Let’s be real right out of the gate: if you’re a diehard minimalist shoe wearer then you may not love the Lems Mesa shoes. While the shoes are technically minimal—as Lems is quick to point out on its website—they’re a far cry from barefoot.
That said, if you’re transitioning to minimalist shoes or if you have no idea why the words “minimalist” and “shoes” have any right to sit next to one another, then the Lems Mesa shoes are worth a look. Especially since they’re versatile. And versatility is key when it comes to travel.
So, let’s jump into the review.
Materials & Aesthetic
Shoe style is nearly as personal as the way you take your coffee. And the Lems Mesa have our team divided. Some of us think they look sleek in that I’m-about-to-bag-a-peak kind of way. While others aren’t feeling the athletic aesthetic, particularly in the black colorway that features a splattered paint design along the heel.
Our Instagram audience sided with the skeptics with only 39% giving these shoes a thumbs up. The shoes are also available in green and blue at the time of this review—both of which lack that controversial splattered paint.
But what matters more than looks here is the materials the shoes are made out of. First of all, they’re vegan, which is a major plus for all our vegan friends out there (obviously).
The upper is made from knit mesh which is lightweight, breathable, and fast-drying (we’ll discuss these features more below). Wearing these shoes feels a lot like wearing socks. That’s to say really comfortable. The EVA midsole and molded PU footbed also help with comfort.
The outsole is a textured rubber that’ll grip most surfaces out there, from concrete to gravel to dirt.
The laces are stiff and feel built-to-last, but this stiffness also requires you to double-knot your laces every time you slip on your shoes (unless you enjoy tripping yourself). An annoying quirk, but not a deal-breaker—we’ll take durability over convenience any day.
Features & Benefits
There are a lot of things to love about the Lems Mesa. Starting with the fact that they’ll work for nearly every occasion. Well, you won’t want to wear them to a business meeting (unless you’re a professional athlete or something) and they’re not water-resistant so wearing them while you trek through the snow will get cold and wet real fast.
But they work for basically everything else. Navigating the cobblestone streets of a city? You bet. Training for a 10K? Absolutely. Ascending a mountain peak? Sure. This versatility is a major plus for travel.
Plus, that mesh we mentioned earlier is truly breathable—which means your shoes can dry after a long day out on the town. Traveling tends to involve a good amount of walking. Walking tends to involve a good amount of sweating. Sweating tends to involve a good amount of making-your-shoes-smell-like-a-locker-room (just us?). Being able to air out your shoes before you stick them in your pack next to your freshly laundered clothing is definitely a feature.
It also works the other way around—these shoes dry quickly after being dunked in a stream or caught in a rainstorm. Especially since you can take the insole out.
The Lems Mesa shoes are also comfortable. They fit true-to-size and, as we said earlier, the thick midsole cushions your every step. The wide toe box—beyond being a staple of any minimalist shoe—means your feet have room to swell on hikes or when jumping from country to country. Of course, it also gives your toes some room to stretch out and breathe. Sometimes, wide toe boxes can have a clown-shoe effect, but we’re happy to report that’s not the case here.
Now, let’s talk about the heel-to-toe drop. Again, if you’re already a part of the minimalist shoe community then you know all about this topic. If you’re unfamiliar, a heel-to-drop refers to the millimeters or even centimeters a shoe drops in elevation from heel to toe. Almost all “normal”—that’s to say not minimalist—shoes have this drop.
The minimalist shoe community argues that any drop is bad for posture, your lower back, and your feet. (We’re not doctors here at Pack Hacker, so we’re not going to give you any medical advice. We suggest you do your own research.)
In the past, Lems has created shoes with zero drop, including its Lems Boulder Boot. The Mesa’s have a 4mm drop, which is still technically minimal. Whether or not that’s minimal enough for you is, obviously, a personal choice.
A quick aside: transitioning to minimalist shoes can take some time. Your feet will hurt at first, especially if you don’t tread carefully. However, since the Mesas still have cushion and a drop, this transition will be less severe. The folks at Lems even say that the Mesas make a great transitional shoe if you’re looking to join the barefoot movement.
The last feature worth noting is how packable these shoes are. For two main reasons: their low weight and compressibility.
You can bend the Mesas in half. We wouldn’t pack them this way because of the strain it can put on the materials, and because they don’t like to stay compressed, but this flexibility does come in handy for packing. And, again, some people argue that it’s better for your feet.
Plus, their low weight means they won’t weigh down your pack or your feet.
Durability & Testing
We’ve been testing the Lems Mesa shoes for nearly two months now around Detroit, Michigan. They’re comfortable and versatile enough they’ve basically gotten daily wear.
Unfortunately, they’re not holding up as well as we would’ve liked. The shoes arrived with a small hole between the outsole and upper, which has only gotten bigger with use. We’ve also found more spots of separation between the upper and outsole—it’s like the glue the folks at Lems used just isn’t sticky enough. We’ve also found scuffs along the heels. And, on one of the shoes, the elastic around the top has started to fray.
Frankly, we’re disappointed. You don’t want to embark on a multi-country adventure only to have to replace your shoes three and a half weeks into it.
Update: We spoke with Lems about the hole our shoes arrived with and here’s what they had to say:
“At Lems, quality and reliability are two huge components when it comes to the design and development of our footwear. Upon arrival, if a shoe has a defect, we are happy to replace them free of charge. Additionally, even after some wear and tear, within the terms of our warranty policy, we ask customers to send in photos, proof of purchase, and evaluate the issue with the shoes. From there, if the shoe is defective, we will also send a pair out free of charge.”
Other than these durability issues, we’ve loved testing the Lems Mesa. It’s nice to have a pair that works for everything. So we’ll continue testing them until they truly fall apart on us—and we’ll make sure to update the Usage Timeline below.
- Very comfortable to wear straight out of the box
- Very lightweight with a surprising amount of cushion
- Found a hole between the sole and the upper
Not looking great. The hole has gotten bigger and we’ve noticed some scuffing along the heel and frayed elastic along the upper.
Nothing new to report—just the same issues as last month.
The Lems Mesa shoes are lightweight, breathable, and comfortable. They’re versatile too, shining in both rural and urban environments—although the athletic look won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. With a padded footbed and small drop, they’re not as minimalist as some other shoes from Lems, but they’re minimalist enough that they may take some time to get used to. While we’re big fans overall, we’re concerned about their longevity since we’ve already had some major issues. Hopefully, they’ll last a few more months, but we’re not holding our breath.
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