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The Merrell Avalaunch: great for summer OCR!

by James J
Friday 9th June 2017
Tags  Merrell   |   Merrell Avalaunch   |   OCR
I love new trail shoes so I was like a kid in a sweet shop when I was opened the box to see the new Merrell Avalaunch Tough Mudder. 

First impressions 

They look good, I’m not generally a big fan of wacky multicoloured shoes so the black upper with orange sole and trim was a welcome surprise. The laces are a similar quick fasten system to the Salomon Speedcross (although not as hardy as the Salomon version). The shoe has what Merrell call a “Bellows tongue” which is similar to the Asics Fujirunnigade in that it fits around the top of the ankle, much like a sock, to keep debris out. They are a comfortable fit and probably the first trail shoe I would consider wearing without socks, however I’m not going to be that brave this time. The shoe feels quite lightweight and the fabric and mesh upper almost feels flimsy when compared to a lot of other trail shoes. I’m hoping Merrell have done their homework with this obstacle course focused trail shoe and that they are going to be tougher than they seem as I will be testing them out over 32k at The Elements OCR which will definitely put them through far more punishment than a Tough Mudder. I’m interested in seeing how they hold up in difficult conditions. The Avalaunch has a tread depth of 5mm but the rubber is quite soft and has a design that hopefully will grip the mud and yet not leave you with large clumps attached to the bottom of the shoe. Usually I would favour a shoe with deeper lugs in the sole, with VJ Sport irocks being my preferred OCR shoe, it will take a huge performance to replace them as my race shoe of choice.
If anyone is interested they are also Vegan-friendly… I didn’t know this was a thing when it comes to shoes. Apparently it is. 



They took everything that The Elements had to throw at them and coped well. Grip levels on obstacles were very good, the rubber grip took a little while to get used to on some of the more challenging obstacles purely because I’m used to a harder sole but once I’d adapted to this they were very good, and I didn’t have any issues climbing walls, balancing on beams, or clambering across their rig. There wasn’t a great deal of mud on the course, but they were grippy enough to cope with what there was and didn’t clog up: they actually cleared of mud faster than any shoe I have previously worn (maybe due to the softer rubber in the sole). The race took place on a very hot and sunny day, the ground was very hard throughout and this is where the softer sole on the shoe could let them down depending on your preference for how much ground feel you want in a shoe. I don’t tend to mind feeling every stone I stand on and I’m generally used to this, but if you prefer a shoe that cushions the impact so you don’t feel everything underfoot these are not the shoe for you. The Avalaunch are comfortable to run in but you do feel almost every lump, bump and stone that you run over, this was especially true when part of the course took us through a rocky steam, I could feel everything I stood on and it was almost painful in places, however once again they gripped very well. They do not have as much grip as the inov-8 X-talon range or VJ Sport irocks, I’d say they sit nicely in with the Salomon Speedcross for grip levels. For very muddy events (eg. Nuts Challenge, Nuclear) I would stick with shoes with deeper lugs, however on harder ground in the summer or just on courses with less mud I’d be hard pushed to decide between the Salomon and the Merrell. After 32k at The Elements the Avalaunch were still very comfortable and I was pleasantly surprised with their performance. 
The only real negative I have is that they just didn’t feel tough enough. For a standard trail shoe I don’t think it would be a problem, however this is Tough Mudder branded and therefore aimed at Obstacle Course Racing, and toughness and build quality are important otherwise you’re spending money on replacement shoes every few months. I’m actually fairly good at making shoes last throughout an OCR season (some people seem to be buying a new pair every couple of months), I can sometimes go 40 to 50 events before needing to replace my main race shoe. I just can’t see any way that these would last that long as, in the short time that I have had them, I’ve already had to try to fix the connection on the end of the lacing system and I can see that some of the stitching could easily start to come away as there is nothing to protect it. 

This is obviously all down to personal opinion. If I could only buy one shoe for obstacle course racing I still can’t see a way past the VJ Sport irocks. However, if you want a comfortable all round trail shoe that you can use for OCR then they would be a good choice. If you have the luxury of owning a number of different trail/OCR shoes to wear for varying conditions, they would be a nice addition to the collection. I will definitely be using them again especially on courses with less mud. 

Find out more about the Avalaunch Tough Mudder here.

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