Barefoot Shoes

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 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!

The Boulder

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!

Wearing them

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 More photos:


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:
Bottom line, for $115 you get a solid, lightweight boot that will keep your feet happy. You can get a pair over at 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 …

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

24 replies on “LEM Boulder Boot Review”

Thanks for the review, just one correction, you wrote that:”Just four years ago there were none.”
– I think even four years ago there was Feelmax Kuuva. They have now new model line with Kuuva 2 and other models, will birthdayshoes review them?


Good catch — just amended the post. For whatever reason, BirthdayShoes hasn’t had many Feelmax reviews. If you happen to know anyone there, tell them to drop me a line!

Picked up a pair of these (38 W) on the day they released and haven’t regretted it for a second. They are comfortable, roomy at the toe while decently snug at the heel and ankle, and super cute! They look great with pretty much everything except black dress clothing. I LOVE the touch of plaid as well. I walk to work every day, be it rain or shine, and my feet have never gotten wet. Foot Locker makes a great waterproofing spray, and while you can’t dunk your foot in a pond and expect to come out dry, I’ve nailed some pretty hefty puddles before with zero problems. I seriously love these boots! I can tell a lot of thought was put into them, both in their appearance and functionality, and really appreciate it. It’s not everyday the minimalist footwear groupies get an attractive shoe. Can’t recommend them enough!

I JUST discovered this brand, and my well never own a pair (check the price!), but they make me want to find questionable, if not immoral, ways to make more money… These are EXACTLY what I want in a winter boot. Why is NO ONE selling a waterproof, minimalist hiking boot? The Vivos are close, but the last is nothing like their regular shoes (surprisingly narrow in the toe box), and they are pretty heavy…

What about including the mini mil boot from Belleville in your comparison of minimalist boots?

After reading a review of the mini mil boot at Birthday Shoes earlier on, I ordered a pair but had problem with sizing (which was a bit ‘lost in translation’ from women’s size into men’s – the suggested reduction of 2 sizes from the women’s size to work out the men’s size didn’t work for me) so have had to return and re-order – here’s hoping the next size up will fit…

In the meantime, I am keeping an eye out for a boot (and more water resistant) alternative to my five fingers – so, would be great if there was a comprehensive review of all the minimalist boots out there.

What I wouldn’t mind seeing would be a Whites Boots-made minimalist pair of boots.Their current boots are rebuild-able.
(I already own a pair of Smoke Jumpers and a pair of Hunters-both very high quality.)
Here’s their website:

These look great! Is there a model that incorporates a steel toe so I could use them in an industrial shipyard environment?

These boots are great. I ordered after Birthday Shoes did the preview a little while ago. I couldn’t be happier with them as a casual boot with jeans. They are decent in the woods, but perfect for rocky terrain (Texas Hill-Country).

I have to wonder if you write your review in order to please the Lems makers. The first Stems were great; the Primal Ones were great BUT with confirmation from Lems people they CHANGED their ‘formula’ with these new shoes. They changed what kind of plastic they use for the soles which is now a heck of a lot harder than before. The fit is a heck of a lot smaller (ie toe room, etc). I even measured the footbed & compared it to my old shoes .. it was a good 1/2″ smaller in width. I can’t believe you’re liking these boots. I did buy a pair as well as Primal 2 shoes. Both the boots and the shoes made my feet pronate and I instantly got pain in my knees. OK .. if you guys get pain in your knee you’ll know where it came from. Oh, also when it came to refunding me they said they couldn’t put it back onto my credit card and mailed me a cheque which was the wrong amount to the tune of over $200.00. They issued me another cheque, but why couldn’t they put it back on my card? Yes it is a bother because they sent me US money and I’m not in the US. It sounds pretty sneaky to me.


Certainly didn’t write the review to please Andrew (Lems founder). I’ve been critical of Lems designs in the past (what stands out most in my mind is my beef with the rounded out heel of the Primal/Primal 2 sole.

That said, your fit comment makes me think you got the wrong size — I’m typically a 44 in the Primal/Primal 2 but seems I’m a 45 in the Boulder (I tried a 44 and it was just too small).

