Merrell is no stranger to the trail shoe market, having been a dominant force in the hiking world for decades. As for trail running shoes, Merrell is also a well known name, and has several options available, depending on your style and terrain type. One of their releases – the Nova 2 (Rainbow edition) – is a thing of beauty AND function! This shoe operates a little more like a low hiker but has the heart of a trail runner.
The Nova 2’s are well cushioned, with a chunky tongue, thick upper that surrounds the ankle, traditional lacing including a secondary upper lace hole for locking in the ankle, and lots of mesh for good breathability. I put them on at home just to walk around in them at first. They felt a little heavier (1lb 4oz. for the full pair), but not unbearingly so. Time for the real test!
Though I don’t get up as much as I would like to, Forest Park in Portland is definitely a great place to break in a new pair of trail shoes. For my first run, I headed off into the north end of the park with the goal of pushing the Nova 2’s on both the ups and the downs. The first few miles were good, with solid traction on both rocks and dirt, but I found the fit needed some adjusting over time. Stopping to tighten the laces helped and the remainder of the run proved that fit to hold.
Additional runs showcased that the Nova 2’s are all-stars when it comes to grip in most terrains, regardless of how steep it gets. The traction at both the toes and the heels are superb and I never felt like I was out of control. The insole offers a solid ride, the tongue and ankle cushioning are really comfy, and the rock plate/sole definitely work, as I pounded the down hills.
In regards to my fit challenges, playing around with a different lacing technique allowed me to get the shoes to cinch onto my feet a little better in the arch and ankle areas. I also want to clarify that it is not my intention to discount the overall fit, which is actually quite good overall. It just took a few times of maneuvering to get it right on my feet.
Overall, these are a good trail running shoe that seem to find their groove as a trainer. While I enjoyed these for running, I personally feel that these likely hit their sweet spot in the shorter runs AND longer distance hiking/running “cross training“. I have found these as my go-to when hiking as of late and they never let me down.
The traction and grip is fantastic, regardless of your pace or level of trail aggression. The Vibram sole is tough, and along with the rock plate, these are definitely meant to be hammered on, with good overall support. Lastly, the price is good and well worth it, as this model does not break the budget.
Lastly, I love the look of these shoes. I know that may be the least important aspect of the shoe, but I (and the myriad of people who comment on them) think these are a thing of beauty.
Thank you to Merrell for providing us with test shoes. Please read our transparency page for info on how we do our reviews.