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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ZEM O2 Review

When companies agree to send me shoes for a review, usually one of two things happen. Some companies send me the exact shoe I intend to review. Other companies send me a veritable swag gift basket worth of cool stuff to try out; which I'm more than happy to do. ZEM was one of those companies.

In Fall 2011, ZEM didn't just roll out a line of running shoes. They came out with a whole line of shoes for many outdoor activities. This included the 360 running model (review here), the H2O watersports model (which was not in my goodie basket...what gives ZEM?!), and the O2.

The O2 is billed as a multi-sport shoe with similar minimalist design to other shoes in the Fall 2011 collection. What that means for the purposes of this review is that much of this shoe is similar to the 360. So you really should read that review (here it is again), because I won't be writing the same things twice (but I will overpost links to that review...see here and here).

The appearance of the O2 actually has more in common with the Original ZEM sandsocks than it does with the 360. The O2 uses the same material as the Original ZEM instead of the phylon used in the 360. And it has a series of six resisitance bands instead of the 360's eight.

The resulting foot feel isn't quite like the original, but very close. I find the tech bands to be much tighter than the original, but not nearly as tight as those on the 360. As a result, my foot wiggled around more than it did in the 360. One can prevent a lot of this foot wiggle by going with a split toe model. But not everyone likes a cloven hoof. You may also find it less breathable than the 360.

As with any ZEM shoe, an otherwise comfortable foot feel is usually foiled by interior seams. The seams in the O2 are much less pronounced than in the 360, but they are still there. I couldn't feel them while walking or running, but after several miles the seams gave me hotspots in the same places as the 360 (on the toes and the arch).

Another annoying fit issue has to do with the curve of the shoe. If you look closely, you'll notice that most every minimal shoe has a kind of half-moon shape. Mostly because...so do our feet. This curve in the O2 however makes it look like a sideways smiley face. As a result, I find that my last two toes come in contact with the upper material. The upper is stretchy, so it doesn't really affect me. But if you're particularly sensitive, it may affect you.

The specs on the O2 are otherwise identical to the 360. It has a total weight of 2.5oz, making it the lightest closed-toe shoe on the market. That is...except for....

The completely different sole! The O2 sole consists of a number of small micropods in a pattern that is meant to provide greater traction while changing directions. Though I've found ZEMs to be fairly horrible in the traction department, and this pattern didn't do much to improve on that. The 360 is also podded, those pods are much larger and more continuous than the O2 sole. The material between the pods is similar to that found on the Original ZEM. The thickness of the micropods is 3mm; the same as the sole thickness of the 360.

I actually like this sole pattern much better. It is incredibly bendy between the micropods, making it head and shoulders above the 360 in terms of flexibility and groundfeel. In fact, the O2 stood a chance at overtaking my favorite road shoe had it not been for this:

That's the heel of my O2 shoes after 10 miles of test running. There is another one near the forefoot that didn't show up well in pictures. Point being...the O2 seems to suffer from the same issue that makes the Original ZEM a non-viable running option. The upper fabric is sewn onto the bottom of the shoe. As a result, the fabric makes contact with the ground and gets banged up relatively quickly. According to most reports, the average lifespan of the Originals is around 50 miles. Not a whole lot considering some minimal shoes go for well over 1000 miles.

I don't want to poo poo what ZEM is trying to do with their minimalist shoe line. They have made some great innovations that will hopefully make for a fantastic product down the road. At the same time, I have to be honest. I can't recommend this shoe to my readers for outdoor activity, even though that is it's intended purpose. You might be able to get away with using it for field sports or trail running where the surface is not as abrasive as the road. But I think your money is better spent elsewhere.

SIDE NOTE: If ZEM wants to know what would make the best road shoe of all time, they can email me. I don't give out free advice to shoe companies. Only my devoted fans get free advice.

Sometimes the road to success comes with a few bumps. This is a bump. Can't fault a company for trying though right? Cheers to learning from your mistakes!


  1. It's a cute barefoot shoes! I think it's also durable because of the rubber soles. It looks so comfy and perfect for barefoot running.

    naot shoes

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