As we all know, the idea of minimal and barefoot footwear has blown-up in the last few years. Spurred on by Chris MacDougal’s seminal Born to Run book the idea of getting back to our hunter-gatherer roots and foregoing shoes to find our natural running gait is big big news. And big business. Take a look at any half-decent running shop and you’ll find racks of minimal and barefoot shoes, all purportedly helping you to slip into a ‘as nature intend’ style of propulsion. Merrell are certainly one of the biggest proponents of the less-is-more concept of the minimal world. From an initial relatively small range of no-compromise skinny, lightweight and minimally cushioned shoes, their range has blossomed into something much larger taking in different levels of cushioning and designed to help people at different stages on the route to barefoot bliss.
The latest of these (light-footed) steps is the Proterra Sport, which has been built not as a running shoe but as a barefoot hiking shoe. In essence it retains the barefoot ethos, but with design tweaks suiting it to those who like to keep one foot on the ground at all times.
First things first, I shouldn’t have liked this shoe really. I was prepared not to, going against (as it does) everything that is sacrosanct in the world of hiking.
Hiking boots should have the following;
- A stiff outsole
- stiff and well protected upper material
- Decent cushioning around upper and under foot
- Well-spaced lugs on outsole to shed mud
The Proterra Mid Sport has
- A flexible sole
- A lightweight fabric upper
- little cushioning underneath
- A flat outsole with a thin grip pattern
Despite all of that there is just something about the Proterras. They aren’t a traditional hiking boot and can’t be judged in the same way. What they are is fun. Taking a journey in them is a new experience. Retracing favourite routes is like walking them for the first time again. The Proterra gives a totally different experience to walking with a traditional stiff, heavy boot.
The flexible sole coupled with low ride height means that walking comfortably means having to engage your brain once again. When first setting out feeling most bumps and stones underfoot can be a challenge but really helps you to get in tune with the ground (not in a slightly unhinged hippie way either).
The ride feels comfortable and natural, and after a few paces the flexible sole really does allow for a natural role of the foot. Up front in the toebox there is plenty of room for the toes to splay out in a classic barefoot style, although there isn’t great amounts of protection for the tootsies.
Of course, it’s not all great news, wearing them for prolonged periods of time can lead to a bit of an ache in the arch for those not used to having so little support on the under carriage. And the grip is a bit pants. The shallow lugs clog quickly with mud in the soft stuff so these are probably best left to drier terrain. Having said that though, on rock, where you can use the flex of your foot to reach and grip they have plenty of stickiness. Exactly, as you would do if you were barefoot, and if the grip isn’t going to hold you in place, the feedback from the soft sole lets you know before any nasty surprises send you skidding down a mountainside.
↑ The Good:
+ Great ground feedback
↓ The (not) so Good:
- Grip is not great on mud
- Barefoot walking style can tire unprepared feet out easily
A great, fun pair of lightweight boots that give a great introduction to the concept of barefoot shoes (without destroying your calves by running in them). Best suited to general use on easier terrain (at least to start with)
Proterra Sport Mid
- Weight: 822 grams (size 9 claimed)
- Upper: Mesh/ Stratafuse™ upper.
- Bellows tongue keeps debris out
- Protective TPU rand and toe cap
- M-Select FRESH naturally prevents odor before it starts for fresh smelling feet
- Midsole: EVA removable footbed
- Molded TPU arch shank
- Minimal design PU midsole increases ground contact and enhances stability
- Drop: 4mm Drop / 10mm Cush / 21mm Stack Height
- Sole: 2.5mm lug depth
- M-Select GRIP
- Last: n/a
- Sizes Available: 7-12,13,14,15