Our verdict

The Trailhead felt like a normal casual sneaker on the city streets but revealed its sturdy and grippy nature as soon as we hit the trails. What's more, the shoe's entire construction follows Lems' foot health philosophy in which a minimal sole, low heel-to-toe drop, and spacious toebox are the cornerstones of anatomically correct shoes. Indeed, we felt as if the Trailhead encouraged our foot and ankle muscles to work a little more than usual. If you are not ready for minimalist hiking shoes just yet but would like to experience some of their benefits, we think that the Lems Trailhead is a good place to start.

Pros

  • Perfect trail-to-city shoe
  • Notably lighter than average
  • Wear-resistant upper and outsole
  • Grounded platform
  • Low heel-toe drop confirmed
  • Very flexible construction
  • Upper follows natural foot shape
  • Great grip for moderate terrain
  • Vegan materials (in most colorways)
  • Perfect for mild demi-season weather

Cons

  • Not for wide feet
  • Tongue slides sideways
  • Not for warm weather

Audience verdict

92
Superb!

Who should buy

Having tested the Lems Trailhead through and through, we believe that it is a great option for people who seek the following:

  • a moderately minimalist shoe for a gradual transition from high-drop and cushy platforms to more barefoot-like footwear
  • a highly versatile trail-to-town shoe for everything: streets to yardwork, biking to trail hiking, travelling, and more

Lems Trailhead V2 review

Who should NOT buy

People with wide feet may not find the Trailhead's Medium Fit spacious enough in the forefoot. Instead, we recommend the Primal Pursuit as it's built on the brand's Wide Fit last.

Another reason to skip this Lems shoe is if you are used to having more support and cushioning in your hiking shoes. The Merrell Moab 3 will be a more reliable companion on long hiking trips with a backpack.

Lems Trailhead V2 lab test

Breathability

We found that the Lems Trailhead makes for a perfect demi-season pair - it's neither too airy nor too warm. Its sweet spot lies between 50°F (10°C) and 70°F (20°C).

Look how little smoke was able to escape through the shoe's upper in our smoke-pumping breathability test.

The shoe uses mesh panels for ventilation, but the threads are pretty thick and tightly woven, hindering the airflow. The dense inner lining beneath the mesh also impacts the shoe's overall breathability. You can see how limited the shoe's ventilation pores are in our transparency test below.

Checking the shoe's mesh fabric up close through a microscope made us think for a moment that we were looking at a sweater.

Lems Trailhead V2 microscope upper test

But because the shoe is not entirely deprived of ventilation, we rated its breathability with a moderate score of 3 out of 5. Rather typical for a hiking shoe.

Test results
Trailhead 3
Average 2.8
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1
Breathability
5

Durability

Toebox durability

Even though the Trailhead uses a lot of mesh in its upper, we thought that it looked sturdy enough for moderate trail conditions. But why assume when we can test?

We turned to the sandpaper tip of our Dremel to check how much abrasion the shoe's toebox mesh could take. The drilling lasted for 12 seconds with the Dremel speed set to 5K RPM and the pressure remaining consistent at 3.2N.

Lems Trailhead Toebox durability comparison

The result was stunning as the Trailhead's mesh proved to be even more wear-resistant than the synthetic uppers of some other hiking shoes! We didn't hesitate to rate shoe's toebox durability with a high score of 4 out of 5.

Wading through bushes or tripping over roots will not easily destroy the Trailhead's upper.

Test results
Trailhead 4
Average 3.8
Compared to 14 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1
Toebox durability
5

Heel padding durability

As it turned out, the inner textile of the Lems Trailheads is just as sturdy! This slick and soft fabric simply refused to give in to the sandpaper on our Dremel.

Four seconds of drilling showed barely visible damage which fairly earned the shoe's heel lining the highest durability score of 5 out of 5!

Lems Trailhead Heel padding durability comparison
Test results
Trailhead 5
Average 3.1
Compared to 13 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel padding durability
5

Outsole hardness

Our durability expectations were now set high for the shoe's Mountain-to-Town outsole. Is it just as hard-wearing as the other hiking outsoles?

Lems Trailhead Outsole hardness

Our Shore C durometer showed a promising result of 80.5 HC. It indicates that the shoe's rubber hardness is within the typical range of trail-ready shoes in our lab.

