Monday, November 1, 2010

Zemgear footwear review

It has now been two weeks of wearing the Zemgear footwear, also know as booties. I have very much enjoyed them as it is nice to find an alternative to regular shoes, especially for working in. Over the past two weeks I have worn my zem’s for errands, going to the gym, working and of course outdoor running. These have been the closest and most natural experience to being barefoot I have found yet, giving me a really great feel of the ground, whatever surface I have been on as they are light and feel like they are not quite there. These surfaces include tile, hardwood, laminate, vinyl, treadmill, concrete, asphalt, gravel, grass, and dirt.
The flexibility of these booties is suppler than I have worn in previous minimalist footwear. The bands give a great fit to your foot, whether you have a narrow or a wide foot, they will conform to you. Which leads me to the obvious, there is no support, but that is just what I’m going for in my footwear these days. The grip of the sole has been efficient so far, I have not found then to be slippery on any particular surface yet, although mud is always slippery after a rain, and it is not here yet, but snow and ice will be here soon. They breathe well and wash very well, and they take a day to air dry. I did find that with their breathe ability it can be cold. With the split toe I have been wearing my toe socks in them because of the wind. Out on a long run I found that I did get a bit cold, but we are looking at a temperature of -4C, so I was expecting that. I am looking forward to an order of the round toe where I can use my thermal socks for those cool temperatures.
In total there are 7 styles to choose from. An ankle high version in either a split toe or a round toe, a crew sock height in either a split toe or a round toe, an indoor pair which is a split toe in the lower ankle height, a comfort pair which come down on the foot lower and provide a more sandal look, as well as a junior style which comes in a rounded toe. Currently I have been wearing the split toe original Zem bootie. There is also a variety of colors for the tech bands, pink, aqua, silver, dove blue, and of course black. From their website they sell for a reasonable $29.90 US.

Being a hairstylist I find that it is not really practical to cut hair while I’m barefoot. As much as I enjoy being without footwear, especially inside, I do not enjoy digging out hair slivers from the bottom of my feet. Yes, they hurt, and they are difficult to get to. I have been having a problem this season finding appropriate work footwear for my ever changing feet, but no longer. The Zem booties are perfect, as they look like a shoe, will protect my feet from the hair, and they seem to wash well. I would recommend these as well for indoor use where someone might like a slipper, those of us who get cold feet.
Just a bit of back ground on my feet, shoe sizing has always been a problem for me as I have a long and very narrow foot. Then there is the ever changing nature of my feet which is something else entirely. Mostly the changing feet evolved around the time of my children, and many things happened. At the end of each pregnancy I found my feet had changed and I was required to find new footwear again, but nothing as drastic as to what has happened over this past year of using minimalist shoes. My hammer toes have been correcting themselves! I now have straighter toes, which is how it is suppose to be, although it leaves me with the issue of once again realizing that my foot now has a new size, again. This is where I had the problem of finding a shoe for work that 1. Was not a heal 2. Was long enough 3. Was minimalist 4. Looked great 5. Was narrow enough. Now I have found it in the Zem bootie! It really is quite exciting for me as it is not every day you’ll find a triple A or even a double A on the shelf of a shoe store. A friend of mine who has a triple E width tried them on as well and was very surprised to find that the bootie did not cut into her foot, as she has the opposite problem as I do in finding footwear. The tech bands are very nice to both the narrow as well as the wide foot.

With all this back ground on my changing feet I must mention that I have been trying a pair that are a bit small, but am waiting for my order to arrive for my next larger pair. With this pair I do feel the seam under my heal and have noticed that I have stressed the seam where the sole meets the upper, and after a long run Sunday morning found I had caused a hole here. I have very much been enjoying the booties and decided that with the stretch material it would be fine to take them out finally on an outdoor long run, as I had been keeping them to indoor use and shorter runs outdoors. Even with a hole in them at the stress point where the seam sits under my foot, they washed up very nicely.

I have really enjoyed my Zem booties and am very much looking forward to my next order to arrive; I will need some new colors for work this season! Of course there is also the snow and ice to try them out on.



  1. Thanks for the detailed review! I'm barefoot most of the day, except at the gym where they force me to wear shoes (VFF's) and erranding. The Zems sound great!

  2. Great stuff.
    When you mention shoe size differences I bet a lot of your readers are curious if it increased or decreased and by how much. And if you know why. (Arch support strength, swelling, water retention....these probably have nothing to do with it but if you know it would be enlightening.)

    Sizing width: since most of the country won't have these in their cities to try on first its great you mentioned the stretchy design and how it helps people fit different widths of feet. Regarding length - it would good to know how these fit in relation to your other shoes. to size online. Trace your foot?

    Locally in Canada they retail for about $60 but online is much less expensive.

    Snow: wouldn't the Playhigh models be good for snow? You could use stirrup type pants and put the stirrup under the arch if the pants fit snug against the leg. Or use gaiters. Then you could run through deep snow and nothing should get into your feet!

