Barefoot Shoes

Review: Lems Shoes Primal – A Comfortable, Casual Shoe

Review of the Lems Shoes Primal barefoot shoe.

Update: on March 1, 2012, “Stem Footwear” became “Lems Shoes” and then in 2013 they shortened their name to Lems!

What’s the change mean for you or for the usefulness of this review? Well, nothing — they’re still the same shoes, just branded with a different name and logo!


You may remember these shoes from an initial review on a preproduction model from startup company StemLems Shoes back in the summer. We’re going to take a closer look at what has been in the works since then, how the Primals have been tweaked, and what makes them so comfortable. Lems Shoes was first described to me using the David and Goliath analogy. If Vibram is David and Nike is Goliath, then by comparison this is like Leming is David and Vibram is Goliath. To illustrate this point, when first getting a pair of Primals to test, I wasn’t working with a marketing rep, but rather emailing directly with the CEO of the company, Andrew Rademacher. Andrew started the company while searching for a better shoe. For more on Lems Shoes as a company, see the interview Justin put together at the bottom of his first look review. Full review, photos, and a way to save money on them after the jump!

Function-Barefoot Feel/What’s New?

Since they are starting out small, Leming makes just one model of shoe in a few different colors for both men and women. They have the standard zero drop heel that one would expect to find on a pair of minimalist shoes and the sole is so flexible that it rivals some of the early Vibram Five Finger models like the Classics and Sprints. You can quite literally role the shoes up into a ball! They have a wide toebox and the inside is lined and padded with a comfortably textured material that feels great when you slip your feet into them. The uppers are soft and pliable and almost remind me of my favorite pair of slippers. Justin noted that the material on the inside of the tongue can be a bit scratchy and can irritate your skin if you are going barefoot in them, but I found wearing socks takes away any issue that you might experience like that (And Justin agrees!). And what’s new with the Primals since the first look back in May?
  • Sole is now 7.5mm of super flexible rubber which weighs in at 6.5 oz for a men’s size 9.5
  • Traditional laces instead of a drawcord (these laces stay tied well, even with a standard bowknot)
  • Slightly wider under the arch area, which may fit a bit snug at first but are designed to stretch after through wear
  • Widest part at the ball of the foot has moved toward the rear by 10mm
  • Heel seats into the heel area better
  • Eyestay lace loops have been moved further apart so the laces can be drawn in further, which makes for a better fit on those with narrower feet


So how did they feel? Bottom line: They feel great and are extremely comfortable. The first time I put them on I was extremely impressed with how they felt. Being on my feet in them for long periods of time or simply having them on for hours on end, especially during travel, felt good. I didn’t experience any hotspots or rubbing anywhere and my feet never felt cramped. The flexible sole makes for great ground transmission with what feels like just a bit more protection than some of the thicker soled Vibram FiveFingers. While walking, the uppers are soft and move well with your feet without feeling too flimsy. Once you break into a jog or run though the uppers become a bit wobbly, so you won’t want to use them for athletic pursuits or on unstable surfaces that require side to side movement like when you’re trail hiking. The Primals are fairly breathable and make for a great three season shoe, but if you are prone to cold feet during the colder winter months, you’ll want to make accommodations by wearing thicker socks. Despite having a flexible and soft rubber sole, the tread held up quite well over a few months of use and showed relatively little wear. I did happen to run into a problem with some of the stitching coming loose near the big toe after the first few sessions wearing them, but it never seemed to get much worse than pictured below:
When asked if Leming had gotten this type of feedback from other users, Andrew admitted that they had run into some manufacturing problems on the first run of production shoes but that they expect to have all these issues ironed out on their next run. We were told that Leming will replace all defective shoes with free shipping and give a free return shipping label for the customer to send the defective pair back. It sounds like customer service and word of mouth advertising is important to Lems Shoes and that they really value their early customers and will try to do the right thing in order to make a name for themselves. As for care and washing, the Primals are machine washable (gentle cycle recommend) and should air dry in front of a fan in only a few hours.


Leming makes three models for men: Moss Green (olive and blue), Slate Grey (reviewed here), and Earth Brown, (brown on brown) and two for women: Frost Grey (grey with a hint of pink) and Earth Brown (same as the men’s.) The company’s tagline is “ancestral footwear” and a few similar slogans such as “primitive performance” and “back to our roots” are stamped on the sole. On the uppers, on the outside of heel, a stylized and textured image of tree roots growing out of sole adds a bit of complimentary coloring and flare without being obnoxiously loud. Sizing can be a little different than expected. Andrew recommends that you go by your US size, not the EU size, because they are sized with US increments. Women’s sizes run different than Men’s. Women will need to go up 1/2 to a FULL size. Men will need to either not go up or go up 1/2 size. After you get your shoes you will see that they are designed for your toes to fit close to the end of the shoe (less than a thumbs width). If you are buying on the Lems Shoes website and can’t decide between two sizes, they recommend you buy both and return the one that doesn’t fit. You do have to pay for the return shipping, but you will be refunded fairly quickly and Allie and Andrew handle all the customer service so they are happy to help however they can.


