Saturday, May 02, 2020

Deckers Labs X-Scape NBK Low Review: Genuinely Cool & Totally Useful

Article by Dominique Winebaum, Kathleen Valadez,and Michael Ellenberger


Deckers Labs X-Scape NBK Low ($160)


Introduction

Dominique: Walking has become one of my favorite outlets during this coronavirus pandemic while keeping up with my running.  Week 6 under stay-at-home orders, I was excited to receive a pair of walking shoes from Deckers Labs -- the Labs X-Scape NBK Low. 

In lieu of my running shoes, trail shoes, or hiking boots, I now lace up my X-Scape before heading for my daily walk in the neighborhood.  



Until this review, I was unaware that Deckers Outdoor had bought Hoka One One in April 2013, with Jean-Luc Diard co-founder of Hoka, at the helm of Deckers Labs; an offshoot committed to deliver “best-in-class dynamic comfort, elevated performance, and better products for a better planet.”  The shoes are made in a factory that supports women in the Deckers supply chain with the help of HERproject, a collaborative initiative that creates partnerships with brands to empower and educate women in the workplace.


Deckers Labs products are designed for a wide range of athletes that fall beyond the category of walkers and also includes break dancers, free runners, and gymnasts. 

They come in a wide variety of colors and styles.

For me, the X-Scape is a high performance shoe with a maximalist approach to comfort that is enhancing my walking experience. 

A high performance sneaker with a price point of $160, the X-Scape is designed with luxurious materials, such as nubuck leather for the exterior and looped wool for the interior, as well as high tech features to empower your workout.  Underfoot dimensions (in like manner to skis) are printed on the outer midsole - W 108mm - 73mm - 92mm -  respectively corresponding to the width of the heel, midfoot, and toe.  


Michael: I’ve been fortunate to test a lot of running shoes for RoadTrailRun.com so far, in various shapes and colors and styles... but nothing quite like the new Deckers Lab X-Scape Low! Deckers (parent company of Hoka One One, among others such as Teva and Uggs) has branched into fashion-oriented, technology-packed super shoes with their X-line, and when Sam asked if we wanted to test the new X-Scape, I said…. Eh?


No, seriously - I didn’t know anything about Decker’s innovative new line, and truthfully was skeptical of the whole look of the shoes at first… but after more than a week of wearing these out and about - around town (safely!), with Waffles (our new corgi-husky rescue pup!), to pick up groceries and dinners, and more - I’m sold. The price point is high, the look takes some getting used to, but the product is awesome


Kathleen: Like the others, I had not heard of Deckers Labs (or Deckers, period) when this shoe was pitched to me - but the X-Scape is a really appealing option (especially since we just recently adopted a dog named Waffles, and thus will be outside for more than just running), and I was excited to try. 

The pictures online aren’t necessarily indicative of what’s in the box - it won’t appeal to everyone, by any means, but it’s on trend for 2020, and certainly a fun accessory to add. Plus, the quality of the materials out of the box are top-notch, and it's immediately perceptible as a high-end, quality trainer. Nice, considering the sticker price.

Pros:

Dominique

High performance shoe that is super cushiony and comfortable with a high drop (9mm). 

The tongue is reinforced with an internal H brace creating a super secure fit.

Lycra vamp provides comfortable environment for the toes.    

Trendy looking and made with durable and high quality materials. 

Versatile sneakers with a luxurious feel that sports comfort. 


Michael

High-quality materials really stand out

Something for everyone; runners will appreciate the fit and bounce


Kathleen

Materials are top-notch

Durability and ability to wear in all sorts of settings

Trendy! Looks better on-foot than online or in-box

Cons:

Dominique

More a cool weather shoe than a hot weather shoe in my opinion.  

Pricey purchase. 


Michael

Agreed with Dominique - this shoe runs very warm

Polarizing looks (especially in non-white colors)

Heavy!


Kathleen

Hot, especially with the wool footbed

Pricey

Too chunky for any real running

Run slightly long (half size)



First Impressions and Fit

Dominique: This is my first introduction to Deckers Labs shoes as well as to wearing walking shoes that perform like running shoes, feel like sleepers, and look super trendy.  Deckers Labs shoes have catchy designs and color patterns that fall into the category of “hipster” fashion, however, the model X-Scape NBK Low I selected in “Skyway-Cashmera Blue” is perfect for my senior feet -- both the fit and the look!  It is a versatile sneaker that can be treated as a high fashion piece while sporting comfort or be worn to play hard or just for walking.  

The fit is true to size and the lacing system keeps feet in place and well secured.  With the high performance of a running shoe and the comfort of a slipper, the X-Scape provides plenty of support and absorb the impact of each walking stride.  

