Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot

Meet Lems Boulder, the "Barefoot Shoe" Boot

I got good news from Andrew Rademacher, founder of upstart minimalist/barefoot shoe manufacturer Lems Shoes* ("Light. Easy. Minimal.") — the first batch of the much-anticipated Lems Shoes Boulder Boot are now available for order! I say "first batch" because it's only the first few hundred pairs of production (more to come, of course, within a few weeks).

The release of the Boulder boot marks the first of a new line of Lems hitting the market in 2013! What's so exciting about the Boulder? Aside from it being a "barefoot shoe boot" that is super lightweight, zero drop, minimally and flexibly soled, and a boot, well, what else is there to say? If you've had a pair of Andrew's barefoot shoes, you're expectations are likely through the roof for these boots. We've reviewed the first offering from Lems that hit back in 2011 — the Primal (see reviews here and here) and had nothing but good things to say.

Andrew has a pair of Boulders coming my way, so I hope to share more about it soon, but if you're eager to snatch up a pair without further adieu and want to know the scoop, read on!

UPDATE: I got the boots! If you want to jump straight to my full review of the Lems Boulder boot, go here!

The official Boulder Boot specs from Lems!

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Interview with Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run

Christopher McDougall, (barefoot) runner and author of the national bestselling book Born to Run, sits atop a pile of chopped wood, ax at the ready, barefoot at his home in Pennsylvania (Photo by Bill Cramer)
Christopher McDougall, (barefoot) runner and author of the national bestselling book Born to Run, sits atop a pile of chopped wood, ax at the ready, barefoot at his home in Pennsylvania (Photo by Bill Cramer)

I'm pleased to present below an interview with Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run (review) and the de facto spokesman for the growing barefoot and minimalist running movement. Despite being completely slammed these days with interest in both BtR and barefoot running, Chris let me pick his brain on a few questions, and what follows is our exchange.

Justin Owings (for BirthdayShoes): Something you've really focused on in BtR is that, "If you deny your nature, it will erupt in some other, uglier way." Do you think the predominant culture surrounding running and fitness in the U.S. exhibits a denial of our nature? If distance running is part of the solution, why do you think so many runners are so concerned with PRs, footwear, and getting ever better running gadgetry?

Christopher McDougall (blog): Remember what Dr. Bramble at the Univ of Utah pointed out: we have a machine built to run, and a brain built to conserve fuel at all costs. That’s what our obession with gadgetry and fancy shoes is all about; we’re easy prey for marketing ploys which play on our instinct to make running as safe, and energy-efficient as possible. I came across a very smart comment recently by a runner who pointed out that speed is really equal to knowledge; setting a PR indicates that you’ve learned more about training and avoiding injury. But the problem is, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a smart solution and snake oil.

JO: There's a general movement afoot towards finding a balance between our biological underpinnings—the ancient DNA that shapes the needs of our mind and body—and our convenient, consumer-driven modern lifestyle*. What do you make of these seemingly related movements? Where do you think it is going, if anywhere?

CM: Lots of people seem to be heading toward the same basic truths from different directions. And the overlap isn’t as coincidental as it seems. I first heard about Erwan Le Corre from Barefoot Ted, who had gotten an email from him the day I arrived to visit Ted in California. Erwan introduced me to Lee Saxby, whom I met while I was in London for a fascia conference. This Friday, Erwan is coming to visit me for a couple of days, and we’re going down to see Dr. Irene Davis, co-author of the Nature barefooting story and now a barefoot runner herself, at her UDel lab. So I think the surge in evolutionarily-sound living is the result of both coincidental shocks of recognition and active cross-pollination.

JO: Do you think the Titans of the Shoe Industry are ignoring the minimalist footwear movement in hopes that it will go away? What do you think the chances are that the barefoot running / minimalist footwear movement can overthrow these giants?

CM: Yup, they ignore it when they can and have outbursts of silly fearmongering when they can’t. I wouldn’t worry about staging an overthrow. A lot of people suspected a long time ago that they were being conned, which is why they’re now quick to grasp the truths of natural running. That’s what the podiatrists and shoe pushers are missing when they grouse about natural running being a “fad” — they don’t get that their failure to help people created a very real need for people to help themselves.

JO: You've often mentioned that it took a broken toe for you to finally try barefoot running (and now that is your preferred way to run). Do you think you would have eventually tried barefoot running out but for the broken toe? Why do you think it's so hard for people to take off their protective shoes (or FiveFingers) and try out barefoot running?

