Review of Stem Survival Origins

Published by RunningPoint on Monday, 21 Nov 2011 11:46 EST

Stem Footwear is one of those companies that caught my eye while their product was in the very early phases of development. I was reading an article one day and saw them mentioned and something compelled me to click on the link and check them out. What I found was a rarity in today's market, a company who put just as much (possibly more) effort into promoting their philosophy and values as they did promoting their product. After a thorough reading, I was convinced that Stem was on track to join the list (which I hold close to my heart and take very seriously) of shoe companies where I genuinely admire both the product and the people behind the product.

I contacted them immediately, but they were so early on in the design process that there was no product to test yet. I was completely blown away when I contacted them a second time after the product had launched and they actually remembered me from many months ago and offered to send me the shoe of my choice to test and review. I chose the Survival Origins because I liked the brown color (color is the only difference between all 5 models that Stem offers). They worked closely with me to make sure that I would have a shoe that fit me perfectly, even to the extent of sending me two different sizes to ensure that I would have the best experience possible. I was excited when I got the shipment notice and I thought to myself “If the shoes are even half as good as the customer service, I am in for a treat”.


One of the things on Stem's website that really impressed me was that they found that they could follow an “Eco-Rule of 50%” which means they can cut consumption to 50% or less of a traditional shoe manufacturer. After reading some of the statistics provided, I had high expectations for the packaging the shoes arrived in. I was not at all disappointed. The first thing I saw on the box was an Eco-friendly graphic stating that their boxes were 50% the size of a traditional shoe box which allows for double the amount of product to be placed in a shipping container. Quite impressive to say the least. As I explored the box further, I found that the bottom of the box was printed with the shoe specs and a notice warning the people that are new to a barefoot style shoe to take it easy and allow the body to adjust. I love the fact that this was printed on the box and not on an extravagant insert as some other shoe manufacturers prefer to do.

Upon opening the box, I found the shoes wrapped nicely in some tissue paper and stuffed with a small amount of tissue paper which helped them to keep their form. There was a small tag tied to one of the shoes which reinforced the brand and their belief that humans were meant to be able to feel the world beneath our feet and that modern footwear has robbed us of these sensations. Bravo Stem for making this sentiment such a driving force behind the branding of their shoes. The shoes are also 100% vegan so no animals were harmed in the making of Stem shoes.


The Stem Survival Origins are a very attractive and versatile pair of shoes. The brown color pairs well with just about any form of casual dress. I have been wearing them everywhere and for many purposes including to work and even running around in the yard with the kids. They even look perfectly natural with long pants or shorts. I have had a few people mention that they look a little too much like “skater” shoes such as Vans, but I really don't get that vibe from them. The tree graphic that is shared by all models complements the look of the shoe nicely and adds a bit interest to the Survival Origins, especially since they are the most monochromatic model in the line-up. The tan sole, which is also shared by all models, blends nicely with all the Stem color schemes.


The “Natural Freedom Fit” of the Survival Origins is simply phenomenal. The first time I slipped my foot into the shoe, it immediately felt like I had owned the shoes for years. My foot was right at home and the toe box was plenty wide. The heel cup is supportive without being structured or narrow, and the lacing system allows for the shoe to be tied as tight or loose as you want it to be. I prefer to slip my shoes off and on without tying them and the Survival Origins design lend themselves perfectly to being worn this way.

The whole shoe is extremely soft and flexible, and extremely comfortable. The upper material is a combination of 100% vegan simulated suede and a light, airy mesh. The upper provides a good amount of protection and a good balance between insulation and ventilation. The shoe is warm without ever being stuffy and is ventilated enough that the breeze can be felt through them. I have plans to wear them through the winter with no fear of my feet ever getting cold and have already worn them through warm weather with no heat issues. I feel like I should add at this point that I do not wear socks, and that Stem has certainly considered that people will be wearing these shoes barefoot. The inside of the shoe is soft and luxuriant and is a real treat to wear on your bare foot. I can't feel any seams or rubbing points that should cause anyone undue pain or blisters while wearing the Stems barefoot. The insole is non-removable and also very soft. It feels like my foot is enveloped in a nice soft sock and I can assure you that I have no interest of ever wearing a sock with these shoes.


