Research Notes is a series that reviews and recommends great footwear from a three-prong approach: style, biomechanics, and shoe construction. It also shines a light on how our own products change as we learn from our peers.
In March, I wore the Boulder on a trip to Vancouver BC, and in November, I wore them through the American Southwest. The Boulder was the only footwear I had for the entirety of both trips, for many good reasons. One of them is dance.
This year, I started dancing a lot more, with a focus on footwork. It started with Shuffling, a style heavy in footwork that was born from the Electronic Dance Music scene. It inspired me to study footwork from other dance styles, and even martial arts. My dancing gets more interesting with each new move I add and make transitions for. (Ah, idea sex.)
During my Southwest trip, I shot a dance compilation video. So rather than just telling you how great the Lems Boulder are to move in, now I can show you.
If you're spending time in temperatures between 50F / 0F ( 10C / -18C), and you want to do some light hiking (or heavy dancing), the Lems Boulder Boot is the perfect boot for you. This goes for people who don't wear minimalist shoes too, because the Boulder Boot has a good amount of cushioning, and it's just so much lighter, softer, and flexible than other boots.
Unlike the Xero Umara Z-Trail and SoftStar Hawthorne I previously reviewed, the Lems Boulder Boot does not have a midsole and outsole of different materials. Instead, the Boulder uses a single density sole of 9mm air-injection rubber to provide both cushioning and traction. And I find it does both very well.
I remember the first time I wore Vibram FiveFingers. The stimulation was so mind-blowing that it made me question the very nature of footwear, as well as Life, the Universe, and Everything.
This won't happen in the Lems Boulder Boot. It has enough cushioning to be a comfortable experience for non-barefooters.
I think lack of cushioning is the main reason why people don't get into minimalist footwear. Lightweight and flexible are very popular shoe features that aren't hard to sell. Zero-drop and wide toebox aren't quite as popular, as people are so used to slight heels and constricted toeboxes that they don't notice it as an issue unless it's really extreme, as in stiletto heels.
I think the Lems Boulder Boot is a great "Trojan Horse." It's cushioned, super light and super flexible (especially for a boot). So it's appealing to non-barefooters. And once they start to feel the benefits of zero-drop and a wide toebox, they might start to look for those features when they shoe shop again.
All that said, the cushioning is still thin and soft enough for a barefooter to enjoy some groundfeel in a winter wonderland.
Looking at the tread of the Boulder, you can see it's not very aggressive. The grooves aren't that deep, and there were no pointy lugs to bite into terrain. Yet I felt quite surefooted. I went looking for an explanation, and found one on Toe Salad:
"The traction inherent in the shoe is determined by the tread pattern and the type of rubber. Generally speaking, softer rubber provides more friction at the expense of faster wear. Also generally speaking, the more rubber surface which contacts the ground, the better the traction on rock and hard-packed dirt. This has to be balanced against surfaces like mud and scree, where the tread of the shoe needs to dig in. In sticky mud, tread needs to be widely spaced, so that mud will be disinclined to pack the shoe and vaporize traction."
It makes sense now. I was on wet but firm surfaces, and this is where soft rubber like the Boulder works best.
It definitely beats the groundfeel of Chronology shoes. We chose denser materials in our sole stack, for durability.
When you see someone roll up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, you kind of expect it. But for someone to roll up a pair of boots? That's pretty unbelievable.
If I could show you just one thing to demonstrate this point, and all the points above too, it would be this video.
When you pick up Vibram FiveFingers, it's surprisingly light. But when you pick up a Boulder Boot, it's unbelievably light. Like, how can it have so much visual volume (because it's a boot), yet have so little weight?
Their size 9 boot is only 9.9oz (280g).
Do you see those little nubs? You can feel them, too. Textured insoles enhance your proprioception, which is your perception of where your body is in space. There was a study done on 26 older adults who had a history of falling (a severe accident for many at that age). Wearing a textured insole immediately made them walk slower and cautiously, which could help prevent future falls.
The moccasin toe has the toebox go straight up, rather than curving in. This increases the overall volume of the Boulder toebox, and your toes do feel a difference. And it works very well stylistically with the rest of the boot.
