SOM Footwear

A unique, lightweight shoe

MSRP $134
Weight 7.55 oz
Gender Unisex
Best Uses Light day hiking, "barefoot" running, walking

Most of us wear some type of shoe every single day, but have you ever stopped to think about just how your footwear came to be? Well, Nike was born when coach Bill Bowerman and track star Philip Knight began hawking tennies out of the latter’s car in the ‘60s. Adidas and Puma are both products of a brotherly feud that occurred in postwar Germany. And SOM Footwear started when a Colorado metalworker named Olie Marchal couldn’t shake a persistent pain in his back.

If you like a good origin tale, check out The SOM Footwear Story, a short video detailing Olie’s journey from creaky runner to happy-go-lucky shoemaker. While searching for a way to ease the pain so he could run – and even walk – again, Marchal discovered the gospel of barefoot running. After plowing through a ton of subpar options, he decided to craft his own Made-in-the-USA minimalist footwear to hearken back to the glory days of humankind’s “original sense of motion” (that’s the “SOM”), celebrating a natural barefoot gait with a minimal support structure and maximum comfort.

SOM Footwear sent along two pair of their flagship “sneaker” for Modern Hiker to test, and here’s how they fared:

SOM01

AESTHETICS

Shawnté: At first, I was struck by not just the bright yellow color, but how wide the shoes are – they almost resemble boxier climbing “approach shoes,” especially with the black pigskin rand. There’s also a very casual vibe to them with the simple structure and materials – my first impression was that they looked like streetwear more than trailwear.

Scott: I got the same streetwear impression, as well. They reminded me quite a bit of the Converse All-Stars that were the only thing I would wear for the better part of a decade and a half. The quick blast of nostalgia warmed me to them right off the bat. I actually quite liked the no-frills, no-neon, no-blaring logo approach on the shoes. When I wasn’t hiking in them, I actually would wear them around when I did my errands or even went out for a few casual dinners; about the only place I didn’t try to wear them was work.

SOM03

FIT

Shawnté: I worried that my foot would swim in the gigantic toebox and that they’d look like clown shoes on my size 8.5 feet. The first time I took these out on the trail, I laced these as I might a sneaker, and found that when heading down a steep hill, my toes slid forward and hit the front of the shoe, which hikers know is a recipe for blackened toenail disaster. However, the next time I laced them a bit tighter and suddenly, my heel was perfectly cupped and the shoes didn’t budge a millimeter on that same stretch of downhill. The genius is that the toebox is big enough to let all of your piggies space out, while the rest of the shoe can be cinched as tight as you’d like across the upper.

Scott: The fit was likewise good for me. They slid on quite comfortably, and unlike most new shoes, I wasn’t constantly re-tying them and double-knotting them for the first few hikes. I didn’t have the same issues with the wide toe box, but that’s also because wide toe boxes are perfect for my feet. Aside from my usual hiking shoes, these were actually one of the few shoes that didn’t make my toes feel like pigs in a blanket. Most hiking boots do that to me, which I know is specific to the shape of my feet. Still, it’s not hard to feel affection for a shoe when it doesn’t try to mash your toes. The biggest thing for me was that I barely felt them on my feet. I found myself wearing them beyond the times when I was hiking because they were so lightweight and comfortable.

SOM02

PERFORMANCE

Shawnté: While this looks like a casual shoe (and I’m sure some people only wear it on pavement), the Vibram soles offer a moderate amount of traction. You’re not going to want to wear these on the jagged granite of the Sierras or to scramble around in Joshua Tree, but for hikes on easy to moderate terrain, the shoes proves stable and comfortable. The cordura fabric is water resistant (although you don’t want to dunk these fully underwater) and somewhat breathable, although my feet did get a wee bit sweaty on longer hikes.

Scott: This is where I was most skeptical. I had a long bout with plantar fasciitis a few years back, so my M.O. has been to seek out the most cushioned and supportive shoes I can find – in my case, trail runners. Just as they looked like Converse All-Stars, my immediate impression was that they felt like Converse All-Stars as well, which I took as an ominous sign. Nobody has ever been able to sell me on the concept of barefoot hiking, and I regard that as the right thing for some people, but not all people. I took these shoes to the desert, where I hiked about 25 miles in them over the course of the weekend. Hiking through washes was predictably easy. Where I was surprised was on the rocky, uneven terrain and cross-country scrambling. I can’t say that they were as comfortable as they trail runners I usually wear, but even on craggy granite boulders or on crumbling scree, I kept my footing, but more importantly, did not come away with any foot, knee, hip, or back pain. They held their own in a difficult proving ground. That said, I would not recommend these for a backpacking trip or snowshoeing journey as I am firmly – even stubbornly – resolved that these activities require strong, supportive shoes.

SOM05

VERDICT

Shawnté: These grew on me! I find that they’re the shoes I’m reaching for most mornings on my quick 3-milers in Griffith Park, unless I’m trail running (not enough support for me there – I’m not a barefoot enthusiast). They’re light, fit well, and are actually super comfortable. I haven’t worn them casually like Scott has, because the style isn’t quite my jam, but I do see them becoming go-to shoes for walks around the neighborhood, light hikes, and camping.

Scott: I really like them. I still wear my trail runners on most occasions. I’ve been doing a lot of cross-country hiking in the desert, and even though I’m intrigued because of how light and comfortable the SOMs are, I will not take chances with other shoes. On the shorter hikes (3-6 miles), I’ve continued to wear the SOMs, and they’ve done nothing to color my initial judgments after my more strenuous trials. The real test for me when it comes to buying a shoe is whether I can use them for more than one thing. My favorite use for the SOMs is when I’m camping – car and backpack alike. Their weight is negligible, and it’s nice to have something comfortable to slip into while puttering around the site or taking a stroll. They come on and off quite easily, so they’re also the shoe I’ve ended up using when I need to run errands. It takes a lot to replace flip-flops in San Diego County, but the SOMs have pretty much done it for me. I’m a fan.

SOM06

Note: The photo at the top of the page is after 40 miles of desert hiking – they came out of the box much cleaner 🙂

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