Merrell Vapor Glove 3 Reviewed and Rated
Outdoor gear wizards Merrell offers several products under the Vapor 3 name. It is the older version of the Vapor 4. To cut down on confusion, we reviewed the Women's Vapor 3 cotton shoe. You can find it on many retail websites, often at a deep discount. It is a barefoot shoe with a lightweight cotton upper. A paper-thin outsole made by Vibram makes the shoe zero ground or zero drops. There is no visible difference in height between the heel and toe.
Chances are you have worn a zero drop shoe before. Converse Chuck Taylors are an example. If you look at a Chuck sitting on a shelf, the heel and toe are levels with each other; or they would be if the shoe didn't have a curve to conform to the shape of human feet. The flatness, in part, is what makes the Chuck a favored shoe for weightlifters.
Shoes like the Merrell Vapor 3, though, are truly minimalist or barefoot because they offer almost no padding, cushioning, or shock absorbers between you and the ground. Some runners thrive with that–if you do, or if you want to try, read on and find out if the Vapor 3 Cotton is for you.
Traction for gripping the ground, staying balanced on technical trails
Shoe is lightweight, keeping you nimble and cutting down on ankle fatigue
Thin sole, lack of cushioning help you feel the ground beneath you, building proprioception or awareness of body position
Shoe is flexible and comfortable, with no feeling of foot lockdown or immobilization
Cotton upper is breathable, so less odor and bacteria growth
In exchange for less cushion, you get an easier and more efficient gait
Shoes are okay to wear without socks, though you may want to for comfort reasons
Shoes offer almost no arch support--not good for over or underpronators
Some reviewers said the shoe is not durable enough for extended trail running
What we say about the construction, features, and other information applies to both the women's and men's shoes.
Barefoot and minimalist shoes were all the rage in the early 2010s. The Merrell Vapor 3 Cotton has a traditional toebox, but you could often see runners in five finger shoes, with a separate slot for each toe. This was meant to mimic the shape and mechanics of the human foot. Some five finger shoes were little more than reinforced socks with enough material to protect from cold and wet conditions.
The Vapor 3 Cotton has a traditional lace style. You tie them like you would any other sneakers. Their lightweight, traction, and solid materials suit them for walking, running, short hikes, and just wearing around town. You might even try them for Olympic lifting at the gym. Typical weightlifting shoe design includes minimal heel to toe drop, and thin soles to keep you grounded on the gym floor. The Vapor 3 allows you to plant your toes for a firm foundation. You could even do yoga in them if you get stuck somewhere without a mat. Purists may say wearing shoes during yoga gives you an unfair advantage, but the Vapor 3 is light and ethereal enough to give you extra grip without cheating at your favorite vinyasas.
We also found, through reading reviews, that the shoes are suitable for CrossFit WODs. CrossFitters need to stay light on their toes as they jump or sprint from one activity to another. CrossFit involves short runs, not anything like a 5K, so the durability problems we talked about won't come into play. We don't recommend the shoes for powerlifting since that sport needs a perfect form to avoid injury. Could you put a squat wedge insert inside the Merrell, to give you the extra boost you get from squat shoes? Probably, but we are reluctant to endorse that without more information.
The cotton construction and tough composite sole mean you can wear the Vapor 3 into the sauna after a workout. Just take them off and put on flip flops before you enter the shower; the water resistance is good, but not that good.
Though there's practically no cushioning, Merrell did provide a sturdy reinforced heel counter. The heel counter is the rounded part that conforms to the shape of your back foot, where the long bones in your legs meet the ball of your heel. In comfort or lifestyle shoes, these will be soft, with a lot of giving and perhaps memory foam. But the Vapor Glove 3 is for performance, so the heel counter is made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU).
TPU is a polymer made up of both hard and soft plasticized co-polymers. It is covered in stitched fabric, so your foot doesn't rub against the plastic while you walk or run. TPU fights grease, abrasions, and has heat-resistant properties. To understand a non-heel counter wear experience, try a pair of Chucks or low-priced knockoffs. There's no heel counter, just canvas, making the shoes ineffective for running or extended walks.
Merrell calls their heel counter design "Hyperlock" (it's trademarked). The idea is that the heel counter and fabric lock that part of your foot in place, giving you stability without adding extra weight or cushioning.
The outsole, or very bottom part of the shoe, is made by Vibram. Vibram was at the forefront of the barefoot running boom, being the inventors of the five-fingered sock-like runner we talked about. The outsoles are thin and hard, with grippy texture on the bottom. It gives you traction and protection against rocks, tree roots, and debris. Though the tread pattern is different, the Vapor 3 outsole works the same way a car tire does. That also means it will wear down over time, so you may not want to wear the shoes every day and will want to rotate them if you hike or run trails often.
We couldn't find any details about the laces that come with the shoes. They seem to be standard issue coated flat textile laces. We do know there are six eyelets. The bottom five have stitching and a square shape, not like round eyelets with metal grommets that you see on many sneakers. It makes for a tight lace and fit, so the laces won't come loose while also not cutting into your feet if you pull them tight. You may want to upgrade the laces--six-eyelet laces are cheap, plentiful, and come in all sorts of materials and colors. In fact, there's room for a comfort insert if you want to add some cushioning and use the Vapor 3 for longer walks and errand running. They are stylish, comfortable, and lightweight enough for daily wear with moderate hacking.
Bonus Features And Fun Facts
For vegans and plant-based fitness junkies: Merrell does sell a number of products that contain animal leather. They use the meat industry by-products, which is transparent on the website. Merrell works to ensure it's leather suppliers meet certain eco-friendly standards and ethical practices.