Zem UCross: Bringing Cool New Styles to Minimalist Running
Zem is a sports gear company that produces a variety of athletic footwear for sports enthusiasts who, as they say, are tired of the “same old shoe.” And these are certainly are NOT your same old shoes!
Zem’s design concepts are, well, for a lack of a better term, awesome. Their products just look cool, and that is what caught our eye and put this neat little company on our radar in the first place.
Zem divides their shoes into the following categories: running & training, sand, hiking & trail, travel, water, and yoga. Obviously, the running category appealed the most to us, but, as Casual Adventurers who enjoy a variety of activities, we wouldn’t mind checking out some of their other products as well.
Every Casual Runner knows that he or she will forever find himself or herself in a quest to find the perfect running shoe that works for his or her specific running style and conditions. I am no different. In fact, when I started running, I found myself plagued by nagging shin splints. It was not until I tried running in barefoot style shoes that I overcame this problem and could truly call myself a committed Casual Runner. As my asphalt miles increased, I moved onto minimalist (i.e. zero drop) running shoes with a little more cushioning, but I always missed the barefoot style shoes.
If you read my series on running while on vacation in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (if you missed it, you can check it out now: Part 1 & Part 2), you know that these are not the first barefoot style running shoes I’ve used. On that trip, the Fila Skeletoes I wore for running on the beach shredded the skin on my ankles and caused some not-fun bleeding. I wanted to find a barefoot style shoe that works for me, sans any bleeding or other injury. Hence, I decided to give Zem a shot, and I was glad that I did.
OK, lets be honest, barefoot style running is not for everyone. However, I would venture to guess that is for more people than are willing to take the plunge to try it out (seriously, you don’t actually run barefoot, I promise!). From talking to other Casual Runners, its seems to me that some people are so used to traditional styles of running shoes that they are scared away from anything that is different. I cannot speak as to whether this style will work for you, but, at least for me, it works and I love it. So, you may want to consider expanding your running shoe comfort zone.
You use these shoes just like you would any other running shoe, which means they are suitable for most running surfaces. Because of the minimal padding, I occasionally felt the large pebble under my foot, but it did not bother me. In fact, I felt great comfort in having a higher sense of awareness of my footing and the terrain beneath me.
The best part about these shoes is that the materials that comprise the shoes are perfect for running in the rain. This means that they will breathe better than many tradition running shoe and sock combinations when your training runs require you to go splashing through puddles. I definitely love this aspect of the shoe and will opt for this style of shoe whenever I run in the rain. Also, I found that they dried out much quicker than traditional running shoe styles.
While I do love the barefoot shoes and they can be used for longer runs, I tend to use them for shorter runs, say, anything at 10k or less. It is just a standard to which I grew accustomed. As such, the longest run I attempted with the Zems was a 10k distance, but I did multiple runs at this distance in these shoes.
While you can wear these shoes with socks, I prefer to wear them without socks. As I said, they breath really well and the seams are constructed so that there was no rubbing whatsoever on my bare skin. If you are concerned, you can rub a little Body Glide, TriSlide, Rocket Pure, or any other lubricant of your choice, but I did not find it necessary at all for me.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly?
These shoes were great. For starters, the designs are pretty awesome, and I am a sucker for flashy running gear. Beyond that, they worked great for me. I did feel at the end of runs that my legs were a little bit more tired than when I wear more traditional zero drop shoes, but that just tells me that I am working my leg muscles differently in these shoes. Additionally, because of this, if my training plan calls for more than one run in a day, I found it best to use the Zems for only one of the runs, and changed to a more traditional minimalist shoe for the second training session.
Remember what I said earlier about problems that I experienced with other barefoot shoes causing me irritation and bleeding? Well, with these shoes I did not experience any such bleeding or irritation whatsoever, and think that they would be the perfect shoe for running on the sand and in the surf. They are also great for running on dirt and crushed gravel trails, so they are a great option when you are looking to take your running off road.
Remember what I said about running in the rain and splashing in puddles? These shoes are perfect for those adverse conditions. The material breathes so well I never experienced any discomfort. I tested these shoes by logging over 100 miles in conditions ranging from temps in the low 90s all the way down to the mid 30s (Fahrenheit), and found them to be equally comfortable at all temperatures in this range without wearing any socks. I am not exactly sure how the shoes accomplish this, let alone so well, all I know is that they do work for me and I enjoyed their quality performance.
Post-run, these shoes dried out much quicker than traditional running shoe styles. This did not come as a surprise to me, but what DID surprise me is that at no point did these shoes take on any funky odors that many Casual Runners experience with their running shoes. One might think that they would be more prone to stinkage given that I run in them sans socks, but they did not do so. They passed the nose test with flying colors.
So, where does this leave us? If you read this far and assumed that I have nothing but positive things to say about this shoe, then you are correct. I really enjoyed it. I am not sure if I will run with these shoes once the snow starts to fall, but, until them, I will continue to enjoy them on my training runs. So, if you are looking for a new running shoe, specifically in the minimalist or barefoot styles, you may want to give Zem a look. They are, after all, definitely not the same old shoe.
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Neither Mike nor Casual Runner received any compensation for this review. The product reviewed herein was provided by the manufacturer for purposes of this review and the opinions are solely those of the author.