The Chi Running Stem Footwear Shoe Review - Chi Running

The Chi Running Stem Footwear Shoe Review

Posted by Danny Dreyer on Wed Jan 11th, 2012, 15 comments

Here’s a review on a fairly new running shoe to the minimalist running shoe family. I’d like to preface this review with why I like the overall concept of this running shoe, before I get into the nuts and bolts critique. I do this because I try to always look at running shoes, not necessarily from a runner’s point of view but, from a Chi Runner’s point of view.

People ask me all the time, “So, what does it feel like when you’re doing Chi Running?” That’s a fair enough question. So, what I tell them is…”I don’t feel a thing.” Here’s what I mean by that statement: I don’t feel my muscles working. I don’t feel the impact on my legs, knees and hips. I don’t feel myself overworking. I don’t feel myself getting out of breath. I don’t feel pain anywhere in my body. I don’t feel physical effort. Like I said… I don’t feel a thing.

So, if someone were to ask me, “So, what would your ideal shoe feel like?” I’d prefer an answer very similar to the previous question: I don’t feel any lumps or unevenness under my feet. I don’t feel any stiffness in the shoe. I don’t feel any restriction of movement and I don’t feel any irritation or hot spots. I don’t feel their weight. Basically, I want to feel like I don’t have any shoes on, except that I don't wince with every little rock and pebble I happen to step on. So, when I put on a pair of shoes, I don’t want to feel anything from the shoes. I want a shoe that allows my body the total freedom to be itself so I can actually feel how I feel when I’m running… not how the shoe wants me to feel.

The Stem shoe comes pretty darn close to meeting the high demands of my tender toes.

Toe box: I found the Stem running shoes to have the perfect toe box. It’s a great shape and conforms well to my 4E foot, yet has plenty of adjustment for narrower feet. There’s plenty of room to spread my toes and they’re more flexible than 99% of all the shoes out there. The interior of the shoe is smooth and seamless … perfect for going with or without socks. I don’t feel any sense of binding or irritation anywhere on my foot … a huge plus for long distance running.

Sole: The Stem running shoes have good traction and a very efficient lug pattern on the sole which allows the sole to have a multi-directional flexibility, just like your foot. I like the roundedness of the heal because it allows for a much softer footstrike when walking and a nice transition into a midfoot stance. The only drawback I see with the tread pattern is on trails, the independence of the lugs on the sole accentuates the feel of all the little lumps and bumps in the trail. I alleviated this by using an insert, which spread out the impact over a wider area and reduced the sharpness of landing on a pebble.

Uppers: The lacing system is excellent … couldn’t ask for better, and the ventilation is decent. The insides of the shoes tend to pick up debris because the ankle collar flares out as the shoe flexes and opens up the inside of the shoe to debris. The only other small drawback is that the side walls of the shoe’s sole are so low that water can get into the shoes very easily. I’m sure if there is a Stem trail running shoe, a higher sidewall will be added.

Overall impression: Very comfortable and easy to go running in. They’re great on smooth surfaces and one of my favorites for an every day kick-around shoe. Not one of my favorites for trail running because of the lack of a membrane to disperse the impact pressure of rocks and gravel. A certain amount of feeling the ground is good for proprioception, but these shoes seem to magnifying the sense of the ground. I prefer a little more cushioning than the basic shoes I have, so I use an insert.

Fabulous company to work with and excellent customer service. I’m thrilled to see someone take on the big box minimalist companies and make a running shoe that does everything a Vibram does without making your feet and toes feel claustrophobic and everything a VivoBarefoot does without costing and arm and a leg.  



  • minimal running shoes,
  • stem shoe review,
  • shoe review

15 CommentsLeave a comment below

Bob Schroedter Jan 12th, 2012 12:55am


Was wondering how you would compare the Stem with Merrell’s Trail Glove. The TG I’ve been wearing seems to be very similar in many respects. Any insights?

Hey Danny,  which Stem shoe did you test?  Ed

Donna Napier Jan 13th, 2012 01:36pm

Thanks for the review, Danny. I just ordered some Stem shoes to try out. They sound great. I love running in my VFF KSO’s, but my toes get really, really cold when the temperatures drop down around freezing. It is the mitten vs. glove deal. Mittens keep your fingers warmer. These shoes look like Vibram mittens!

Danny Dreyer Jan 13th, 2012 02:30pm

Hey Ed,

I tested the Primal Origins shoe. Thanks for asking. Sorry I left that important detail out! When I was asked to test, I wasn’t aware they had other shoes available.

