Merrell Nova 2 Review and Lab Test

With solid construction, plenty of grip, and an easy 9.3mm drop, the Merrell Nova 2 are a well-suited beginner trail shoe. They are also incredibly versatile and suits anything from fast, day hikes to easy trail runs.

Who should buy the Merrell Nova 2

The Merrell Nova 2 is the perfect option for you if:

  • You’re looking for an easy-paced trail runner
  • You want a versatile, do-it-all off-road shoe

Who should NOT buy them

You may want to look for alternatives if you:

Merrell shoes fit perfectly

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The shoe fits true to size, with a nice heel cup. The lacing system works well, this is pretty normal for Merrell, and getting a nice lockdown was easy. I felt no slip on any of my runs in this. 

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Don’t expect much in terms of width in the toe box. While there is some space for narrow and medium-width feet (98.1mm), the lack of a stretchy mesh upper means that there’s little give for anyone with a wider foot. 

A bit of a misguided midsole

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With a heel stack height of 35.1mm, there’s plenty of midsole for cushioning. Strangely though, it feels quite hard underfoot. I’d put this down to the midsole being a little softer than average at 34HA (avg: 41.4HA) which means you can feel every tree root and rock underfoot. 

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The result is a shoe that is better suited to a 10km distance rather than something longer like a half marathon. 

If you like ground feel, however, then you get that plus some impact dampening for the rest of your joints. The Merrell Nova 2 seems perfect for easy, regular runs while keeping you injury-free.

The Merrell Nova 2 is grippy in good conditions

With dozens of 4.2mm lugs underfoot there’s plenty of opportunity for grip on the Merrell Nova 2. 

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It seems there are as many outsole lug options as there are trail running shoes, with every brand opting for different shapes, sizes, and spacings. Merrell Nova 2 has opted for a more traditional inverted-wedge shape. 

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The results in great grip, if you’re running over slightly damp, yet firm ground. Unfortunately, outside of this goldilocks-zone of terrain, there are a few issues. 

Firstly, with so many lugs, it’s easy for them to be smothered in mud if the conditions are too wet, many shoes like the Salomon Speedcross 5 opt for fewer, larger lugs with more spacing to avoid this.

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Conversely, the lugs' shape and the softness of the outsole (72.5HC) means that they don’t get dug into more compacted and harder dirt. 

An upper that does what it has to

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of runners care about the appearance of their shoes, and brands like Nike, Salomon, and Hoka pay a lot of attention to this. 

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Merrell has tried a little bit to bring their silhouettes into the third decade of this century, there’s still something that screams 90s camping trip about them to me. 

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That being said, I’m very glad that they haven’t allowed vanity to distract them from making a comfortable trail running shoe. 

As mentioned, the mesh/TPU upper doesn’t stretch much, but it’s plenty durable and breathable, which I like to see. With a thick padded tongue and heel collar as well, the Merrell Nova 2 is as comfy as I’d expect anything from the brand to be. 

A shoe you can put the miles into

While not the best for longer distances, the Merrell Nova 2 can hold up to a beating. With strong stitching and a carefree attitude to heavy, robust materials, the upper isn’t coming apart any time soon.  

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While quite soft, the Vibram outsole is well-established and known to last a solid 400-miles

The Merrell Nova 2 isn’t the lightest

Nothing about the Merrell Nova 2 feels particularly fast, which isn’t too much of a surprise when it weighs in at 10.9oz (310g). It’s surprisingly lighter than I expected when looking at it. 

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That being said, 310g puts it in the same weight class as stability shoes, which often have far more things going on in the midsole that the Nova 2. 

Please put a heel tab on shoes

This is probably a bit picky for trail shoes, but then again, that’s what I’m here for. A heel tab would be more than welcome. When you have muddy shoes, cold hands, and wet fingers (possibly all at once), having a nice big heel loop is a big bonus and just shows a bit of extra thought from manufacturers. 

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Seeing as Merrell hasn’t worried so much about the weight of the Nova 2, I’d love to see them add a heel-loop just as an added benefit. 

Conclusion

The Merrell Nova 2 is a big, classic-looking train running shoe that offers a dependable name for a versatile shoe. With decent padding, grip, and upper that’s probably the best way to describe this shoe…decent. 

  Merrell Nova 2 Average
Whole shoe
Weight (g)

310

276
Drop (mm)

9.3

8.9
Flexibility of the shoe (N) 26.6 29.0
Flexibility of the shoe (Freezer 20 min) (N) 44.3 37.7
Flexibility of the shoe (% of change) 66.6 31.5
Lace slip test with the knot (N) 38.5 23.3
Longitudinal flexibility (1-5 scale, 5 being the stiffest)

4.0

3.2
Torsional flexibility (1-5 scale, 5 being the stiffest)

4.0

3.4
Upper
Thickness - Tongue (mm) 11.8 6.4
Width Upper - Forefoot (mm) 98.1 98.6
Width Upper - Heel (mm) 85.8 82.7
Lace Stretch (1-5 scale, 5 being the most stretchy) 2.0 2.7
Flexibility of the heel counter (1-5 scale, 5 being the stiffest) 4.0 3.0
Tongue: gusset type Full -
Heel: pull tab No -
Midsole
Width Midsole - Forefoot (mm) 110.1 112.0
Width Midsole - Heel (mm) 83.1 89.2
Stack - Forefoot with insole (mm) 25.8 23.9
Stack - Heel with insole (mm) 35.1 32.7
Durometer Midsole Heel (Room temperature) (HA) 34 41.4
Outsole
Outsole thickness (Heel) (mm) 6.2 3.7
Lugs Depth (mm) 4.2 3.3
Durometer Outsole Heel (Room temperature) (HC) 72.5 82.6
Insole
Insole Heel Thickness (mm) 6.2 4.5
Insole: removable Yes  

Facts / Specs

Terrain: Trail
Weight: Men 280g
Drop: Men 8mm
Arch support: Neutral
Forefoot height: Men 21mm
Heel height: Men 29mm
Pronation: Neutral Pronation / Supination / Underpronation

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Author
Doug Turner
Doug Turner

Doug is a Scottish documentary and fashion photographer and filmmaker. Stumbling into the sneaker game later than usual, he started out behind a camera through long hiking expeditions around the world. Seeking a cleaner aesthetic, Doug now works mostly in fashion and sport, opting for outdoor locations rather than a studio.