Designed with a distinctively wide and square heel that is super cushioned, striking my heel on the pavement has never felt so good and secure.   


Michael: Like Dominique (and I imagine most readers!), I had never worn or even heard of Deckers Labs, or the X Line of shoes. Their philosophy is simple - take the DNA of their running and sport-based products, combine it with the traits of comfort and fashion shoes, and create something new altogether. “THIS+THAT = SOMETHING TOTALLY NEW,” the website proclaims. In that vein, Decker pitches the X-Scape NBK Low as a “performance running shoe, the classical sneaker and your coziest slipper - all in one shoe,” and that sounds pretty good to me. Because the light grey/white model was all they had in my size (though the black would probably be my first choice), I picked up a pair and hit the streets.


And at first pass - well, if you’re coming from a running shoe, the first thing you’ll notice is that the X-Scape NBK Low is pretty heavy. The second thing you’ll notice is that it is one comfortable shoe. Seriously, I went true-to-size in my running shoe size (I normally wear a half to whole size smaller in leather dress shoes), and found that about right. In some ways, these feel like running shoes - they have some bounce, and the footbed isn’t altogether unfamiliar - but they’re also so plush. 


Kathleen: My genuine first impression was that the shoe felt a little too long; I ordered my normal running size (8.5) but I think that for a casual or walking shoe, an 8.0 might have done better. Once laced up snugly, it wasn't an issue. 

The X-Scape is wide, though - not in the upper, but in the mid- and outsole, and that makes it largely unlike what I’m used to running in. That said, there are some shared similarities with the wide and stable platform of Nike’s React Infinity, which is my current everyday trainer. I also preferred how it looked on the move, with the trendy “chunk” of the midsole, compared to what was pitched online. Not bad!


Upper

Dominique: The upper is made with nubuck leather which is a type of leather that has a velvet-like finish, similar to suede, however, is more durable and long lasting.  Nubuck is made from the outside of an animal hide which is sanded or buffed and will not weather like suede. 

The front and center of the shoe’s upper has a lycra vamp, which is an extension of the tongue.  Made with soft and stretchy material, the lycra vamp provides extra wiggle room for the toes alleviating foot swelling.  

Nubuck leather is breathable, however, it is a denser and thicker material than a nylon mesh or knit upper, which can lead to sweaty feet when walking a lot.  

To improve ventilation, thirty holes + eight smaller ones, are spread evenly along the sides of the foot, allowing for air to circulate to prevent feet from over heating. Yet, my preference is to wear my X-Scape NBK Low in cooler weather as my feet tend to overheat easily.  I would rate the shoe as having adequate breathability but not optimal.  The shoelace system is reinforced with an internal H brace support providing a super comfortable and secure midfoot fit.  

For a super cozy feel, the inside of the shoe is lined with looped wool in the middle section of the tongue and the back of the heel as well under the arch of one of the midsoles. 


One of the two insoles provided is a thick and bouncy PU foam with up top looped wool and soft leather. Notice how my toes have formed to foam 


The second insole is a similar PU foam but with a more conventional run shoe top sheet that is slightly softer and bouncier than the wool topped one and definitely cooler. 

Michael: The upper on all of the colorways is different from the midsole, which creates a nice contrasting appearance, though in the light grey/white mode, it is a subtle difference. 

Up close, you’ll see that the X-Scape upper is a paneled nubuck leather - much softer and more supple than you’d find on a dress loafer, and more casual, too. 


On the medial side, there’s a contrasting stripe (in the leather), too.

But man, it’s comfortable! Even across several walks and jogs of more than an hour, I didn’t find the upper to be uncomfortable or irritating - with the notable exception that it is, with a leather top and (fortunately removable) wool inset, quite warm. Setting that aside for a moment, I think the combination of running-grade midsole, smooth leather upper, and wool tongue and heel make this one of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. I’m a die-hard Allbirds fan, when I’m not in dress or running shoes, but I have to admit - those wool uppers can be really hot, and the ankle collars can be irritating. In the X-Scape, I didn’t notice any hotspots or irritation points whatsoever.


But let’s come back to that insole. Deckers sent us a couple options to play with (standard), and while the wool over equally plush PU foam version may be the most comfortable and you can see in the picture above how it molds to toes with use , it’s also quite warm. Even on a (very pleasant) 60 degree spring day, I noticed that my feet were warmer than they would be in, say, a Nike Pegasus.  Swapping out the insoles did help substantially, but there’s still some wool here that means these might not be your first choice when it’s 90 degrees fahrenheit! 

