THE RUNDOWN

Our Review: The all-new Merrell MTL Cirrus is a comfortable, protective, and highly durable shoe built for the toughest trails and conditions.

Surface
Trail
Stack Height
Moderate

When I think of Merrell’s trail running shoe lineup, the first shoe that comes to mind is the Trail Glove, a very minimalist line that skyrocketed in popularity several years ago. The new MTL Cirrus is a major departure from the next-to-nothing Glove design, and you know what? I’m totally okay with that.

Merrell teamed up with mountain runner Joe Gray to design the MTL Cirrus with big mountain skyrunning in mind. Built tough to withstand anything the mountain throws at them, these vibrant orange shoes have an amazingly sticky Vibram MegaGrip sole, stable and proactive feel, and surprisingly comfortable ride. And even with all that protection, they came out pretty light.

Arguably the toughest-feeling trail shoe I’ve ever put on my feet, I was excited to take them out for a spin.

The Specs

Weight
11.4 oz. (M), 8.0 oz. (W)
Offset
5mm
Heel/Forefoot
30mm/25mm
Midsole
FLEXconnect™ dual-directional flex-groove EVA midsole
Outsole
Vibram MegaGrip rubber compound
Upper
Durable mesh and TPU
Price
$160
Merrel MTL Cirrus
photo: Doug Hay

100 Miles In: The Review

My first thought after picking up the MTL Cirrus was that it felt like a cross between a trail runner and a hiking shoe. Merrell, of course, is better known for their hiking shoes and boots than running shoes, so it makes sense they’d pull from hiking inspiration for the running line.

The upper is all trail runner with its super lightweight mesh design. It’s breathable, drains well, and passes my “Can I see light through it?” test. I like a mesh upper thin enough to allow light through, so I know it won’t retain water or sweat. That is, as long as it doesn’t rip (more on that later).

The design features in the upper don’t stop with the mesh. The Hyperlock TPU film heel counter takes an otherwise soft and flexible upper and locks your heel in place. It also adds structure to the heel of the shoe, and, when combined with inner, instep-wrapping straps and a more snug and narrow fit than the famously wide toebox of the Trail Glove line, you have a shoe that locks your foot down comfortably without any weird pressure points.

The sole, however, is where I’m reminded of a hiking shoe.

These shoes are tough. Really tough. The Vibram MegaGrip rubber has massive lugs to grip any trail condition, and even with a moderate stack height, the TrailProtect rock plate virtually eliminates any concern of something poking or bruising the bottom of your foot.

All combined, what you’re left with is a shoe you should feel comfortable in when tackling the most rugged of terrain Throughout the first 100 miles, I took these through ankle deep mud, creek crossings, and loads of elevation change, and one thing stands out above anything else: You can barely tell I ran in them… Once you look past the dirt, that is.

The Vibram sole looks almost new, and the upper, while dirty, is showing no signs of wear other than a small spot on the inside ankle where I regularly have a rubbing issue. Despite being see-through thin, the mesh has held up without a single tear. And best of all? The midsole cushion feels just as responsive as it did on mile one.

All of which is a good thing, considering the surprisingly high sticker price of $160. Even for a tough running shoe, that’s a lot of money. But, I have to admit, it’s a breath of fresh air to wear a shoe you can put through the ringer that comes out just as strong on the other side.

Merrell MTL Cirrus
photo: Doug Hay

There’s the Rub

There’s no doubt the MTL Cirrus is tough enough to withstand rugged mountain terrain. But I sometimes found myself asking, are they too tough?

This is probably the stiffest running shoe I’ve ever used. When holding in your hands and pushing the toe towards the heel, there’s hardly any bend at all outside the toebox. At first, I thought this would be a huge downside, but after just a few short runs, I grew used to it.

It did become a problem in two situations. (1) When I wanted more ground feel, such as over patches of ice or rock-hopping terrain. And (2) when on the road. Most trail runners know that there are always some miles spent on the road (to the trail, connecting trails, etc.). The MTL Cirrus simply feels like too much shoe for the road, and even with a soft stride, you feel like you clunking your way down the pavement.

For that reason, I doubt these will become everyday kicks, but instead the shoe I pull out for messy terrain and big mountain days.

TL;DR

Merrell’s MTL Cirrus is a far departure from their Trail Glove line you may be familiar with. Instead, they designed a comfortable, protective, and highly durable shoe built for the toughest trails and conditions. If you’re looking for a trail running shoe with reliable grip and protection and willing to invest in a higher-priced option, you’ll be happy with the MTL Cirrus—well beyond the first 100 miles.

Doug Hay is a trail and ultra runner, father, and vegetable lover from Black Mountain, NC. Find him at Rock Creek Runner and as the co-host of No Meat Athlete Radio.