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Monday, December 12, 2011

The 2011 MGBG Grovie Awards

Well citizens, 2011 is fast coming to a close.  A lot has happened in the world of minimal shoes this year.  At the beginning of the year, we had precious few viable options in each category.  Now there are multiple companies producing minimal shoes, each with a whole line of different options to choose from.  It's been like Christmas all year for shoe geeks like me. 

I don't expect any more shoes to come out before the close of 2011.  So I thought now would be a great time to talk about which shoes were my favorites of the year.  These shoes will receive the coveted "Grovie Award", which denotes the shoe that I believe is the best in each category.  The shoes picked are not necessarily my favorites, but rather the ones that I think are objectively the best and/or most popular.

There will be no acceptance speeches for these awards.  That's the boring part anyway.  Also, Billy Crystal will not be hosting.  I may decide to let Kanye West disagree with my choices though... 

Best Road Shoe

And the nominees are: the Softstar Moc3, the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo, and the Altra Instinct

The winner is the Altra Instinct!  Are you surprised?  Here's why.  As a new shoe company, Altra has taken the minimal shoe world by storm.  They've enjoyed a meteoric rise because they've developed and marketed an incredible line of quality products.  And their number one seller this year is their Instinct shoe. 

Although it's not a shoe that I would run in, it's enjoyed huge popularity.  Much more popularity than the other two nominees, even though in my mind they have more "minimal" features.  That's especially true in the Crossfit arena.  It's turned thousands of folks on to the concept of minimal running and training.  I don't think you can say that about any other minimal road shoe on the market in 2011.   

Best Trail Shoe

And the nominees are: the New Balance Minimus Trail, the Merrell Trail Glove, and the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail

The winner is the Merrell Trail Glove!  It wasn't really even close here people.  The Merrell Barefoot line not only revolutionized minimalist trail running, it transformed the entire minimal running landscape.  People who would never even think of wearing a minimal shoe are flocking to these shoes.  They are flying off the shelves.  According to Amazon.com, it is the Top 50 most popular shoes of 2011.  That's all shoes of all kinds people, not just minimal shoes.  This shoe is like the Born to Run of footwear.   

Oh yeah...it's a really good trail shoe too.

Best Huarache

And the nominees are: the Invisible Shoe Connect/Contact, the Branca Barefoot line, and the Luna Sandal Equus line

The winner is the Invisible Shoe Connent/Contact!  2011 was really the year of the huarache.  We saw tons of new sandal companies crop up, all with great new innovative designs.  The big two companies (Invisible Shoe and Luna) also put out some great updates to their original models.  But Invisible Shoes took that innovation to the next level.  They went out and got a former Nike shoe designer to make the FeelTrue sole of their Connect and Contact huaraches.  The result is a powerhouse of a sandal that has no real apparent weaknesses. 

Best All-Around/Crosstraining Shoe

And the nominees are: the Vibram Fivefingers Komodosport, the Altra Instinct, and the New Balance Minimus Trail

The winner is the New Balance Minimus Trail!  Though I initially raged against using this shoe for anything but trail running, I must say I as well as tons of other people started using these shoes for everything.  They've become incredibly popular not only as trail shoes, but for everything from road shoes to weightlifting shoes.  They are incredibly versatile, and really comfortable.  Oh...they are a good trail shoe too...

Most "Minimal" Shoe

And the nominees are: the Soft Star Moc3, the ZEM 360, and the Altra Adam/Eve

Moc3 RunAmoc<br/>Black LITE

The winner is the Soft Star Moc3!  In this category I was looking for shoes that brought a user the closest to experiencing barefoot running.  All of the shoes listed are among the lightest and thinnest-soled shoes on the market.  But the Moc3 takes "barefoot feel" to a whole new level.  Soft Star brought in a designer (again from Nike...hmmmm) to design a shoe that would give people the closest thing to barefoot running.  It worked.  The 2mm sole is probably the closest a shoe will ever get to barefoot running.

Best Line-up

And the nominees are: the VIVOBAREFOOT, Altra Zero Drop, and Merrell

And the winner is VIVOBAREFOOT!  I think that VIVOBAREFOOT made the best attempt in 2011 to develop a full line of minimalist options.  All of the above companies developed shoes in multiple categories, but VIVOBAREFOOT developed several road shoes (the Neo and Lucy/Aqua Lite), a trail shoe (Neo Trail), an amphibious shoe (the Ultra), a huarache-style sandal (the Achilles), and multiple casual shoes.  If you like lots of options, VIVOBAREFOOT definitely has them. 

Best New Company

And the nominees are: Altra Zero Drop, Merrell, and New Balance

This is kind of like the new artist category of the Grammys.  Companies that are eligible must have begun making minimal shoes in 2011.  And the winner is Merrell!  Again, Merrell came up big this year with their barefoot line.  I don't think any other company comes close.

