The cult of Merrell

Those of you who know my tendency to find a brand I love and stick with it will probably not be surprised that I have a new one: Merrell.

I'm coming up on the one-year anniversary of when my right foot mysteriously swelled up, something which was never fully diagnosed, even after an MRI, CT, and visits to numerous podiatrists. Finally, after I saw a lymphedema and then a foot and ankle specialist at the Cleveland Clinic, I came out with a prescription for the "so simple why didn't anyone else think of this?" solution of orthotics.

The orthotics are still being made, but I worked at making sure all the shoes I bought were heavy on what the orthotics will provide — arch support. I ordered a bunch of shoes from Zappos.com, but the ones I ended up keeping were entirely the same brand as the pair of clogs that were my #1 shoes for much of the year of the swollen foot. Yep, Merrell.

I love Merrells, and I'm not the only one — read some reviews on Zappos and you'll see that there is indeed a cult of Merrell. There's a reason for it, though — the shoes are lightweight, exceedingly comfortable, and with Merrell's Q-Form technology, extremely stable and good to walk in. I've seen tremendous improvement in my foot since I switched to pretty much full-time Merrells (except for my New Balance gym shoes).

Now, the downside is they generally aren't the most fashionable shoes out there. But I've pretty much accepted that it will be a miracle if I can ever wear heels again, and they definitely beat wearing gym shoes to work (I also went through a phase of that). If you're looking for good walking shoes, here are some of my favorites:

I think what I have is actually the first Encore Breeze, which I bought at DSW after my desperate realization that my trail running shoes were the only shoes I owned that my exceedingly swollen right foot would fit into. It was a good desperation choice, though. I generally HATE clogs, but I love these. There's just enough back to them that my feet don't feel like they're going to slide out (my issue with clogs). I believe my first version was before they put the stinkproof antibacterial treatment in there, and after a whole lot of wear, they did start to get a little funky. But a run in the washing machine (handwash cycle, with the inserts separate) solved that.

The exception to the fashionable rule — I love the look of these boat shoes with their ridiculously aggressive tread. They took a little longer than most other Merrells to break in (there were band-aids involved), but once I did get them broken in, they were quite comfortable. And they have, hands down, the best arch support of any shoes I've ever worn. Ever. I've kept wearing them in to winter because the tread on these is as much a match for a little snow or ice as my snow boats. The Zappos reviews about ordering a half size down are right — I didn't at first and had to return them and order a half size down from my usual Merrell size.

No one would write home about the style of these shoes, but they really show off what the Q-Form technology can do for a shoe. I really feel myself walking correctly in them, and they're extremely light-weight, which is something I hadn't really thought about before in a shoe. I haven't fully tested this yet, but I'm pretty sure I could walk longer in these than my gym shoes. Yes, I'm probably going to try some Merrells for my next gym shoes.

If the anti-shoe fairy came along and told me I had to give up all of my shoes except for one pair, these are probably the ones I'd keep, simply because they're versatile and also very comfortable to walk in. They're maybe just a smidge behind the Parma in walking comfort, but I like the versatility of the Mary Jane. And both this shoe and the Parma have a very nice touch that seriously cuts down the break-in time — a little piece of elastic on the heel.

This doesn't cover the Merrell boots I snagged on clearance at DSW and have subsequently forgotten the name of, or the Waterpro Sable shoes I picked up on clearance last fall with plans to wear them a ton come spring and summer. But I think my membership in the cult of Merrell is pretty firmly established. And one other nice thing — all the Merrell insoles are removable, so when my orthotics are finally ready, I can remove the insoles and pop them right in.