Gear test: Merrell Moab Ventilator for trail running

Can these lightweight hikers be used as heavy-duty trail runners?

I’d say this will be an unorthodox gear test, in that the piece of gear I tested was being put through its paces in a task for which it wasn’t really designed.

You see, I’ve been in the market for a trail running shoe for some time now. The reason being is that I’ve found some great trails to run, but they are very rugged. Normal running shoes won’t cut it, and quite honestly, all the trail runner shoes I looked at didn’t look up to the task either. I could see these shoes getting ripped to shreds within a couple of months.

So I did a little experiment. I found the toughest-looking low-top I could find that wasn’t inordinately heavy and figured I’d give it a shot. So what did I settle on?

A low-top hiker made by Merrell, the Moab Ventilator.

Yes, I know this shoe isn’t made for running, trails or otherwise. But like I said, it was an experiment. I’ve had time to break them in get them ready for a five-mile trail run at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain. Here’s what I learned:

WEIGHT: The Merrells are quite a bit heavier than your standard running shoe or trail runner. They’ve got a beefy Vibram sole and fairly rugged construction everywhere else. However, they weren’t so heavy as to cause problems. My fatigue couldn’t be blamed on the shoes. And I have to wonder: If I train in heavier shoes regularly, will that actually make me stronger and faster in normal shoes? Hmmm…

COMFORT: For hiking, they’re great. They breathe well and have plenty of flexibility. This changes a bit when you pick up speed for a run, though. It’s here that their sturdy construction comes into play. By design, they have a stiff sole, so after an hour of running it’s not a surprise that I felt some discomfort develop in my arches, though not too much. It may be just something where my foot has to adjust to the shoe. But a run anything longer than five miles might be a problem. Overall, though, much better than I thought. I have to think that minimalist runners are cringing at this, saying I’m robbing myself of the opportunity to strengthen my feet in a more bare-bones set of kicks. They might be right.

PERFORMANCE: The Moab Ventilator excelled here. The soles gripped rock, mud, dirt and every other conceivable surface really well. I never lost my footing, despite conditions that would make the route tricky in spots. This included steep inclines with numerous tripping hazards and equally steep downhills where controlling speed (because of those same tripping hazards) was critical. No slipping at all, kind of what you’d expect from a great set of tires on a sports car.

I haven’t owned these shoes long enough to test their durability, but I’ve had good luck with Merrells before (I own some high-top hikers).

Overall, I think this experiment was a good one, and I’ll probably still keep using the Merrells for now, at least on rugged trails. I may yet change my mind and opt for more traditional mid-strike trail running shoes, and for people who run mellower trails I’d definitely go in that route. The Merrells on tamer, flatter trails would be overkill. But when rocks, roots, stumps and heavy elevation gain and loss abound, perhaps a more muscular shoe like the Moab Ventilator is just the ticket.

I think a lot of trail runners and minimalists might scoff at this, but keep in mind – this is merely a trial. Shoot me your ideas and input on this subject, especially if you’ve had a similar experience as me or have found a true lightweight trail runner that is durable on the rough stuff.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

13 thoughts on “Gear test: Merrell Moab Ventilator for trail running

  1. Pingback: Minimalist running gear test, part 3: Merrell True Glove on a trail run « proactiveoutside

  2. I used the Moab GTX for running in wet Canada, they have always kept my feet warm and dry. I know they are not meant for running, but they are super trail runners that can work for roads if needed. Other shoes have injured me or given me blisters, but not these bad boys!

    • Sounds like your experience is very close to mine. My Merrell Moabs are designed for hiking, but on the wet, rugged and muddy stuff, they’re great for trail running. It’s raining out there right now, and today is a trail day, so I’ll be bringing the big treads today. Thanks for the comment!

      • I have flat feet and got shin splints in my merrels. I’m not complaining though because I’m just built different AND i ran in them. I broke them in and use them for steady hiking. Other than that, they make a great hiking shoe. I get traction, comfort, and durability. I’m definitely keeping them and consider wearing a different shoe if I’m trail running.

  3. Two years later, I’m was debating what shoes to buy today—on a budget. Ultra-runner friend suggested Hokas, but really not in my price range at the moment, and I hike more than trail run. Plus travel globally extensively. Going with these thanks to your advice

  4. I’ve been shopping for trail runners for a few weeks and holding off on the urge to run, but decided ‘stuff it, ill just run in my moab mid gtx’s, a little chunkier than your lower cut ones, at 500g each. Lo and behold the running was fine. I was running in spurts. 500metres at a time before a 500metre rest, and while they may look heavy, they’re really not bad for light jogging. I might put off purchasing trail runners for some time and experiment a little more. Found this website after googling other peoples thoughts on the matter.

    • There have been a few times when I’ve run some parts of a mountain or trail in my Merrells. Like you said, a little chunky and not “sneaker” light, but lots of grip and comfort.

      If I’m strictly trail running, especially for distance, I’ve gravitated toward Salomon’s line of shoes. Good stuff there: Light, durable, lots of grip on the trail.

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