CM: It’s great that people are skeptical. If they jumped right in, they’d be guilty of the same behavior that the shoe companies are counting on: desperately grabbing at any solution without subjecting it to research and logic. Running in bare feet seems nuts, so it’s the sign of a healthy brain for people to resist. Maybe not as long as I did — I dithered for four years. But if I’d been an early adopter, I would have skipped a lot of painful lessons that were worth learning, so once again chaos somehow turned into coherence without any help from me.

JO: Have you found any particularly effective methods of convincing people to ditch their shoes?

CM: When I ran through Central Park with the New York Times’ Roving Runner, I offered every skeptic who approached us 20 bucks if they’d skin off their shoes and give it a try. No takers. Then a woman in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, called me on it, so I’ve learned to keep my mouth and wallet closed and let people figure it out for themselves.

JO: It seems you went through a significant idealogical transformation in Born to Run — one that has perhaps continued since the book went to print. Are there any parts of the book you'd change or ideas you'd put more emphasis on today?

CM: No, I’m glad I didn’t know then what I know now. I was still trying to figure out a lot of this stuff on a personal basis while I was writing the book, and hopefully that prevented me from coming across as a foamy-mouthed zealot.

JO: Did you ever expect to be the face of the running revival (generally) and barefooting or minimalist footwear (specifically) movement?

CM: Nah, the face has to be Barefoot Ken Bob. Maybe people get hold of the idea from “Born to Run,” but then they instantly zoom to Ken’s site (, to get the real info and find out what it’s all about.

JO: When you're not barefoot running, I've seen you sporting VFFs such as when you wore KSO Vibrams on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Did Stewart take notice of your feet?

CM: He only noticed them afterwards, backstage. He asked to touch the bottom of my foot and said it felt like a dog’s paw.

JO: Lastly, what's next for you? Any projects underway or simmering in the back of your mind?

CM: I’m bunkered at home these days, catching up on an avalanche of overdue work. And shoveling snow. And cutting wood. It’s been a bear of a winter.

Thank you, Chris; and I must say, I'm not sure what looks more dangerous in your photo — the ax you wield or your bare feet! In the coming days I hope you get a chance to rest and recuperate.

Additional Chris McDougall Materials:

Chris didn't mention it, but he's recently launched a blog at The site is just a few weeks old, but Chris is already blogging about such things as the link between running speed and intelligence, the release of Lieberman's research, and the response by some running shoe industry insiders.

In the interview I mention the Authors @ Google presentation — there are actually two of them:

You can completely geek out on Chris either by catching up on previous posts about him on the blog here or taking a spin around the birthdayshoes wiki entry for Christopher McDougall's article publishings and coverage.

* Evidence of this movement can be seen in the increased awareness of barefooting, but also in physical fitness movements that reject over-specialization and over-isolation. See Erwan Le Corre's MovNat or even CrossFit. Also see John Durant on Colbert. Or take McDougall's article on the virtually ignored power of fascia (See his follow-up comment on fascia on Matt Metzgar's fantastic blog). This "human movement" can also be seen on the nutrition front in efforts to mimick the macro-nutrient content and quality of foods eaten by our H-G forbears.

D.C. Snowpocalypse fun runs with Jeff in KSO Vibrams

Jeff runs through snow-laden Washington D.C. in KSO Five Fingers.  Despite the snow, seems his feet stayed relatively warm — barring the occasional wet slush!
Jeff runs through snow-laden Washington D.C. in KSO Five Fingers. Despite the snow, seems his feet stayed relatively warm — barring the occasional wet slush!
During the middle of Jeff's six mile run, he and his significant other stopped for some impromptu reflecting pool ice skating!
During the middle of Jeff's six mile run, he and his significant other stopped for some impromptu reflecting pool ice skating!
Jeff's KSO VFFs and the frozen reflecting pool before the Washington Monument make for a nice photo opportunity!
Jeff's KSO VFFs and the frozen reflecting pool before the Washington Monument make for a nice photo opportunity!

Above are photos sent in by Jeff (and his significant other) taken amidst the Washington D.C. "Snowpocalypse." They went for a six mile run which included "ice skating" on the reflecting pool. Check out Jeff's account:

Just got back from one of the most exhilarating runs ever and felt I had to share. Went for a 6 mile run with my wife during the DC "Snowpacolypse" in my VFF KSO's. Most of the run was down the middle of roads on packed snow, though there were times when I had to hop through 2 feet of snow. Feet were definitely a bit cold, but were better than expected (especially after a mile or so). Worst parts of the run were when we had to cross slushy intersections...I can handle cold, but cold and wet is rough. Anyhow, we finished our planned 3 mile route and were having so much fun, we went back and did another 3. During the middle, we stopped to "ice skate" across the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial. All in all, one of the best runs of my life! Also, have yet to wear anything but VFF's while running since getting them in October (and I do all my runs outside), so it's definitely doable (albeit in temps above 10 degrees or so)!