If sustainability is a consideration for you when purchasing new shoes you’ll be please to learn that as a company Lems Shoes strives to be eco-friendly through their “eco-rule of 50%.” They use vegan materials and a smaller low consumption box that is roughly half the size of company’s other shoe boxes. While this probably helps with shipping costs, it is nice to know that their commitment goes beyond the bottom line.


Lems Shoes looks to be a promising startup company, run by attentive owners, with a great product for someone who is looking for a comfortable casual minimalist shoe. Despite a few minor annoyances like a scratchy tongue and some simple manufacturing concerns that should be worked out soon, I would highly recommend checking the Primals out. While there is really only one model currently available in a few different colors, Andrew did clue us in that they are looking to expand in other directions so a colder weather or waterproof shoe might not be too farfetched of an idea for the future. Personally, I’d love to see a dress shoe option or something that could be worn with a suit from Leming as I think they’d be perfect to wear around the office. At $95, the Primals fall right in line with other comparable minimalist shoes and they can be ordered online from the with domestic and international shipping. At the time of writing there are also about 50 brick and mortar shoe stores scattered around the U.S. that now carry them. While these stores are mostly concentrated on the East Coast, Leming hopes to focus its attention and expand to more retailers on the West Coast in the coming months.

By Tim

I’m am a bicycle advocate by profession and an Ironman triathlete for fun which keeps me healthy and fit. I got into minimalist footwear during the summer of 2009 after dealing with injuries resulting from running in “normal” running shoes. Check out what’s going on in my life through photos at [url=][/url] or follow me on twitter: [url=]@TimKelleyDotNet[/url]. Get to know Tim better via [url=]his interview here[/url].

22 replies on “Review: Lems Shoes Primal – A Comfortable, Casual Shoe”

Looks very, very interesting…something I could wear every day without drawing stares.

One request though…we need a model without the graphics on the heel. Some of us would just like to have comfortable, healthy shoes without having to “advertise” that we’re making an alternative choice in footwear.

These look an awful lot like the Merrel Barefoot Run Pace. Other than your recommendation now to run in these ones, how do these two shoes compare?

Do you know if they have any plans for a sustainable leather version? I’m not wild about so-called “vegan” shoes. Synthetics and plant textiles aren’t necessarily any more “eco” than leather from sustainably raised animals (free-ranging on their natural diets, not grain & garbage fed in CAFOs). Additionally, the skin on my feet just seems to be healthier in leather; synthetics can really become rather stinky, as well as promote fungal growth.

Just ordered a pair using the BirthdayShoes coupon code – apparently I was the first to use it. Total order with shipping came to $85.

I had to place my order via phone. The guy who helped me was great. Answered all of my questions and got my order processed quickly. I’m a stickler for excellent customer service.

I asked if he has gotten any feedback from people running in Stems. He said he runs in them and they work really well. He also confirmed that they fit 1/2 size small. He (like me) wears 12 in running shoes and wears the 12-12.5 in the Stems.

Can’t wait to try them.

I bought a pair of these earlier last fall just after they had arrived. I use them even in the winter snow. I never had shoes like this before where I could really spread my toes. I even do som running in them instead of my Trail Gloves. I tried Vivo casual shoes but Stem is now my favorite shoe. I also use the “Correct Toes” spacers in them. I have good things to say about them too.

On the issue of Stem sizing:

With one foot size 12.5 and the other closer to 14, I was very concerned about the fit. Though neither of my toes touched the front of the shoe, the Stems ‘looked’ too small, perhaps because I’m used to seeing a more pointed toe in other shoes. The big toe on my larger foot, though, could subtly feel the gentle rise of the sole at the front. This concerned me and I hesitated about wearing the shoes outdoors in anticipation of perhaps having to return them.

But there turned out to be a detail I hadn’t anticipated.

I’d heard about Stem from podiatrist Ray McClanahan’s Northwest Foot and Ankle website. He was excited by a new shoe which would comfortably accommodate a product he sells called ‘Correct Toes.’ This is a one-piece gel spacer set which separates one’s toes to give better architectural alignment. (See his website for another example of what Moshe Feldenkrais called “The Elusive Obvious,” i.e. how powerful the role is of big toe alignment is in stabilizing our feet. Perhaps the blame should not be placed on ‘weak ankles.’ The fault may well be in a pressed-in big toe, often accompanied by a bunion.) Anyhow, the Correct Toes spacer apparently raises my toes very slightly, thus eliminating any sensing of the rising sole mentioned above.

So far no sizing problems. I have the 13-13.5 shoes.

I am looking forward to trying the Stems with the Correct Toes when doing tai chi. Tai chi includes many moments of one-legged standing, which for me can mean wobbly ankles (as a product a toe misalignment and mild flat-footedness). I’m hoping the Correct Toes/Stem combination will stabilize me better in that practice.

