Merrell Bare Access 2 Review: Welcome to Kanagawa!

I could have gone with a less obscure reference, like something from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado, but no, I go with Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures. What I’m trying to say is, wearing the Merrell Bare Access 2 makes me feel like a geisha.

I own a small commercial venture
With a modest clientele
In Kanagawa.

I should mention that they sent me the wrong size, and that it was totally Iris‘ fault. While that helps explain some of my initial shock at their gargantuaness, I’m afraid even a properly sized pair wouldn’t make that much of a difference.

The last is the same as their other shoes in their Brefoot (sorry, can’t do it) line, so that part is all good. Wide toebox, etc. They’re really light, too, which is an impressive feat (ha) of technology given the stack of the sole. I don’t know how high off the ground they claim their shoes will take you, but I’m a barefoot runner with excellent proprioception and I can say with certainty that I am eight inches taller when wearing this shoe.

Now, I know you’re probably expecting me to say all this cushion is a bad thing. And, in a few cases, I will meet your expectations. As the open-minded and humble person that I am, however, I am able to see the advantages of the added elevation. The three that come immediately to mind are:

1. There’s a water crossing and you don’t want to get your feet wet.
2. You’ve entered the Thumbtack 5K.
3. You want to know firsthand “how’s the weather up there.”

I’m sure there are others. Merrell says they’re for ultras and beginners. Ultras I can understand, but in a way that makes me not want to run ultras. I can imagine being so exhausted and tired and, uh, sleepy that my body is incapable of running with good form, and the the course still has lots of technical descents to go. Then I might want a little extra cushion, because screw gentleness, just get to the damn finish already. But beginners…

Wait, first let me tell you how my 3.8 mile run in them went. Not as bad as I thought! One of the advantages of being all barefooty is that my feet are smart. I can adjust to different environments, even an oversized cushy shoe. I even kind of enjoyed them, especially on the downhills. I did something I haven’t done in years – I stomped! None of that namby-pamby fluttering down like a downy feather released from a stork carrying a newborn puppy in swaddling clothes. I felt like Voltron landing after all the lion parts come together, all thuddish and substantial.


Which brings me back to beginners. Obviously, I’m at odds with the whole “transition to barefoot” thing. I think it’s backwards – that if you want to run like a barefooter, you should human-up and take off the shoes already. Change the way you move and think until it goes from painful to uncomfortable to tolerable to not so bad to quite nice.

But I’m in the minority, and recognize the fact that most people are going to insist on some kind of shoe. Fine, but those who aspire to run in a minimalist fashion would be better served finding a shoe that allows stomping to hurt. The Merrell Bare Access 2 isn’t it.


This felt like I was born on the side of a hill.

The size discrepancy isn’t as pronounced as this looks. The sole is so thick, it’s considerably closer to the camera.

The Road Glove and the Trail Glove are MUCH easier to clean after stepping in dog poo, although both are beat by the Flux Glove. This is an important feature for someone of my vocation. The deep grooves in the sole gross me out.

I think this might be the most negative review I’ve ever written. Now go out, buy the shoe, fall in love with it, and tell me I’m a cranky purist. Don’t worry, I can take it. Besides, I feel like Merrell is just setting me up for the Vapor, which I like to think they designed especially for me.

9 thoughts on “Merrell Bare Access 2 Review: Welcome to Kanagawa!

  1. You’re lucky you made that “Bringing Up Baby” reference or I’d have to sock you one. I like these shoes, as I will officially proclaim in my review (which will be published on Sunday at They’re perfect for the nondogmatic zero-drop aficionado who enjoys a very long run and has perhaps a touch of sciatica or just plain old sore feet.

    And I still say you said 8.5 when I asked your size.

  2. I appreciate that you recognize a shoe’s potential for easy cleaning after dog-poo incidents. You of all reviewers would be able to speak with the greatest authority on the matter. I developed an interest in this aspect of a shoe after “cleaning” doggy do out of those hexagonal pits that comprise the sole of a certain other minimalist shoe. Horrible experience, that.

  3. Nice. One more shoe I won’t have to think about. Though on the trails around here I’ve been wearing either Bikilas or Invisible-I-mean-Xero shoes lately. Leaves, it turns out, obscure rocks. The rocks, though, don’t seem to notice.

    So I can run barefoot, but it hurts if I go too fast. And too fast is also known as a walking pace.

    Maybe after the Blue Ridge Marathon (my first in 20 years, and only possible b/c of barefoot/minimalist shoes) I’ll become more of a purist. And be ready for leaves next year.


    • I’m almost always in some kind of footwear on trails. I’m also pretty bad at trail running. Do I need footwear on the trails because I’m clumsy? Or am I clumsy because I’m wearing footwear?

      Re Blue Ridge, the roads are pretty rough and steep. My feet made it through the course just fine for the inaugural race (both Blue Ridge and my first barefoot marathon), but the second year I wore aqua socks because of the torrential downpour. Good luck!

  4. Pingback: Shoe Review: Merrell Bare Access Arc 2 » Manic Runday

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