Test results
Trailhead 80.5 HC
Average 84.5 HC
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
65.0 HC
Outsole hardness
94.1 HC

Outsole durability

We went full force setting the Dremel speed to 10K RPM and extending exposure time to 22 seconds. But the Lems Trailhead kept fighting back with vigour.

The indentation hardly even reached 1 mm! With a tread gauge measurement of 0.7 mm, this outsole proved to be stronger than the industry average.

Lems Trailhead Outsole durability test
Test results
Trailhead 0.7 mm
Average 1.0 mm
Compared to 13 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
0.0 mm
Outsole wear
2.0 mm

Outsole thickness

Using a calliper, we also found that the Trailhead's rubber thickness was slightly above average at 3.0 mm.

Lems Trailhead Outsole thickness

Pair that with 3-mm lugs and you get a solid 6-mm layer of outsole rubber to brave city pavements and moderately challenging trails.

Test results
Trailhead 3.0 mm
Average 2.6 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1.6 mm
Outsole thickness
4.0 mm

Weight

As a brand that promotes minimalist footwear, Lems tends to keep the weight of its shoes to a minimum. And this proves to be true for the Lems Trailhead as well.

Lems Trailhead V2 Weight

Showing 11.9 oz (337g) on our scale, the shoe is almost 1.5 oz lighter than the average. We were happy to see nothing extra about the Trailhead. The simplicity of its design is what appeals to us the most.

Lems Trailhead V2 lightweight

However, we must also mention that the Trailhead is not as light as presented in the brand's official specs. The Lems website states 11.7 oz in a men's US 10 but that can't be true as we got 11.9 oz in a men's US 9 alone.

Test results
Trailhead 11.89 oz (337g)
Average 13.30 oz (377g)
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
6.49 oz (184g)
Weight
17.14 oz (486g)

Cushioning

Heel stack

Because Lems is so strongly associated with barefoot-like shoes, you might think that the Trailhead is rather minimal too.

Especially since the official specs say that the shoe's heel stack is only 21 mm tall.

Lems Trailhead Heel stack

But in reality, the Trailhead sits somewhere in between. Measuring the shoe's stack height in the heel, our calliper showed 27.1 mm. A whole 6 mm thicker than what the brand says!

Sure, it is on the lower side of the hiking shoe spectrum but it is only about 4 mm lower than average. And it is not much lower than the best-selling KEEN Targhee III (29.5 mm).

From our personal experience, the Lems Trailhead provides a decent amount of impact protection for spending several hours on foot. Be it on hard asphalt or softer park trails, we felt sufficiently supported all throughout the wear test.

But if you are used to taller and cushier platforms like Hoka, the Trailhead is going to feel alien.

Test results
Trailhead 27.1 mm
Average 31.1 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
9.9 mm
Heel stack
39.0 mm

Forefoot stack

We came across another discrepancy in the specs when measuring the shoe's forefoot stack.

Instead of the promised 17 mm, our calliper returned an impressive 21.7 mm! That's even a millimetre taller than average!

Lems Trailhead Forefoot stack

This may or may not be good news depending on what kind of underfoot experience you are looking for. If you expect an intimate ground feel, that's not it.

Test results
Trailhead 21.7 mm
Average 20.6 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
10.7 mm
Forefoot stack
31.0 mm

Drop

Given that the stack measurements were off, it is expected that the shoe's heel-to-toe drop would deviate as well.

But the discrepancy is not so bad - we got 5.4 mm instead of the official 4 mm. A vast majority of wearers will not even notice the difference.

Lems Trailhead Drop

We found that the Trailhead still provides that relatively flat positioning of the foot in which the heel is only slightly elevated above the toes. This setup encouraged more engagement in our ankles and Achilles and the landings were less heel-dominant.

Test results
Trailhead 5.4 mm
Average 10.6 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
-0.8 mm
Drop
15.9 mm

Midsole softness

Note: a low durometer measurement equals a soft material, whereas a high measurement means it's firm.

You will not find a soft shoe in the Lems product lineup.

That's because the brand deems plush cushioning as a cause of foot discomfort and even pain! However, we found it to be only partially true in our in-depth research on soft vs. firm cushioning.

Wear-testing the Trailhead, we experienced a moderately firm (but not exactly firm) midsole which had just enough give for shock absorption.

