*Like Softstar’s Primal shoes? Check out their new Merry Jane, a primal women’s dress shoe!*
I spend a lot of time in the Minimalist Shoe community, discussing with other foot nerds what’s available and what we’d like to see become available. In these circles, the two complaints about shoes I hear most frequently are “not barefoot enough” and “not stylish enough.”
Of course that means different things to different people, but for those who are most dedicated to natural footwear “not barefoot enough” usually boils down to the toe box. People in this camp want a shoe that resembles the style of a conventional shoe, but modified to fit a natural toe spread. And if you’re someone with a particularly wide forefoot, your natural toe spread isn’t going to fit in most shoes, even those marketed as minimalist shoes.
Softstar shoes has heard this call for “normal” every day shoes that are uncompromising in toe space. Last year they released their Primals, which satisfied those in need of an extra wide athletic shoe. But there was still a need for a dressier version. So Softstar has taken the extra wide toe box of the Primal and merged it with the more conventional look of the Hawthorne. The result is the Sawyer.
Introducing… the Sawyer
The Sawyer is Softstar’s newest shoe, and it comes in 3 colors (black, burgundy, or navy blue with stars). They are for both men and women (hooray!) and can be purchased in a regular or narrow width (mine are regular).
There is no question that these are true barefoot shoes. With a foot-shaped toe box that takes into account splay, laces to keep the shoe secure to your foot, and a thin (8mm altogether) flexible sole, these tick all the boxes.
The Sawyer is made of nubuck, which is a soft brushed leather, similar in texture to suede. It already feels broken in from the beginning and is very comfortable. There is a leather lining on the heel and a synthetic lining on the tongue. The rest of the shoe is unlined, with soft raw leather touching your feet. The insole is also leather, so these are perfect for wearing without socks.
The sole is very flexible and the thickness is just right for cool weather or lots of urban walking. It is on the squishier side, less firm than a brand like Luks or Vivobarefoot. I tend to prefer a slightly thicker, cushier sole, so I’m a big fan of these. They are also very lightweight, which means they don’t flop around at all while I walk. I can wear them all day and not even notice I’m wearing them.
Softstar’s sizing is a little intimidating, since they use a unisex system for all their shoes. You will definitely want to measure according to their instructions and print out the size guide before selecting a size. Softstar also has instructional videos with advice on their website, and they are helpful in answering any questions via e-mail. Getting the right size is always worth it, so a little time spent up front will ensure you get what you want.
After following Softstar’s sizing guide for length and width, and consulting the elves I got a size 5u (Women’s 6). They advised that I was on the smaller side of a 5u, but that is the smallest size they make in their adult shoes. These are indeed on the bigger end of the spectrum for what I like to wear, and if I could go back I would probably get the narrow width. But I can’t complain about the extra space. The laces keep the shoe secure, so it doesn’t compromise the fit, and they are extremely comfortable.
In the winter I’ll be able to add an insole (wool or NorthSole) or wear socks. Since one of the challenges of minimalist footwear is it’s cold in the winter, I’ll probably be grateful for the extra space in a few months.
The Sawyer is $125, making these one of Softstars more affordable shoes, and on par with other brands. Softstar shipping is free on all orders within the US, though you will pay for international shipping. Returns are accepted on unworn shoes within 45 days, but you pay return shipping. See their full return/exchange policy here.
The Sawyer has a turned down collar and textured laces, giving these boots a slight rugged feel. They remind me a little bit of Timberland boots, giving me visions of flannel button downs and thick socks.
Compared with the Luks low shoes that I recently reviewed, the Sawyer is a slightly more casual option while the Luks shoes look more like a traditional dress shoe. Notwithstanding, the Sawyer looks plenty dressy enough in my opinion to wear with slacks to work, which is great news for men who need to dress professionally. Softstar also sells the Hawthorne, which is even dressier, but has a tapered toe box that will not work for some people (and is more expensive).
The extra wide toe box of barefoot shoes is always a challenge style wise. But, a few well chosen pieces go a long way to incorporate the shoes without letting them steal the show. When I have extra bulk at my feet I try to balance it out with something looser/bulkier on top. Fall layers will do the trick, as well as loose button downs, an oversized tee, and a shirt tied around your waist.
