Stem Footwear Natural Origins

Discussion in 'Product Reviews' started by Product Review, Apr 7, 2012.

  1. Product Review

    Product Review
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    Barefooters

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    Reviewed by: jackie hayes
    Date Product Reviewed: 11/09/2011
    Product Type: Footwear

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    I first became excited about Stem shoes after reading some early reviews of prototypes, appearing as far back as February. The reviews promised tremendous ground feel in a classic, wear-everywhere casual style.

    Having consistently used a pair of Stems for about a month, now, I'm happy to say that the hype is (mostly) warranted. The fit is excellent, the ground feel is indeed superb, and they have since replaced an old pair of Nike Frees as my go-to casual option.

    For those who remember the early reviews, the style of the final product is slightly different. The triathlon-style lacing system is gone in favor of normal tie laces, and some details of the look have been tweaked (no orange contrast stitching on the grey shoes, shame). However, the overall look is almost wholly intact, including the color scheme consisting of earth tones (grey, brown, and green for men; grey and brown for women).

    Also intact is the slightly confusing naming system. Stem chose to give each color a different model name. Primal Origins is grey, Survival Origins is brown, and Natural Origins is green. There is no difference between these except color. I wish this were made more clear on Stem's website, but it is a minor issue for now. And Stem's website is, by and large, very good. The sizing instructions are clear and impossible to miss, along with information on proper care, usage, and more. (Including the following heartwarming advice: "Take off your shoes and go barefoot frequently. Barefooting is the best training to learn how to walk more natural. Remember transition slowly.")

    I opted for the green and blue Stem Natural Origins. Stem advises that their shoes fit 1/2 size small, so I went with the 10-10.5 (I am usually a 9.5, occasionally a 10), and the fit seems just about perfect.

    That's not to say the fit is 'normal', however. It is important to understand that Stem shoes are intended to be roomy, particularly in the forefoot, to give the toes space for natural movement (toe splay). And, boy, do these succeed. Besides simply having a wider toe box, the soft fabric upper gives very little resistance when the toes try to stretch out wider still. (Unlike, say, the Merrell Trail Glove, which also has a wide toe box but has a more stable feel -- understandably, given that it is intended for trail running.)

    Overall, the forefoot is almost swimming in space, something that took some getting used to, even after wearing Merrell "Barefoot" shoes for some months. It is difficult to resist the temptation, initially, to tighten the laces. But you should. As long as the heel is secure (mine is), the shoe should feel very natural in use.

    The fabric inside the shoe is very soft, and it is easy to wear Stems with or without socks. There are no troublesome seams or pressure points (that I've found, anyway), and I've worn them for many hours without issue. They do have a bit of a toe spring and a very slight arch. Personally, I don't mind these features generally. For those who do, I still believe you'll be less offended by them in Stems, since the "special air-infused rubber" sole is so soft as to offer little resistance to foot movement. But they should be mentioned. That special rubber, by the way, is a truly nifty aspect of the Stems. The material is noticeably softer than the Vibram soles so common on other minimalist shoes, which accounts for the exceptional ground feel. I wonder if softer rubber will mean faster wear, but I see no signs of significant wear after one month.

    While I intend to use my Stems primarily as casual shoes, I did take them out running twice as a test. (Once with socks, once without, no major difference.) And as much as I like these shoes, I can't recommend them for running. While I feel the massive toe box and the soft upper are fantastic for casual use, the effect was disconcerting on runs. My forefoot didn't feel connected to the sole as it does in huaraches. While I can't see this leading to injuries, I simply couldn't get used to it. Beyond that, it's difficult to see what advantages Stem shoes have over far cheaper options for running. Stems are currently $90, which is entirely reasonable. But for running, I prefer huaraches (which can be as cheap or as pricey as you please), and I didn't notice any great advantage for the Stems over $8 water shoes. And, if it needs pointing out, going truly barefoot is better than all three, and beats the pants off anything as far as costs go. My point is not that Stems are bad for running, but that ultra cheap options are already very good.
    (Without going into too much detail about the Merrell Trail Gloves, I'll only say that the grip on the Merrells is better than on the Stems. Between the two, I would choose the Trail Glove for trails, Stems for roads.)

    Finally, let me address something that is very important to very many people: teh stink. I don't know how one could quantify this, but I believe Stems accumulate stink at a slower rate than Merrells (which, along with Vibrams and python boots, are much maligned for the gathering stench). My Stems are still perfectly presentable, while the Merrells would have given me pause after one month. Stems are also machine washable (though not machine dryable) if the problem arises.

    All in all, Stems would be my first choice if I were choosing to spend money on a minimalist shoe. The overall feel in everyday casual use is tremendous, the shoe is very well-made and looks sharp. While I won't use Stem shoes for running, you won't be alone if you choose otherwise. The major innovation is in the sole material -- around that, Stem has produced a (wonderfully) simple casual shoe that will be an everyday product for many barefoot and minimalist enthusiasts.

    (Mere footnotes: I received a free pair of Stem Natural Origins through the drawing on the BRS forums. Many thanks to the people at Stem Footwear for providing the shoes, and to Barefoot TJ and everyone at the BRS for arranging the contest.

    I want to give some idea of what these look like, but I am not an htmlpert, in fact I'm barely an htmlovice. So I gave up trying to figure out how to embed some pictures, and I'll just link to a Picasa album, here:
    https://picasaweb.google.com/114322803206564794858/StemFootwear
    Seems easier for everyone. Enjoy?)
     

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