Friday, 16 October 2015 12:45

Merrell Chameleon Shift tested and reviewed

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A classic in the Merrell lineup, the Chameleon has seen more versions than the memory can filter and it's latest incarnation follows a long line of successes. Designed as a hiking or trail shoe the Shift is a genuine all rounder rather than a Jack of all trades, with a balance between stability and flexibility, and already appears to be more durable than ever.

merrell chameleon shift

What the manufacturers say:

Geared up for energetic backpacking, this hiking shoe merges stability with athletic response for comfort without the bulk over long days on the trail. Using fused construction to eliminate materials, its hydrophobic upper feels ultra lightweight, while a rugged TRK outsole protects and reacts to rough terrain.


• Stratafuse™ exoskeleton fuses the heel cage to mesh uppers for extreme lightweight durability
• Nubuck leather and mesh upper
• Traditional lace closure
• Bellows tongue keeps debris out
• M Select™ FRESH antimicrobial agents reduce shoe odour
• Ace single density removeable footbed

• Moulded nylon arch shank
• Grade 2 nylon insole for trail hiking
• Merrell In-Board™ Compression moulded EVA footframe provides cushioning
• Merrell air cushion in the heel absorbs shock and adds stability
• MBound TRK™ midsole for responsive and durable cushioning on the trail
• 5 mm lug depth
• Vibram™ outsole

Men’s Sizes: 6.5 - 14
Men's Weight: 454g

Price: £110


Merrell Chameleon Shift on test:

Footwear reviewing is probably the most subjective reviewing theres is. It doesn't matter how good a shoe or boot is, the fact is that for footwear to really work it has to fit your foot shape, and as a result you'll often find particular brands getting rave reviews for year after year in one publication while not getting a mention in others. So to put the record straight the Merrell Chameleon last could have been laser cut to fit my foot shape - my last pair lasted 5 years and had more holes than Swiss cheese before I'd accept they were beyond use. Since arriving a month ago the Shift have barely left my feet, indoors or out, from Chamonix trails to Welsh hills to sat at the desk.

Merrell Chameleon Shift

With a distinctive upper the Shift stands out from both its predecessors and the competition and while by no means the lightest shoe on the market they're very acceptable at around 450g. The secret of the Chameleon Shift's comfort, hoowever, lies underneath the foot rather than above it. The combination of moulded EVA footframe, MBound Trek midsole and the heel cushioning are equally at home on hard tarmac as tussock ridden moors. It's not got the edge rigidity of some approach shoes but it will take mile after mile after mile of mixed and hard terrain in its stride.

In the past the Vibram sole has been a little lacking in durability but after a month wearing the shift for 16 hours a day it's shown little sign of wear. The 5mm lugs chew up mud and spit it out of the sides and even on a steep downhill the heel barely moves at all.

Merrell Chameleon Shift

The Chameleon Shft's upper came as a surprise; it seems much more substantial than previous versions with a distincive pattern of almost rubber-like Nubuck frojecting above the reduced areas of mesh. It looks a warm shoe! In practice it is warm, but not to the point of being overwarm even at 21ºdegrees under a blazing alpine sun. Considering the dimunitive size of the mesh areas and the GoreTex liner the breathability was a surprise and a good deal of the credit for this goes to the design of the bellows tongue which has a highly breathable mesh centrepiece.

Merrell Chameleon Shift

Merrell have ignored the trend of speedlaces and stuck with the fabric loops of previous Chameleons, combined with a single staple-style upper fastener. Under normal circumstances I'd be wary of the fabric lace loops and wary of them either "furring" on the insides or simply wearing through but that's where previous experience with the brand helps. After 5 solid years of wearing a previous version of the Chameleon there were holes in the sole and the mesh was worn through in places before the lace loops showed any sign of wear.

Merrell Chameleon Shift

Stability was very good across a range of surfaces with minimal lateral flexing of the upper against the lower and next to no heel slip. In wet grass the new hydrophobic upper and smaller mesh areas worked superbly, keeping water out even after several hours of constant soaking and on gravel strewn trails there was minimal indication when the foot landed on a sharp stone. They're not perfect on wet and moss covered tree roots and there's more aggressive alternatives around for deep mud but tree roots and slimy rock are a problem for most shoes and particularly an all rounder like the Shift. The heel angle is not only ideal to promote a smooth landing and take off as the miles pass by but also works well for "digging in" when descending scree.

Merrell Chameleon Shift

At the toe end the Vibramsole merges into a protective leather cap which while not the most durable has the advantage of being extremely flexible; taking a slightly above average width foot effortlessly. The profile is more rounded than pointed; again an indication of its hiking rather than scrambling focus and the rounded angle of the sole extension again promotes a smooth rolling style of take off and landing.

Merrell Chameleon Shift

The outdoor shoe market is probably the most competitive sector of the whole outdoor clothing market and at £110 the Merrell Chameleon Shift isn't cheap. As a general purpose shoe for hill walking it looks even less competitively priced but.........and it's a big but, the Shift is a classic example of a product where the whole is far more than the sum of its parts. It's easy to get distracted by features from ultra lightweight to aggressive lugs and zoned soles with climbing zones and edging zones but what really matters is comfort. If you're spending hours on the trail you want something that feels so familiar you forget you're wearing them, you need a product that you can take for granted, a shoe you don't have to take off when you finish walking to drive home and for those of us lucky enough to suit the Merrell last the Chameleon Shift delivers. 5 years from now I'll probably still be wearing them!