Lems Mariner Boat Barefoot Shoes Review
Lems Shoes continues to churn out new styles (or reboots)—the Lems Boulder boot came a few months back as well as the Primal 2. Most recently, Lems released their "boat shoe" (Boat shoes are also known as "deck shoes" or topsiders per wikipedia), which Lems aptly named the Mariner.
The Lems Mariner features the most classic "boat shoe" style—the ridge that runs the upper at the toe box really giving it that topsider look. They are also almost entirely clad in leather and meant to be worn sockless.
Andrew shot me over a couple pairs of the Mariner—one, each, in the darker brown "camel" colorway and the lighter/khaki "sand" colorway—to review. As a huge fan of the Vivo Barefoot Oak (The Oak is fashioned after the similar-to-boat-shoes wallaby shoe style), I was eager to get the Mariners on my feet.
And while I was optimistic the Mariners were going to be a great offering from Lems, it turns out that I'm liking them so much they may end up being one of the rare minimalist shoes that earn a full-time place in my closet.
In other words, I really like them. Why? Read on for my full review!
Let's hit the highlights on the Lems Mariner:
Last: LemsLast? foot-shaped
Upper: 100% Genuine leather + mesh
Sole: 9.0mm LemsRubber? injection rubber
Insole: Optional removable 3.0mm MoistureWick foam
Lining: 100% Genuine leather
Stack Height: 9.0mm
Weight: 7.4oz (size 43)
Width: 4.2-4.4" (size 43)
Again, the Lems Mariner is a boat shoe/topsider/dock shoe. What that really means is just that the Mariner borrows on the boat shoe style. In all my days, I've never owned a traditional pair of boat shoes. Mind, I knew plenty of folks who swore by their boat shoes as being crazy comfortable—I'm guessing "topsiders" are so popular because they are easy to slip on, meant to be worn all-day (and sockless), and feature fairly minimal soles (albeit with a slight heel). All those things tend to make a shoe popular (even while wearers don't usually make the conscious connection). For me, though, whenever I'd try on boat shoes they felt and looked overly narrow on my not-even-wide feet. Sure they might break in over time but I guess I wasn't up to trying.
Enter the Lems Mariner.
Boat shoes are typically worn without socks. I really do not like wearing socks, so this is pretty paramount to my loving a shoe. Featuring a boat shoe design, the Mariners made sure that sockless wear would be comfortable; worn with the insoles, the surfaces that that face the foot inside the shoe are:
- A synthetic fabric over the insole with little bumps, or
- Leather. It's the suede underside of the leather outsole at the toe box; a smooth leather on the sidewalls and tongue (two types—see here); a darker suede leather at the heel.
All these surfaces feel good against the bare foot?important considering the Mariner is ideally worn without socks. Part of me wishes the insole were also leather (my one gripe on the Oaks is the insole, too, incidentally). Also, to date, no smell accumulation (time will tell).
I'll pause here to show off some photos of both the Mariner in Camel and the Mariner in Sand:
The Mariner in Camel
The Mariner in Sand
The new line of Lems (the Boulder boot, the soon-to-be-released 9-to-5, and the Mariner) all feature a 9mm injection rubber outsole. As you can see above, the sole has lots of criss-crossing channels that allow for more flexibility.
At 9mm thick plus the 3mm of foam from the removable (but you'd probably leave it in) insole, you're talking about a 12mm stack height. That's a bit thicker than your (note: possibly discontinued?) Vivo Barefoot Oak, and at greater than a centimeter, you're going to have less ground feel than with a denser, thinner soled minimalist shoe (e.g. Any pair of FiveFingers, an insole-removed pair of Vivo Barefoot Oaks/Gobis/Ras/Aqua Lites, etc.).
Even still, the Lems Mariner will keep your feet in touch with the ground and do not feel cushy. Since the use case for the Mariner is everyday, all-day casual wear, maximizing ground feel is less important to me than, say, having a roomy toe box, zero-drop from heel to toe, and an overall lightweight and flexible shoe.
And on these points, the Mariner delivers with style. As for the sole, it's plenty flexible as demonstrated by my one-handed roll-up:
The shoes are easy to twist laterally, as well, due to the channels patterned into the sole.
Squeezing them one-handed doesn't take any feat of strength and you can see how they bow outward:
The Mariner's sole (like the other Lems in the series) has a harder piece of rubber at the heel. I assume this is their to minimize wear-and-tear as this is typically a high friction area for walkers. Personally, I don't know if I need any extra durability given my gait has gotten pretty light over the years (and less of a heel-strike) vs. my life before minimalist shoes. Note that the denser rubber at the heels makes for slightly harder ground feel at this point. It's a very subtle thing (and maybe I'm the only one who would even notice it).
Barefoot-minded, Functional Shoes
The Mariners have a big toe box that affords your toes the opportunity to splay all day long. They also have no arch support and are neutral from heel to toe (a.k.a. "zero drop"). The Mariners don't go over the ankle (unlike the Lems Boulder) and are meant for sock-less wear, which is a big plus in my book.
They're also lightweight. While elite athletes can geek out over gear/shoe weight, it's not often given much attention when it comes to everyday footwear. This is a shame. Heavy shoes can really tire you out over the course of a day. Who wants to feel like they have little weights tied to their feet? That the Mariners are lightweight is huge for all-day, everyday comfort.
All these factors (as well as those noted about the sole above) combine to make the Mariner boat shoes comfortable and functional shoes. Really, these factors are prerequisites for a "barefoot shoe" ? and the Lems Mariner delivers.
