By Al Gauthier
Zem booties are another “beach” shoe that has wandered onto our radar as a good minimalist product. As with many products in this category, the company has realized the untapped market of minimalist shoe enthusiasts after having already aimed at a different market.
Zem booties come in several different versions. They fall into two primary categories: a split-toe version (where the big toe has its own pocket and the remaining toes have the other) and a more traditionally designed toe box. Each of these models is then further available in a “Hi” and “Lo” option. This refers to the height of the throat surrounding the ankle.
I tested both the split-toe and traditional design in the “Lo” variety. The “Hi” design is intended for sand-based sports like volleyball and helps to keep sand out of the shoe.
Foot width is an issue with Zem booties. The last is made for a standard-width foot, however, due to the unique construction of these shoes, the foot can extend beyond the sides of the shoe easily. The comfort of this depends on the surface being walked on. This would feel quite comfortable in sand but less so on a hard surface.
The upper is entirely made up of a neoprene-like material. It is soft and comfortable and easily conforms to the shape of the foot. Plastic ribbing provides extra structure and helps to keep the shoe in place.
Overall, these are not designed for walking for extended periods on hard surfaces. Doing so would prematurely wear out the shoe due to the construction. Despite this, so long as your feet are not too wide, the shoe is very comfortable and a wonderful minimalist option.
Zem booties are exceptionally light. The sole is very thin and made of lightweight rubber. The remainder of the shoe is made up of lightweight lycra fabric. You could easily carry around several of these in a bag and not know they were there.
Flex / Sole
The sole is exceptionally flexible. Ground feel is excellent. The flexibility of the entire shoe is excellent. There is no rise between toe and heel. The sides of the Zem booties are stitched to the underside of the sole. The fabric is then wrapped around the outside of the sole to form the shoe. I would imagine this was done to simplify the manufacturing process. As a result, however, there is a ridge created around the perimeter of the sole. As the softer upper also makes contact with the ground underfoot, this may contribute to a reduced lifespan of the shoe.
Support / Insole
There is no insole and no support, as it should be.
The barefoot feel is excellent. Ground textures are transmitted well through the thin sole. Zem booties are wonderfully flexible. These make excellent minimalist shoes.
The sole material is made out of a soft molded rubber. Ridges on the outsole provide some traction and the rubber itself provides some grip. On polished surfaces, the sole may be a little slippery. On textured surfaces the grip is good.
The lycra material used for the upper is appropriately thick to provide structure for the shoe. As a result, Zem booties do not breathe as well as they could. For those with warm feet, these would be ideal for cooler temperatures. Those who suffer from cold feet, you may find these a comfortable shoe year-round.
Quality of Materials / Manufacturing
The materials used to make Zem booties and the quality of the manufacturing are both excellent. We could find no fault with these shoes.
These are not water resistant shoes. Due to the wrap-around method used to attach the upper to the sole, these shoes will wick up moisture even with only minimal moisture on the ground.
Sizes of all models of Zem booties range from XXS to XXL with four steps in between. The stretchy nature of the design makes for an easy fit, however, those with wider than average feet may find the last too narrow.
Zem booties retail for $29.90 USD on the Zem website. While we do have some concerns about the longevity of the shoe given the design of the sole, the under $30 price is reasonable as purchasing replacements is inexpensive. The workmanship and quality of materials is excellent. These are well priced shoes.
Zem shoes have a sophisticated water-sock look. The black/black model would easily pass notice as a casual-wear shoe, however, the bright stripes on the other models may garner some more attention. They are distinctly casual and would be unlikely to pass for work attire. The split-toe style resembles a “ninja” shoe.
As with almost all minimalist products, there should be no break-in period. If these shoes do not feel immediately comfortable, choose another size.
I was unable to find specific information on cleaning and care for Zem booties, however, I can see no reason why these would not be hand washable as they are designed for use around water.
As mentioned previously, Zem booties are on the warmer side.
Zem markets their shoes for use on sand sports, for travel, and for running. While I have not been able to test the shoes for long periods of running, they did feel comfortable and secure enough for long term running use. Due to the flexibility of the sole, these may be better suited for flat surfaces as opposed to trail running
Zem has made a great product flexible enough for use casually or potentially for more serious activity. These shoes are comfortable, flexible, lightweight, and inexpensive. With design changes to the sole, these would make a serious contender in the minimalist shoe market.
To learn more about Zem, Visit the Zem website: http://www.zemgear.com/
As you read our reviews, please keep in mind that our reviewers review shoes in terms of their suitability for those looking to find the highest quality minimalist shoe products. All reviews are as factual as possible. In an effort to be transparent and ethical, we will point out any defects found, even if these do not affect the usability of the product. Not all defects will be present in final production shoes as we are sometimes offered “seconds” or pre-release products in an effort to provide you with reviews in a timely manor. In the event that serious issues are found with a review sample we will give every opportunity for the manufacturer to replace to explain the review samples before the final review is released. We never accept payments for reviews. We do not guarantee a good review for any products sent to us. We do not review products that do not claim to be minimalist or “barefoot like” unless we receive a significant number of requests from readers or listeners.
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