    What would be great would be a type of oversock that could go over any minimalist shoe. So much of the year our ground is damp. Plus to be able to plow through shallow creeks, puddles without worrying if your feet are going to get soaked and freeze would be awesome. But socks are mighty hard to make so they don't slip around on your feet. Some soft of overboot/shell is needed. That product could be used over any shoe - especially in slushy winter conditions. Wear your best dress shoes out to the theatre and laugh at that ice cold slush. Toss in a bag when arrived at your destination and everything is pristine.

  3. Spelling: "heal" should be "heel".

  4. @ 2befree

    Now Nicole posted this original review, but I will try to answer your querries for her. Thanks again for the great comments.

    Regarding the shoe size difference, this is something that I have also experienced as well as quite a few other barefoot and minimalistic runners. I cannot for sure explain the reasoning but this is my two cents in my honest opinion. With the strengthing of your feet from utilizing and developing all the muscles that were not being used in shoes, I have noticed some changes, my feet have gotten wider (not a lot but definitely noticable when I try to put on certain footwear like skates, etc), my feet have also increased by about a half of a size since I started running barefoot. I have also developed a more defined arch. Now why this has all happen I can just speculate but I believe the foot is adapting to being utilized to its full potential thus the changes.

    There is a printable sizing chart that can be used off of ZemGears website that will assist in the proper sizing. With the width, the great advantage of these shoes are the tech bands that will form to your foot shape, thus if you have wider feet they will relax to that shape and visa versa if you have narrow feet. One thing we have found is if you have wider feet the ninja style work great and also if you have feet conditions like bunyons.

    You are correct about pricing, they may appear cheaper online but once you take into account shipping, customs, duty and exchange they may not be quite the gap in price. Also note there is a Canadian distributor online now, so any orders that are processed through the US site may end up coming through the Canadian distributor. Also note there appears to be Zem's slowly getting picked up retailers across the country. Unconfirmed sources have suggested that REI has picked up the ZEMGear line, so in my mind MEC will not be far behind.

    The playhigh models would probably be great for snow for the exact reasons that you listed. I personally did not try them, but that was a personal preferance. I don't like shoes that go that high on the ankle, I was never a big fan of hightops.

    I agree with your overshoe idea, that would be ideal if a product like that was available. If you ever find something that you think will work drop me a line I would be interested to try them out, and I will do likewise.

    Also note you are correct about 'heel'.

    Thanks again for your great comments and questions.


  5. MEC sure drags their feet but its a big organization so maybe that's to be expected. They carry so many seemingly silly items and when a revolutionary thing comes out like FiveFingers or thees Zem' sure seems to take a while.

    Regarding bypassing dreaded things like distributors: shipping cost for these from the US should be exceedingly little - I wonder if they could be fitted into a large envelope. Because the weight is so negligible and they aren't fragile shipping should be a breeze. Fedex Ground is usually the cheapest way to Canada. There should be no duties or customs. Just a GST/PST tax of about 12% on whatever you paid the US seller. They're currently $30 on Ebay for the Ninjas and $55 for the 360's which is about $5 less than the Zemgear website today.

    Is there much of a difference between the 360's and the others I wonder? The 360's are supposed to be designed for more active sports I think.

  6. @ 2befree
    I will agree with you pertaining to MEC they do carry some, I will call them 'interesting things'. The way I look at it is if you look you can always find somebody that will sell them cheaper then the last so them selling for less on Ebay does not surprise me. Interesting though that they are that much cheaper. I can tell you the MSRP for the Ninja's/Playlos in Canada is $54.99 and the 360's are $79.99, so that does appear to be quite the difference.

    Regarding the difference between the products, I can tell you there definitely is. I have a pair of 360 Ninjas on my feet right now and have been wearing them as my everyday shoe for the last 3 weeks (have not run in them though). The 360 sole is molded nonmarking recycled rubber(approx 3.5mm thick)unlike the Ninja's or Playlo's which are cut and stamped flat rubber. The tech bands on the 360's are also a little more defined for more a formed fit to your foot. But the biggest difference is the attachment of the sole. On the Playlo's and Ninja's the lycra material and techbands wrap around under the shoe to connect to the sole leaving them exposed to eventual wear. The 360's on the other hand have the sole wrap up to connect the to the material and tech bands thus the material does not make contact with the ground. I will say this, I have been a faithful VFF wearer for my everyday shoes until I got my feet into these. As I noted since I got these I have been using them for everything except for running.


  7. Hello Bob, Couple questions I hope you can answer.

    -Is the sole of the 360 flat? (meaning the toe area of the sole does not flare up, I saw a picture of the Orginals and they are completely flat for heel to toe)
    -If you compare the 360 to the Orginals, is the toe box the same width and shape?

    Thanks for your comments.

  8. Mack,

    The 360's are not flat, the sole is more formed in the shape of a foot unlike the originals. There is a definite flare up, and the sole wraps up onto the upper material more like a standard running shoe.

    It is my personal opinion that the roundtoe 360's toe box is slightly narrower than the original due to the formed sole but the shape is generally the same. I have a bit more of a narrow foot and I do find that the 360's are a little snugger than the original playlo's. But I like the split toe variety of the 360's much better, they give me a great snug fit that I personally prefer.

    Hopefully I was able to answer your questions.