Left: Softstar Hawthorne / Right: Lems Boulder
Boots typically have a number of supporting structures. There is usually a piece of celastic in the heel counter, a piece of celastic to support the toe, and a shank under the the arch. The Boulder doesn't have any of these, and that's why you can pack it flat and roll it up in every direction.
This is just like the SoftStar Hawthorne. So I'm definitely going to test out an unstructured boot once we dive back into that development.
You can either pinch it, or stick a finger in it. Either way, having the loop pull tab is helpful for getting in and taking off these boots.
These boots are actually too warm for me to wear above 50F (10C).
I wore these all the way down to 32 F (0C) with just one layer of cotton dress socks underneath.
In an article titled, Winter Minimalist Boot Comparison, Tina from Alberta Canada wrote: "The Boulder Boot is warm enough at all tested temperatures with a single insole and is likely warm enough at -20C with two pairs of socks."
If you're going below -4F (-20C), you might want a pair of polar expedition mukluks or mountaineering boots. But that just goes to show that, temperature-wise, there is only one final class of footwear beyond what the Boulder Boot is capable of.
Most of their colorways are a well-complimenting two-tone of leather and 1200 Denier Nylon. The black colorway I have here is all nylon, so it's all vegan.
Both the nylon and the leather are abrasion resistant, water resistant, tear resistant, wrinkle resistant, and probably more than I'm not aware of. And they both take spray-on protectors like Scotchgard.
Originally, this was going to go under "What I'd Do Different", because I found that the Lems Boulder's round laces come untied more easily. But I did some research, and I think they made the right choice here.
Apparently, when you're hiking, you're regularly tightening and loosening your laces. While it sucks that these come untied more easily on their own, they're also easier to untie when you want to untie them. Especially if they're wet, or you're tired. Round laces also move through eyelets easier, which makes for quicker tightening and loosening.
Round laces are generally sturdier too. Because they move through eyelets easier, there are no folds, which is a big source of wear and tear. They also distributes tension better. Round shoe laces are structurally stronger too, like a piece of rope, versus flat shoelaces that are like a piece of cloth.
While the style is traditionally masculine and looks great on gents, I actually think these look even better on ladies. It falls under that category of footwear that is "bulky so it makes the rest of her look small, feminine, and cute", like UGG, Doc Marten, etc.
The Boulder Boot review on Gear Junkie has "She Stole My Boots!" in the title, and it's written from the author and his fiancé's dual perspectives.
Stepping into water like this is fine with the Boulder's water-resistance, but you don't want to cross streams with these.
Earlier I mentioned that I found the flannel lining warm and cozy. However, Damien pointed out in his review on Toe Salad: "Being leather and cotton-lined, they would be warm and retain moisture if soaked. Not a great combo for long hikes where you are working hard for hours (i.e. generating heat and sweating), or encountering a lot of wet conditions (i.e. rain or stream crossings). On short hikes, this stuff doesn't matter too much."
Good point. A better alternative might be a polar fleece, which is warmer when wet and quicker to dry than cotton. Wool would be even better, but too expensive at this price point.
The Perfect Boots for Light Hiking (or Heavy Dancing) in the Cold. These are unbelievably soft, light, and flexible. They have a level of cushioning that everyone can enjoy. They will keep you warm down to -4F (-20C) with wool socks. They are very low-maintenance. The style looks great on gents, and extra cute on ladies.
At left is a typical dress shoe, same size and same Wide width. You can see that it is still 1 or 2 cm longer than ours. Most sleeker dress shoes have a fair amount of unoccupied space in the front. We took advantage of that and used it to give you a wide toebox without looking like it. Dress shoes get even longer if we start looking at chisel-toe and pointy-toe styles. But even though these conventional dress shoes are longer, you still feel cramped because of the heel lift and the fact that their shoes are widest at the ball of the foot. Ours are widest at the toes, as a foot naturally is.
Regarding groundfeel, Chronology's outsole is 4mm thick, with another 4mm of leather and cork between that and your feet. The polyurethane we use for the outsole was selected for durability, which is more important than groundfeel in a shoe like this. The 2-part (polyurethane + leather/cork) design allows for the shoes to be resoled like good dress shoes and unlike most minimalist shoes.