Danny Dreyer Jan 13th, 2012 02:32pm

Hi Bob,

The Merrell Trail Gloves are trail shoes, so they definitely beat out the Stem shoes that I tested since they aren’t made for trails. However, Stem has told me that they are coming out with a trail shoe, which I’m hoping I get to test out. Since I was impressed with the general road shoe, I imagine I would be impressed with the trail. As for now, the Merrell’s are better for trails. The Merrell barefoot line is pretty minimal for me, but they are very comfortable.

Joe McMullen Jan 19th, 2012 03:51pm

Trail gloves are leather and are not good for hot weather. Training at Emerald Isle this summer, I ran 26 in them and I had to pour them out 3 - 4 x. Stem shoes are breathe much better and the soles are longer wearing. Also the Merrell shoes have a tacky grip - if you have any leg swing or twist in your footstrike the torque goes right to your knee.

kids footwear Feb 12th, 2012 07:34am

Currently, almost every running shoe company has products in development supporting natural running, and we are beginning to see the very first steps by many of them away from heavy cushioning and elevated heels.

I like the idea that the Stem minimal shoe has a slightly large toe box.  I have been getting calluses on the side of my small toe.  But I was unable to find a store that carry it.  Any suggestions on where I can purchase one?

Danny Dreyer Feb 21st, 2012 12:24pm

Hey Eric,
Check out this page to find a store near you that carries them:

Or contact them, they’ve got good customer service.


I finally received my Stem’s Primal Origins shoes.  I have been wearing minimalist running shoes for quite a few years.  But the Primal Origins are definitely like wearing no shoes at all.  I ran in them for the first time yesterday.  And it definitely requires some getting use to.  I found that my left calf became slightly sore.  I have to focus intently in keeping my lower legs relaxed.

Danny Dreyer Feb 24th, 2012 02:41pm

When running on roads with very minimal shoes, a main focus should definitely be to keep the lower legs relaxed, as you say Eric. Remember knees down, heels up and practice your one-legged posture stance. Let you Column support your weight. Let us know you do, and how you continue to enjoy the shoes. Thanks, Eric.


Eric Tobias Mar 7th, 2012 03:48pm

Just a note concerning Stem’s Primal Origins shoes (The company has changed its name to Leming).  I am getting used to running in them.  One note about the size.  I wear size 9.5 dressed shoes but I have to wear 11.5 running shoes.  I purchased Primal Origins (size 11-11.5) and they appear to be *slightly* too large.  So they do not run as big as many of the other running shoes.  Because lack of support I have to keep an eye on pointing my feet straight.  You definitely have to focus on keeping your lower legs relaxed and to be as light on your feet as possible.  Those shoes are great but they are very unforgiving with poor running form.

Nancy Nelson Apr 1st, 2012 06:03pm

Hi Danny,  I am training for my first marathon which is June 16th of this year.  I have been using your book and half and full marathon training guide.  I am looking for a new pair of shoes and would really like to try the Stem shoe, but am concerned that it will be too much of a change from what I have been wearing.  I am still wearing my old shoes that are over a year old and feel like slippers.  I do some of my shorter runs in my 5 toes and have been doing really well by shortening my stride and a quicker candence, the waltz step.  I quess I could order the stem shoe and see how it goes, taking it slow.  Do you have any other recommendations!  I ran 15 miles yesterday and I felt amazing, no soreness anywhere, your teachings have been so amazing.  Thank you!

Hey there! great stuff here. I very much enjoy a more simple and minimalist style shoe however (maybe this is not the right place) I wanted to get your feedback Danny on the Hokas. Have you seen these yet? Very cush but with a 4mm drop. Thoughts?!

Danny Dreyer Apr 25th, 2012 03:35pm

So you all know, the Stem shoe has now been renamed to Lemings. Please view the website for more information here: There is lots of great information on the site. It’s hard for me to say whether the Lemings would be the perfect shoe for anyone, since every single foot is different.

Nancy, if your current shoe is working for you (and they feel like slippers!), you may want to stick with those. Although, it never hurts to try out a new pair. Thanks for your support! I’m glad that you’re able to run all those miles and feel so good.

Chris, the Hoka is too much of a shoe for me. I do like some cushion, but I want my feet to be able to communicate with the ground and the rest of my body. These shoes are too much of a stability shoe. Just way too much all around.

All the best,
Danny Dreyer

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