Review: ZEMgear 360 Round Toe

I thought I knew minimalist shoes, then I met ZEMgear. The “ZEM” in the name is for Zone of Endless Motion, and that is a pretty apt description of them. Extremely light weight, highly flexible, and with a toe box or split toe design that lets your toes move freely, without the silly “Hey, I’ve got a glove on my foot” look. My kind of footwear.The switch to minimalist footwear for me was driven by a few years of  suffering from plantar fasciitis. Despite medical advice indicating more arch support was the solution, I found plenty of evidence to suggest that was merely treating the symptoms, and not the cause. Shoes like ZEMgear allow your feet to move naturally, as they were intended to work. The transition takes time, but is well worth it.

Having seen the full line of ZEMgear at a trade show, I put in a request for a pair of their 360 running shoes, so I could subject them to one of our thorough and sometimes brutal reviews. Given the choice between split toe and round toe, I took the round toe.  Of course, the first pair they sent did not fit my notoriously finicky feet. My normal shoe size is a 12, (so I’m always grateful when they even have samples in my size to review) but the ZEMgear size 12 were way too snug, so I ended up exchanging them for a 13. On that note, I”m nearly convinced that either the shoe industry has abandoned all standards, or my feet simply refuse to cooperate. And to be perfectly honest, it may be the latter. Not to pick on any one brand, but here I am wearing a 13 that’s designed to be worn without socks, while I have some size 11 boots from another company that are too big unless I put on bulkier socks than I would normally wear. Back on topic, I suggest that you support your local retailer, to ensure you get the correct size the first time out.

Now that we’ve gotten the fit issues out of the way, we can discuss construction. The outsole was all I could ask for. Thin, pliable, with excellent traction and feel. They protect your feet without completely isolating them from the surface you’re walking or running on. On the inside, they’re smooth and flat, with no slip. ZEMgear’s secure-top collar stretches for easy ingress, and offers just the right amount of grip around your ankle. No irritation, but tight enough to keep grit, bugs, and other junk out. A thick, stretchy Lycra® upper is the equivalent of a four panel bike short – it’s going to fit most people just fine, but may leave some wanting for a more personalized fit. Each shoe has (reflective) Tech Bands that are molded in to provide stability and support as your foot moves. This helps, but still makes me wonder if making the shoes out of separate panels might provide for an even better, more comfortable fit. It was almost as though my arches were not located where the shoes expected them to be. Still, at an average weight of 2.5 ounces per shoe, they are the lightest and most comfortable I have ever worn. That counts for a lot.

So we have a soft, grippy, lightweight shoe with a fit much better than its lack of structure would suggest. How do they work? Although billed as a running shoe, I wore them for walks around the neighborhood, running on grass, light hiking on dirt paths, and even a few trips to the grocery store, as well as casual day at work. With zero drop, no arch support, and a thin sole, this is as close as I can get to barefoot, leaving my feet incredibly happy. I could feel small rocks and twigs underfoot, but my soles were protected from them.  They held up well, with no rips or tears after several weeks, and the wear on the sole is minimal. (No pun intended) While they would not necessarily be the best choice for your first pair of minimalist shoes, I’d certainly recommend them to anyone looking for the next best thing to barefoot.  You can view the full lineup at ZEMgear.com.

– Brian