NRS Vibe - Women's Review
Cons: Take a long time to dry, difficult fit when adding layers
Our Analysis and Test Results
The thick insole of the Vibe makes it a comfortable dry-land choice and its siped rubber stuck remarkably well to wet surfaces. It's reminiscent of a street-ready skate shoe but has the performance elements of a kayaking shoe, with instep drainage and a low-volume profile.
With a thick insole, the Vibe was an incredibly comfortable shoe for longer side hikes and scouts where we needed a bit more protection for the soles of our feet and toes. We found them one of the most comfortable shoes to wear with bare feet. They're the perfect sunny-day shoe, with a synthetic interior and padded ankle cuffs. Some of the shoes we tested had uncomfortable seams and less than ideal material overlaps that made for irritation and general discomfort with bare feet. Opposingly, the Vibes were even more comfortable when we removed layers. The EVA Foam in the midsole provided excellent cushion. While this sacrificed a bit of sensitivity, the Vibes made up for it in other metrics.
The shoes stayed snug and comfortable when they became wet during an exceptionally splashy day on the river. Even better, they were just as nice immediately thereafter on a hike through a dry canyon. They drained almost instantaneously, so we were able to jump right out of a creek and onto dry rock without worrying about slipping. The laces and design allowed the shoe to cinch down around the entire foot when tightened; Some other shoes had uneven tightening, which made the heel slip or the arch feel compressed. The lack of heel to toe drop, in addition to creating the skate shoe look, allowed the whole foot to make contact with the ground or boat. This helped with balance and proprioception.
NRS struck a great balance between sticky rubber and siping. This helped them to stick well to the wet tubes of a raft and gave our lead tester confidence descending a slick, smooth surface into a small granite canyon.
While its rubber isn't the stickiest we have tested, it's close, and it performs very well in mud and sand, too. They have one of the deepest lugs of the shoes we tested. Shaped like the state of Idaho, NRS's home base, they make for a cool but rather unnecessary plus while aptly digging into sandy and gravely hikes. With the Vibes, you don't have to choose between support and traction across various surfaces.
The Vibe scores high in versatility, thriving both on and off the water and for a variety of water sports. We felt comfortable wearing these on the river, scrambling around on slippery put-ins and on the raft for the whole day. They were the most comfortable shoe we tested for a day commercially guiding a raft, where we were on our feet for the majority of the day. In our opinion, the skate shoe design makes them trendy for post-trip hanging, a less absurd look with your jeans than a neoprene bootie, for example.
While they wouldn't be a great long-distance hiking shoe due to stiffness and lack of impressive arch support, we found them adequate for shorter excursions and scouts. They're just sensitive enough to use for SUPing. Most importantly for us, they were the ideal all-day shoe, transitioning from sitting on the raft to setting up camp, drying relatively quickly with some sun. They are the heaviest shoe we tested, so if going lightweight for a long, self-supported or international trip, a lighter shoe might be more appealing.
Given its mesh and Cordura construction, the Vibe somewhat lacks in warmth. Like we mentioned above, they're more comfortable with bare feet. Adding a neoprene-clad drysuited foot into them for the 48-degree water of the Colorado River resulted in a bit of huffing and puffing to get them on.
The Vibe is definitely the best shoe for sockless feet out of the bunch, but struggles to provide ample stretch for layers. The feet became cramped and even numb with extra layers due to pinching. While the grippy insole was great for keeping bare feet in place, it made the shoes rather difficult to remove, especially when we needed a wool sock. Sizing up would likely help if you plan on wearing this model with insulating layers on your feet.
The Vibe is constructed with solid materials and stitching, showing only minimal signs of wear and tear. Of all the women's water shoes we tested, this one struck us as having the potential to last the longest.
The thick rubber rand was hearty and protected our toes when our lead tester characteristically stubbed her toes on a rock, a scenario that would usually result in significant cursing; not so with the Vibe. The Cordura nylon showed only mild fraying after heavy use. The seams are double-stitched, a good sign for their longevity. While we didn't notice fraying in the mesh during the test period while boating, hiking, and creek-walking, wear is inevitable. It's possible that a season of jamming the shoe under a raft thwart would present durability issues, for example.
With its thick rubber rand and stiffness, the Vibe was less sensitive than we would have hoped. We struggled to really feel rocks and roots while navigating a scout. For the Vibes, though, it was a tradeoff we were willing to make given its comfort and top-notch durability.
While they're low profile, they do feel slightly bulky. They would fit fine into a kayak, but their thicker rubber rand doesn't provide the flexibility that other models provide. Their stiffness makes it difficult for them to bend over curvature in rafts or logs. Sensitivity is one metric the Vibe could improve upon.
The Vibe wins our award given to the best performance bang per dollar. It's about average in price of the products we tested, but far surpasses more inexpensive models in versatility and durability. While there are more lightweight, kayak-specific shoes in our test bunch, the Vibe will likely outlast them and perform highly in more diverse environments. The Vibe is a well-constructed, comfortable whitewater shoe for a reasonable price.
For a do-it-all whitewater shoe, the women's NRS Vibe checks all the boxes. With above-average traction, comfort, and notable versatility, the Vibe is a solid shoe at a reasonable price. For the boater looking for ultra-sensitive flexible shoes, a neoprene bootie would fit the bill, but for the general whitewater enthusiast who wants shoes that also look good kicking it both on and off the river, go for the Vibe.
— Monica Nigon
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