Comfort-wise, the Softstar Primal Sawyers are at the top of their game. There’s no toe rubbage, they’re extremely lightweight, and the leather is soft. The rugged look is on trend and the toe box will satisfy even the pickiest of barefoot shoe wearers. With the option of a narrow width and slightly thicker sole, these shoes should work for just about anybody!
16 thoughts on “Softstar Shoes Sawyer Review”
Do you wear same size in the Primal? I have 7u marrow Primals and they fit great. I got a pair of 8 u narrows and they are too big. Thanks!
I don’t know, I’ve never tried the Primal. In fact, this is my first pair of Softstars ever. I would reach out to customer service to see if the sizing is the same as in the Primal RunAmocs.
I just read a review of these over on Bare Steps, she wears a size smaller in her Primals. Hope that helps!
The toebox seems to have a lot of volume. Do you have a low volume forefoot. Debating whether to get the narrow or the regular.
Yes, I have very low volume feet. The toe box has a lot of volume, but I don’t feel like my toes are swimming in them.
Debating on whether to invest in the Sawyers and on what color if I do. I live in So California, so warm weather and jeans are the norm. Anya, what do you think about the Sage color?
I actually really like the sage color! They didn’t have it when I reviewed these, but I think it’s a very nice subtle color. If I were to choose a color today (now that they have more options) I would choose either Sage or Coffee.
Thank you for replying! I have to add, that I’ve been poking around your website, following down links to various brands, and am stunned by the quantity and cuteness of what I see. I had no idea the barefoot minimal shoe “thing” was so big. It’s a privileged position to be in, to have stuck it out with standard boots and shoes for so long in life. You’re a great resource, and I appreciate your input.
Thank you for saying so! You’re right, there is so much out there. It just needs to all be put in one place 🙂
Hello, I did buy the Sawyer, in a Primal Narrow, in Sage, size 6U. Quick notes:
– Extreme comfort, flexibility, and softness in general, reminds me of wearing mocassins. It feels great to get it laced securely against my foot and still have the forefoot comfort.
– Extreme ground feel, even compared to my Xero Aptos and Prima’s. Not a bad thing, just new.
– Size 6U is perfect for my EU 37, US 6.5-7, foot. Just a little room in front of the toes.
– Toe box shape allows for splay in a big way. Different for sure, but again just new to me.
– Nubuck material is beautiful and luxurious, but I must buy protectant spray asap.
– Color is pretty, and more subtle and versatile than green would seem.
– No pressure on my bunion. Maybe that’s part of the liberating feeling I get from them.
I also bought the SoftStar Hawthorne chukka boot, because it was on sale this weekend. It has really nice thicker leather and is re-soleable. They have a dressier feel. Narrower and tighter than the Sawyer, I’m undecided on whether to keep them. It’s been a splurge-y weekend in the name of comfort and foot health.
Hi Vicki, thank you for this feedback! I’m sure it’ll be helpful to future readers. The Hawthorne is known to break in quite well, but that can take some time and effort. Beautiful shoes though! Glad you are happy with your Sawyer purchase.
Hi! Thank you for the update and the meticulous review! This is so helpful.
I was wondering wether the Sawyer could fit also in a cold climate, when there is a bit of icy on the streets…
Hello! Yes, I have worn mine when it was a little icy and they did fine! I did not wear them in real snow or below freezing temps, I don’t think they would work well for that. But a little ice isn’t a problem!
Hi Anya! How did you find the length? We’re they long enough or did the leather stretch to accommodate your longest toe(s)? Do they fit the same as the Primal Mary Janes or are they shorter due to the stitching? I bought the Mary Janes in 6U after I read your review and they fit perfectly, so if the Sawyer is shorter than the Mary Janes, I’ll probably have to size up. BTW I love the Mary Janes, they are so comfortable, so thank you for that review as well as this review!
I just pulled them both out to check and the inner length on both size 5u’s are the same, even though they are constructed differently. So I would get the same size in the Sawyer as you did in the Merry Jane 🙂 They also do stretch, more quickly than the Merry Janes. The top down seam construction in the Sawyer can make it feel shallow over the big toe at first, but the length should be just right.
I will follow your advice. Thank you Anya, you are awesome!