Between Jeff's fun run in the snow in FiveFingers KSOs and Bob's massive FiveFingers snowball fight in Flows, it sounds like the D.C. Snowpocalypse has been more fun than anything else!

Glad you all are having so much fun amidst such "chaos." And hope the snow you get on Wednesday doesn't cause too much of a stir.

Have fun!

Latest Vibram Five Fingers Reviews 2/07/10

Below are this past week's latest reviews (and boy were there a lot!):

  • Gloves for your feet at the edible perspective [Sprint]:

    I started running in the 5 fingers again about 1 month ago. My plan was to not push it as hard this time, and it’s working! I started by running .5 – 1 mile every other day for a week or so and felt great. I amped it up to 1.5 miles and now am up to about 2.5m after 4 weeks. I have felt a few twinges of pain/soreness in the tops of my feet but then they’re fine in the morning. [I should start icing to be extra careful!] The only frustrating thing is not getting in my normal mileage for so many weeks. It’s a bit frustrating to start so slow and take so long to work up to my typical 4 mile runs throughout the week.

  • Five Fingered Footwear at Running Over Mountains and Around the World [Sprint]:

    Another amazing discovery with the Vibrams was how light my feet felt. I didn’t have a few hundred grams of gel and fabric laced to my foot like when I’d be wearing my normal running shoes. Instead I felt like I a kid again running barefoot, only this time the thin soles taking away my adult fear of hurting myself underfoot.

    Thanks for the shoutout!
  • Gear Review: Vibram Five Fingers KSO Trek at Josh Snellink's Running Blog [KSO Trek]:

    While the KSO's do not offer anything spectacularly new beyond the whole-foot fit, the Treks offer a whole new tread design. The kangaroo leather is cool, and the new tread is a real bonus on bad terrain. Trundling over snow, mud, and ice is not always the best experience with the basic tread design. The lugged out bottoms give excellent traction, and even provide a bit of cushion from stone-bruising. With the added thickness, they feel almost too similar to regular shoes, but they are meant for extreme trail situations not walks on the beach. Some times the ground is punishing enough that I'm happy to have the 'volume turned down' so-to-speak on the sensory input coming in from my feet. Adding traction and protection requires thicker soles, and the trade-off has to be made somewhere. Hopefully they will remain the thickest soles in the VFF lineup. I'm very happy to use them for their intended purpose, and will happily keep them on standby during all the runs I do not need them for.

    And glad you liked my KSO Trek review — yours is quite informative, as well!
  • Vibram FiveFingers: Lessons Learned on the Nearly-barefoot Trail at Rise Up Runners [Flow], [KSO]:

    There are some practical matters worth thinking about before making the FiveFinger KSO a primary pair of shoes. They get soaked very easily in a puddle and take a long time to dry out while wearing them. They aren't nearly as comfortable in wet weather. This is less of a problem with the Flows, but they never feel quite as comfortable to me wet or dry.

    Thoughts on acclimating to VFFs, Flows, and KSOs; the joy of toe shoes at work as a pediatrician; and persevering despite a fractured toe on the trail!
  • Product review: Vibram Five Fingers KSO at The Normans in North Africa! [KSO]:

    My initial results have been positive. I’ve only run about a dozen times, each between 2 and 4 miles, but my joints feel great. The change from shod running means that different muscles are being exercised — specifically the calves. If you decide to try these out, expect your calves to be in some major pain until your body adjusts. Which reminds me — if you’re going to make the switch, do it gently. Don’t run 10 miles your first day running barefoot. Take it easy and you’ll find the transition much more enjoyable. Also, stretch your calves a lot.

  • Vibram FiveFingers -- The Runs at RoadBunner [Sprint]:

    Right now I view the VFF's as cross-training. They are a way to use muscles I have obviously not been using when wearing running shoes. I can also try to get a feel for a more forefoot strike stride. I do not foresee myself running in them much farther than a mile or so in the future. I don't see myself converting to minimalist shoe runner. But I do hope to try to run in them at least once a week for a quick spin.

Go here for last week's latest Vibram Five Fingers reviews.

Bob's VFF Flows at Massive Snowball Fight in Washington D.C.

In the video above is Bob wearing black Flow Vibram Five Fingers. The video was shot at Dupont Circle, Washington D.C. at a massive snowball fight. If you didn't already know, D.C. got nailed with a snowstorm that shutdown the city.

Here's Bob on what went down:

Hey Justin!

