Back in July I reviewed a pair of minimal shoes from a company called ZEM.  Since then that review has had about 1500 views!  Since that post I have had great interactions with ZEM both as a product I use and as a company.  So I figured with that much interest in these “shoes” I would give you guys a follow up to let you see how they are doing and throw in some more of my thoughts.

My initial post showed my Ninja Low ZEMs, now called Split Toe Low and I personally still like to call them Ninja because it sounds cool.  At that time my ZEMs had about fifty miles or so on them, and today they have somewhere in the ball park of three hundred miles.  I have to admit that I did not expect them to last that long.  They are a very light and simple piece of footwear so I expected them to have a great feel but not necessarily have the best durability.  Even the people at ZEM were curious about how they would hold up as a running shoe for me.  I have to say that for them to show their first real sign of wear nearly three hundred miles later is more than I expected, and I am very impressed.

The soles held up really well, and that was the area that I had some real concerns about.  As you can see there are only two little spots that are showing wear at the tips of the toes, and those spots only showed up recently.  I have started upping the mileage in the ZEMs, and that is when I started seeing the spots develop.  I had kept them in use for my shorter runs of five miles or less but am now using them for everything all the way up to ten miles so far.  I assume the wear started from two things.  The first is that I am training for a marathon in January, and I have begun using walk breaks in my training.  I am guessing that the starting and stopping as well as the walking are causing some friction on the soles and thus the wear.  Before the walk breaks were added in, these shoes looked the same as they did after my first run.  The other potential problem is that I am probably getting a little lazy with my form in the latter parts of my longer runs, which is probably causing more friction on the sole than in my shorter runs, where my form stays very clean and strict.

I have heard from a lot of people since I first wrote about the ZEMs, and friction is the biggest enemy of this product.  I believe these shoes will hold up very well under all kinds of situations as long as you don’t drag and scuff your feet when you walk, run, jog, skip, or anything else you might do in them.   On smooth indoor surfaces this is not a problem, but out on pavement and concrete it becomes an easy way to shorten the life of your ZEMs.

The biggest concern I had about these shoes, as did most of you, was the way the upper attaches to the sole.  It wraps under, and the edges of the upper make contact with the ground.  I have been extremely impressed with how durable the upper has proven to be.  I had my first tear in them happen last week on a six-mile run.  Again, the culprit was walking on pavement.  Using the walk breaks had me landing on the heel, and that is where they tore.  I will continue to use my walk breaks as the person I’m running the marathon with uses them, and I need to train to that style, but I will make sure my walking form is cleaner in the future to avoid ripping through my new pairs.

The upper still looks and feels great.  The high frequency tech bands have not stretched out or lost their tension at all.  They still fit like they did when they were new.  The collar is still snug, and the lycra upper shows little to no wear.  As you can see, the yellow bands have faded slightly, but I don’t think that is a quality issue so much as the treatment I’ve given them and the nature of the color yellow in general when it comes to apparel.

The initial blister issue I had on the first run is a distant memory that never reappeared.  I’ve run in wet conditions and had no problems with blisters after that first run, which tells me it was just an adjustment period for my feet and these shoes.   The upper does hold water a little more than I would like, and they take a while to dry out, but it does not seem to cause any problems.   They still never feel heavy even when wet and the fabric staying wet does not seem to increase blister risk so I have no complaints.

Overall I still love the ZEMs and recommend them daily as a great addition to your minimal footwear collection.  I am extremely excited about the way they have performed, and I am very much looking forward to putting them through the paces in the Goofy Challenge at Disney World in January.


13 responses »

  1. Shelia says:

    Very interesting review. I appreciate the blow up of the footwear allowing us to see the wear and tear you put on the shoes.

    While it sounds like wear is a concern as you might go through a pair quickly, at a 30 buck price point you could own four or five pairs of these for the same price of a high end classic trainer.

    The blister issue is a concern. I hate new shoe blisters, especially if the problem recurs after initial break in. Good luck with the Goofy Challenge!

    • You are correct on the price point and I agree completely which is one reason why I still run in them. I look at it in the sense of shoe recommendations. They recommend you replace your conventional shoes every 3-500 miles at $100 a pair. If I get 3-500 out of my ZEMs at $30 a pair I’m saving a lot of money.

      To clarify, I only got a blister on the very first run. I have not had any blister issues since then.

  2. Duncan says:

    As always, informative and helpful review, Jimmy. We continue to run fairly technical trails up here on the Island. I’m in VFF Classics but since Joan broke her (baby) toe, she’s reluctant to put them back on, except on the road. Any thoughts about a minimalist shoe that would provide a little more protection but allow ground feel on the trail?

    • Duncan I have been enjoying the VFF Trek Sport. There’s really nothing that’s going to completely protect the toes unless it’s got a steel toe box. The Trek Sports are more substantial than classics with better traction so that might make her feel better.

  3. This was a great review. Thank you for the follow up to your initial post. I have been considering these as part of my minimal footwear options. Looks like they just made the top of my list. Curious how them might hold up on some trails too.

  4. Sonja says:

    I just got a pair of these, and I can’t believe it’s taken me so long to discover them. I got a run in with them yesterday, and they were great. I was worried about how quickly they would wear out, especially because of the way the upper attaches to the sole. But now that I see you have 300 miles on a pair of them, I’m very excited. Thanks so much for putting up this review!

  5. Emily says:

    I am amazed you got 300 miles out of the Zems. I received mine on Friday and today, after mile 10, the seams started to split where they meet the sole at the ball of my left foot. I was hopeful these would work out. But I don’t think they will even make it another 10.

    • I understand Emily. I will admit that I’ve taken a pair of ZEMs on a run with the sole purpose of testing the durability and I wore through them on a ten mile run. I did everything I could do in terms of poor form in that run. I shuffled, scuffed, heel struck, and anything else you can imagine and the shoe on my right foot had a hole in it when I was done with the left one getting close. I said it before and it remains the same that if you can run with clean form you can good mileage out of them but if you get lazy with your foot fall then they won’t hold up. There are new models coming soon though that will remedy this and they are great!

  6. vespica says:

    any idea when the newer ones will be out? looking for a minimalist shoe but HATE the creepy vff. i am a woman with EE width feet, so shoes are always a problem for me. i like the look of these but worry about the sole being so narrow.

    • The new ZEM line is set for a June release and they are now taking pre-orders for them. I can highly recommend these new ZEMs as I’m one of the few people who have had them on their feet to this point

      • vespica says:

        are the O2 and 360 lines the ones to look for?

      • It depends on what you are looking for. I think the 360 might just be the best minimal running shoe to come out. The O2 is designed for more indoor use than outdoor. The H2O is sort of a hybrid of the two in my book. Any and all three could be used for just about anything to be honest so it’s a matter of desire and preference.

  7. vespica says:

    running is possibly in the future, but mainly i just need a minimal shoe that will accomodate my insanely wide foot without cramping my toes.

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