Vans is one of the few sneaker companies for which it seems like innovation isn’t even necessary. The brand’s early roster of kicks — consisting of the Authentic, Era, Old Skool, Sk8-Hi, and Slip-On — are a master class in timeless style and are surprisingly comfortable today for their decades-old, rudimentary construction.
If all Vans did was continue to trot out those five sneakers as is, there would still be a massive audience for the simple sneakers made out of canvas and rubber. Attempting to update any one of them, in fact, is a risky endeavor. Change it too much and there goes the goodwill generated across generations. Change it too little and, well, why even bother adopting the new version?
Progressing forward could be just as perilous as remaining too comfortable, and it’s within this context that Vans has released the UltraRange EXO. The brand-new sneaker is instantly recognizable as successor to the Old Skool, with the same Jazz Stripe and similar lines at both the heel and toe. Everything else, however, is different. No canvas or suede for the upper, a sole made with foam instead of rubber alone and without the trademark waffle tread. And just wait until you pick the sneaker up and feel how light it is.
When I first saw the UltraRange EXO online, I was as skeptical as many of us tend to be when it comes to change. That doubt began to diminish as soon as I had a pair in-hand and disappeared entirely as soon as I wore them. The shoe brings a serious upgrade in comfort where I wasn’t even looking for one, and yet it’s still rooted enough in the past to feel like wearing one of the classics.
The only place you’ll find stitching on UltraRange EXO’s is on the pull tabs on the heel and tongue. Everything else has been fused together using what Vans calls RapidWeld technology, and it’s remarkable how each step does indeed create the feeling that you’re walking in a single unit. For as light as the synthetic upper is, it’s also incredibly strong and locks down your foot well. One of the issues with featherweight sneakers is a fear that you could roll your ankles at any minute, but the UltraRange EXO keeps your foot firmly in place.
Down low, replacing the vulcanized rubber we’ve become accustomed to, is a midsole that combines Vans’ UltraCush Lite cushioning with a rubber toe. Vans has previously used ComfyCush foam in its older models without changing anything else, and if you’ve worn them you already know how much of an improvement the new technology is. Now that the lightweight foam is in an entirely new sneaker surrounded by more innovation, you’ve got a complete package of comfort and security in shoe that weighs just 8.9 ounces a pop.
Vans’ iconic waffle outsole isn’t entirely gone, but instead replaced by an inverted panel of rubber with a more varied shape. The grip is great, although likely more suited for everyday wear than it is for skating. The UltraRange EXO is being billed as a lifestyle shoe, and wearing it with that in mind won’t leave you disappointed. It’s comfortable enough to rock all day and so light you may even forget it’s there.
The new tech also makes for a different appearance, particularly in the carbon-fiber-inspired checkerboard print that makes up the majority of the upper. In my experience, it looks better with shorts or more technically oriented pants than it does jeans or trousers. Still, it’s fairly versatile — and at $90 a pair it’s also cheaper than comparable lightweight and pillowy sneakers.
Vans took the risk of upgrading its Old Skool, but there’s no reason to be afraid of adopting it for yourself.