To me, this foot business is not trivial stuff. So it’s worth investing in what works.

Fascinating McClanahan foot anatomy video:

I have three pair — two pair of the grey, one pair brown. I love these shoes. I use one of the grey pair at my job and run/relax/etc. in the other grey pair and in the brown. I have large, wide feet; these Stem shoes are perfect. (Rumor has it that black shoes are coming out in early spring 2012.)

I now own no other shoes. I gave my VFFs and other minimalist shoes to Goodwill. (I don’t work in an office so “dress” shoes are not required.)

I picked up a pair of these in Michigan while on Thanksgiving Leave and I have to admit, they are comfy. I love to wear them driving and just doing day to day activities…..I tied the laces when I bought them, and have never untied them, they slip on like slippers with a good knot. I have to agree though, I wouldnt wear them for any kind of Plyo workout, the fabric uppers seems too stretchy for that.

I got a pair and have run about 40 miles in them. For me (male) I found the sizing to be bigger than expected. I returned them for the next smaller size. Returning and getting a new shipment was quick and easy. I was looking for something with a zero drop and a wide toe box so that my toes don’t feel cramped. I really don’t find having separate toe compartments that special for what I do, which is running on groomed trails. The special sox and the extra time to put each toe in is a pain that I endured for the zero drop and the available toe splay. These shoes have the benefits without the disadvantages. It does feel a little bit like wearing a boat for shoes compared to Vibrams though. But I think it is worth not having to deal with putting a toe in each hole 10 times when I put the Vibrams on.

I would love to try a pair but I have really narrow feet. Anyone else with narrow feet who wears them? their site says fits medium to wide feet so I kind of doubt they would work for me.

Any word on large sizes becoming available? I was pretty happy when I saw the NB Minimus came in 15s, they’re now my go-to shoe.

I got a pair several months ago. I REALLY like them. I did have a problem with stitching coming loose but when I emailed Andrew he allowed me to return mine for a replacement (outside of the 30 day return policy)

Great shoes, great service. Just remember to wash them every couple of weeks so friends and family don’t start to avoid you 😉

Ordered mine last week with the discount code and got them before the weekend.

Wore them most of the day on Saturday & Sunday and I can attest that they’re very comfy – almost like a moccasin – and I enjoy the look as well.

I have narrow feet and I love my Stems! They are super comfy and with socks my feet are warm even in winter. I have both colors available for women, and wear them ALL the time but would love a less sporty looking pair for going out. Stem just announced in their newsletter (that included a link to this website!) that they will have black Primal Origins available in March.

Bought a pair from Two Rivers Treads over the Thanksgiving weekend, wore them the next day on a long DC Mall visit (much walking), and am finding them to be my favorite shoe. Because of shoulder surgery I must refrain from running for 3 months, but have been doing a 4-5 mile walk 4 times per week in place of running. These walks have been in my Stems and even in 20 degree weather at 5 a.m., and with a light pair of ankle socks under heavy wool, my feet remain toasty.

I can’t wait for the sugeon to give me the green light to get back into my runs so I can try out the Stems in that mode. Definately going to have a few pair of these on my shoe rack. Wife loves hers also.

These look like a great alternative to VFF’s, especially during occasions where my toe shoe look is frowned upon, but does anyone know if the mens sizes run wider than the womens? I love this color and the women’s version has a pink stitching that–though it might be trivial–irritates the heck out of me.

Nuts, I absolutely love these shoes. But, the price of these minimalist shoes kill me. It is just too high for me. I have been looking at them for a year and I finally found two promo codes that could be combined. But, I still figured my wife would kill me if I paid even $75 with the shipping.(I have 3 kids) Today I finally decided to bite the bullet and take my chance on them and now I can only add one promo. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Oh well. they do look awesome. Although I much preferred the old name. All I can think of with the new name is my old Lemmings video game.

I guess having a stupid graphic on the side of the heel, they felt that an equally stupid brand name was in order.

It’s a nice shoe, though.

I think these shoes look very cool; stylish and subtle. I’ve been wanting to get some for my husband; i read another review by the guy who runs in huraches and he loves these. Thanks for this review and the comments.

I bought original Stems Primal-1 several years ago. They were/are the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned. I recently bought a pair of Lems Primal-2 and they are not the same shoe. They are slightly (1/2 size or so) smaller and the soles are not as supple. Beware if you purchase off the Lems website. They do not tell you about the size difference (order larger than your regular size.) I called their customer service number, spoke with Steve and thought maybe they would offer me a pair of shoes that were properly sized, but no such luck. Not customer friendly. They have lost my confidence and I will look elsewhere for shoes in the future.

Just want to add that primal 2 have gotten narrower and the look is not as nice. Kind of cheap looking now. Toe box is narrower. Not good.

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