Lems Trailhead Midsole softness

With a durometer measurement of 26.0 HA, the shoe's cushioning is not even firmer than the average of hiking shoes. It sits right in the middle.

Test results
Trailhead 26.0 HA
Average 27.6 HA
We use an average of four tests. The photo shows one of those tests.
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
13.5 HA
Midsole softness (soft to firm)
39.0 HA

Difference in midsole softness in cold

If you plan to use the Trailhead during colder months, you might be pleasantly surprised that this Lems shoe doesn't get much harder in low temperatures.

Lems Trailhead Difference in midsole softness in cold

We repeated the durometer measurement after keeping the shoe in the freezer for 20 minutes and found that its cushioning only got 14.4% firmer.

Test results
Trailhead 14.4%
Average 17.6%
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in midsole softness in cold
100%

Insole thickness

The Trailhead's cushioning setup is completed by a moderately padded insole. Our calliper showed 4.5 mm in the heel which is about a millimetre thinner than the average.

Lems Trailhead Insole thickness

Test results
Trailhead 4.1 mm
Average 5.4 mm
Compared to 19 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
2.6 mm
Insole thickness
8.6 mm

Stability

Lateral stability test

Even though the Lems Trailhead doesn't have any stabilising components, it feels stable on account of its grounded platform.

We believe that the shoe has enough inherent stability for people with flat feet and light-to-moderate overpronation.

Lems Trailhead V2 support

But let's not forget that the Trailhead is more of a sneaker-hiker hybrid. It is not intended for carrying heavy backpacks on tricky terrain. That's why it doesn't have the same amount of stability as a typical hiking shoe.

Torsional rigidity

Because natural foot movement is the cornerstone of Lems shoes, you won't find any plates or stability shanks in the Trailhead.

Our manual test above demonstrates that the shoe is pretty easy to twist compared to the more rugged hikers.

On a stiffness scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is the stiffest, we couldn't rate it any higher than 2.

Test results
Trailhead 2
Average 3.4
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1
Torsional rigidity
5

Heel counter stiffness

We are happy to report that the Lems Trailhead doesn't feel sloppy around the heel. Its rearfoot portion offered enough structure and firmness to keep our heels and ankles securely in place.

Assessing the shoe's heel counter stiffness in our manual test, we gave it a moderate score of 3 out of 5. Not as stiff as the average hiking shoe but solid for a town-to-trail sneaker.

Test results
Trailhead 3
Average 3.6
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1
Heel counter stiffness
5

Midsole width in the forefoot

Looking at the bottom of the Trailhead, we found that its landing area follows the natural width and shape of the foot without protruding too far off on the sides.

Lems Trailhead V2 Midsole width in the forefoot

That's why it doesn't feel as bulky and platformy as a typical hiking shoe.

Measuring its sole in the widest area returned 105.9 mm. which is narrower than the average but on par with a regular medium-width foot.

Test results
Trailhead 105.9 mm
Average 110.1 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
103.0 mm
Midsole width in the forefoot
117.6 mm

Midsole width in the heel

The widest part of the Trailhead's heel showed only 79.8 mm. It is narrower than average, yes, but not enough to compromise stability. We would call it neutral.

Lems Trailhead V2 Midsole width in the heel

Test results
Trailhead 79.8 mm
Average 86.7 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
64.2 mm
Midsole width in the heel
101.6 mm

Flexibility

Stiffness

Due to the lack of stability-boosting components, the Lems Trailhead turns out to be more flexible than a typical hiking shoe.

Let us highlight once again that this shoe feels a lot like a casual sneaker on foot.

Measuring the amount of force it takes to bend this Lems shoe to a 90-degree angle (24.1N), we found that it requires 22% less than average.

Test results
Trailhead 24.1N
Average 29.4N
We use an average of four tests. The video shows one of those tests.
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
1.8N
Stiffness
54.0N

Difference in stiffness in cold

But does it get any stiffer in cold conditions? It does not!

Lems Trailhead V2 Difference in stiffness in cold

After keeping the Trailhead in the freezer for 20 minutes and retaking the force gauge measurement, we found that the difference was only 6.2%! This is way smaller than the average 30%.

