The ChiRunning Stem Footwear Shoe Review
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 ChiRunning?” 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.