One note: the Mariner isn't waterproof or water-resistant. Water readily soaks into the leather though importantly doesn't seem to leave any spotting. I imagine you could easily apply some sort of waterproofing to them if you liked.
Test period and break-in
Over the course of my testing the Mariners these last few weeks, they do seem to break-in and become more flexible and comfortable with increased wear. Because minimalist shoes are already pretty flexible, "break-in" is used relatively here. Don't expect them to change drastically from the moment you take them out of the box. Just assume they'll get a little more flexible over time as the leather loses its from-the-factory perfect form and assumes the usual creases at high flex points (over the in-step).
I've probably put around 20 miles on my Mariners to date. This includes bounding up and down stairs (been opting for stairs over elevators!) and breaking into a brisk slow-run a couple times. I've bounded down six flights of stairs two at a time in them, as well. What's great about the Mariners is that while they look like common-place boat shoes, they function so well that I have a high degree of confidence while being more active. Win.
Lems Mariner Boat Shoes vs. Vivo Barefoot Oaks (Wallabees)
If you don't care about Vivo Barefoot Oaks or "barefoot shoes" that feature a toe box ridge (and why it makes for a useful design consideration for minimalist shoe enthusiasts who want normal-looking, everyday footwear), then skip this section!
I've grown to love a pair of light-colored, suede Vivo Barefoot Oaks?so much so that my Vivo Oaks have been one of my top 5 most-worn pairs of minimalist shoes over the last couple years. They just seem to go well worn casually with jeans or pants. Why compare the Vivo Barefooot Oaks to the Lems Mariner? They just look similar to me. Even though the Oaks' styling is that of a "wallaby" shoe, it shares that round-the-toe box ridge (while differing namely, in the tongue/eyelets construction as well as some wallabies going higher up the ankle).
A picture worth a thousand words?Vivo Barefoot Oaks wallabies vs. Lems Mariner boat shoes:
Clearly boat shoes and wallabees have slightly different styles when you pay attention to details. Their common design element—the toe-box-ridge—goes a long way to "narrow," aesthetically, the look of the fat (potentially clownish!) toe box you get with a barefoot-minded shoe. I'll delve more into the looks of the Mariner later, but even while this may seem a minor point, I think this design trait is fantastic. I'll add that it also gives a little more vertical toe box room.
I really like the aesthetics of the Mariner. While boat shoes have looked narrow (even feminine) to me at various points in the past, the Mariner's stout toe box matched to the "toe box ridge" (discussed in the section on the Oaks!) just works.
Even better, not only do the Mariners work with a pair of pants or jeans, they also work with shorts! This is a huge plus in my book as in all my 100+ deep shoe closet (admittedly many of which are in storage tubs and not actively worn), I'm not sure I've had a pair of slightly dressier shoes (still casual but not sneakers) that could pass with shorts and a golf shirt.
Really, the question with the Mariner is this: do you go Camel or do you go Sand?
Well, the bad news is that this is not an easy decision to make. Originally, I thought I'd like the Camel colored Mariners best, finding the Sand a bit too light based on photos I'd see on LemsShoes.com. Having received them though, I've found I really like the Sand Mariners, and have defaulted to them over the Camel!
This will be a highly personal choice, I'm sure, and I do have a couple thoughts that might help your decision below. But first, a few photos of the two colorways.
Wearing Camel Mariners
The more traditional you are, the more you probably will warm to the camel-leather Mariners. They just have a more classic look to them, being more like the typical "boat shoe."
Also, I think the camel could arguably fit in better with a pair of khaki pants if you're planning on wearing them to your business casual office setting (perhaps with socks to dress them up).
They also look great with shorts, which I think is easy to see, but the sand-leather Mariners pair well with shorts, too, in my experience.
Wearing Sand Mariners
I think the sand-leather Lems Mariner shines when pair with jeans. They just give an edge to the traditional design that makes them stand out just enough to be strikingly fashionable while still casually traditional.
The net effect, for me, was that as someone who wears jeans almost every day to a younger work environment (Google), the sand leather Mariners just suited me to a tee.
And again, I didn't expect to like the sand so much. Now, given the choice between the two, I'd be hard-pressed to make a decision because while I still really like the camel colorway, the sand are seeing the most wear for me. Go figure.
But you really can't go wrong.
The Lems Mariner retails from LemsShoes.com for $105 for men and for women. Note: you'll notice a few differences between the photos in my review and the photos of the Mariners on LemsShoes.com. I believe that's because those photos were on pre-production versions of the Mariners vs. my pairs were the final product.
Sizing. Do yourself a favor and refer to Lems sizing chart, which has been pretty accurate for me. I'm a size 43 FiveFingers and a 10.5 regularly. That said, my feet measure 10.875" which puts me right between a 44 and 45 Lems Mariner. I've tried the 44 Mariner and it almost fits; the 45 fits best (same with the Boulder). So I'd say if you're right square in between sizes, go up.
Bottom Line: I dig the Mariners. They are actually probably the best all-around shoes I've picked up in the last few months. The Mariners fill a wardrobe niche (as bizarre as it is to have one given all the shoes I have!); they offer me something my beloved Oaks didn't (wearability with shorts!); and they are comfortable and functional shoes that are decidedly barefoot-minded.
You really can't go wrong.
If you pick up a pair, let me know what you think, and if I missed anything in the review, please ask away below in the comments!
[You can grab the Mariner for $105 at LemsShoes.com]