Test results
Trailhead 6.2%
Average 29.9%
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
0%
Difference in stiffness in cold
100%

Grip / Traction

Lug depth

Having tested the Lems Trailhead in urban and moderate outdoor scenarios, we can confirm that the shoe's outsole is very adaptable.

Lems Trailhead V2 outsole

With its non-aggressive 3.0 mm lugs, the shoe can seamlessly transition from the pavement to the trail without affecting comfort or grip.

Lems Trailhead V2 Lug depth

The shoe bit onto boulders and moss-covered rocks without a problem. Its multi-directional lugs also kept us surefooted when going downhill.

Lems Trailhead V2 outsole rubber

Test results
Trailhead 3.0 mm
Average 3.9 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
2.1 mm
Lug depth
5.0 mm

Size and fit

Toebox width at the widest part

If you've already worn Lems footwear in the past, you must be expecting plenty of toebox space in the Trailhead.

Lems Trailhead V2 fit

Let us warn you, however, that the Trailhead has a snugger profile than most shoes from the brand. It still follows the natural shape of the foot and has a rounded toebox but it is a little slimmer than silhouettes like the Primal 2.  

Our calliper clearly shows the difference between the two: the Primal 2 has the Widest Natural-Shape Fit (104.6 mm) whereas the Trailhead has the Medium Natural-Shape Fit (98.8 mm).

Lems Trailhead vs Lems Primal toebox

Thus, we cannot recommend the Trailhead to people with wide feet and bunions. We think that these folks would appreciate the Lems Primal Pursuit more (it has the brand's Wide Natural-Shape Fit).

Test results
Trailhead 98.8 mm
Average 100.5 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
94.6 mm
Toebox width at the widest part
107.7 mm

Toebox width at the big toe

We also measured the shoe's toebox width near the big toe and it proved to be just the same as the average at 82.9 mm.

This width is much closer to medium compared to the Primal 2's extra spacious 90.7 mm.

Lems Trailhead V2 Toebox width at the big toe
Test results
Trailhead 82.9 mm
Average 81.7 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
68.8 mm
Toebox width at the big toe
108.6 mm

Tongue: gusset type

The lack of gussets on the tongue always makes us worried about tongue shifting. Unfortunately, we did experience some tongue sliding while wear-testing the Trailhead.

Lems Trailhead V2 Tongue: gusset type

Even though it is a fairly minor issue, it can be very annoying to some people. If that's you, try looking into the Lems Mesa. It has an entirely tongueless bootie upper.

Test results
Trailhead None

Laces

We approve of the wide flat laces used in the Trailhead. They are easy to cinch up and let loose and stay tied in between.

Lems Trailhead V2 laces

An additional eyelet at the top of the collar can be used by people with narrower feet to tighten up the shoe with a runner's knot.

Comfort

Tongue padding

Investigating the Lems Trailhead interiors, we found a rather well-padded tongue. Our calliper showed 9.5 mm of foam thickness which does a great job keeping lace pressure at bay.

Lems Trailhead V2 Tongue padding

There is also a welcome touch of padding around the collar that adds comfort without bulking up the shoe.

Test results
Trailhead 9.5 mm
Average 9.5 mm
Compared to 20 hiking shoes
Number of shoes
5.0 mm
Tongue padding
17.0 mm

Heel tab

There are no pull tabs to assist in getting the shoe on but we found the on-and-off to be fairly easy. The shoe mouth is wide enough and the laces don't require much fiddling. 

Lems Trailhead V2 Heel tab
Test results
Trailhead None

Removable insole

The Lems Trailhead has a pretty nice contoured insole. But if you need a custom orthotic to achieve that fine-tuned support, you can easily replace the stock insert.

Lems Trailhead V2 Removable insole
Test results
Trailhead Yes

Misc

Reflective elements

There are no reflective elements on the Lems Trailhead. Be careful with that zero visibility at night.

Lems Trailhead V2 Reflective elements
Test results
Trailhead No

Vegan materials

Most colorways of the Trailhead use vegan materials in the upper implying that no animal products or byproducts have been used in its production.

Please note that not all colorways of the shoe are vegan:

  • Vegan: Cosmic Blue, Sequoia, Stormy Night and Sage (the colorway in this review) use microfiber overlays.
  • Non-vegan: Desert Khaki and Mercury Sunset use real suede overlays.
Lems Trailhead V2 vegan