Finally, the shoes I have been the most excited for since I transitioned to barefoot running have arrived!
I introduce to you, the ZEMGear 360 Runner Series:
I know what you’re probably thinking, “You’re excited about shoes? Aren’t you a barefoot runner?” Well yes, and no. I am a runner who runs primarily barefoot, however I don’t refer to myself as a “barefoot runner” (that’s a topic for another blog post). I run barefoot simply because it’s what works best for me. That said, I’m definitely not against wearing shoes if I feel they are the right shoe for me. Unfortunately, sampling shoes from everyone who manufactures minimalist footwear is not in my budget.
Although I love the feeling of running barefoot, and the money I save not going through shoes every two months, there are times when it’s simply not the best option. Some surfaces still are uncomfortable for me barefoot, and most all surfaces become uncomfortable after 20+ miles at a 6:40 pace (my goal marathon pace). Since I’ll be running 26.2 miles on roads that I have never seen before, I feel that it is best that my feet are protected and I’m able to relax and focus on my pace.
As you can see the design of the ZEMgear 360’s is very simple, but it is also very well thought out. The outsole is very thin, about 5mm according to my calipers, but it’s really hard to get a good reading on it due to the attached neoprene. The black are is a soft material (Phylon, according to the ZEM website), while the blue rubber provides the grip. I’ve worn these at work on our smooth, sealed concrete floor, and I had absolutely no complaints about the grip.
The sole is very thin and does not give much protection. Personally, as someone who has been running barefoot for months, my biggest fears are not broken glass, rusty knives, and dirty drug needles. If you commonly encounter those on your runs, you might be in need of a change of scenery. Actually, the worst thing for my feet are little rocks or nuts on the trails. I would definitely recommend still keeping on eye on where and how your foot is hitting the ground, but for the most part, you will be protected against the hazards of the trail. For me, any rock that is smaller than say a grape is not a problem.
The upper of the shoe is made of a highly breathable neoprene material. The 5 bands spanning the middle of the shoe are the “tech bands” which basically hug your foot to ensure a secure, but flexible fit.
The insole is soft, yet firm. You can see it in the above picture, where I’ve turned the rear of the shoe inside out. There is a seam that runs around the insole to attach the neoprene upper, but it gives your foot plenty of room and is very smooth so I don’t think it should cause irritation.
Split Toe vs. Round Toe?
The ZEMgear 360 Runner Series comes in either a split toe option or a round toe option. The split toe might cause you to get some strange looks or comments, such as camel toe, Bambi, or my girlfriend’s favorite, Rudolph. However, it does give you big toe the freedom to move independently. Having the other four toes together helps ensure that they’re protected and comfortable. When I got my first pair of ZEM Ninja Lo’s, I opted for the split toe design, and I’ve had no reason to try out the round toe, so I can’t comment on it. I feel like the split toe might help give me a more secure fit and keep the shoe from moving, but like I said, I haven’t tried the alternative. If you’re uncomfortable with the “camel toe” look, you can definitely opt for the rounded toe!
The flexibility of these shoes is absolutely amazing. This really helps contribute to the barefoot feel. The flexibility, along with the tech bands, ensure that the shoe moves with your foot effortlessly and comfortably.
As you can see they’re so flexible that I can tuck them inside themselves and they will stay there. Or, even the weight of my not-quite-full Monster can (don’t you love my color matching) will hold the shoe in a folded position. And if I put enough weight on them, they fold up to just over an inch thick! These things can bend!
The entire shoe, for a Men’s Size 12, weighs only 3.5 oz, which is incredibly light. Obviously a size 12 is a bit above average for a man, and way above average for a woman. The design is the same for men and women, with sizes ranging from a Men’s size 5-13. You can see the sizing chart below. These are meant to fit snug, so if your foot is a size 11, you should order an 11. I wore an 11.5 in running shoes and I should have ordered a size 11 for these.
So far, I’ve only put 32 miles on these, 100% on asphalt. As I mentioned before, the black outsole is a VERY soft material, not rubber, so it no longer looks brand new. However I don’t think this is an indication that these shoes won’t go the distance and last for several hundred miles. After 32 miles, there is no visible wear on the rubber grip pads.
Keep in mind that the wear on my shoe may be a bit worse than what the average user will experience, since my feet are super wide (4E), and the area of the shoe that contacts the ground is wider than most.
Having very little experience with this type of shoe, I’d say my expectation going in is that it will last at least 200-300 miles. My wide feet can sometimes wear down certain shoes a bit early, so we will see what sort of results I get. I will be keeping VERY close track of the miles I put on these shoes.
The ZEMgear 360 Runner Series is available for $59.99, plus about $7.50 for shipping. I consider this to be low for a minimalist shoe, especially when many are in the $100-$130 range, but for me the $ per mile figure is the most important, and I’ve yet to figure out how long these will last me. At $60, I’d hope for 250 – 300 miles. So far, I think that the shoes will be able to survive that.
Up to this point, I’ve tried my hardest to give an impartial look at the ZEMgear 360 Runner Series. This is the part where I tell you what I think of them!
I absolutely LOVE them!
As I mentioned before, I have super wide feet and there are a lot of things that just plain don’t work for me. Have you seen a minimalist shoe that is offered in anything other than the standard D width? If so, feel free to mention it, because I don’t think it exists. The Saucony Hattori looks promising, but is not offered in widths. Same goes for all of the New Balance Minimus line, or the Brooks Pure Project shoes. I own a pair of Vibrams, and running make my feet feel like they’re being smothered in a bear hug. It’s certainly not an enjoyable experience. I asked @sirisaac on twitter if the Newton shoes were recommended for wide feet, and they steered me away from their products (however, I would like to point out that they were refreshingly honest, and I greatly appreciate that).
For me to be able to put my giant footprint of approval on a minimalist shoe is a pretty big deal.
I’ve transitioned quicker than most to barefoot running and I think I’ve had some pretty successful runs. Recently I completed a 15k race at a 5:57/mile pace that was all asphalt, with some of it being pretty rough. I also ran a 20 miler at a 6:40/mile pace, on concrete and asphalt. I’m confident that I could run a marathon distance on my local bike trail with no problem. I am definitely set on barefoot/minimalist running, and this is why it’s very important for me that a minimalist shoe be as minimalist and close to barefoot as possible. The 360’s are definitely the closest to barefoot of any shoe I’ve tried.
Another thing I love about wearing them is that they make it easier for me to run with my puppy. I recently wrote about my future running partner, and since getting the 360s I’ve been able to start running with him. Since running with him requires me to focus on what he is doing 90% of the time and not where my feet are falling, running barefoot with him can be a bit hazardous. Not to mention that he has a habit of making frequent potty and sniffing stops, or random changes in direction. He’s a work in progress.
My only complaint with the 360’s so far is that, with my abnormal sweating abilities, they sometimes don’t dry out quick enough (I don’t wear socks with them). If I wanted to run in these every day, I’d probably consider another pair just for comfort. I actually like working in them too, so I may even get a pair to wear to work!
In summary, the ZEMgear 360 Runner Series are an excellent shoe that give a great nearly barefoot feel, while offering some protection. If you’re looking for a minimalist shoe that truly emulates being barefoot, these are worth a look, especially if you have wide feet!
I might post about these again in the future further down the road, and hopefully I’ll include a video. Is there anything else you want to see or know about the 360’s?
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