LEM Boulder Boot Review
Lems Shoes (the barefoot shoe company formerly known as Lemming formerly known as Stem Footwear) recently dropped their new boot for Spring 2013—the Boulder (see Meet Lems Boulder, the Barefoot Shoe Boot for the original release announcement).
Lems founder Andrew shot me over a pair to try out and review for BirthdayShoes, so I've been wearing them the last few weeks. What follows is my full review of what amounts to being one of the most minimal boot-style barefoot shoes yet (I'll note a few other contenders for that title, too). Let's dive in!
What you get with the Boulder is a super lightweight boot that goes up over the ankle, has a 9mm outsole and 3mm removable insole. The Boulder's upper is comprised of leather and nylon and the inside is lined with cotton. They aren't waterproof. The Boulder's retail at $115.
And of course, like all Lems, the Boulders have a super-sized toe box, zero differential from heel to toe (they are "zero drop"), and have no arch support.
The soles and inside the boots
As you can see in the photos above, the Boulder has a new sole from Lems relative to prior installments (like the Primal). The new sole has a more squared off shape to it where it terminates at a right angle on the sides and then wraps up the shoe. This should theoretically put a bit more of a wall between the shoe and the elements (think: rain). I've yet to have occasion to trek through the rain in the Boulders but I think they'd fare better than a pair of FiveFingers.
As for ground feel, the Boulder features a 9mm injection rubber outsole, which is a thicker outsole than some other "barefoot boots" like the VivoBarefoot Gobi, which has a 3mm outsole. Even at 3X the Gobi, the Boulder's rubber outsole still kept me grounded and reasonably in touch with the terrain. That said, a step on hard gravel is a little jarring in the Vivo Gobi's?it's more tolerable in the Boulders.
It's a roomy experience for your feet when wearing the Boulder's. In addition to a huge (you might call it cavernous!) toe box, there's no arch support or pressure on your arch to speak of.
While you can remove the insole of the Boulder, note that this will expose some thread (see this photo). Generally, this may not be an issue for you as the higher-top nature of the Boulder makes them a little more comfortable (to me anyway) worn with socks. And socks should adequately mask any sensation from said threads should you choose to remove the insole and wear them that way.
The insole, which you can see removed in the photos above, is 3mm thick and foamy and lightweight. It adds just a touch of cushion to your ride but not enough to be very noticeable or substantially alter the feel of the shoes. For my testing, I just left the insole in.
The Boulder has a rugged look to it. I'm not sure how rugged they'd be in actual boot-like applications (e.g. hiking). Lems' description of the Boulder says, "The whole boot is completely collapsible, great for stuffing into a pack during a hike and wearing around the campfire afterwords." This description suggests that the boots are great to pack on your hike and swap into once the hike is done.
Mind, I see no reason you couldn't hike in the Boulder and I imagine for one-off hikes they'd hold up fine. The sides of the boot are mostly protected with leather, which should help protect the shoes from brush.
As for barefoot biomechanics, the nature of a boot design makes for are a strange beast. In my experience, ranging from the FiveFingers Bormio to the VivoBarefoot Off-road Hi or the Gobi to OTZ Troopers (review pending), the higher sides of the boot hugging your ankle and lower calf make for an interesting dynamic as you walk. For example, when your foot is moving forward while walking, the ankle of the boot at the rear tends to want to bend, which ultimately pushes the heel of the shoe lower. This seems unavoidable when designing a boot and makes for some disconnect between the boots and your feet.
That said, the Boulders' upper is flexible and while that helps to diffuse the above effect somewhat, it's still there—it's something you'd notice going from your typical "barefoot shoe" (one that lacks a rise past the ankle) to a "barefoot boot" of any kind. Notably, the worst "barefoot boot" as it pertains to this effect is the Vivo Offroad Hi, which just has a particularly built-up/sturdy upper. Mind the Offroad Hi's upper is also likely the most protective you'll find and waterproof. A thicker shoe around the ankle makes boots stiffer. It's a compromise.
Net-net, the Boulder's are quite comfortable to walk in and wear as everyday shoes. Note: I tested the Boulder boots both with and without socks.
With socks. This is my preferred way to wear the boots. While the Boulder's have a nice cottony feel on the inside and can be worn without socks, the "boot effect" described above can make for more movement than I'd like against my bare foot and ankle. Socks seem to eliminate that problem entirely.
Without socks. There is a piece of fabric at the heel on the inside of the Boulder. I imagine the fabric helps protect the cotton from excess wear due to rubbing as this is a place of some limited movement of the foot within the boot (again, see the boot effect!). Worn without socks all day with a reasonable amount of walking, I had some issues with the beginnings of a blister on one heel near the top.
Note that this issue is completely resolved when wearing socks, which is why I mostly wore the Boulders with socks!
The Boulder boots have that rugged outdoorsy look to them which makes them pair well with jeans. They also seem to go well with a pair of khaki or twill pants. Either way, you throw on a flannel shirt and you're ready to go chop some lumber. For some reason these shoes make me think about axes and firewood. Can't explain it.
The combination of a canvas and leather upper prevents the Boulder from being a business casual boot (to me, anyway). That said, I'm not sure I'd prefer they have an all-leather upper as I like the hybrid look, personally.
One of the things the Boulder's have going for them aesthetically is the ribbed stitching around the toe box. Like Vivo Barefoot Oaks, this inner ridge makes the toe box look a little less huge (e.g. some barefoot shoes can have a decidedly clown-like appearance due to the size of the toe box). I appreciate the design choice and like the look of the Boulders
It's somewhat remarkable to me that today there are a decent number of boot options in the "barefoot" or minimalist shoe market. Just four years ago there
were none. was only one—the Feelmax Kuuva (added per comment below!). Today you've got these boots from Lem, Vivo Barefoot makes a couple options (Gobi, Offroad Hi, Offroad Mid), Vibram has made toe shoe boots, and even OTZ (if you swap the footbed to something flat).
How does the Lem Boulder boot stack up to the competition? Well, it's not the beast of a boot you get with the Offroad Hi/Mid from Vivo and comparing it to OTZ probably isn't fair in that OTZ have to be modified to be at all minimalist. As for comparing to the Gobi, the Boulder has a considerably different look to it and a thicker sole.
Then again, the Boulder's sole isn't so thick as to deter from a minimalist shoe experience. Also the Boulder is a little cheaper than the Gobi. Really, even though both shoes rise above the ankle, they're pretty different from each other in style, feel, and materials, so comparisons aren't all that worthwhile.
As for the all-important question of sizing, my feet are 10 7/8" long which puts me right between a size 44 and a size 45 in the Boulder. I tried both and the 45 definitely fits me right (and the 44 felt just a smidge too small). Just reference the sizing chart here:
If you have already picked up some Boulder boots or grab them now, please let me know what you think.
Now you'll have to excuse me—I've got some wood to go chop ...