – 17mm to be exact, so you’ll get some relief from rocky ground. 

I love the styling of these shoes and think they look pretty cool.  On their first outing I wore them to a business meeting as I’d left my smart shoes in the wrong place and needed to wear something – these hit the spot and work as office wear as well as looking good on the trail.

They do look like a proper shoe rather than a classic barefoot – whilst not in Hoka territory, they definitely offer more support and protection than something like the Trail Glove, so should be good for forest trails and not too technical / rocky routes.

On the run

I’ve worn these for a few 100 miles of road, woodland trail and muddy paths (as well as to offices) and they hold up very well in these situations.  Despite mostly running in shoes like the Vibram Five Fingers, I really like the fit and the feel you get from these shoes.  They are a good alternative to full-on barefoot when you want something to run fast in on more challenging terrain – however I found them a bit slippery in proper mud and muck.  They are great in the dry but when it gets muddy and steep you could benefit from a bit more grip. Also, these are a bit slippery on man-made surfaces – shiny shop floors or tiles in the wet can give you a bit of a shock if not expecting it.

Due to the fact that there are only 17mm of padding under your feet, this shoe is very stable and keeps you close to the ground with reduced chance of twisting ankles.  The padding feels firm rather than squishy or bouncy as you get in some zero drop shoes, and as a result you do get a surprising amount of feedback from these.  I found the fit a little narrow in the toe box, but this is due to my hobbit like feet – they are by no means narrow, and I think would suit most people who like a big toe box.

The mesh upper drains well in the wet and is nice and breathable in the heat – in fact the shoe is very comfortable generally.

Top and bottom image of Merrell Bare Access XTR shoe
The trip on the Bare Access XTR

Verdict

These are a fantastic, lightweight trail shoe that bring a lot of the benefits of barefoot / zero drop but with some protection for your feet – without over doing it.  A great all rounder for hard packed / less technical / not super muddy trails, we really enjoyed this shoe in most conditions.  If you are looking for a quick, responsive, zero drop shoe offering some decent protection and grip, you should definitely consider these.

Find out more about the Merrell Bare Access XTR shoe here.