Believe in the Run: 361-Meraki performance review
Thomas: I am going to make a bold prediction; In the next three years, you will purchase a pair of 361º running shoes. 361º is going as deep and wide as Saucony, Brooks, and Asics. In the last few months I have run in the Sensation 2 a support shoe, the KGM2 2speed trainer, the Spinject closest match is the Brooks Launch, and now the Meraki a trainer I would put head to head with the Nike Pegasus, Saucony Ride, and Brooks Glycerine. China’s 361º has the technology and the pockets to keep cranking out models. There will be a trainer that you will want.
Thomas: Let’s start with the upper. While nothing feels innovative, the Meraki’s well put together upper does the intended job. It begins with a one-piece engineered mesh vamp. I had to look up what a vamp is, and I have been reviewing shoes for nearly ten years. ABL, always be learning. “The vamp is the front and center part of a shoe’s upper that covers the top of the foot.” – LiveAbout What does it mean to the wearer? It translates into a well-fitting breathable toebox, with no rubbing and a sock-like feel.
Shifting to the Meraki midfoot of the upper we have the Fitz-Rite overlay. “Fitz-Rite midfoot utilizes a distinct overlay pattern to hold the foot secure.” It is a fancy way to say welded overlays that create the exoskeleton which holds the arch firmly over the midsole. The Fitz-Rite is paired with a tongue that is thin and becomes unnoticeable. The heel counter is rigid and works with the padded collar to cradle the runner’s foot securely. I experienced no rubbing on the Achilles in the Meraki. I had no irritation from the fit of the upper at all.
The removable insole is pretty basic. A thin layer of 361’s Qu!ckfoam that adds a little extra cushioning with minimal weight.
The Midsole of the Meraki is based on 361’s Qu!ckfoam and QDP technology. In my effort to understand what that means, I will break it down for you like a sandwich. Imagine the upper is the top piece of bread, and the outsole is the bottom piece of bread. The first layer is a pretty standard foam; it is firm with a little give. On top of the foam is a thin TPU shank. This shank gives some snap while forcing the shoe to flex closer to the toes. The final layer is a gel-like material that reminds me of Asics GEL. Think of a gooey foam. The money question is, So what? Does it perform? The midsole sandwich works. It is a solid base with enough cushion to take you from daily jogger to long base mile runs in comfort.
The outsole is well covered with high abrasion rubber. The 361º Meraki rides smooth with lots of traction/grip. The amount of rubber should be able to take on lots and lots of miles.
Austin: The 361 designers and engineers, building upon the superb knit upper in the Spinject, improved the fit further in the Meraki with a seamless, engineered mesh. Other notable 361 characteristics are retained in the Meraki, including the Fitz-Rite internal webbing to secure the midfoot, and the QDP (Quick Dynamic Performance) System, a combination of QU!KFOAM and EVA. The insole is comprised of a softer blend of QU!KFOAM for added cushioning directly under the feet.
Like the Spinject, I found the Meraki ride on the firmer side, though it felt a touch softer. Toe off, and traction was equally strong, especially at a 6:00-mile pace (sometimes I’m fast). I noticed some initial irritation around the heel collar and the tongue, but it subsided shortly after beginning. I figured the annoyance might translate into a hot spot or blister afterward, but my feet showed no visible signs of strain. The Meraki runs true to size, and forefoot space is respectable. Men’s size 9 comes in at 10 ounces with a 9-millimeter drop.
Meaghan: I was surprisingly happy with the 361 Meraki. At first glance I was expecting a heavy, non-breathable daily trainer, but they proved otherwise out on the road. The 361 Meraki is similar to the Spinject. The main difference being a mesh upper (vs. knit in the Spinject) and a slightly different midsole compound. The upper is constructed with mesh and something called Fitz-Rite, an internal webbing intended to provide a secure wrap around the midfoot. It’s a comfortable shoe that fits well, true to size. The laces allow you to create a secure locked down fit.
The underfoot feel isn’t all that different from the Spinject, but the rubber outsole is much more noticeable in the Meraki. It’s firm, but not overly so. These shoes have a “pop” that I was missing in the Spinject. Even with the additional rubber and overlays, the shoes didn’t gain any weight. My W7.5 came in at 8 oz.
