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Casual Minimalist Work Shoe Reviews: Merrell Tough Glove, Merrell Edge Glove, Vivobarefoot Aqua, Vivobarefoot Neo

Posted on April 21 2012

Merrell Tough Glove PairI’ve spent a lot of time on this blog writing about minimalist running footwear. Much of this stems from my own personal journey from more traditional running shoes to more stripped down models. However, one of the things I have begun to notice over the past year or so is that I have a much wider tolerance for variation in running footwear than I do for casual, all-day shoes. While I don’t mind running in a shoe with a bit of heel lift, I now spend the vast majority of my shod, non-running time in zero drop shoes with a wide toebox. It’s what my feet have come to prefer, and I’d find it hard to ever go back.

One of the challenges to going zero-drop full time is that options are more limited among casual shoes, particularly shoes that are suitable to wear to work. Given that my dress code as a professor is a bit more casual than in, say, the business world, I’ve been able to manage without much trouble. I do get asked quite frequently about minimalist work and casual shoes, so I thought I’d write up a post about the current rotation of shoes that I wear to the office (and while lecturing in front of a crowd of 90+ students!).

Here are the four shoes in my current work rotation:

Merrell Tough Glove

Merrell Tough Glove TopMerrell Tough Glove sole

Merrell Tough Glove

From an appearance standpoint, the Merrell Tough Glove is my favorite of the four shoes reviewed here – it’s a really nice looking shoe. They are made of full-grain leather and are nice enough that I can wear them with a sport coat, and have done so at admissions events where I have to present to large groups of prospective students and parents. The fit is great – they hug my feet like gloves through the heel and midfoot, and widen nicely in the forefoot (though not as much as the Vivobarefoot Aquas – see below). Flexibility is excellent.

My one complaint about the Merrell Tough Glove is the sole. It’s the exact same sole as that found on the Merrell Trail Glove, and while the sole feels great on soft surfaces, it’s not as comfortable on hard ground. The heel is slightly rounded and is composed of firm rubber so it tends to concentrate pressure under the center of my calcaneus when I walk. It’s not painful, but I’d prefer a flatter, slightly softer heel in a shoe meant for walking. (Update 10/2012: The sole does seem to soften a bit with continued use – they have been my go to work shoe so far this school year.)

The Merrell Tough Glove has been discontinued, but stock is still available at Zappos. Get a pair before they’re gone forever!


Merrell Edge Glove

Merrell Edge Glove TopMerrell Edge Glove sole

Merrell Edge Glove

The Merrell Edge Glove is a relatively new offering in the Merrell Barefoot collection. Made of suede leather, the Edge Glove is a bit more casual than the Tough Glove. Like the Tough Glove, it is both zero drop and flexible, and offers a very roomy fit. It feels a bit roomier through the midfoot – while the Tough Glove is clearly a close cousin of the Trail Glove, I would compare the Edge Glove to the Merrell Road Glove in terms of fit and feel. Like the Road Glove, the Edge has a flatter, wider sole (particularly in the heel), and is thus more comfortable for walking on hard surfaces. However, also like the Road Glove it has a bit more support under the arch. This does not bother me, and I find the Edge Glove quite comfortable for all day wear.

If Merrell took the sole of the Edge Glove and combined it with the upper and fit of the Tough Glove you would have one fantastic shoe. As they are, both are great choices, and personal preference will largely dictate whether aspects like the heel of the Tough Glove or arch of the Edge Glove will be a problem for you.

The Merrell Edge Glove is available at Zappos.

Vivobarefoot Aqua

Vivobarefoot Aqua

The Vivobarefoot Aqua is hands down the most comfortable of all of the zero drop shoes that I wear to work. The sole is ultraflexible, the toebox is expansive, and they honestly feel like a broken-in pair of slippers. They aren’t necessarily the best looking pair of shoes, but when it comes to pure comfort they are tough to beat. I have also found them to be remarkably durable – after over a year of use there is barely any wear visible on the sole, and this despite using them almost exclusively last Spring semester and most of the Fall semester. Fantastic shoe. I have posted a full review of the Vivobarefoot Aquas here.

The Vivobarefoot Aqua is available at Planet Shoes.

The Aquas are probably not nice enough to wear with a suit, so for a shoe with a similar build you might check out the Vivobarefoot Ra. Although I have not tried them myself, I known a few people who wear the Vivobarefoot Ra with a business suit.

Vivobarefoot Neo AirmeshVivobarefoot Neo Sole

Vivobarefoot Neo

As I mentioned above, one of the benefits of my job is that I can get away with fairly casual attire and footwear. Last summer Vivobarefoot sent me a pair of black and yellow Neos to try out. I’ve worn the shoes a few times on runs, but although they give great ground feel and have a wide toebox, I’ve always felt that they looked more like a casual shoe than a running shoe (a problem with many Vivobarefoot shoes…). Furthermore, the black/yellow color combo didn’t appeal to me very much.

Several months ago Vivobarefoot released an airmesh version of the Neo, and I purchased a pair in the olive color shown above. This is definitely a casual shoe and not one you would wear on a dressier occasion, but it works fine for my work environment where I am often hanging out in a lab filled with dead animals. The Neo is a great fitting shoe like the Aqua, though the sole is a bit different – it has those hexagonal lugs seen in the photo above and is made of a firmer rubber. Despite this, it’s a super comfortable shoe for walking around, and I could use it as an ultraminimal running shoe with great ground feel should I desire to do so. Unfortunately, it appears that Vivobarefoot may have discontinued the olive colorway that I have (I really like the look of it), but a few other airmesh colorways are available at Zappos

Well, those are the four shoes I wear most often to work these days. On occasion I can go a bit further toward the casual side and be spotted in lab wearing Inov-8 Bare-X 180’s(my personal favorite out-and-about shoe right now – simply awesome!), but for a laid back work environment that does not require a suit, any of these shoes would be a good choice.

If you have any other suggestions that have not been mentioned here, please share in the comments. And if you have any suggestions for minimal shoes that work with a suit (since I’ve only worn a suit only about twice in my life!) please share as well.

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