The NRS Vibe came close to being an award winner. It's comfortable, reasonably sticky, and well-built. With excellent drainage and decent support, it can function well both on whitewater and on land. That said, it just doesn't fully measure up to a few other water shoes we tested in terms of warmth, traction, and sensitivity. For whitewater kayakers or rafters who are looking for something that also works great on short hikes, scouting rapids, or hanging out after a day on the water, these fit the bill. It is especially ideal for someone who likes other, similar kayaking shoes but is looking for something with a slightly lower volume fit.
NRS Vibe Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Near-instant drainage, comfortable and supportive, sticky rubber
Cons: Stiff, difficult to cram insulation in on cold days
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Vibe looks like a skate shoe but has the design elements of a low-cut kayaking shoe. A thick insole and good drainage make it supportive and comfortable on land, and its siped rubber outsole does well on slick, wet rock, an essential quality for making scouting or portaging easier.
The Vibe features a thick footbed, padded ankle cuff, and a smooth synthetic interior that is largely free of potentially irritating seams. This makes them comfortable on bare feet, even on longer walks.
We loved how well these shoes drained. While drainage isn't incredibly important on the water, these shoes literally pump water out as you walk. This isn't just effective at moving water out of the shoe; it's actually pretty fun.
These shoes, similar to other kayaking shoes, have little to no heel-to-toe drop. This can improve the connection between the feet and a boat while paddling, but some might prefer a more traditional shoe for walking.
With a siped rubber tread, we were really hopeful with regards to the Vibe's traction. Unfortunately, they didn't quite measure up to comparable kayaking shoes or canyoneering boots in terms of traction on slick, wet rock. While certainly a cut above most water shoes, and probably good enough for most purposes, we never felt quite as secure in these as we wished.
The tread pattern is more or less comprised of a bunch of interlocking outlines of the state of Idaho, a cool gesture, but one that doesn't seem to really get as much rubber on the rock as other shoes. The sharply angled lugs did dig in well on soft surfaces like mud and dirt, however, despite not being very thick.
Made largely of Cordura and mesh, water flows through these shoes with ease, and they provide little warmth on their own. To be effective in cold climates, kayaking shoes need to allow you to stuff a bunch of insulation around your feet, then cram your feet into the shoe.
When we tried stuffing our feet in these while wearing a thick wool sock under our drysuit socks and a thin sock over that, we found that our feet didn't easily slide into the shoe. The EVA foam footbed is slightly tacky and makes it somewhat of a pain to get a lot of insulation in these shoes. This footbed is also non-removable, so don't expect to be able to open up these shoes for more insulation by removing the footbed (at least not without having to scrape off a lot of glue).
The lacing system is well-designed to allow a lot of adjustability in the midfoot, which is very helpful for adding insulation. However, these shoes lack the wide toebox of other kayaking shoes that provides space for your toes to wiggle even with a lot of insulation.
These are a nicely versatile shoe. With decent performance both on and off the water, we found a lot of uses for these shoes. They don't have the flexibility or fit to make them great for long hikes in wet conditions, but they can certainly perform acceptably. On raft trips, these would be just as great in camp as on the boat due to their fast drainage and comfortable materials.
With solid, modern styling, we felt fine wearing these around town and even to work. Sometimes it's nice to be able to have one pair of shoes for whitewater and hanging out afterward.
With a rubber rand around the entire shoe and relatively thick stack height, these shoes provide a lot of support and stiffness but aren't quite as flexible as comparable kayaking shoes. The flat soles help with proprioception, but these shoes prioritize protection over sensitivity.
In the water, these shoes feel slightly bulky on the feet compared to booties or other low-profile kayaking shoes. That said, they don't provide much drag when wading and are perfectly fine to swim in when you have to due to their low cut.
We liked the thick rubber rand and thick, Cordura nylon uppers on these shoes. The mesh is a weak point, but is unlikely to see as much abrasion as the sides of the shoe, which are reinforced with a second layer of rubber rand in the front of the shoe.
All of the seams are double-stitched, but we did notice a few seams coming slightly loose after our test period. All of the seams have lips that face forward on these shoes. That might not seem like a big deal, but shoes tend to move forward, and this seam construction seems prone to catching.
While there are much burlier shoes out there now for canyoneering, we can't help but mention the Vibe's resemblance to the venerable Dunlop Volley, an old favorite of Australian Canyoneers. Our testing period wasn't long enough to push the rubber rand and Cordura to failure, but we wouldn't be surprised if they held up alright in some rough conditions.
Similar to many NRS products, these are a great pair of shoes for a bargain price. They miss the mark in a few key areas compared to slightly higher-priced shoes but still provide a great deal for a versatile water shoe. If you're looking for a shoe purely for whitewater boating, you can find higher-performing booties for a lower price. However, we think the versatility of these shoes will get you much more use out of them and is worth the slightly higher cost.
A kayaking shoe that looks very much like a skate shoe, the NRS Vibe provide decent comfort, traction, and versatility. While failing to rise to the top in any particular aspect of our testing, they proved to be a great all-arounder — working well for whitewater boating or walking along a river as well as just hanging out.
— Dan Scott