Most trail running shoes are the size of regulation footballs and have soles like tractor tires. If your typical weekend run requires a headlamp and bear spray, all that mass makes sense. But if the closest local trail weaves through a city park, and you have to run 20 concrete blocks to get there, lacing up a pair of clunky, rugged sneakers can feel (and look) a little ridiculous.
Merrell’s Bare Access Flex offers a hybrid option for city dwellers who occasionally dabble in dirt paths. They don’t sport the deep, multi-directional lugs characteristic of Merrell’s line of traditional trail running shoes and hiking boots, but the Flex’s sticky soles will give you more traction on wet gravel and slippery rocks. The breathable mesh upper is more flexible than durable, which works for runners who prefer a snug, secure fit over added protection from trail debris — which is fine if your neighborhood park isn’t full of downed trees and falling rocks. At only seven ounces a shoe, the Flex is lightweight enough to hop over uneven turf and knobby roots, and you could definitely wear these shoes during a fast, 5K road race, lunchtime treadmill workout, or HIIT session.
While most trail running shoes come in colorways specifically designed to hide mud and grime, the Flex finds a compromise between fashion and function. The cyan color, in particular, won’t hold up to much more than dusting, but it looks great with a pair of jeans or casual shorts. [$90; merrell.com]