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Review: Stem Footwear – Men’s Survival Origins

by Corey Nagle » on Dec 06, 2011 6

As someone who’s had a terrible time finding minimalist shoes that fit me well, Stem Footwear has been my last bastion of hope for a pair of shoes that aren’t sandals or have five separate toes. Don’t get me wrong, I love my FiveFingers. They’re just not always the best choice in footwear for me. Especially out here in western Oklahoma wear folks are less than, uh, accepting of most things new or different.

Let me tell you a little story:

A few months back I went to Metro Shoe Warehouse to try to find a pair of minimalist shoes I could wear to work without people staring at my feet. They carry a ton of different styles in all the major brands (New Balance, Merrell, Vibram, even Terra Plana). And I tried on every. single. one. You know how many fit?


For all these brands that tout their wide toe-boxes and “natural barefoot feel”, not one single pair (outside of Vibram FiveFingers, naturally) fit my feet without pinching or rubbing. I was devastated. I almost swore off minimalist shoes right there on the spot.

I’ve been following the initial buzz around Stem Footwear for the better part of a year now, and have loved what I’ve seen from the get-go. These were my last-ditch effort in finding a somewhat normal-looking pair of shoes.

Stem Footwear Survival Origins  (Brown)

The Shoe

Stem offers three different “models” for men and two for women, but are just different colorways of the same shoe. This is done for a reason. Stem Footwear prides themselves on being an eco-friendly company, and by using the same last for their shoes, it helps cut down on the materials they use. Also, all the materials they use are vegan-friendly.

Stem Footwear Survival Origins (top)


The uppers are microsuede with mesh inserts on the top and sides, similar to the FiveFinger Speeds. The mesh makes these super breathable, which feels fantastic. And since these are made to wear without socks, the mesh will help keep the funk down (though, I do recommend socks if you’re going to wear them when it’s cold out. Stem recommends Injinji socks). The interior of the shoe isn’t super soft like Vibram’s Dri-Lex sockliner, but feels good on a bare foot. Even after a few long 10 to 12 hour days in these, I had zero rubbing or hotspotting. I was originally concerned how the microsuede would handle wet weather and snow, but they’re machine washable (air dry), so it can’t be too bad.

Stem Footwear Survival Origins Sole


The 7.5mm soles are a little thick on paper for my taste, until I actually put them on. The air-injected rubber Stem uses for their soles has fantastic ground-feel and is amazingly flexible. Anybody who wears a pair of Bikilas, which are approximately the same thickness, will be blown away by how much you can feel in these. I’m still in awe of how they can produce a thicker sole with this much feel and flexibility. There is a bit of toe-spring, but not enough to be bothersome.

Stem Footwear Survival Origins Folded

Toe Box

Like I said, the ground-feel is awesome, but the toe box is where the money’s at. New Balance and Merrell say they have a wide toe box, but for me, my toes always touched. And coming from Vibram FiveFingers this is tough to get used to. This isn’t a problem I experienced in my Stem Footwear. My toes can spread completely and never once brush up against each other. Like I said – money.

Don’t Like/Needs improvement

There’s very little wrong I could find with my Stem Footwear Survival Origins, but there’s always a little room for improvement. I’d still love to see a thinner sole, but definitely not a deal breaker. Also, the logo on the insole is painted on, and after a few days left me momentarily wondering what the green stuff clinging to my heel was.

The main thing to watch out for is sizing. Make sure you read their sizing instructions thoroughly, as they can be a bit confusing. According to Stem’s site, their shoes run about a half-size small, but will stretch out a half-size in about half a day. I missed that part.

Overall, Stem Footwear has a wonderful product, especially for only being out for about four months as of this writing. While Stem hasn’t completely stolen me from Vibram FiveFingers, I’ll definitely be getting another pair. I highly recommend.

As an aside, all over Stem Footwear’s site, and even the box they come in, emphasize the need for proper “break-in” of your feet when switching to minimalist footwear. And for that, I applaud them.


All images via Stem Footwear. I’d have posted my own, but my camera went [poop noise]. Will update ASAP.

Disclosure: I received this pair of Stem Footwear Survival Origins for review at no cost, but was not compensated by Stem Footwear in any other way for this review. 

Submitted Comments

  1. chris mitchell says:

    I too have gone up to Metronome Shoe Warehouse and browsed their minimalist shoes ans finally went with the Merrel Trail Glove. I haven worn them for about 9 months now and love them except for the toe box because, like you said, my toes smash together a little. I was just on the Stem Footwear website looking at sizes and the largest size they have is 13-13.5. I wear a 14 in the Trail Glove which means I probably wont be able to wear these. Since you have worn then do they run bigger or smaller in size? I woukd live to have a pair of these.

  2. Corey says:

    Their sizing is a bit confusing. Stem says they run a 1/2 size small, but they’ll grow with a little wear. I normally wear a 9.5 to a 10, so by their directions ordered a 10-10.5, and they’re just a bit big. I could’ve ordered a size smaller and been fine.

    Not a lot of help probably, but you might get lucky with a 13-13.5. They do have a retail locations, so if you’re lucky enough to have a store nearby, I’d say go try them on. If not, you may just have to roll the dice.


  3. Kathy says:

    I found I had to order the 9 to 91/2 as my second tie is longer than the big toe and in the size smaller it was uncomfortable to have my toe hitting the end of the she. Even after a few days it was the same, did not stretch. I am happy with the larger size as I wear socks with these. They do run a full size small but otherwise they are a great shoe!

  4. ugo says:

    hi, i’m a french guy from Québec in Canada so i will try to write you in english… here, we don’t really know anything about barefoot or minimalist shoes.

    i walk 6 to 8 miles a day at work and i would like to know what is the most durable and comfy shoes? there is so many brand out there but there is no store close to my town for trying them so i need some help…

    i like the Stem footwear, vivobarefoot neo and vff of course but what about the new balance minimus and merrell?

    thanks a lot

  5. Corey says:

    The New Balance and Merrell make fine choices. I personally haven’t tried either (beyond putting them on in the store) because they don’t fit my feet well, but I have a fairly wide foot. I do know I few people that have put a few hundred miles on theirs and are still going strong.

  6. Tash says:

    Vivos are great – different styles do different things – the aquas have the widest toe box though, as far as I can tell, and with a 3mm sole, exceptional feel and flexibility. I wonder though if the Stem is more reasonably priced.

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