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Stem Origins Review

Posted by on Dec 29, 2011 | 5 Comments

Stem is one of a group of minimalist shoe upstarts that have hit the scene over the last year or so.  Their founder Andrew Rademacher has an interesting story that would resonate with many.  Over the last year or so I’ve loosely followed Andrew’s development of the Origins shoe.  Most initial attempts at minimalist shoes are… well, pretty bad.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

First Impressions

The Origins is an aesthetically-pleasing shoe.  The color scheme is a muted neutral color.  The overall design is similar to most other minimalist shoes- thin sole, wide toe box.  It has the look of a really sweet casual shoe.

The shoe itself is lightweight (about the same weight as any other minimalist shoe) and exceptionally flexible.  The shoe can be completely compressed into a ball, not just rolled up.  The only other shoes I habe tested with this degree of flexibility would be Vibram’s SeeYas.

The shoe seemed pretty average when handling.  I distinctly remember thinking “Well, I was hoping for a little more… this shoe is disappointingly average.”

Then I put the shoe on my foot.


It felt exactly like a fur-lined slipper.  There are a lot of new minimalist shoes coming out- almost all have fabulous sockless liners.  All are extremely comfortable.  The Origins trumps all of them.  It’s almost like wearing a well-protected sock.

Okay, the shoe gets an A+ for comfort, but how does it perform?

The Origin as a Running Shoe

The fit of the shoe allows it to conform to the shape of your foot, which is somewhat different than most other minimalist shoes.  I’m not a huge fan of running shoes that lack structure.  Not surprisingly, I wasn’t a fan of using these shoes for road running or trail running.  For roads, there are better options like the Road Glove, Minimus Zero RoadSeeYa, or maybe the Inov-8 Bare-X 150.

For trails, the lack of protection of the ultra-flexible sole make it impractical for all but the least-technical trails.  Again, there are better options available- Trail Glove, Minimus Zero Trail, Vibram TrekSports, etc.

For crosstraining, the lack of structure causes the problems.  The shoe doesn’t provide a reliably stable base for sudden movements.

It’s no that the shoe is a bad running or crosstraining shoe.  If this shoe would have been released two years ago, it would have been the best running shoe on the market.  It’s just that the competition is that good today.

The Origin as a Casual Shoe

So why would you want to buy this shoe?

Simple- it’s the single best casual shoe I have ever worn.

It has everything a great casual minimalist shoe should have- lightweight, EXTREMELY comfortable, keeps feet cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather, zero drop, minimal cushioning, and awesome casual style.  The fit will likely work for a wide range of foot shapes.

For the last six months or so, my casual shoe collection has consisted of a pair of Chaco flips.  They’re awesome in warm weather, but suck when the temps drop below freezing.  I’ve been looking for a good cool weather casual shoe for some time.  Not only has the Origin become my cool weather shoe, it has also replaced my Chacos as my “A” casual shoe.  If I were still teaching, this is the shoe I would wear every day.

The fact that the shoe can perform as a running shoe increases the appeal for casual use.  You never know when you’ll be presented with the opportunity to run.  🙂


The Stem Origin is one of the best first minimalist shoe attempts I’ve seen.  Andrew designed a perfect flagship shoe to assure Stem has a bright future.  While it’s not my first choice as a shoe for high intensity physical activity, it more than makes up for it as a kick-ass casual shoe.  If you’re in the market for a quality casual shoe, this should be at the top of your list.  Use their dealer locator to find a local retailer.



 Scheduling note- over the next three days, I’ll be running in the Across the Years ultra outside Phoenix.  I won’t have an opportunity to respond to comments and what not… I’ll be “off the grid.”  🙂 


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  1. Aaron
    January 8, 2012

    I just got mine two days ago, and I can already say that they are hands down the most comfortable shoes I have ever owned. The anatomical shape and extra wide toe box are amazing.

    I’ve done some walking and a little running in them, and I like them for both. Mine seem to have a little bit of toe springishness (for lack of a better term) that I am getting used to. It is almost as if the sole under the ball of the foot has a bit of extra padding which causes a little spring at the point of toe off. I only notice it while walking. When running with good form, I don’t feel it at all.

    I agree with Jason that these are awesome casual shoes, but I think they will make for great running shoes when I need them. I run mainly on roads, and my only other minimal shoes are Trail Gloves, which don’t do well on roads for me.

    I think Andrew has come up with a wonderful minimalist shoe and I hope he tries a running shoe design in the future.

    Also, the customer service I received was top-notch, which goes a long way with me.

  2. Barefoot Running University » Across the Years 72 Hour Footrace Race Report: Junk Food, Alcohol, Sex, and a Wooden Ball
    January 8, 2012

    […] season, so I had a lot of shoe on-hand.  I decided to go with a pair of Merrell Road Gloves, Stem Origins, New Balance Minimus Zero Roads, Vibram SeeYas, and Merrell Bare Access.  Later in the race I also […]

  3. Dave H
    December 30, 2011

    I have been doing most of my running in these for the past several months, and I love them! I don’t run much on trails, so I cannot speak to their suitability for that. But on roads they are great. The wide toe box and super-comfy feel have made them my favorite shoe.

  4. edh
    December 29, 2011

    I know you’ve said you love running sockless because you think the socks cause you some slippage, but I’ve found that when I get past 10mi or so, my feet start to sweat (regardless of temps) and within 5 more miles, that direct contact with the shoe causes painful raw spots. Socks shield me from that, even in shoes with sockless liners.

    Do you not have that problem at all, and if not, I wonder why I do? Your mentioning sockless liners in this shoe reminded me of it.

  5. shel
    December 29, 2011

    i like them for road running alright, i figger they aren’t great for trails and i’d love to see them make a trail shoe…but the looks of these shoes – swoon. they are casual in place of flip slops or could be won to a relaxed work environment with khakis. finding running shoes has become increasingly easier with all the options out there, but finding shoes you can wear shopping and sightseeing – not so much. as you said, the fact that you can run in them too….it’s huge. love them.