Our verdict

We love the Merrell Nova 3 as it stands out as a versatile shoe catering to a wide range of runners and outdoor activities. Its environmentally friendly, durable upper complements a generously cushioned midsole, ensuring comfort and support for extended adventures, be it running, walking, or hiking. We were particularly impressed by the Vibram outsole, which offers exceptional grip and durability. However, the shoe's weight is a tad heavier than ideal, and at times, its stiffness was more noticeable than we'd like. Nonetheless, considering its fair price point and the array of impressive features it offers, we believe the Nova 3 is a solid choice.

Pros

  • Upper crafted entirely from recycled materials
  • Ideal for beginners
  • Versatile for both hiking and walking
  • Superb Vibram outsole with effective Traction Lugs
  • Attractive pricing for its features
  • Integrated rock plate for underfoot protection
  • Secure heel lockdown
  • Really cushioned

Cons

  • Only suited for mild to moderate trails
  • Needs a reduction in weight
  • Not suited for fast paces

Audience verdict

85
Good!

Who should buy

We believe the Merrell Nova 3 is an excellent choice for:

  • Trail running beginners seeking a versatile, high-quality shoe suitable for both running and hiking adventures.
  • Runners looking for a reasonably priced shoe featuring a Vibram outsole and eco-friendly materials.
  • Anyone needing a shoe that does a great job on easy to moderate terrains.

Merrell Nova 3

Who should NOT buy

While the Merrell Nova 3 is a solid choice for many, it may not suit everyone's needs. For example, some runners might prefer a more flexible shoe, such as the New Balance Fresh Foam X Hierro v7.

Additionally, the Nova 3 isn't ideally suited for fast-paced running. We advise speed enthusiasts to consider other options with Vibram outsoles, like the Hoka Speedgoat 5, for a balanced option, or the Nike Ultrafly, for best-in-class energy return paired with a carbon plate.

Merrell Nova 3

Breathability

The Merrell Nova 3's upper is made of thick engineered mesh, leading us to believe that its breathability might not be outstanding. Yet, considering it's an all-season shoe, extreme breathability isn't always wanted, unlike with most road running shoes.

Our smoke test gave it a moderate score of 3/5 in the lab, aligning with the average for trail shoes. This seems like a wise choice for a shoe designed for both winter runs and summer hikes.

When we shone a light through the upper, we noticed small air gaps, particularly in the toebox, which is more ventilated than the medial part of the shoe.

Merrell Nova 3 microscope

We then examined the shoe under the microscope, one of the highlights in our lab tests for revealing intricate patterns and textures.

Merrell Nova 3 microscope close

The mesh we observed was multi-layered, allowing some airflow but without large ventilation holes. It appears Merrell has opted for boosting durability, which we'll explore soon.

In our final check of the upper, we discovered a thoughtful touch from Merrell: holes drilled into the inner fabric placed in the forefoot and midfoot. Without these, the shoe would likely have failed in the breathability test.

Test results
Nova 3 3
Average 3.3
Compared to 83 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Toebox durability

We expected a decent toebox durability from the Merrell Nova 3, and it delivered just that (3/5). While not exceptional, we were satisfied with the outcome.

It's also noteworthy that the Nova 3's mesh upper is 100% crafted from recycled materials. This isn't just greenwashing, unlike some shoes that claim to be "eco-friendly" with only 5% or 10% recycled content.

Merrell Nova 3 Toebox durability
Test results
Nova 3 3
Average 3.1
Compared to 63 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

In our heel durability test, the Merrell Nova 3 fell short, scoring a disappointing 2 out of 5.

Although most runners might not notice significant wear and tear in this area over hundreds of miles, we had hoped for a more robust performance, especially considering the shoe's overall build and purpose.

Merrell Nova 3 Heel padding durability
Test results
Nova 3 2
Average 2.9
Compared to 61 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

Moving to the outsole, we were excited to see the Vibram logo—a name synonymous with top-quality soles.

Merrell Nova 3 Vibram

The Merrell Nova 3 features the Vibram TC5+ rubber, which is on the softer side compared to other options. With a hardness of only 75.5 HC and equipped with Traction Lugs, it's clear that the focus is on grip.

However, this raises a question about its durability in our lab. Could this softer rubber compromise the outsole's longevity?

Merrell Nova 3 Outsole hardness
Test results
Nova 3 75.5 HC
Average 85.4 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
72.5 HC
Outsole hardness
95.0 HC

Outsole durability

To find out, we revved up the Dremel for the third—and final—time. After it diligently worked over the rubber, we noted a 0.8-mm indentation.

