I was recently given the opportunity to review a pair of Zem booties for Barefoot Running, and received the split toe model and the rounded toe model in the mail.
ZEM booties were created by ZEM Gear and originally designed as “sand socks” to protect bare feet.
As soon as I tried them on, I immediately liked the split-toe lo model better than the rounded toe lo model. Separating the big toe allowed the bootie to fit my foot better, although it still doesn’t quite conform to my foot as much as I would like. You may be able to see in the picture that there is a considerable amount of space between the inner edge and my big toe.
The bootie is a Neoprene-type material on the top with a plastic bottom similar to what you might find on some house slippers. The bottom does not conform to your foot, but does gives a thin layer of even protection between your foot and the ground. The top closes around your lower ankle, which keeps dirt and small pebbles out of your booties, which I like.
The pair I reviewed had a very simple design – solid black with six stripes. This could be a big draw to those who dislike the individual toes you find with the Vibrams.
They look very much like socks, which I actually liked.
In a short run, the Zem booties were okay. I’m not a huge fan of the flat bottom, but it did have enough give that I was able to get some feedback from the ground. The bottom can also be a bit slippery at first, but after getting out a couple times it gets somewhat “worn it.”
The booties are easy to clean and are easy to transport since they can be flattened without losing any shape.
They would be a good option for someone who might want to do part of a run barefoot and then put on a minimalist shoe if necessary. These booties might not fit into a fanny pack style pack, but would be able to go into a backpack or Camelback without adding much weight at all.
The ZEM booties were not originally designed for running, so there is some tweaking that needs to be done as far as the design and fit goes. Overall, they are not a bad choice for a minimalist “shoe,” and are a good value for the price ($30).