We've seen the Rubato from Merrell floating around on a few international review sites over the past few months, and now it's finally hit the shelves for US and UK runners.
In the spectrum of trail running footwear, it's a shoe that's heavily focussed on providing a cushioned stack when hitting the trails. Delivering a soft, comfortable ride, especially if you're heading out for some high mileage across the countryside.
As well as comfort, the Rubato includes a number of features designed to tackle varied terrain and conditions, offering a balance between bounce and control as you're running.
We've spent the past few weeks putting the Merrell Rubato through its paces to see if it's worth including in your trail shoe quiver.
Price: $140 | Weight: 293g/ 10.4oz (men) 225g/ 7.9oz (women) | Type: Trail | Stability: Neutral | Heel to toe drop: 0mm | Sizing: Fits to size | Alternatives: Hoka One One Speedgoat 4, Inov-8 Parkclaw 275, Brooks Cascadia 15
With its 31.5mm stack height, 295g weight and generously padded lining, it's clear that the Rubato's main focus is comfort and cushioning over lightweight speed sessions.
When you slip them on for the first time there's an immediate feeling of bounciness that comes from the healthy chunk of FloatPro foam that makes up the midsole.
The 4mm lugs on the outsole are made from Vibram MegaGrip to boost both the traction and durability of the shoe and there's something Merrell calls FLEXConnect dual directional flex grooves in the midsole, with the aim of enhancing ground connection when running.
The upper is a jacquard TPU construction with a mesh lining, the inside of which has an internal cushioned bootie design for a secure fit. There's also a removable EVA insole and an external rear support in the heel section.
Overall, it's an extremely plush and cushioned design. Aesthetically, it's a chunky piece of kit that actually feels lighter than you would expect from the shape and size of the shoe.
The fit was true to size for us and the cushioned inner makes for a plush and soft feel. We did find that it took a while to tie down the shoe to get a nice secure fit without it feeling too tight on the laces. However, after a few adjustments, it felt very comfortable.
Over the 60 miles of testing we put into the Merrell Rubato, the most noticeable thing we found every time was the surprisingly springy feeling as soon as you step out of the door. It's an incredibly responsive foam that we've rarely experienced in both trail and road options.
On roads, notably when you're heading out of the door and making your way to the trails, it's a very enjoyable experience and propels your forward with a significant level of energy return. So much so that we've actually enjoyed using them purely for sessions that take place on the road.
When you hit the trails the benefit of that bounce becomes varied. For lighter trails, like canal towpaths or country paths, it works perfectly, delivering the sort of cushioning and responsiveness that makes high mileage outings a thing of joy.
However, when you take on technical terrain that stack height starts to become an issue, with the lack of stability resulting in a wobbly experience, especially when stepping on hidden rocks or tree roots. With softer ground, we also felt the shoe lost the bounce it delivered on hard surfaces.
The 4mm lugs and Vibram outsole work well on wet and muddy surfaces, providing a secure and stable base for the shoe when the terrain is less technical. That stack height also does a good job in protecting the foot from any smaller uncomfortable obstructions on the ground.
When used for sessions on tracks and paths, the Rubato worked very well at any distance. Whether it was a five-mile tempo session or a 16-mile slow Sunday run, it provided a comfortable and responsive experience.
The upper mesh, although cushioned, didn't feel hot or stuffy and when running through puddles and wet grass we found it did a good job at protecting against the occasional splash.
The Merrell Rubato sits firmly on the lighter side of trail running, delivering an incredibly soft and bouncy experience for those sessions that take place between road and track. For anything more technical we found the high stack height was often unstable and lost the energy return benefits experienced on flatter, harder ground.
If your focus is high mileage and speed across less demanding terrain, the Rubato is a great option that makes for an incredibly enjoyable ride. The upper is comfortable and supportive and the outsole produces a competent level of grip on wet surfaces and protection against small, sharp objects.
If you'd prefer to watch a video covering the Merrell Rubato check out this review from our friends at The Run Testers YouTube channel.