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6.8 oz. (195 g) for a US M9,
5.8 oz. (165 g) for a US W7
25 mm in heel, 19 mm in forefoot (6 mm drop)
Aggressive, high-speed hill climbs
Vibram Megagrip outsole, FloatPro foam midsole, FlexPlate
TAYLOR: Who’s ready for me to beat the dead horse again? I’m starting to feel bad for the whoopin’ I’ve dealt to it at this point, but I always have my portable soap box with me and ready to go.
We’re talkin’ about Merrell, man. The outdoors company has been the real deal for long enough that it should at least be on your list of considerations if you’re after a new pair of trail kicks. Take Merrell seriously enough to slip on a pair, and you’ll know just what I mean.
Our team here at Believe in the Run has pretty much unanimously enjoyed Merrell’s recent offerings. The MTL Long Sky 2 has been great for all-around goodness, the Moab Flight for cushion and responsiveness, and the original Skyfire as a light, simple trail pick. Each has its unique flair, and each has earned its surprisingly stellar ratings. Oh, and they’re all moderately priced — what more could you want?
In no surprise to me, Merrell is continuing its upward trend by stepping a little further into the trail running race. Over the last few years, the designs have trended bigger, with only a few companies daring to challenge the max cushion race. Shoes like the Nnormal Kjerag, Salomon S/Lab Pulsar SG 2, and Naked T/r all boast featherweight specs and high performance in their own right.
The ISPO award-winning Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 is a direct contender to these lightning-fast and agile shoes. Early discussions centered around designing a shoe that was geared toward the VK (vertical kilometer) styles of racing. I don’t believe this shoe should be so boxed in, but it’s in that pipeline of performance for sure. We’re talkin’ technical, speedy terrain.
Strictly speaking, this is an update to one of my favorite trail shoes of all time, the Merrell Skyfire. When the Merrell Test Lab takes over, it becomes a different beast. Besides claiming the same name and being built on the same last, the MTL Skyfire 2 is tough to compare to the original model. What we’ve got is a complete overhaul for the sake of performance, with lightweight materials gracing the shoe from top to bottom. Some of these components really work in favor of the Merrell MTL Skyfire 2, and some hinder it. Let’s take a closer look.
TAYLOR: Coming in at a feathery 7.6 oz. for my US M10.5, the Merrell Test Lab isn’t playing around with its updated Skyfire. It’s like the Debbie Dealer at the supermarket who can basically get groceries for free because of her obsession with coupons. Every piece of this shoe was deliberate about weight savings. The only other shoe on the trail running market that matches this is the Salomon S/Lab Pulsar SG 2. Of course, there are benefits and drawbacks to getting into this weight category, but the MTL Skyfire 2 plays its cards really well.
Overall fit helps keep this flyweight body close to the foot. Fit was one of the most obvious positive points of the original Skyfire too. The foot shape is spot-on from heel to toe. There’s room for the average foot, and I never felt a need to force my foot into or through any parts of the shoe. Even though it’s not cripplingly narrow, my foot was held in place by the light engineered mesh and thin EVA footbed just as good as the S/Lab Pulsar SG 2 and Naked T/R.
Merrell’s no-sew engineered mesh/ TPU upper is thin, moderately breathable, very quick drying, and quite durable. There’s no stretch to speak of which keeps the fit consistent over all the miles. A singular elastic strap pulls the opposite ends of the lacing chain together for even more security. Both the fit and feel remind me of the Skechers GoRun Speed TRL Hyper, actually — another one of my past favorites that is truly underrated.
At one point in time, the MTL Skyfire 2 would have been an average stack running shoe. Nowadays, this is a minimalistic shoe with only 25/19 mm stack. Thankfully, the FloatPro foam is semi-protective and slightly responsive. Paired with the Flexplate, the overall feel is a medium/firm density with a little bit of zing. The ground feel is real but not as overwhelming as I thought it might be. In softer terrain, it’s actually really refreshing to have this combination of ground feel and protection.
Underfoot character is responsive because of how light and agile it is rather than feeling energy return from the midsole. The FlexPlate that’s sandwiched between layers of FloatPro foam does add confidence via added stability over dicey terrain.
Perhaps the most innovative piece of the shoe is the minimal coverage Vibram Megagrip outsole that still boasts a ton of grip. Five millimeter chevron lugs litter the underside of the MTL Skyfire 2, along with several cutouts in the outsole that saves a bunch of weight for a shoe like this. Initially, durability was a concern, but all of my lugs are still intact, and lamination is holding strong. As much as I do love some full rubber coverage, this design works very well, and I’m excited to see its application for future models too.Shop Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 - Men Shop Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 - Women
TAYLOR: Let’s get the obvious out of the way — this isn’t the most protective shoe. Even though the lightweight nimble package lends itself to cruising around technical terrain with ease, the moderate protection can only get you so far. I can run for a very fun hour rather comfortably in the Merrell MTL Skyfire 2, but not much more. The thin Floatpro midsole and Flexplate are not enough for overwhelmingly rocky technical terrain. Because I live in the Rocky Mountains, there happens to be a lot of that around. I wish I could confidently bring this shoe above treeline. Much like the VJ Spark, I could only push myself so far on hard terrain before needing to be wary of my foot placement. I do feel the Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 can do really well in slightly softer terrain, though.
If there’s ever a consistent gripe with Merrell trail shoes it’s that the heel collar’s construction is off a little. For the MTL Skyfire 2, the shape of the heel is fine. There is a minimal amount of padding around the rim of the collar. Just below that, the heel cup extends from the Flexplate and grabs just above the heel’s fat pad. Any uphill or truly fast-paced running was met with a tug on the fat pad, which created an odd sensation of threatening to pull off. I do think this dog is all bark and no bite, so the shoe won’t actually let your foot escape — it’s simply an odd sensation.
Also, $200 for a minimal trailblazer is steep. It doesn’t really matter what performance says at that price. For the amount of time runners will spend in this shoe, that price will naturally limit prospects.
All told, I really think this shoe could be more of a lethal threat if Merrell could add even a millimeter or two of foam and a little bit more structure or strategic padding in the heel. That would also make the bridge between the MTL Long Sky 2 and the MTL Skyfire 2 shorter, but it could be worth it in high-performance versatility.Shop Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 - Men Shop Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 - Women
TAYLOR: Do I think that the Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 can contend with the likes of Salomon and Nnormal? Absolutely. It has the specs to take on the giants. Great handling and uphill performance are certainly highlights of this package. Even more so, the slightly wider profile (at least compared to the Salomon and Nnormal shoes) will be appealing to a wider variety of runners. Overall, protection is the limiter of all these options for extremely light and minimal trail runners.
If you’re looking for a fun, short-distance, extremely fast, and very nimble trail runner, look into the new Merrell MTL Skyfire 2.
You can get the Merrell MTL Skyfire 2 for $200 from Merrell’s website by using the buttons below.
Taylor Bodin is a trail and ultra runner living in Estes Park, Colo., with his wife and daughters. Trail running is pretty much the only hobby he can manage right now and loves it. Every so often, he will pop off a race or FKT attempt because competition is pure and the original motivator for him getting into running anyways. When not running, Taylor is a 1st grade teacher, running coach (track & field, Cross Country, and Trail/Ultra athletes), and volunteers at his church.More from Taylor