Merrell’s Minimalist Hikers


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Merrell just completed a new study on barefoot and minimalist running that inspired the company to redesign its barefoot runners, making them wider so that your foot has more connection with the ground. It also inspired Merrell to introduce two new minimalist collections: done-in-a-day Mixmaster shoes (below) and the multiday-hike Proterra shoes (above).

In applying the lessons of barefoot running to hiking footwear, Merrell had two big challenges. The first was figuring out how to create a braking heel—something that would grip the trail on descents to prevent the hiker from slipping and sliding—without using overbuilt and heavy lugs. Merrell’s answer: an inverted lug diamond patter sole that gives traction in the midfoot, where minimalist runners and hikers strike, as well as the heel.

The second challenge was figuring out how to free the foot so it could function naturally while also giving it solid ground connection for maximum efficiency of movement. Merrell designers took the stitching out of the original upper and injected a skeleton shell into the mesh, creating a nearly seamless shoe that lets your foot move as it was designed to by nature.

Stepping with the weight of a pack changes a body’s anatomy and biomechanics. But keeping a backpacker’s feet closer to the ground lets the body stabilize faster when you’re walking. In its hikers, Merrell stuck with a traditional midsole material (polyurethane), which won’t compress over time like EVA, the cushioning commonly used in sneaker midsoles. Merrell also built in a plastic shank for protection from the rocky trail.

“The less between your foot and the ground the better it feels to run and walk, and the more connected you are to your environment, to the experience,” said Craig Throne, vice president of global marketing for Merrell. “That's what we hope to help both runners and hikers discover with these new collections.”

Merrell Proterra and Mix Master Move available spring 2013, proces tbd,

—Berne Broudy