Merrell Nova review

The Merrell Nova appeared to have the right balance of lightweight performance, grip and cushioning.

It gets the job done well so that I could make it to the mountaintop in record time!

The Merrell Nova is a rugged-looking shoe

The Merrell Nova is a rugged-looking trail runner with a lace-up closure.

Its design is similar to that of brands such as Altra or Topo, with a lower heel-to-toe drop than many traditional running shoes and a roomy toe box.

I like the various colorways offered in this model, and chose the black/olive/lime green just based on preference. The outsole is heavily lugged and is made with Vibram for durability.

Overall, the Merrell Moab Adventure Luna Lace looks and feels ready for adventure.

The Merrell Nova fits just right

I am a size 9.5 in most athletic shoes (and on a Brannock device), and these shoes seem completely true-to-size.

I appreciate the added feature of an extra lace hole at the collar of the shoe, which really locks the heel into place. 

I didn’t feel like my heel was loose in the shoe, which is a critical factor in blister prevention.

My feet stayed locked in place on steep declines, which can be an issue in some models that don’t have the extra lace hole at the collar. I also appreciate the wider toe box, which allows for natural toe splay.

Overall, the fit on this shoe is a 10/10.

A lightweight shoe

The Merrell Nova is a lightweight shoe, which makes it perfect for rock-hopping, faster hiking, bouldering, or trail running. At no point did I feel weighed down by the shoes during any activity.

I found that I was able to summit a mountain faster than usual in this model, running partway and hiking the rest. There are a few shoes that would allow me to do this.

Breathable upper

The upper is made of a durable yet breathable textile with overlays for structural support. I appreciate the way that the upper wraps around my feet and to snugly hold them in place.

I have seen reviews online complaining about a lack of durability in the upper for this model. Still, given my experience, I would have to assume that those were merely defective items rather than the whole product line.

The shoe includes a durable toe bumper for protection as well. I can attest that, without the bumper, I would have probably experienced a toe stub on at least one of my hikes or runs. 

Reflective strips on the Nova

The heel cup on the Merrell Nova is rigid yet padded to keep my feet free from unwanted motion inside the shoe.

It includes a few reflective strips for visibility in low-light conditions. The padding inside the heel is soft and comfortable, keeping the heels blister-free.

Attenuate shock from running or hiking

The midsole of the Merrell Nova is comprised of a thick layer of foam with heel and forefoot cushioning pods.

The stack height (the difference between heel and toe height) is the only 8mm, which isn’t much. This allows for a solid connection with the ground when in motion and adds to the overall feeling of stability. 

I found the cushioning to be more than adequate to protect my feet from the trails and attenuate shock from running or hiking.

Soft, mildly cushioned insole

The shoe comes with a soft and nicely contoured stock insole that is easily removable. The stock insole is soft and provides a little cushion.

It appears to be designed around a neutral or medium arch. I replaced the stock insole with my doctor-prescribed orthotics with no issue. The stock insole may be fine for some people until it wears out.

Superb traction

The outsole is where the Merrell Nova really shines.

The sole includes Vibram material for durability and a rock plate for protection. The triangular lugs are very helpful in preventing slips and skids on rough terrain.

My experience was very positive with this feature, which protected me from injury more than a few times when scrambling over some sharp rocks. I felt very confident running and hiking in these shoes on everything from loose dirt to the rocky ground.

As a trail runner

The Merrell Nova is designed as a trail runner, and it works well for this purpose. The features that make it so great for hiking also weigh in its favor as a trail runner.

I appreciated the lightweight design, overall flexibility, cushioning pods in the heel and forefoot, and excellent traction that this model provides.

This shoe will really only be suitable for a neutral runner, however, given the lack of any sort of firm arch support. To me, this matters even more in a running shoe than in a hiker given the additional force of pounding the ground during a run.

Therefore, I give this shoe an 8.5/10 as a trail runner. Still very good, but some firmer material under the arch area would make it excellent.

Facts / Specs

Terrain: Trail
Weight: 10.9oz
Drop: 8mm
Arch support: Neutral
Update: Merrell Nova 2
Forefoot height: 26mm
Heel height: 34mm

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David Cooley
David Cooley

I’m Dave Cooley, a forty-something father of two and a fitness enthusiast living in the suburbs outside of San Diego. I have been able to maintain a good fitness routine since I decided to begin running in 1998. I run about 10 miles per week as well as lifting weights, hiking and practicing yoga. My focus has always been on maintaining a sustainable fitness routine which can be incorporated into my busy life, and I also want to model for my children that adults can be fit and healthy.