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The quest for perfect travel apparel will never cease, especially since airlines continue moving the goal post for carry-on luggage allowances. The problem of space and weight is further compounded when packing for a cold or wet destination, or one that demands modest hiking boots. Unless you plan to wear your clunkiest kicks on every flight, finding lightweight footwear is imperative. For that reason, I was drawn to the boast by Lems Shoes that its Boulder line represents “the world’s most packable boot.”
The shoes are designed to be lightweight, ultra-minimalist, zero-drop footwear with a wide toe box. The creators argue this shape and these features bring clients’ feet, both men and women, closer to the ground, mimicking a barefoot experience. Further claims include the promotion of healthy foot development, better balance and improved mobility in feet, legs and back, which helps alleviate podiatry issues like hammer toes and bunions. The shoe can pack down or roll up for carrying in a small daypack.
- No waterproofing
- Upper made of leather and 1200 denier nylon
- Cotton lining in plaid
- Lightweight at 9.9oz boot for a size 43
- Outsole made of 9.0mm LemsRubber™ (air-injection rubber)
- Stack height of 10.0mm (not including 3.0mm footbed)
- Drop 0.0mm, AKA zero-drop
- Comes with 2 pairs of laces, light brown and gold
- Colors: brown, timber, buckeye, navy stout, black, russet and raven
- Price: $125 in nylon/leather; $150 in leather
I first saw these shoes on Instagram. They looked stylish in the photo, the model pausing on a rock amidst a forest clearing, pausing to suck in a breath of clean Pacific Northwest air. Applause to their marketing team for creating this appealing brand image, one clearly directed at a younger, tech-savvy, outdoorsy audience. Further online reviews led me to track down a pair.
When the boots arrived in the mail, however, they looked less slick than their digital counterpart. Turns out, boxiness is an intentional design feature, the look a result of function: a wide toe box.
Since my feet are on the normal to narrow side, I found the width of the shoe uncomfortably large, my feet swimming and slipping inside. I sized down, as recommended by the helpful customer sales agent, but width problems persisted, despite adding a gel insert. I normally wear a women’s 7.5 and was matched to a women’s size 40. My husband had the same sizing issue, normally wearing a 10.5 or 11, settling on a men’s 46.
Donning the thickest hiking socks in my drawer, I took the boots on several spins through rocky vineyards. At first, the rigid nylon and leather six-inch high cuff dug into my Achilles tendon, but eventually the upper relaxed and softened. Over wet stone and dirt in Spain, the waffle-like pattern on the sole was slippery on occasion, although the ability to feel the ground with my feet provided great sensory feedback on when to be cautious with footing. I loved that aspect of the shoe.
Regarding the zero-drop effect, I run in Nike Free shoes, so I assumed I’d be accustom to it, but I wasn’t. Most shoes have some measure of heel, even if built in and slight. Thus, walking absolutely flat to the ground is a rarity for most people. However, I grew to like it — a lot. Plus, the plaid cotton lining inside was both attractive and comfy.
The sole and upper were flexible enough to roll up loosely, although flattened proved the best way to pack them. I was able to shove them into the front pocket of a backpack, pressed down to less than two inches, and still get the bag underneath the seat in front of me on a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. I hardly noticed the added weight in my pack. Normally I travel with Teva hiking boots that weigh four times as much and take up precious luggage space due to their structure.
I appreciated the look, weight, flattening capabilities and zero-drop design. The Lems Boulders delivers a niche shoe for when you need something light but sturdy for day hikes, and stylish enough for a few beers out at night. I dubbed them my “camp-to-city” boots. Ultimately, the toe box proved too wide for my taste, and I would have liked a waterproof version.
A note on quality: I was disappointed to see the stitching on the top of the shoe start to pull after a short period of wear. I took the issue up with their customer service team. Their prompt reply assuaged concerns: “We’ve had a couple instances where this has happened on the side and have already addressed this issue with our manufacturers. With instances like these, we always, always, always replace the shoes free of charge.”
Applause for transparency and communication.
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