This is an average result, but for such a soft rubber, we deem it fantastic. It's quite an achievement to balance softness for grip with enough resilience to withstand wear.

Merrell Nova 3 Outsole durability
Test results
Nova 3 0.8 mm
Average 0.9 mm
Compared to 56 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

Fortunately, our previous test yielded satisfactory results. This was crucial because the outsole is quite thin at just 1.5 mm.

Merrell Nova 3 outsole

Had it fared poorly, we would have faced significant concerns about wear and tear.

Merrell Nova 3 Outsole thickness
Test results
Nova 3 1.5 mm
Average 2.4 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
0.9 mm
Outsole thickness
6.5 mm

Weight

Tipping the scales at 10.8 oz (305g), the Merrell Nova 3 is heavier than it looks.

While it doesn't weigh us down too much during runs and hikes, we're keen to see if Merrell can shave off some of this bulk in the v4.

Test results
Nova 3 10.76 oz (305g)
Average 10.30 oz (292g)
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
7.51 oz (213g)
Weight
13.37 oz (379g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

The heel of the Merrell Nova 3, measuring 34.1 mm, offers ample cushioning, making it suitable for longer distances.

By the way, the orange piece on the heel—that's the FloatPro Foam pod, specifically designed to add softer cushioning in the landing area for heel strikers.

Merrell Nova 3 Heel stack
Test results
Nova 3 34.1 mm
Average 32.2 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
16.1 mm
Heel stack
42.4 mm

Forefoot stack

In our lab, we measured the forefoot of the Merrell Nova 3 at 24.2 mm, which is an average thickness.

This should work well for all footstrike types. For those concerned about sharp rocks, Merrell has included a forefoot-only rock plate to address this exact issue.

Merrell Nova 3 Forefoot stack
Test results
Nova 3 24.2 mm
Average 24.5 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
15.2 mm
Forefoot stack
33.9 mm

Drop

This shoe features a 9.9-mm heel-to-toe drop, positioning it for heel strikers, though it's suitable for anyone.

In fact, a 10 mm drop is often considered the safest bet for daily training shoes.

Merrell Nova 3 Drop
Test results
Nova 3 9.9 mm
Average 7.8 mm
Compared to 105 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
-0.1 mm
Drop
17.3 mm

Insole thickness

The insole is quite thick at 6.2 mm, contributing to the shoe's high stack height. However, it obviously offers less pronounced energy return compared to the foam.

Merrell Nova 3 Insole thickness
Test results
Nova 3 6.2 mm
Average 4.7 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
2.7 mm
Insole thickness
9.8 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

The Nova 3 midsole features FloatPro, a modified EVA-based foam that delivers a balanced ride for those who don't love overly soft or firm midsoles.

If there's one word to describe it, it's average—both in energy return and softness. The durometer reading of 24.0 HA aligns with our experience while running, reflecting this balance.

Merrell Nova 3 Midsole softness
Test results
Nova 3 24.0 HA
Average 22.7 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 82 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
9.1 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
39.0 HA

Midsole softness in cold

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

We tested the Nova 3's performance in extremely cold conditions by freezing it for 20 minutes.

After the freeze, we retested it and found the hardness increased to 28.1 HA.

Merrell Nova 3 Midsole softness in cold
Test results
Nova 3 28.1 HA
Average 28.2 HA
Compared to 82 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
11.8 HA
Midsole softness in cold (soft to firm)
48.4 HA

Difference in midsole softness in cold

That's just a 17.2% difference—a nice outcome for an EVA-based midsole. This ensures that, regardless of the outside temperature, the Nova 3 will maintain a consistent feel.

Curious about how temperature affects foams? We have an informative guide to help you out.

Test results
Nova 3 17.2%
Average 26.4%
Compared to 82 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in midsole softness in cold
100%

Stability

Lateral stability test

One advantage of balanced cushioning and not using super-soft foams is that it naturally increases stability.

Merrell Nova 3 walls

Combine this with the large midsole walls Merrell designed in the midfoot, creating a bathtub-like effect, and you get a pretty stable ride.

Torsional rigidity

During our initial test runs, we noticed the shoe felt stiff, similar to some shoes with carbon plates. However, this shoe lacks one, so the stiffness comes from the rock plate and dense foam.

This design contributes to the shoe's overall support, but don't expect it to be as comfortable for all-day wear as a flexible sneaker.

Test results
Nova 3 5
Average 3.5
Compared to 100 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

The heel counter is flexible and comfortable, scoring a 2/5 in our tests. This flexibility is likely because added stiffness isn't beneficial for this shoe, which isn't intended for super-fast descents or tight corners.