Kathleen: Like Michael, I got the light grey and white model, because I liked the clean aesthetic. And in fact, I think the X-Scape looks quite good in white; the leather and midsole are similar but distinct, and the appearance (while chunky!) is quite good. It’s also - more importantly - a very comfortable shoe. The heel is thick and padded, and with the looped wool interior and sockliner, it really does feel like a slipper. 

From top-down, it has some old-school vibes to it, which isn’t a bad thing - but in a much more comfortable platform than, say, Vans or Chucks. The wool, as Dominique and Michael noted, can be quite warm, though with light socks I didn’t find it to be a problem,


Midsole

Dominique

Specs: Xponent HD midsole: Ultralight PU foam wrapped in protective TPU. 

Some terminology regarding the midsole:  

TPU” stands for “thermoplastic polyurethane” combined with a midsole of PU “polyurethane” -- thus “Ultralight PU foam wrapped in protective TPU.  

In terms of performance, TPU has excellent abrasion resistance and slip resistance while being durable. 


With a 15-24 stack height and broad platform the midsole is super cushiony. In fact, and in a nod to Jean Luc the founder’s background as not only a shoe innovator but involved in ski design so in like fashion to skis, the “tip, waist, and tail” dimensions are called out on the midsole, a first in a performance shoe in our experience and kind of cool.

 


My Head Great Joy soft snow skis have tip, waist, tail measurements of 141-98-124 so the X Scape is mighty broad on the ground for a mere shoe! The men’s shown right below has a wider  on the ground geometry of 120-83-104 than the women’s shown above and below left  at 108-74-92.

In addition, two different types of sock liners, which are made of PU max cushion and memory foam, add to the stack height and cushiony feel.  In particular, the looped wool thermoregulation sockliner is incredibly plush but a bit warm for summer walking.


Michael: Surprisingly, this was another standout. Without reading the spec sheet beforehand, I had expected this to be more Chuck Taylor than Clifton 6. In fact, it’s very much the opposite. The midsole here is squishy - poke it on the medial side with your finger, and you’ll see - but firm enough underfoot that there wasn’t any instability, even when testing with some light jogging. 


Deckers says this is an “Xponent HD midsole” (you’ll be seeing that “X” moniker a lot here - even on the heel element of the midsole), with an ultralight polyurethane foam wrapped in a durable TPU layer. Dedicated runners and followers will appreciate that, but for those not so hip to the lingo, it means Decker has paired a lightweight, springy (and quite pliable) material and wrapped it in a more durable and firm layer, vaguely reminiscent of something like Adidas Boost. 

Kathleen: This shoe has a bounce! The X-Scape is very cushiony and very bouncy (you can see it in the stack height) and while it does come at the expense of bulk… it does feel like walking on clouds. Okay, maybe that phrase is overused, but the X-Scape is considerably bouncier underfoot than some of my recent running trainers like the Nike Epic React or React Infinity Run. I didn’t do a lot of running in these, but I did make an effort to test them not only at dog-walking pace but at a jog - the bounce is there, but it’s held back a bit by the weight, and I wouldn’t reach for these when going running, unless I knew I was going to be standing in them afterwards. Comfort has a cost, and that cost is weight.


Outsole

Dominique: The outsole is made with an ultra-thin, high-abrasion rubber that is perfect for walking on pavement.  

After over 30 miles of pavement walking I notice that some of the thinner layer of material has worn off some of the gray lugs but the rubber itself is intact as are the firmer more blue green lugs which have no apparent layer on top of them.  A versatile shoe, the X-Scape is designed with a wider and square heel allowing for a safer landing, especially when free running.  The rubber is structured in a honeycomb pattern with maximum shock absorbency in key places, such as the heel and the forefoot.  

Michael: I can appreciate a grippy shoe, and the X-Scape certainly delivers. This is a wiiiiiide platform, but it doesn’t feel unwieldy or awkward. Deckers says the platform can provide for stability when free running (parkour) - something I most certainly did not attempt, but it is one of the more plucky shoes I’ve tested. I hope this outsole makes its way onto some running shoes in the near future.

Kathleen: We were “fortunate” enough to test these in both dry and (very!) wet conditions, and the X-Scape holds up to both. I think most users - especially those used to running shoes - will notice the wide base of the shoe. It’s not totally different from the React Infinity Run (which has the widest base of any running shoe I’ve tried) but it’s unlike most modern trainers. Past that, though, the outsole is first and foremost functional! It’s grippy and comfortable - no squeaks or clomps, which you don’t want in an all-around shoe - and there’s really not much to complain about.


