ZEMs are fun, colorful, minimalist shoes made by ZEMgear with the motto, "Less Shoe. More You." I've been wearing ZEMs from their 360 series for a few months now to see how well they work both for everyday use and for running.
Visit ZEMgear's website, and you'll find a large assortment of models from which to choose. There are six different of categories of ZEMs plus a line for kids. There are ZEMs designed for travelers, indoor wellness activities, watersports, all sports, runners and an all-purpose series. I was provided a pair of Ninja Split Toe ZEMs and a pair of Round Toe ZEMs from their 360 series specifically designed for runners.
The design immediately grabs your attention with the brightly colored stripes contrasting sharply against the black, stretchy lycra which makes up the upper. The stripes aren't just for decoration though. Called "high-frequency tech bands", they are there to to secure your foot firmly in the shoe yet flexing as appropriate to allow your foot to move naturally. I like the bold design which definitely sets ZEMs apart from other shoes. If you would rather not stand out, the ZEM 360s are also available in a black on black color scheme.
The soles are very flexible, lightweight "phylon" rubber. There is a minimal amount of tread to provide some traction best suited for roads or easy trails. Not only are they flexible and light, they are completely flat and with no arch support. There is a minimal amount of toe spring, but nothing that would prevent you from planting your toes on the ground when necessary.
You can get the 360s and several of the other ZEMs in either a split-toe or round-toe design. Isolating the big toe in the spit-toe design serves to lock your foot in place better for lateral movements. However, those without good toe separation might prefer the round-toe design. Aesthetically, you might prefer the round toe as the split-toe is oddly reminiscent of a lobster claw.
Fit and Feel
The ZEMs look like socks and they feel like them too. They are extremely comfortable. Slip the ZEMs on and they conform to every curve of your feet like a second skin. The material is soft enough to be worn with or without socks, and with no laces to tie or straps to adjust, it is easy on and easy off. The ZEMs are the closet thing to feeling like you're not wearing shoes at all.
As someone who regularly runs in huaraches, I wanted to know how the ZEMs compared. Like my huaraches, the 360s are very light, thin, and flexible allowing my feet to flex and land naturally. Unlike my huaraches, the ZEM's lycra uppers provide some welcome protection against trail debris and the elements. They won't completely keep out the rain, but they do a great job keeping out the cold and wind. The soles are a bit softer than many of my huaraches so they didn't hold up as well on very rocky terrain. However, they're perfectly suited for road running or easier trails.
Choosing between the split-toe or round-toe design comes down to personal preferences. I could not detect a profound difference between the two designs during my runs. Both versions fit snugly on my feet regardless of the split toe. I suspect those who are engaged in activities requiring more lateral movement would appreciate the split toe design.
The ZEMs are eye-catching, unique minimalist shoes. The 360s are terrific running shoes for those looking to transition to a barefoot running technique.
Ordering, Pricing, Availability
If you're interested in picking up a pair, the ZEM 360 MSRPs at $59.99 and is available in either the Ninja split toe or round toe version in three different colors. ZEM 360s and the entire line of ZEMs are available directly from ZEMgear at their online store.