Stem has designed an awesome foot shaped sole which is made from their proprietary air-infused rubber compound. As I have tested and reviewed multiple brands and designs of minimal footwear, I have found that there are generally 3 categories of sole design mentality. The two mainstays are the ultra thin hard rubber soles that allow for a nearly barefoot feel 100% of the time (which I prefer for casual wear and require for running), and the ultra soft EVA soles that provide considerable cushion and only allow ground feel when you step on something of considerable size or texture. Then there are the special few companies who have been able to develop a sole material that is dense and responsive and provides a comfortable amount of cushion. Stem has hit this magical combination better than any shoe I have ever tested. When I stand in the shoe there is little to no compression of the sole, but there is a hint of softness to it that keeps the fatigue away. I stand at work for 40+ hours per week and I have been extremely impressed with the balance of the sole. The ground feel is impeccable for a shoe with a soft sole, you can really feel everything you walk over, not just the big stuff.

This is where I usually spend a lot of time talking about running in the shoe that I am reviewing. The Stems are not designed to be an athletic shoe, but the company was quick to inform me that they have had reports from many people who do in fact run in their Stems. They were also kind enough to tell me that using the shoe to run in will drastically reduce the life of the sole. I decided that I would take mine for one run so that I could report on my experience.

Let me preface the following commentary by stating that I knew as soon as I put the Stem Survival Origins on for the first time that I would not enjoy running in this shoe. As minimal as the padding is in them, it is more than I want to run with. The longer you run minimal/barefoot, you develop a sense for quickly determining whether or not a shoe will be compatible with your running style and I knew that my first 5k in the Stems was going to be my last. I decided to re-lace the shoes using a lacing technique made popular by Altra Running so that I would have the maximum amount of forefoot freedom and a nice snug fit at the midfoot and heel. The first 100 yards of my run crosses grass and gravel and the Stems felt great, there was tons of ground feel and the “squish” in the soles was hardly noticeable. Things were looking up from my prediction, until I hit the asphalt that consumes the remainder of my 5k route. On the asphalt & sidewalks, the squish was very noticeable which for me and my running style translates into a very disconnected and unstable feeling. I have run ultraminimal/barefoot for so long that the slightest amount of padding throws me off kilter and ruins my gait and my form. I thought I could make it for the entire 5k, but I ended up stopping at the 0.9 km mark and finishing the run barefoot.

Please don't read this as a negative experience. Barefoot/minimal runners are just like any other runner and we have our preferences. Let me re-state what I said earlier: these shoes are not designed to be athletic shoes, Stem cautions any runner that using the shoe to run in will wear the sole much faster than normal, and I knew that the shoe was not going to provide me with a satisfactory running experience.

So what did I gain from running in the Survival Origins? I can now tell the people who favor a softer ride in their minimal shoes that the Stems would make a great running shoe that fits in a very interesting niche where the shoe provides moderate cushioning and excellent ground feel. Also, I discussed my issues with Stem and they told me that many people who ran in the shoes felt the same way. Here lies the beauty of the small company; even though their shoes are not designed to be athletic shoes, Stem has listened to their customer feedback and is currently re-designing the insole from a 3mm pad which accounts a lot for the squishy feel to a more performance oriented 1.5mm insole which will provide less squish but shouldn't affect the casual comfort. Folks this is why the minimal shoe market is exciting and I love being involved with these small, innovative companies.


After my time with the Stem Survival Origins I can confidently say that I truly believe Stem has created the minimal shoe for the masses. The design is a great mixture of traditional and minimal footwear so that you can wear the shoe anywhere you want without people staring. The level of comfort is second to none as a casual minimal shoe, and (even though it's not for me) they make an excellent running shoe. It is really refreshing to see a shoe enter the minimal footwear market that is purpose built as a hardcore barefoot experience wrapped in such a friendly package. There are more and more minimal shoes being brought to market every day it seems, but it will be a long time (in my opinion) before any other company, big or small, can knock Stem down from being the gold standard for a casual/lifestyle minimal shoe.


Who's online

There are currently 0 users online.

Who's new

  • BoulderRunner
  • RonaldMoo
  • Ronnie B
  • cabarchitect
  • RunningPoint


Subscribe to Syndicate