Best New Start-up Company

And the nominees are: Altra Zero Drop, STEM, and Branca Barefoot

Because I feel like Merrell kind of won on a technicality in the last category, I thought I would also recognize the awesome new start-up companies of this year.  2011 has seen the rise of a ton of new successful companies from the ground level.  As I mentioned before, I think Altra Zero Drop has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity.  That's because they've come out with a full line-up of really cool minimal and zero drop shoes.  Everything they've producted has been really quality.  And they are the most popular start-up company in 2011.  That's why they win the Grovie in this category.

MGBG's Favorite Shoe of the Year

And the nominees are: the Softstar Moc3, the STEM Origin, and the Bedrock Sandal

I've tested and reviewed a ton of shoes this year.  Not much impresses me anymore.  But the shoes listed above absolutely blew me away.  The one that wowed me the most was the Bedrock Sandal!  Before the Bedrock, I never thought I would be able to have a viable huarache option on the trail.  I loved these sandals so much that I used them to run a self-supported trail 50K.  You don't wear something for 31 miles of running unless you really like them.  I really do. 

And the 2011 Shoe of the Year is....

THE MERRELL TRAIL GLOVE!  Is anyone really surprised?  Merrell pretty much swept the Grovies this year.  This is their flagship shoe.  Nuf said...

From what I've seen so far, 2012 is going to be a great year for minimal shoes.  I'm going to be really busy!  Stay tuned!



  1. Now, I don't really agree on Merrell's TG (or any of their barefoot shoes for that matter) being a great shoe. Mainly because they are not modeled after a human foot... I think they are great looking and have some great features, but are way to narrow, just look at the sole. Hopefully they will actually make a shoe in 2012 that a habitual barefooter(wider foot) might be able to enjoy. I feel they went in the same style as most normal running shoes with the narrowness of the interior and missed completely, which is too bad.

    Glad to see you rated Altra as best startup. Great company with a great product.

  2. Well these awards are more about popularity than anything as I said Nick. In that respect it's hard to argue that the TG has dominated.

    I doubt you'll see a Merrell product that appeals to diehard barefooters. If the Road Glove is any indication, Merrell is more interested in marketing to the general population than us.

  3. Thanks again for recommending the Moc3s a while ago. I had two shod or semi-shod concrete/asphalt runs last week, and it sucked, but it sucked a lot less with the Moc3s than it might've otherwise. Plus, because they're so easy to slip on and off, I've taken them with me on several other early winter runs when I wasn't sure if I could complete the run barefoot. They're perfect back-ups. Looking forward to your Pah Tempe review ...

  4. Good post. It's obvious you put some thought into it and didn't just pick your favorites. Unfortunately, because of the subjectivity involved in such endeavors, there are always going to be those who disagree with your choices. I think your choices are solid.

    How about some lists in other running-related categories from the past year? For instance, the best races; best barefoot/minimalist events; best and worst running gear (non-shoe); best running blog/post (feel free to choose your own); best exchange with another blogger person who commented on something you wrote; barefoot/minimalist personality of the year; best moment of the year in barefoot/minimalist running; etc.

    Come on, Christian, kick the hornet's nest again.

  5. My response was written at 3 something in the morning, so sorry if it came across rude, didnt mean it to be. I can see how Merrell can be a popular shoe, it's very good looking, even if its not very comfortable. I guess it's like I say to my wife, I don't understand where looks in a shoe is more important than comfort and functionality. Always have this conversation when she complains about her feet hurting from her cute shoes...

  6. I agree. I think the Merrell looks better than it feels. It just doesn't fit my foot all that well, although I have to admit: I bought them a size too small. I am willing to give the Road Gloves a try when they come out, but, if they fit anything like the Trail Gloves, I'll pass and wait to try the Altra Sampson or the new Minimus Road. Then, I'll buy one of them, wear them a few times, and realize I prefer barefoot and my Invisible Shoes more. Alas, I have a history with this type of behavior.

  7. Haha! So do I Aaron so do I, minus the Invisible Shoes and insert my homemade huaraches.

  8. guys, the Road Glove is coming based on all of that feedback you are giving. I think you'll love it.

  9. Hey, where's my trophy?!


    Thanks so much, Christian... we have lots more planned for this year, too... so I hope we win it at least TWO categories next year!

  10. I have a very narrow heel so I find the TG to be extremely, extremely comfortable. I am so grateful for a shoe with a narrow heel and wide toebox. For me, it is an almost perfect shoe. I also run in Komodosports, Invisible Shoe Connects, and a bit of full barefoot. When it is cold or I want a bit of protection so that i can go fast, nothing beats my TGs

  11. Hey, Awesome post, and great picks on the Awards.. WOuld have liked to seen a pair of Vibrams mentioned in there tho ;)


  12. It's hard to believe that all this happened in 2011 alone. What an incredible year for the barefooting community. Christian, I'm going to make your 2012 list =)

  13. I'd love to see The Primal Professional in 2012 Mountain!

  14. I don't see any mention of Unshoes. Is there a reason for that? They look just like the Bedrock Sandals. Who copied who?

  15. I encourage you to look at this link for your explanation.


  16. And before you do...remember I'm just giving you a hard time.

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  19. Mountain biking shoe review for you.

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