Merrell Nova 2, Antora 2 Review | Best Trail Running Shoes 2020 – Runner’s World

Merrell Nova 2, Antora 2 Review | Best Trail Running Shoes 2020  Runner’s World



The RW Takeaway: The men’s Nova and women’s Antora are sturdy and versatile daily trainers for the trail, with ample cushioning and protection to take on longer efforts and rugged terrain.

  • Gender-specific fit and midsole constructions ensure dialed-in comfort.
  • Forefoot rock plates and Vibram rubber outsoles deliver protection and impressive wet-surface traction.
  • Generous toe boxes offer plenty of room for toe splay, but feel less suited for tackling technical trails at speed.

Price: $110
Type:
Trail
Drop: 8 mm
Weight:
11.2 oz (Men’s Nova), 8.5 oz (Women’s Antora)


Long gone are the days of “shrink-and-pink”—an era when brands sized down a men’s running shoe behind the guise of a peppy new color, and sent it to the women’s shelf. Instead, Merrell designed the women’s-specific Antora and men’s-specific Nova to accommodate the physiological nuances between “his” and “her” foot anatomy. For the Antora, that meant special attention to the firmness of the midsole foam. By adding a stabilizing post below the arch, and placing softer foam under the medial heel and lateral side of the forefoot, the Q-Form 2 sole discourages excessive sideways motion between touchdown and toe-off. Since men lean into this tendency less frequently, the Nova instead uses a more flexible midsole that amps up ground feel.

Nova 2

Merrell merrell.com

However, both shoes still have the goods for handling rocky trails: hardy forefoot rock plates, abrasion-resistant uppers, and grippy Vibram outsoles with adaptive lugs. “Adaptive” describes how the lugs form the outsole’s tread—square studs line the heel and toe for grip on landings and push-off, while 5-mm arrows stabilize when the foot is planted. Our testers found the softer lugs and ample cushioning ideal for road-to-trail runs without switching shoes or compromising grip. “I’d rate the traction as the best I’ve run in,” said one tester of over half a dozen trail models. “I ran eight tough technical miles on the Appalachian Trail and never worried about a step over rocks, dirt, and grassy singletrack.”

Soft Foam for Going Long and Easy

The Antora is a light stability shoe, but it doesn’t use what most runners think of when they hear the term “medial post”—a clunky, hard block of marbled foam smack in the middle of the midfoot. The Antora’s style is a bit more subtle, and instead softens the surrounding EVA foam between the heel and forefoot to cushion a denser region beneath the arch. With an added air unit in the heel to guide the foot in a neutral position, the shoe’s midsole operates like a less aggressive medial post. For the Nova, Merrell forgoes that stabilizing setup, but keeps all the cushioning. Added foam pods in both the heel and forefoot made the shoe feel comfy enough for ultra-distance runs, according to our testers.

“This shoe’s cushioning is one of its best features. It’s like wearing a Hoka without the stack height,” one said. “I wouldn’t hesitate to run a 50-mile race in these, and potentially longer.”

More Images

Lakota Gambill

Grip for Rocks to Roads

Five millimeters seems to be the sweet spot for lugs when it comes to running from road to trail. Both the Nova and the Antora use a combination of triangular, squared, and arrow-shaped pegs molded from Vibram TC5+ rubber, which allows for the shorter length, without sacrificing grip. The adaptive lugs have some “give” to them as well, so while they can anchor into dirt and mud, they still provide the pliability to tackle stretches on asphalt if you’ve got a few miles before you reach the trailhead. Rock plates give both shoes a stiffer ride overall, so there’s a little unexpected snap—with plenty of protection—at toe-off.

“The sole traction design gripped quite well on dirt, gravel and grass, but also provided a nice feel when back on asphalt, like the equivalent of a hybrid bike tire that can serve well on road or moderate trail,” one tester said.

More Images

Lakota Gambill

Rough and Rugged—But Feels Comfy-Cozy

Both the Nova and the Antora are built for spending long periods of time on the trail. For some testers, that meant ultra-distance runs, and for others, it meant fast hikes and climbs followed by a full day exploring on their feet. Very spacious toe boxes provided plenty of wiggle room, and testers noted that while this would please wide-footed runners (and those who know their feet are more prone to swelling after a day’s worth of miles), those with a very narrow forefoot could find the dimensions a bit sloppy. Thick TPU overlays connect the rope-like ghillie lacing to burly mesh uppers, which offer noticeable protection and stability alongside the external heel slings. “This is a great overall long miles trail shoe—comfortable, cushioned, protective—but it needs a more locked-in fit to be absolutely amazing,” one tester noted.

Wear-Tester Feedback

Timothy H. | Tester since 2017
Arch: Medium | Gait: Underpronator | Footstrike: Midfoot
“I am a mid to forefoot striker, and the Nova 2 had more than enough cushioning for me for the long haul. I would imagine someone looking for a fast trail racer for 20 miles or under might find the cushioning a bit too soft. (Certainly my Altra Superiors feel way faster, but they don’t offer the long-haul cushioning or the protection of these shoes.) These are not speedwork or short-racing trail shoes; these are long mile trainers or amazing hiking shoes.”

Caroline H. | Tester since 2012
Arch: Medium | Gait: Neutral | Footstrike: Midfoot
“This was my first time wearing Merrell shoes and I was very happy with their performance. The Antora 2 was very lightweight but did not feel flimsy; I still felt like I had protection on the sole of my foot for rocky terrain and there was a decent amount of rigidness to the sole to create the stability I needed to strike the ground. The toe box was a little on the wide side but did not cause any slipping or rubbing issues, and the collar was sufficiently padded to gently hug the back of my Achilles without pressure. This was a good training shoe for longer runs rather than speedwork. The heel and forefoot were soft for providing cushioning over rocky terrain, and provided good grip over wet rocks, mud, and sloppy trails.”

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