As for the formula of the rubber soles, hard for me to compare the Boulder sole to the Primal or the Primal 2 since the basic design of the Boulder sole is fundamentally different from the Primal sole mould, regardless of the formula used to make the rubber.

All that said, if the shoes made you pronate and you experienced knee pain, that’s no good — I actually wonder if that had to do with the high-top ankle, which I talked about in the review as gait-effecting. Don’t know though maybe you figured it was something else.

Can’t comment on their refund policy for international refunds — sounds like a pain though.

Any thoughts on how warm it keeps you? I live in Oslo, and I´m looking for a winter boot that deals with snow and reasonably cold temps. (Would be good if I could use them in -10C )

I´m looking for a winter boot to wear in winter in Oslo, Norway. I´m wondering how cold weather the Boulders can deal with – or if there are any other shoes that does well in the cold. Or should I go for mukluks? What are the minimalist verdict on things like this?


I was looking for ‘barefoot’ winter gear last year (moved to far northern, USA) and bought a pair of the tracker moccassins from the website (I live and work in the same town so I just needed to shovel and get around, not hunt or trek deep snow. Also, I don’t like “high” boots….plus I have overshoes if need be for deep snow). I LOVE THE MOCASSINS!!!!! My feet are always warm, dry, and the soles are incredible!!! best sole I have ever had on ice and it really feels like it molds to my feet (in a minimalist way). They feel about as zero drop as something with a ‘real’ sole can be. Wide toe box, etc. Highly recommended.

I bought the waterproofing spray they recommend also.

Was thinking of getting these and just rubbing on some lanolin for waterproofing. I live in Minnesota and I just started getting into barefoot minimalist shoes this spring/summer. I found out quickly that my Merrel Trail Gloves are no good for casual wear in the late fall and winter.

Would these boots be appropriate for hiking in desert conditions, or are they better suited to colder climates?

I bought a pair of these in mid-October 2013. Living in the midwest, wearing VFFs isn’t really an option during the winter.

While they were extremely comfortable, I did experience several issues related to material quality. First, the red flannel lining frayed within a month. Since it was a cosmetic defect, I chose to keep them instead of returning them for another pair.

Then, I noticed that once they get wet, the red dye from the lining soaked through to the tan leather, leaving reddish pink dye stains on the outside of the boot itself.

Lems was nice enough to refund my money and send me a shipping label. I will be sending them the “lemon” Lems as soon as I can get into town to mail them. (One disadvantage to living out in the boonies is driving an hour into town to return the shoes to the company.)

Somebody please help me out. My hubs and I have a farm and he needs minimal work boots!!! I have looked everywhere and can find nothing that serves that purpose. We tried the belville boot but it is suede, not waterproof (farming is wet, dewy, mucky business) and lasted him about 5, maybe 6 months. Is there anyone out there doing serious manual labor and wearing minimal shoes. We cannot wear what city dwelling folk deem acceptable for hiking.


See my comment on the other Boulder Boot thread at

My answer was Russell Moccasin’s minimalist Thula Thula – . Note that they are neither light nor especially flexible, they are only minimalist in the sense that that are zero drop and use a last with a large toe box (and they can be custom fitted to your feet for no additional charge). But what you get in trade for the extra $ and giving up lightness and ground feel is a very well constructed and repairable boot of very tough materials, especially if you choose the “Optional All Weather Tuff Leather.”

I love the boulder boot. Wish they used quality material. My first pair failed in less than 6 month and now my second pair is failing in about the same time. The “leather” tears open around the edges of the sole. I don’t do anything in these boots to warrent this. They are nearly new in every way. If they made this boot with quality leather and charged twice as much I’d buy them. I won’t ever buy another pair of Lems currently. Awesome design terrible quality.

Just read your review. I just got a pair of the Boulder Boots myself, but I’m finding that they cut at the back of the ankle when I walk. I just wanted to see if this has become more flexible over time for other people. It just seems like a weird place to cut the boot and the fabric seems not great ankle mobility.

Just read your review. I just got a pair of the Boulder Boots myself, but I’m finding that they cut at the back of the ankle when I walk. I just wanted to see if this has become more flexible over time for other people. It just seems like a weird place to cut the boot and the fabric seems not great ankle mobility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *