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NRS Vibe Review

A very decent all-around kayaking shoe, the Vibe performs well and look good, too.
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Price:  $75 List | $74.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Near-instant drainage, comfortable and supportive, sticky rubber
Cons:  Stiff, difficult to cram insulation in on cold days
Manufacturer:   NRS
By Dan Scott ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Nov 19, 2019
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 9
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Traction - 25% 6
  • Warmth - 15% 5
  • Versatility - 15% 7
  • Sensitivity - 10% 6
  • Durability - 10% 6

Our Verdict

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.


Compare to Similar Products

 
This Product
NRS Vibe
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award  
Price $74.95 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$93.71 at Amazon$79.00 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$54.95 at REI
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$44.95 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Near-instant drainage, comfortable and supportive, sticky rubberExtremely versatile, adjustable, excellent balance of support and flexibilityHigh traction, flexible, snug fit, great drainageComfortable, warm, great traction on wet rockGood traction, very sensitive, sock-like feel, fun to swim in
Cons Stiff, difficult to cram insulation in on cold daysNot the stickiest rubber, not the most durableNot warm, not durableLittle support on rough terrain, no drainageSlip off feet slighty when walking, uncomfortable in rough terrain
Bottom Line A very decent all-around kayaking shoe, the Vibe performs well and look good, too.These shoes are a jack-of-all trades that we feel confident using in practically any sport involving water.These kayaking shoes are top notch for their flexibility and traction, all at a bargain of a price.These water shoes check all the boxes for what we are looking for in a shoe to wear for long days on the river.The Kickers are great for kayaking or swimming, but not protective or secure enough for much else.
Rating Categories NRS Vibe Astral TR1 Junction Astral Loyak NRS Paddle Wetshoe NRS Kicker Remix
Comfort (25%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
5
Traction (25%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
Warmth (15%)
10
0
5
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
Versatility (15%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
6
10
0
3
10
0
3
Sensitivity (10%)
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
9
Durability (10%)
10
0
6
10
0
6
10
0
3
10
0
6
10
0
6
Specs NRS Vibe Astral TR1 Junction Astral Loyak NRS Paddle Wetshoe NRS Kicker Remix
Measured Weight (per pair, in lbs) 1.7 lbs 1.6 lbs 1.1 lbs 1.9 lbs 1.8 lbs
Size Tested (US Men's) 12 13 13 12 12
Drainage Features Side holes, mesh top Front/side holes, top mesh Front/back/side holes, top mesh None None
Removeable Insole No Yes Yes No Insole No Insole
Available Widths Regular Regular Regular Regular Regular
Footwear Closure Lace Lace Lace Zipper Pull-on/elastic synch
Upper Materials 1000D nylon Hydrophobic canvas with TPU Hydrophobic canvas and Airmesh 3 mm neoprene Neoprene
Midsole EVA EVA EVA None None
Outsole Siped Rubber G15 Siped G15 Rubber Rubber
Relative Fit Medium toebox, medium volume midfoot and heel Wide toebox, high volume midfoot and heel Wide toebox, medium volume midfoot and heel Wide toebox, and stretches to accomodate a wide variety of foot shapes Wide toebox, and stretches to accomodate a wide variety of foot shapes

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.

Performance Comparison


We like these shoe in whitewater  although they didn't keep our feet as warm as we'd like.
We like these shoe in whitewater, although they didn't keep our feet as warm as we'd like.

Comfort


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 are almost unique in their ability to literally pump water through the insole and clear out of the shoe.
These shoes are almost unique in their ability to literally pump water through the insole and clear out of the shoe.

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.

Traction


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.

The soft  siped rubber does acceptably well on slick  wet rocks.
The soft, siped rubber does acceptably well on slick, wet rocks.

Warmth


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 Vibes don't provide much warmth on their own  but do alright when crammed with multiple layers of socks inside a drysuit.
The Vibes don't provide much warmth on their own, but do alright when crammed with multiple layers of socks inside a drysuit.

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.

Versatility


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.

Shown here on the right  the NRS Vibes can smoothly transition from boating to hanging out at the bar.
Shown here on the right, the NRS Vibes can smoothly transition from boating to hanging out at the bar.

Sensitivity


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.

The moderately stiff soles on these shoes provide ok proprioception  but aren't as flexible as we'd like.
The moderately stiff soles on these shoes provide ok proprioception, but aren't as flexible as we'd like.

Durability


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.

Our lead tested took the Vibes through a day at an active river restoration construction site  where they held up nicely.
Our lead tested took the Vibes through a day at an active river restoration construction site, where they held up nicely.

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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

Our lead tester likes the affordable  versatile performance the Vibe provides in and out of the water.
Our lead tester likes the affordable, versatile performance the Vibe provides in and out of the water.


Dan Scott