Three Zems walk into a bar..

Three Zems walk into a bar..

You’ve probably got no more idea of what a Zem is that I did only a couple of weeks ago…there I was just innocently passing my time on NZ Sale, scrolling through the forest of sales, when I spotted one for something I was totally NOT looking for…ZEMgear

I had vaguely heard of the concept of lightweight ‘natural’ foot wear but was unfamiliar with this company or any of its competitors/peers but as someone who had rashly stepped into the arena of Army footwear projects (starting a land war in Asia and marching on Moscow in winter had already been done), this piqued my interest.

The sale listed was obviously made up of largely end-run stock as most of the sizes were at the midget end of the scale but I managed to find one model in  US12 – it was listed as a man’s shoe but came in a cardboard sleeve marked Women’s US12….hmmm…not too worry, though, NZ Sale probably has a high rate of returns as its return system is pretty slick and painless but…you know how it is…they were cheap…they were here…and they weren’t pink…so I gave them ago…slipped off my shoes in the office and slipped on the Zems…

The fit was firm and comfortable: the main difference immediately apparent was the lack of any shock-absorbing in the heel. This is not a bad thing as it promotes shifting your weight on to the balls of your feet and thus walking naturally as you would/should when barefoot…

I wore them home, took the dogs for a walk, did some minor jobs about the house, cooked dinner, watched some TV…as an indication to how light and comfortable these are, by the time I was ready for bed, I had pretty much forgotten that I was wearing them and almost wore them to bed…


These were the first pair I bought and they remain my favs…they are a perfect fit and feel ‘just right’ in a very Goldilocks sort of way…they are my daily ‘stepping out’ Zems until it gets colder. I wear them to work where they often attract comment and questions from visiting school groups; the design encourages walking on the ball of the foot, not the heel that we are used to,  enabling agile manoeuvring around visitors and displays, very dance-like, very easily to stop or change direction…


The split toe looks a little weird but is very comfortable and allows the foot to spread out for better balance and manoeuvrability. The only downer that I have found is that walking across long grass tend to attract the odd seed head that gets stuck between the toes, sometimes the occasional small stone.

The laces are elastic and I find that I don’t need to use the adjustment at all for tight comfortable fit. the seal around the ankle is firm but not tight and deters most stones and other ground debris getting into the shoe…


Totally sold on the Zem concept, I ordered some more: one pair lighter and one pair heavier than the first ones I bought. I got them a half-size larger as I wrongly felt the blue ones were a little tight (adjust the laces, dummy!).

DSCF9662These are a heavy-duty Zem intended for more outdoors walking. They don’t really do it for me.  Although they are a little larger, they are very tight across the instep with no form of adjustment: this tends to force them forward on the foot and they always feel like they are going to come loose at the heel.


They are OK – but only OK – to wear across open terrain but my feet will slide out of them walking up the track from the stream at home, especially if it is a tad slippery after rain. The heavier sole offers better protection against sharp rocks and roots but the extra heft also discourages walking on the balls of my feet and pushes my weight back on the heels. I use them for working around the house when I don’t need safety footwear and where it is fairly flat.

This model has been discontinued but I will keep an eye out for a new version with the elastic lace adjustment and a half size smaller…watch this space…


Don’t judge me by my choice of movies

My sloth-around Zems, also bought a half-size larger but they always feel just a little on the tight side, again across the instep. These are for inside use only, maybe out to the car if it’s dry but not off the seal, not even to grab the dog bowls up off the lawn…They are very light and flexible; it is easy to scoop them up with a load of dirty washing and put them through the machine. I don’t think it hurts them but it is frustrating when searching for them…

These are the only Zems I have without the split toe and it actually feels a little strange to not have feature, much more so than when I wear ‘normal’shoes, possibly because the Zems’ tendency to push my weight onto the balls of my feet creates a different wearing and walking feeling where my big toes don’t get to rub alongside their mates…

Care and feeding is pretty simple: just wash them in warm soapy water and rinse them off. I dry them on the coat hooks just outside the front door – it doesn’t take long because they are so light. Going through the wash a couple of times doesn’t seem to have hurt my sloth-around Zems at all but it may be a bit rough for my other, more rigid models.

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