Awhile back, I did a gear review of Merrell’s Moab Ventilator shoe, using it as a trail runner. As I said in that earlier post, this particular product is not designed for running per se (it’s technically a low-top hiker), but it’s a versatile enough shoe that can be laced up for running trails.
It’s been several months since I wrote that initial review. In that time, I’ve put this pair through the paces in several capacities, all in terms of hiking and trail running.
Any decent gear review is going to consider a product after heavy use, not just initial quality and performance. I think I have the time and usage to revisit the Moab Ventilator and share a few thoughts.
As a hiker
I think it’s only fair that I review the shoe for its intended purpose: hiking. I’ve been able to take it out on the trails close to home at Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness (all Class 1 hiking on good trails with a solid mix of elevation loss and gain). I also wore these on a more rugged assignment, doing some off-trail hiking and scrambling in the Wichita Mountains of southwestern Oklahoma.
As a hiker, Merrell makes a light, sturdy shoe. The sole is made by Vibram, famous for the Five Finger shoe, but also well-known for making a killer, durable sole for a number of boot makers in the outdoor industry.
They don’t disappoint. They are tough and they grip the trail. Off-trail, they were excellent in gripping slabby, angled rock faces with steepness past 30 degrees. Off trail hiking included a good amount of active boulder-hopping.
Included in that trip to the Wichitas was some scrambling and climbing, going anywhere from easy Class 3 to low Class 5. Again, they didn’t disappoint, giving me good footing on what were at times less than favorable surfaces.
Since they are hiking shoes, it should be noted that you’re obviously not going to get the same feel of the rock that you would in climbing shoes. But for hikers, they’re more than adequate to handle sustained Class 3 and 4 routes and short, low-Class 5 pitches.
The pair I bought are not water-resistant, so keep that in mind if you’re looking to tramp through lots of water or snow.
As a trail runner
When I originally tested the Moab Ventilators, it was as a trail runner, mostly because I was afraid that the rugged nature of the places where I run trails would tear most conventional trail running shoes to pieces.
Not all trail runners are created equal, just as not all trail running paths are the same. The ones I run have numerous tripping hazards, exposed rocks and roots, steep inclines and a mix of bare rock, mud and sandy dirt. Some of the people I run with on occasion have brought brand new trail runners out there only to find them torn or punctured within a couple of weeks.
That’s not going to happen with the Moab Ventilator. Compared to most trail runners, these things are like an Abrams tank. Very few obstacles on the trail are going to damage these shoes.
Unfortunately, with that toughness you have to make a sacrifice in terms of weight. The sole is heavy duty, meaning it’s got much more heft than anything else on the trail running shoe market. Likewise, the upper has considerably more material, which adds to the weight but surprisingly does not sacrifice in terms of breathability and comfort.
Where the Moab Ventilator excels is how well it handles rough terrain. They grip the ground well and are light enough to allow you to soft-pedal technical terrain as you go. I’ve had good luck with them in mud, sand and bare rock, even on steep slopes.
In my earlier review, I mentioned that their stiffness put some strain on my arches. They’re well broken-in now, so that’s no longer a problem. They do have a higher heel (much different than the zero-drop minimalists I prefer), but overall this is a solid alternative to the less durable, lightweight trail running shoes on the market now.
As a hiker, I have no complaints. They’re perfect for day hikes or multi-day backpack trips, and tough enough to handle some of the rough stuff off-trail, including scrambles and non-technical climbing.
As a trail runner, just view them as the anti-minimalist. Compared to running shoes, they are not light. But they’re also not prohibitively weighty and are rugged enough to handle rough, technical terrain.
I’ll keep using them for hikes, and I continue to lace them up for trail runs. If you face pricklier, more demanding running routes, you might take a look at them as well.
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