I love sneakers. Even before I became a runner, I vastly preferred sneakers over any other footwear. It still makes me sad that my office is business formal, and the first thing I do when I get home is shuck my work shoes and slip into sneakers. So I take my sneakers very seriously, and when I say that the Lems Primal 2’s I’ve been testing for the past week are some of the best sneakers I’ve ever worn, that’s praise I don’t give lightly.
What makes these shoes so great isn’t any one thing, but a combination of things. They are made to be worn with or without socks, and I had no issues wearing them barefoot on a warm day. The material that makes up the upper is substantial but breathable, and I didn’t feel too hot even on an 80 degree day. The sole is completely flat from heel to toe, and quite flexible, so you feel the ground with every step. There is some tread, but these aren’t the shoes you’d take hiking on rough terrain. These are, first and foremost, casual, everyday sneakers. They have a vaguely retro style, and go quite well with jeans. I’ve also worn them with khakis capri-type pants, and since my wife let me leave the house that way it’s clear they matched there too. They don’t scream “athletic shoe”, which gives them an edge for everyday wear if you’re looking for something nicer than your retired running gear.
I mentioned that the shoe is quite minimal and flexible, and that’s not by accident. Lems designs all their shoes to be as close to barefoot as possible. The soles are relatively minimal, and more importantly the lasts (the shape of the sole) are designed to fit the shape of your foot. So it’s narrower at the heel and then opens up to a very wide toebox. This accommodates your toes moving as you walk, so they can spread and splay and move naturally within the shoe. My toes have plenty of space in the Primal 2s, but that’s because I have disgustingly narrow, flat feet. They’re like 2x4s with toes on the end.
When I first picked up the Primal 2s, my first thought (after “Wow, this is a good looking shoe) was “Oh crap, these are way too wide for my feet.” There was no way a shoe with such a wide toebox would be comfortable for my feet; I feared my heel would simply slide right out of them. Luckily, I was wrong-Lems didn’t just design this shoe to accommodate the wide-footed among us. When I tied the shoes on, the midfoot did an absolutely superb job of locking onto my feet, and I have yet to feel loose or insecure in them. My toes have lots of room to wiggle, but that hasn’t caused any hotspots or blisters, and my heels are secured at the back nicely. So their “natural last” does exactly what it’s supposed to do-my feet move naturally, my toes can expand and wiggle, and the Primal 2s keep my gravel driveway from tearing apart the soles of my feet. Oh, and for the super wide-footed, there is a removable insole in the Primal 2. I left them in because they seemed to help the fit slightly for me, but you can easily pull them out if you want a bit more space.
Casual walking is an absolute pleasure in the Primal 2s. At first they felt a bit weird, mainly because between the rounded heel and the tread along the sole made it feel almost inverted, like the toebox was higher than the heel. It’s not, it’s just the most stay-out-of-the-way heel I’ve ever felt, and it took a few walks to get adjusted to the sole. However, it’s incredibly comfortable, has just the right amount of give, and is highly flexible. I also took these for a short run, and they felt absolutely fantastic. They’re too nice as casual shoes to be in my regular running rotation, but they are more than capable if you do choose to take them for a spin around the block. Just make sure you’re well-adjusted to minimal shoes, as the Lems are very minimal, and you will feel it in your calves if you aren’t careful.
I really love the Primal 2s, but there is one minor flaw. The shoe is glued together instead of stitched, and in one spot the upper is peeling back slightly from the sole. It doesn’t impact the construction of the shoe, and a little bit of seam gripper should fix it right up, but it’s worth noting. I’m also not positive that twisting and flexing it for the review didn’t cause or aggravate it, so it’s hard to say it’s a specific failure of the shoe versus an unusual defect revealed from being manhandled. But, as I said, it doesn’t impact the structure of the shoe, and it’s pretty minor, but it does stand out in an otherwise outstanding product.
Separation aside, the Primal 2s are a fantastic shoe. They look good, they feel great, and they come from a small company that has worked incredibly hard to develop a shoe line that’s both stylish and good for your body. If you’re a sneaker fan like me, or you’re just looking for a comfortable, casual, minimal-style shoe, check out the Lems Primal 2!
MSRP: $95 from Lems Shoes
What I liked: Comfortable; minimal design; great style; wide toebox but still fits the foot well
What Needs Improvement: Some concerns about the glued upper coming undone.
Source: Manufacturer provided review sample