Thomas: The looks of the shoe are not inspiring. They look a little dated. For me aesthetics matter. You may think that is shallow, but I compare it to eating at a fine restaurant. The chef doesn’t just prepare the food well; he presents it in a way that entices all of your senses. I want to look at a shoe and get excited to run before I even slip it on my foot. Some running shoes do that. The Meraki don’t. I will say, if you don’t look at the shoes they perform beautifully.
The laces on the Meraki are overly generous extending all the way to my kneecap. You will probably want to replace them with shorter laces unless you don’t mind the flailing.
Austin: I know without hesitation that I like thicker tongues in my running shoes as I didn’t care for the “pressure-free” tongue of the Meraki. Adding a touch more responsiveness to the QU!KFOAM mixture and lowering the drop to 4 millimeters would enhance the Meraki’s fit in consideration of future model updates, though I doubt a heel drop of this magnitude would be considered.
Meaghan: I agree with Thomas that these shoes are lacking in the looks department. ASICS finally stopped making hideous looking shoes and I hope that 361 doesn’t replace them. Looks aside, I am always craving a lighter shoe. I know it’s hard to ask for a durable shoe under 8 oz, but I gravitate towards shoes that fall closer to 6oz.
The 361 Degrees Meraki Conclusion
Thomas: The Meraki is a solid daily trainer. The 9mm drop rides very smoothly through the gait and flexes in the right spots. This is a shoe built for the daily grind. I would pair it with the KGM2 2, using the 10.5 oz. (size 10.5) Meraki for the bulk of training runs and the KGM2 2 for speedwork, tempo runs, and race days. The fit and ride of the shoe make it above average for a daily trainer. My only wish is that the shoe looked as good as it runs, it is hard to get excited about a shoe that looks like it pairs nicely with cargo shorts. The shoe fits true, get your regular running shoe size.
Austin: Though other runners may disagree with me, I still believe that running shoes do not require a “break-in” period before some measure of comfort can be fully ascertained. Take the Brooks Levitate, a model that Erin and I recently reviewed. I’ve put roughly 70 miles on this shoe and still dislike the ride. The step-in comfort is phenomenal, but I never crossed a mileage threshold that led to a change of heart. Conversely, I ran 20 miles in the Skechers GOrun 5 out of the box in January. They felt amazing from the first mile to the last (I used them for a March marathon too).
Unsurprisingly, then, I decided to put the Meraki, the newest daily neutral trainer from 361 Degrees, through its paces (pun intended) out of the box. I started with a 2-mile warm-up followed by 5 miles of fartleks every quarter-mile at a 6:00 pace with a 1 mile cool down. This workout, coupled with some additional easy runs, provide a synopsis of how the Meraki fared against the Spinject, my favorite 361 model as of this writing. Some things change though. To put another way, the Spinject has been replaced.
If the Meraki is any indication, I’d say that 361 is incrementally improving their running footwear. The seamless mesh upper and the cushioned but firm ride mark the Meraki, and these two points of distinction should be integrated into subsequent models. Some runners prefer stiff shoes like the Spinject or Meraki, but personally, I favor a little more flex for future updates.
As for comparable models, the Brooks Ghost, Mizuno Wave Rider, and Asics Cumulus come to mind, though these are simply suggestions from a comfort – and price – standpoint (the Meraki retails for $129.99).
I’ll close by saying that I’m always intrigued by shoe names and why they are chosen. What I found for the Meraki may not be the reason, but it’s a possibility. A 2005 NPR article about linguist Christopher J. Moore details “words from around the globe that defy an easy translation into English.” “Meraki,” a Greek word, means putting “something of yourself” into an activity. That’s a succinct representation of running, is it not? So, put something of yourself into that next run, whether you reach for the Meraki or not.
Meaghan: The 361 Meraki is a solid trainer. It’s got all the cushion and durability you’d expect. I used this shoe primarily for easy days, with a few fast days in the mix. They performed surprisingly well for both, but I will keep using the Meraki for easy days and long runs. They fall in line with your typical trainer in terms of pricing – $129.99. Give them a try.