Barefoot Shoes

Lems Mariner Boat Barefoot Shoes Review

The Shoes

The Lems Mariner boat shoes come in two colorways. On the left are the Mariners seen in the “Camel” colorway. On the right, you can see the Mariners in the “Sand” colorway.

Here you can see a…

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!

The Shoes

The Lems Mariner boat shoes come in two colorways.  On the left are the Mariners seen in the
The Lems Mariner boat shoes come in two colorways. On the left are the Mariners seen in the “Camel” colorway. On the right, you can see the Mariners in the “Sand” colorway.
Let’s hit the highlights on the Lems Mariner: Last: LemsLast? foot-shaped Upper: 100% Genuine leather + mesh Waterproof: No Sole: 9.0mm LemsRubber? injection rubber Insole: Optional removable 3.0mm MoistureWick foam Lining: 100% Genuine leather Stack Height: 9.0mm Drop: 0.0mm 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 Soles

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:
Here you can see a now discontinued
Here you can see a now discontinued “sand” suede Vivo Barefoot Oak on the left vs. the Lems Mariner in Sand on the right. The Vivo Barefoot Oak has been one of my personal top 5 most worn “barefoot casual shoes” over the last couple years. The Lems Mariner in sand look similar, as you can see, but different at the same time. Since they look good in shorts (the Oaks’ ankle cuff design doesn’t favor shorts so much), the Lems Mariner may be my new favorite.
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. No more!
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 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
A huge plus with the Lems Mariner “boat shoes” (as seen here in the all-leather camel color) is that they look great with shorts.
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 initially expected I'd wear the camel-colorway of Lems Mariners most.  I was surprised to find how much I like the sand colorway, too—as seen worn here with jeans.
I initially expected I’d wear the camel-colorway of Lems Mariners most. I was surprised to find how much I like the sand colorway, too—as seen worn here with jeans.
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 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 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]

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.

14 replies on “Lems Mariner Boat Barefoot Shoes Review”

If these are half as good as my Stems, I’ll absolutely need a pair.

I like my Vivobarefoot Oaks, but I find the sole to be surprisingly inflexible. Not uncomfortably so, but stiffer than I’d expect for a “barefoot” shoe company.

I got the boots and I really love them, at the time Lems only had the boots size 14, now I see they have those in my size too and free world wide shipping…I must have them.

I love my Vivobarefoot Oaks so much I bought two additional (3 total) pairs on sale and wear them for my “business casual” job. These Lems Mariners look cheap with that cloth section in the sides…I won’t be getting those.

@Mark F

I’m a little confused in dinging the Mariners b/c of the small fabric on the sides while praising the Oaks when the Vivo Barefoot Oaks have an unfinished looking lip around the ankle and a stretchy/fabric/neoprene at the rear/heel.

While I love my Oaks, the Mariners look much more proper/finished/nicer by comparison.

@Justin O

I find that the Vivo Barefoot Oaks are MUCH better looking than the Mariners with their contrasting colored cloth section in the sides — makes them look like this was a move to save leather! Deck shoes have no place for cloth in the shoe sides. To each his own!

@Mark F

Totally to each his own, which I guess is my point. Again, Oaks are one of my favorite pairs of shoes; but the stretchy heel has never sat right with me on the aesthetic and the ankle wrap has always looked like someone took scissors to the top of the shoes — the leather just terminates on the Oaks at the ankle and you see what looks like an ankle sock (the neoprene). Makes them hard to wear without socks.

That said, Google Sperry Topsiders and you’ll see a ton of boat shoes that have what looks like the same exact spot of non-leather on the sides. So it’s a pretty popular thing to mix leather with fabric in the boat shoe line.

I actually would prefer all leather, I think, but I really don’t mind that patch of fabric. I hadn’t even paid much attention to it until this line of comments! But it reads like you’re quite the boat shoe aficionado whereas I am a mere dabbler!

Lems has changed the lasts they use, now they no longer fit wide/high volume feet. I went 2 sizes up from my Primal 1 shoes to the 48 Boulder boots (same last and construction as the Mariner,and the largest available) and the new shoes are too narrow across the entire fore-foot area.

3+ years into the minimal shoe boom and I’m STILL waiting for someone to make a minimal shoe in WIDE sizes I can wear to work, or anywhere else. VFF’s are great, but not always acceptable.

As an aside, I was hoping to see the Black Boulder Boot released. But only the brown came out and it’s been rather quiet about the black one. If you know of any news I’d be happy to get an update.

I don’t have any experience with the Primal 2’s. I went from the Primal 1’s (2 pairs) to trying the Boots and planning on buying the Mariners to replace my ancient boat-shoes. Unfortunately, the upper of the new series of shoes seems to be narrower and less forgiving than the first generation, and they can no longer accommodate my wide feet.

Lems mentions on their site that a vegan version of the Mariner will be available in the future. Hopefully that will be some kind of ventilating material, such as wool. I’ve seen boat shoes made with wool uppers so, there’s already a precedent for that. Chocolate brown wool, please. Thank you.

I didn’t like these at all!
I found the sole very thick, I ended up going back to landing on my heel – bad habit.
I couldn’t feel the ground and I found they lacked the benefits of barefoot.
The Vivo Oaks were just superb, its sad for me that they were discontinued.
I have non-barefoot shoes that have thinner and more flexible soles, I don’t see the point of them really.

I didn’t like these at all!
I found the sole very thick, I ended up going back to landing on my heel – bad habit.
I couldn’t feel the ground and I found they lacked the benefits of barefoot.
The Vivo Oaks were just superb, its sad for me that they were discontinued.
I have non-barefoot shoes that have thinner and more flexible soles, I don’t see the point of them really.

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