It's Bob. We're deep in the midst of Snowpocalypse 2010 in Washington DC. We got over two feet of snow in the last 20 hours. It's totally insane. The whole city is shut down. About 6,000 people signed up on facebook to attend a huge snowball fight at Dupont Circle. Antonie and I went. I wore my Vibram FF Flows. It was super fun!


Looks like everyone was having a great time! Glad the VFF Flows were keeping your tootsies insulated from the snow and cold.

We've previously seen resting his feet in KSO Five Fingers on top of Castleton Tower and training for the Marine Corps Marathon in KSO Five Fingers here.

Thanks, Bob! Stay warm!

Meet Tuck's Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes

Meet Tuck's Shoes. Custom Russell Moccasins / Minimalist Shoes

I did an hour hike up and down a back-country ski trail the other day in a custom pair of minimalist shoes. Packed snow, nine degrees Fahrenheit, and my feet were toasty the whole way. They have no heel lift, no cushioning, an anatomically correct design, and are the only shoes I've found other than FiveFingers where I can actually splay my toes; they have excellent traction. No need for snow shoes, or Yaktrax.

A new start-up minimalist shoe company? Nope, this company has been making minimalist footwear for over 100 years. It's the Russell Moccasin Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin, and the shoe in question was produced for me as a prototype after a conversation with the 80-year old owner.

Like many of us, after starting to wear Vibrams on a regular basis, I realized that traditional shoes were no longer going to cut it. I'd been able to find decent, but not great, alternatives for office wear, but the one problem remaining was cold weather. How to get a boot that would be suitable for hiking in the winter in snow and on ice? After a good deal of research, I found that the Russell Moccasin Co. makes custom boots, and some of them sounded close to what I was looking for.

I called them up, mentioned what I was looking to do, and was told that I would need to speak to Ralph. Ralph turned out to be the owner, Ralph Fabricius, who's been with Russell for 56+ years. I explained that I had gotten into running in Vibrams, explained a bit about barefoot-style running and how popular it's becoming, and Ralph cut me off. "We can make shoes like that, we've been making shoes like that since the Army study came out in 1915. Have you seen the Army study? I'll send you a couple of pages..." Ralph was very interested in my story and my project, and asked me to speak to Richard Sanders, who handles marketing for Russell.

Richard and I had a number of discussions. Since Russell has a long history of making barefoot-style shoes for hunters, both Ralph and Richard understood immediately what I was looking to do, and wound up teaching me quite a lot about what I should be looking for. Richard mentioned that the sole he would recommend was the Vibram Newporter, which is a totally flat sole designed to be non-slip. He talked me out of the Vibram Sierra, pointing out that the Newporter was almost half the weight. I wasn?t sure, but went along. He called Vibram and they explained that the Newporter in the regular rubber wouldn't work well for snow and ice, so they sent Russell some soles that were made up in a rubber that would work well on snow and ice.

Ralph had some ideas about what would be ideal for a barefoot experience, and made up the shoe I'm writing about.

An overhead view of Tuck's prototype minimalist shoes made custom by Russell Moccasin Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin.  They have no heel, are built on an iconic foot-minded
An overhead view of Tuck's prototype minimalist shoes made custom by Russell Moccasin Co. of Berlin, Wisconsin. They have no heel, are built on an iconic foot-minded "last" called the Munson Last, and have a wonderfully warm but breathable suede exterior.

I've been wearing these shoes at this point for several months. I've worn them running, I've worn then walking the dog in sub-zero temperatures in Vermont, and I've worn them chasing the dog through deep snow in the woods. I?ve worn them hiking on wet rocks and leaves. And I wear them to the office almost every day. I wear them with and without socks, with wool socks for the cold and cotton in warmer weather.

They don?t look minimalist (which is a selling point!), but you?ll note that there is no heel whatsoever, no cushioning under the heel or the forefoot, and a wide flare at the fifth metatarsal to allow my foot to widen naturally. I can splay my toes in these walking downhill. The only other shoe I can do that in is my Vibrams. To compare them to my Vivo Dharmas, I once tried taking the Dharmas on a hike. My feet slipped around in the shoe, the shoe slipped on the side of the trail, and, in general, it was an experience I will not repeat. The Russell, on the other hand, with lacing over the instep and excellent traction, have been just fine on hikes.

Hiking in them is a different experience from Vibrams, and yet similar. Obviously you have much less ground feel than Vibrams, since the sole is much thicker. You can still feel rocks under your feet, however, and the total lack of cushioning means you must walk the same way as you would in Vibrams. Under foot there are three layers of leather and the sole. They?re unlike the Vibrams in that they have much better traction (even than the Trek), and they are much warmer. I?ve yet to have cold feet in them, and I?ve taken them out in below zero temperatures several times. (I wish I could report at what point my feet started getting cold, just to be thorough.)

The Newporter sole is terrific. With Vibram?s ice compound, the only thing I?ve found that they slip on is smooth ice. They get traction even on rough ice, and anything less slick than that is not a problem at all. I?m happy I took Richard?s advice.

I will point out that the toe spring (the curvature upward at the toe) looks excessive. The curve you see is actually what has occurred from my walking around in them. Wearing them, they feel no different from my Vibrams.

I like them a lot. In fact they're my favorite shoes. I wear them almost every day instead of my Vibrams or my Vivo Barefoot Dharmas, as they're less odd looking than the Vibrams, and fit and breathe better than the Vivos. They're much warmer than both, with the fairly thick (but flexible) Vibram sole. Plus I can wear them to work!

Surprisingly, they're the most breathable leather shoes I've ever worn. I prefer leather shoes after having a bad experience with man-made materials, but I?ve never experienced leather like this. They're so breathable that I regularly find my feet dry and the end of a day, which does not happen with any other shoe I?ve owned. I discussed this with Russell, and indeed their suede is known for this trait, which is of course why Ralph picked it for me. (As I said, I've learned a lot, I wasn't a fan of suede shoes prior to these.)

These shoes are made with the Munson last*, a product of the Army study that Ralph introduced me to. Ralph may have been one of the few people alive who was still aware of this study. Only three companies that I've been able to find still make shoes or boots on the Munson last, and Russell is the only one that will make a minimalist shoe on this tried-and-true barefoot-style last. (More about Munson later).

The Munson last was designed to allow natural foot movement, and it works as advertised. It's a far better design than what Vivo uses, since the Vivo lasts still constrict the toes while simultaneously being too wide through the middle of the foot.

Russell makes each shoe to fit your foot; so your first step in ordering a pair of Russells is to take detailed measurements and a tracing of your foot, and mail it to them. Email or fax is not OK, because the transmission process can alter the tracing. The only major drawback I?ve found is that since the shoes and boots are made-to-order, there is a bit of lead time to get yours, and they're not cheap. (Compared to Vivo Barefoot, they?re a bit more expensive.) But, as I'm learning, they're worth it. Russell also says that they have customers who?ve been using Russell moccasins for year or decades, and that they do hold up in the long run. I?m a happy customer of a product that is expensive up front but lasts for a long time.

My only complaint with these shoes has been that they were a bit snug around the ball of my foot. They?ve since stretched out, but, as Russell likes to say that you don?t have to break in a Russell moccasin, they suggested I send them back and they?d stretch them for me. I declined. I didn?t want to be left without them.

They're also making up the boot that originally inspired me to contact Russell. The first draft of that prototype was the nicest-looking boot I've ever seen. I can't wait to wear it out in the woods and the snow.

Russell also makes dress moccasins a.k.a. loafers. They can make any shoe or boot in their lineup with a Munson last and without a heel.

Tuck models his custom new minimalist shoes he helped design in conjunction with Russell Moccasin Co. The shoes are keeping his feet nice and warm while affording his toes the ability to splay about comfortably. Though you'd not know it to look at them du
Tuck models his custom new minimalist shoes he helped design in conjunction with Russell Moccasin Co. The shoes are keeping his feet nice and warm while affording his toes the ability to splay about comfortably. Though you'd not know it to look at them due to their more traditional styling, these are very foot friendly, minimalist shoes!

* A last is a term used by cobbler's to describe the platform-like device shaped like a foot that a cobbler uses to build out a shoe. The shape of the last dictates the ultimate shape of the shoe.

James' Classic V5Fs and the Aurora Borealis

James' Classic V5Fs and the Aurora Borealis


Just thought you might like this pic! I got my Classics (my first pair of VFFs) yesterday and fell in love immediately. I was wearing them round my apartment to break them (and my feet) in, when I looked out the window... and there was the best display of the Aurora Borealis that I've seen during my time in Iceland. I grabbed my camera bag and ran out the door. I ran a good 5 minutes to my usual photo spot, and loved every second of it in my VFFs. No pain at all, despite my feet never having ever experienced this before. ...

So there you go. Beautiful shoes, and a beautiful view. What more could you want? Ok, maybe some warmth...


I'm impressed James was able to catch such a beautiful picture with not only his FiveFingers but also the Aurora Borealis to boot. Apparently this photo was taken in below freezing temperatures (and of course, at night, so you gotta get a longer exposure!).

Glad you had such a great induction into VFF foot freedom! Beautiful shot!