Many moons ago, when I young, naive and inexperienced, I started my life in the hills with some expensive, heavy and blister-inducing walking boots. Some of that is documented here and makes for some funny reading now! Luckily, I lived and learned a lot in short time (and spent a lot of money too) and I discovered trail shoes through the Merrell Chameleon Wrap Slam GTX. At the time these were an absolute revelation and I was over-whelmed by the lack of blisters, comfort and general feeling of freedom! Over time, as with most things, I started to notice some of the pitfalls and couldn’t get over the issues I had with grip over wet terrain. Back then I was gutted since I’d loved those damn shoes but our relationship reached its natural end when I got bored of picking myself up having slipped on wet rock! I since went on, as you all know, to Inov-8 un-lined trail shoes and have never really looked back - save for considering going back to a lined shoe for winter purposes.
So….when Merrell contacted me to see if I wanted to try out the latest improved version of their Chameleon trail shoe, the Chameleon 5 GTX, I felt it only right, no – a duty, to try them out!
It’s no secret that Merrell make a notoriously comfortable shoe in the Chameleon but I wanted to see how this new version stood up on the grip front….
Fit is as is always was and perfect for me in 7.5. The shoe’s appearance has clearly changed in that the toe area isn’t as rounded and goofy-looking as I used to find it in the old version. There’s also the addition of a beefier reinforced toe section that can only offer better protection and durability.
On visual inspection I found that the Vibram sole has a slightly more aggressive pattern than the round bubble-shaped extrusions of old that would struggle on a damp man-hole cover – let alone wet terrain!
Merrell could only send my size in the tan colour, whereas I would have preferred black. For those who like to introduce colour into their footwear – there’s also a dark brown version.
So, onto real world testing….
I have had little opportunity to really abuse these shoes but in many ways this isn’t important. I’ve worn them over enough miles in my summer socks to know they are comfortable, waterproof (if not a little warm due to the Goretex lining) and durable. The shoe is available in an unlined version which will most likely offer better ventilation, is slightly cheaper and lighter.
I found the shock absorption to be nothing short of amazing and such that there’s almost a slight spring that you often get from brand new trainers! This may well diminish as the insole sees more use but its a noticeable difference from my Innov-8 shoes which are built for speed and weight, rather than all-out comfort.
Anyway, what I was really interested in was whether the sole compound and grip pattern offered any improvement over my previous, beloved Wrap Slam’s! I decided to head out on a wet Sunday morning with Lolli to find out and donned the new Chameleon’s - expecting the worst. In the dry the grip is excellent, as you’d expect, but in the wet this sole seems far more capable than the last and there’s a definite improvement. I still need to do some real tests on the the rocks one only finds in deep, dark Cumbria (the ones that harvest moss and lichen and are akin to an ice rink) but I was impressed from the off. Lolli, being a bonkers Springer Spaniel, loves to pull on her lead like she’s Rudolph trying to get a sleigh airborne on Christmas eve! This can be tricky over rough, slippery terrain so I was pleased to find that I could anchor myself when needed. This could be down to a better pattern, better compound or a combo of both. Merrell say the sole is made up of TC5+ rubber and whatever this is, its a welcome improvement over the previous sole – to the point that its completely different in use.
Whilst all of this is good, I’m still mindful of weight. I intend on using these more in the colder/wetter months when I just want convenience over my un-lined trail shoes, so weight isn’t a massive concern. However, there are lighter, Goretex lined trail shoes out there and my size 7.5s weigh in at 922g per pair.
To my mind this shoe wins on durability and comfort, if not on weight and breathability. With the improved lug depth and pattern of the sole, along with stickier rubber, those wanting a durable, comfortable trail shoe could do a lot worse.
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