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Merrell is one of few brands that has really mastered the art of creating high-quality shoes for outdoor enthusiasts. They are well-known for their innovations on the barefoot/minimalist shoe trend, being a top producer of these styles.
One of their more popular styles is the Bare Access lineup, with the Bare Access 4 being a well-liked option.
The Bare Access 4 offers a close contact with the ground while still supporting and protecting the feet. Trail runners and active people alike will appreciate the simplicity, durability and minimalist feel of these shoes. Those who are new to barefoot running will find these particularly comfortable.
If you are unfamiliar with the Bare Access 4, here is a rundown of the ins and outs of this model.
The Bare Access 4 model has numerous 4 and 5 star reviews across various websites. These shoes might look basic but in reality Merrell really put in their usual solid construction and design techniques to create a shoe that is going to outperform most others.
The Bare Access 4 really has some excellent advantages going for it but they can all be summed up into the following 3 major benefits.
Check almost any review of the Bare Access 4 model and you’ll see the sheer comfort of these shoes mentioned. The combination of the lightweight materials, fit and construction make it ideal for running, easy hikes or just wearing all day long. Even though these are athletic shoes, they feel wonderful on the feet.
A large part of the materials used are mesh which provides plenty of ventilation in warmer months. It may not be waterproof but if you do get caught in rain or run through a puddle, they will dry off very quickly. The Vibram rubber sole will give enough traction with the 2mm lugs for most walking and running activities but doesn’t have an unnecessarily aggressive tread that only interferes with feel and adds weight.
The Bare Access 4 is considered a minimalist or barefoot shoe but in reality it does have a bit more “beef” to it than typical shoes of that type. Some may find this to be a problem if they don’t research before purchasing.
However, the added cushioning and support Merrell added makes this model perfect for someone transitioning to barefoot/minimalist shoes for running.
While the benefits of so-called barefoot running is up for debate, everyone can agree that you need to start off slowly when transitioning to prevent injury. The Bare Access 4 is ideal for that in-between shoe or as a slightly more cushioned minimalist shoe for those who have previous injuries that require some shock absorption. The 13.2mm heel stack with an 8mm EVA foam cushioning is going to give you a lot more feel than normal trail shoes but won’t leave you with sore feet.
Some people are under the assumption that vegan-friendly shoes often lack durability and will end up falling apart more quickly than traditional construction. Merrell’s line of vegan shoes are far from delicate and the Bare Access 4 follows suit. They use only the highest quality 100% synthetic materials.
The mesh and TPU upper is going to withstand heavy use without degrading quickly. The shoes are resistant to abrasion and tears, which is important for trail running activities.
The compression molded insole is going to remain rigid and provide plenty of support. Merrell made these shoes so tough you can easily toss them in the washing machine (cold water & gentle cycle) when they get dirty.
You can expect to get at least a year of use from these shoes if you wear them daily. If you only wear them on the weekends for trail activities, you can probably get even more use.
On the flipside, if you are really going to be putting these shoes through the ringer and are really an active trail runner who goes multiple times a week, these may not last as long. Compared to other shoes of its type, you can expect the same (if not a better) lifespan.
Despite the high number of 5 star reviews on these shoes, there are two issues that are commonly noted.
A peculiar downside of the Bare Access 4 actually seems to be a result of it being sold as a different style than it is. More experienced runners will quickly see that this model really isn’t a true trail shoe. It performs well on easy trails but is more comfortable as a road shoe. However, roadrunners will find that these also aren’t quite a road shoe. Merrell doesn’t quite have this shoe listed for any specific use but retailers such as R.E.I. sell this model as a light trail shoe.
It is best to think of the Bare Access 4 as a hybrid road and trail shoe. If you aren’t dedicated to either technique or are purposely looking for a hybrid you can rely on for such events, these won’t disappoint. If you are specifically looking for an everyday trail shoe, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try them but serious trail runners should consider a different model.
Although overall durability is an advantage of these shoes, unfortunately some wearers have found the lining to be less than impressive. It isn’t clear whether some got a bad batch or not but it does seem to be somewhat common for threads to become loose inside or for the interior to wear out more quickly than the outside.
The mesh lining simply isn’t as tough as traditional shoe linings. This is a fairly common problem with minimalist shoes but Merrell is known for their high quality designs. The lining might look worse for wear more quickly than normal active shoes but you will still get plenty of life from them, still making them worth the investment.
The Bare Access 4 model isn’t quite like other Merrell minimalist/barefoot shoes but is nonetheless impressive. Even with the two downsides in mind, the average retail price of $95 is well worth it.
Occasionally you can find these on sale through retailers for $20-$30 less! (check this listing for the latest live prices). If your sneakers have worn out and you need something that can handle all-day wear around town and still kick butt running on trails and roads, these just might be your perfect shoe.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.