Ride

Dominique: I love the super cushiony feel of walking in my X-Scape. The design of the shoe, with its high drop (9mm) and wide and square heel, encourages heel striking versus a forefoot strike.  


In addition to the padded heel collar, the shoe features an Achilles tendon protector, which creates a super snug fit around the heel and reduces stress.  

The fit is optimal and super plush, which favorably impacts the ride as the feet are well padded and extremely secure.  Great energy return and super steady with each strike of the feet.   

Michael: I mentioned this in the “Midsole” section, above, but I was genuinely (and pleasantly) surprised at just how springy and responsive-feeling the X-Scape is. No, the overall underfoot feel is not like a running performance trainer - the relative stiffness and lack of any scoring or grooves to the outsole make sure of that - but it is the sort of shoe that gives you a positive, bounce-back feeling, especially when your stride rate increases. At the finger-touch level, the midsole feels vaguely gelatinous - not dissimilar from a Nike ZoomX material, but even more nebulous and squishy. That sensation isn’t present underfoot. What you get instead is a really fun, nearing-bounce-house level ride that - in combination with the comfortable and locked-in upper - makes for an enjoyable performer.


Kathleen: It’s hard to evaluate the ride in view of Deckers Labs’s listing of the X-Scape as part “running shoe,” because I can’t really imagine logging any serious miles in this. But as a shoe with running shoe “parts” - namely that top-line midsole - I think they’ve done quite well. You’ll definitely feel the bulk of the midsole here - it’s chunky (or “chonky”), and you’ll notice that right away. But for walking, light jogging, and just all around wearability, I think that only serves to improve the platform. Even though you’re elevated relatively highly due to the stack height, there’s no instability. In a normal walking gait, I certainly felt some of that spring come through when pushing off, and it’s more than cushioned enough for my frame on the landing. As far as comparisons go, it’s closest to a high-stack Hoka trainer - with a hint of that Nike Pegasus Turbo 2 “squish” underfoot. Just don’t expect this to feel like a racing flat (or even a mid-weight trainer) underfoot. That heft is noticeable. 

Conclusions and Recommendations

Dominique: As a runner who is devoting more time to walking, I truly appreciate having a pair of high performance walking shoes, which by the way, are not designed exclusively for walking, but also for free running, break dancing, and activities that include acrobatics in the street. The Labs X-Scape NBK Low are not slip-on shoes, requiring some attention in tying the shoelaces, which are quite long, for an optimal and secure fit that is not too tight.  Also, the lycra vamp needs to be pulled up in order to eliminate any fold in the upper.  After those few necessary adjustments, which are part of my prep-walk routine, I am good to go on my daily three-mile walk in the neighborhood.  As I am walking 20 miles weekly, and this in addition to running the same amount, the total double my usual mileage, wearing a high performance shoe like the X-Scape which is super cushioned with a perfect and secure fit, has enhanced my walking experience and increased my mileage!  A sneaker designed for street acrobatics, it is also a great choice for walking on pavement.  My only concerns are that the shoes are a bit heavy and warm for summer walking and its price point of $160. This said the craftsmanship and performance is top notch!

Dominique’s Score: 9/10


Michael: It’s hard to pitch a shoe as a comfort shoe, a fashion shoe, and an athletic shoe. Make that a running shoe, and it’s damn near impossible. And while I don’t think many runners are going to be logging 100 mile weeks in the X-Scape anytime soon, I do think the X-Scape is a shoe that runners can find use for - and, more importantly for Deckers, a shoe that should see some broad appeal. Because the X-Scape, despite my first inklings when seeing it online, is actually a genuinely cool and useful shoe. No one necessarily needs a go-to dog walking shoe, but if there was one, it’d be this: it’s comfortable, it looks the part, it’s springy - and if you had to get up to chase a greyhound, you could do it. 

Michael’s Score: 8.8/10


Kathleen: I was pleasantly surprised in the X-Scape, all told. If it was lighter, it might truly check all 3 of the promised boxes (“performance running shoe, the classical sneaker and your coziest slipper”), but then again - who wants their slipper to also be their everyday trainer? Blending the three styles into one comfortable - and even fashionable! - shoe is really very impressive. As the summer months come around, I’ll likely swap out the wool footbed for one of the also-provided foam models, but that change should make this a year-round option for dog-walking, errand-running, and everyday comfort. At $160, Dominique is right - the price is quite high, and from a brand like Decker’s (that I didn’t previously know), it may be hard to woo customers. But this is a strong first step, and I look forward to future offerings in the line. 

Kathleen’s Score: 8.5/10.


Shop for the X-Scape NBK Low and other Deckers Lab Shoes at the Lab HERE


Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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1 comment:

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