If that's what you need, you might want to consider a more suitable option like the Salomon Speedcross 6.

Test results
Nova 3 2
Average 3.2
Compared to 98 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

We measured the midsole width in the forefoot and found it in line with the average at 109.8 mm.

Going narrower could have compromised stability, while a wider measurement wouldn't be a wise choice for a shoe that's already on the heavier side.

Merrell Nova 3 Midsole width in the forefoot
Test results
Nova 3 109.8 mm
Average 112.1 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
102.1 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
126.0 mm

Midsole width in the heel

Shifting our focus to the heel with our caliper, we encountered a surprisingly narrow width of only 86.1 mm.

This was a bit of a letdown for us. A wider base would have been more suitable, particularly since this shoe targets beginners and those seeking a versatile option.

Merrell Nova 3 Midsole width in the heel
Test results
Nova 3 86.1 mm
Average 89.7 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
77.2 mm
Midsole width in the heel
109.3 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

The shoe proved to be incredibly stiff when we tried twisting it. To quantify this stiffness longitudinally, we conducted our standardized 90-degree bend test.

The Nova 3 delivered a result that slightly exceeded the norm at 32.0N, likely due to the presence of the rock plate.

Test results
Nova 3 32.0N
Average 28.1N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
10.5N
Stiffness
54.5N

Stiffness in cold

Like our earlier midsole softness test, we repeated the 90-degree bend test after a 20-minute freezer session. This time, it required slightly more effort from us, registering at 35.8N.

Test results
Nova 3 35.8N
Average 38.0N
Compared to 103 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
11.9N
Stiffness in cold
92.1N

Difference in stiffness in cold

That's just an 11.9% difference—an impressive feat for a non-premium, EVA-based midsole. This consistent performance guarantees that the shoe will maintain a similar feel throughout all seasons.

Test results
Nova 3 11.9%
Average 35.1%
Compared to 103 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in stiffness in cold
102%

Grip / Traction

Lug depth

This is a beginner-friendly, multi-purpose trail running shoe. Accordingly, if Merrell designed the outsole with this in mind, the lugs would likely be of average depth. 

True to our expectations, the lugs measure 3.5 mm, which is quite standard. This means they're versatile—while they may not excel in extreme conditions, they're reliable in a variety of terrains.

Merrell Nova 3 Lug depth
Test results
Nova 3 3.5 mm
Average 3.6 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1.7 mm
Lug depth
5.8 mm

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

With a width of 96.1 mm at the upper's widest part, this shoe might not suit those with wide feet, as it offers a snug, performance fit.

Merrell Nova 3

However, Merrell does provide this model in a 2E (Wide) size option for those needing more room.

Merrell Nova 3 Toebox width at the widest part
Test results
Nova 3 96.1 mm
Average 98.8 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
92.0 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
104.9 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

Luckily, the big toe area features a gentle taper, measuring a roomy 78.0 mm, resembling the dimensions of a wider shoe.

This unique design comfortably accommodates those with wider feet in the toe region.

Merrell Nova 3 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
Nova 3 78.0 mm
Average 79.0 mm
Compared to 68 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
70.5 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
92.1 mm

Tongue: gusset type

Given its $125 price tag, we're truly grateful that the Nova 3 features a fully gusseted tongue—a luxury often reserved for more expensive shoes.

This addition effectively prevents debris from entering the shoe and ensures the tongue remains firmly in place, enhancing both comfort and functionality while running or hiking.

Merrell Nova 3 Tongue: gusset type
Test results
Nova 3 Both sides (full)

Comfort

Tongue padding

The Nova 3's tongue padding is simply overdone. At 9.1 mm thick, it might feel too restrictive for some runners, especially given the shoe's snug fit.

Merrell Nova 3 tongue

Trimming down 3 to 4 mm could have made the shoe lighter and arguably more comfortable.

Merrell Nova 3 Tongue padding
Test results
Nova 3 9.1 mm
Average 6.4 mm
Compared to 106 trail running shoes
Number of shoes
1.5 mm
Tongue padding
12.2 mm

Heel tab

At first glance, we thought the shoe had a finger-loop pull tab, but it turns out it's way too small for that—like, only a baby's finger small. So it's just a regular pull tab for us.

Merrell Nova 3 Heel tab
Test results
Nova 3 Pull tab

Removable insole

The insole is effortlessly removable, as it's not glued down. Plus, with the shoe's standard shape and size, finding a replacement is really easy.

Merrell Nova 3 Removable insole
Test results
Nova 3 Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

The Nova 3 does have a few reflective pieces, but doesn't feel enough at all.

Merrell Nova 3 Reflective elements
Test results
Nova 3 Yes