Xero Shoes Zelen Review – My Experience with the Eco-Friendly Barefoot Shoe

By Alin Ciocan | December 15, 2023

Xero Shoes Zelen black

The Xero Shoes Zelen is a lightweight, flexible running shoe that keeps your feet cool and comfortable even on long summer runs.
Its breathable knit upper and smooth sock liner provide a roomy, airy environment for happy feet. And with its durable sole made from recycled materials, the eco-conscious Zelen lets you log miles while also feeling good about your footprint.

EU Store

Reviewed at $129.99, currently on clearance in the EU ($50)

Barefoot Comfort




Style / Design




Last Updated on April 23, 2024

BareTread is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you.

Xero Shoes Zelen: A Common Sense Review

Xero Shoes makes bold claims about their newer Zelen model being a barefoot killer born from recycled materials. In my tests for BareTread, I took a close look at whether this lightweight minimalist running shoe allows the foot to move freely while still protecting it from the elements.

The Zelen features a breathable knit upper and flexible 5mm FeelTrue outsole, intended to provide a natural barefoot feel. I examined key promises like the roomy toe box enabling natural toe splay and I rigorously tested its eco-friendly construction by logging miles on roads, trails, and tracks.

Does this sustainable shoe live up to athlete expectations while meeting environmental goals?

Pros and Cons


Breathable knit upper keeps feet cool, brilliant in the summer heat

Made from recycled and sustainable materials

Stylish look works for athletic and casual wear, great everyday barefoot shoe

Lightweight (7.9oz for men’s, 6.5oz for women’s), makes for a breezy feeling

Roomy toe box allows natural toe splay, not the widest but wide enough for 99% of people


The light and breathable upper can be susceptible to durability issues

It’s amongst the newer models, the $129.99 price is at the higher end compared to similar Xero models

Newer and therefore has a Higher Price Point: At $129.99, it’s pricier than similar Xero models.

Limited color options, comes in just 2-3 basic colors for Men and 2-3 more colorful options for women.

First Impressions: Stylish and Sleek

My review model Xero Shoes Zelen

Right out of the box I was impressed by how darn good these shoes look! None of that ugly toe shoes vibe, but instead a really slick and modern silhouette.

They use various recycled textiles like fishing nets and plastic bottles in the upper, but blend them seamlessly together. I also appreciate how they kept the overall design simple and fuss-free.

Xero Shoes Zelen Black in Box

The men’s Triple Black colorway I chose fits into both athleisure outfits for post-workout beers or even dressed up in casual work attire. Plus the subtle accents give it an athletic allure but aren’t overbearing. Big aesthetic win in my book!

Barefoot Bliss: Roomy Toes and Flexible Soles

Of course aesthetics mean nothing if the comfort and performance fails to deliver. I’m thrilled to report the Zelen checks off all my must-have barefoot boxes!

It starts with the wide toe box area that graciously allows your feet to relax and engage naturally. As an avid barefooter, lack of ample wiggle room is a deal breaker for me! It isn’t the widest of models yet I felt zero constriction when toeing off.

Xero Shoes Zelen toebox black

The front end flexibility also approves forefoot flexing and stability during each stride. The 5mm FeelTrue sole underfoot strikes that magical balance between ground connection and abrasion protection across concrete or asphalt.

Meanwhile the 5mm Outsole sole permits your feet’s natural movements rather than forcing an unnatural motion. That intuitive adaptability prevents pain or injury when you’re cranking out mile after mile.

Breathably Cool: Marvelous Mesh and Knits

One of my big pet peeves around “eco-friendly” gear is it often prioritizes sustainable materials over performance features. But the Zelen breaks that mold with its incredibly airy recycled upper!

It utilizes a high-tech knit mesh constructed from about 25 recycled plastic bottles. Don’t let that recycled part fool you… this advanced textile breathes phenomenally well to keep your feet cool even on hot asphalt.

zelen breathable

Strategically placed micro-ports along the midsole also promote outstanding ventilation across long distances. The adjustable strap lets you fine tune the overall snugness for customized support.

Huge kudos to Xero’s designers for incorporating such technical elements into the recycled fabrics without compromising eco-integrity. Consider me mega impressed!

Surprisingly Durable: Rubber Lugs and Toe Bumper

The sustainable concept often worries me about long-term durability, especially in the high-abrasion zones. But Xero wisely focused reinforcement in key areas to optimize longevity.

Their proprietary rubber lug formulation proves impressively grippy and rugged even along harsh urban terrain. Strategically placed pods map to typical strike zones without sacrificing flexibility like some “barefoot” shoes plagued by overbuilt soles.

I also appreciated the extra toe bumper wrap integrated subtly into the exterior knit. After a couple of hundred miles so far, it’s kept my clumsy kicks scuff-free through errant stubs and kicks. For a recycled upper, it’s holding up fabulously.

Xero Shoes Zelen black top view

Based on my initial testing, I don’t foresee needing to replace these for at least a few hundred miles if not more. Color me shocked by the durability from recycled materials!

Versatile Performer: Beyond Just Running

While designed specifically with road running in mind, the Zelen handles so much more in its stride. I took this energizing kick for a spin through various activities beyond pavement pounding:

  • Breezy trail hiking
  • Low-impact training sessions
  • All-day wear around town
  • Lightweight travel companion

The glove-like fit and structured heel worked wonderfully hiking through grassy meadows and dirt paths for an afternoon nature reset.

xero shoes zelen trails grass
Zelen are good choice for hiking

For recovery workout days, the balanced cushioning absorbs impact during short jogging intervals while the roomy platform encourages proper mechanics when activating glutes and core.

Even wearing casually around my neighborhood, the sleek recycled knit upper and tire-tread inspired outsole turns heads with its environmentally-conscious kicks swag.

I don’t anticipate lugging these light 6.5 oz shoes through intense trails or aggressive technical terrain. But beyond that, it tackles everything from daily active living to globe trotting remarkably well!

Final Verdict: A Glimpse Into the Sustainable Future

In my years running in minimalist footwear, I can’t recall another model garnering such an overwhelmingly positive response as the Xero Shoes Zelen. It melds performance and sustainability in ways I’ve yet to experience from a major footwear brand.

Xero Shoes Zelen Tire Mark pattern

They clearly poured immense strategic design thinking into how recycled components can perform on par or better compared with virgin plastic models. Call me thoroughly impressed by this revolutionary green feat!

While the $129 price tag exceeds typical budget shoes, I believe the Zelen justifies every penny through its milestone marriage of environmental ethics and running function. Beyond the feel-good factor, it simply outruns the competition anchored down by dated manufacturing norms.


For eco-runners demanding zero compromises, this cutting-edge kick ushers in the next generation of sustainable barefoot performance. I for one welcome our environmentally-conscious overlords! The revolution clearly won’t be motorized, but instead fueled by fleet feet flying forward in the Zelen.