Out of all the successful collaborations that New Balance enjoyed as part of a major resurgence last year, the coolest (and most slept on) was its Niobium Concept 1 launched with Snow Peak through its Tokyo Design Studio. The three-in-one shoe could serve as a waterproof hiking boot, mule, and slipper through a simple system of zippers and inserts.
With its versatility, performance outdoors, and sheer fun factor, the Niobium Concept 1 was my favorite shoe of 2020. New Balances experimental TDS offshoot, while still relatively small and focused on footwear, is a legitimate creative competitor to Nike ACG. And with this summer’s release of the sandal successor Niobium Concept 2, Tokyo Design Studio proves it has plenty more ideas to grab your attention.
The Niobium Concept 2, which one again debuted in collaboration with Snow Peak, is both a sneaker and mule thanks to removable strap. While shoe’s transformation isn’t as extreme as its predecessor, it still packs a wow factor to match its utility for hiking. The core design element is a pair of magnetic Fidlock buckles on each shoe that open with a pull of a string. Down low is a treated outsole from Vibram, the common component for much of the leading outdoor footwear.
All together, these components make for a sandal that’s remarkably easy to put on and take off and will hold up well in hikes that don’t require boots. Even in mule form, the Niobium Concept 2 is exceptionally secure. No matter how you wear it, you won’t be sliding out or have to grip with your toes.
An addiction forms — Since getting a pair of the Snow Peak Niobium Concept 2s a few weeks ago, it’s been hard to wear anything else. When in full sandal model, it’s easy to slip in and out of without having to undo the buckles — which has made it my go-to for running errands near and far. I’ve also worn it all day and have been blown away by how good it is for my stride and how much more comfortable it is than many of my sneakers.
The Niobium Concept 2 feels secure enough to wear well away from home.
My only complaint is that removing the heel strap or putting it back on can be a pain in the ass. The thickness of the end pieces make it difficult to squeeze into the rings and has led me to leaving them on after the one time I wore them as mules. Given the simplicity of the reconfiguration and how quickly you could transform the Niobium Concept 2, it’s a little disappointing going from sandal to mule or vice versa isn’t quicker. But when left alone, the shoe is otherwise perfect.
I only spent one day with the shoe in mule mode, and that’s when the straps came in handing. Tightening them is done just by pulling on the ripstop cord, and they hug the top of your feet well enough to keep your feet firmly in place. As much as I’ve loved the mule trend, wearing them can feel overly laborious as you struggle to prevent them from slipping off your feet, but the Niobium Concept 2 feels secure enough to wear well away from home.
Just like its predecessor, New Balance has followed up its collaboration with the Japanese outdoor brand by releasing in-house color variants. This time around, I’d actually argue that the non-collaborative pairs are even better looking because of the diamond strap pattern and multi-color outsole. Some shops have sold out, but you can still find a pair relatively easily if you do some slight digging.
At $200, the sandals are a bit pricy but worth every penny. Between the Niobium Concept 1 and 2, I now have the only outdoor footwear I’ll need for hikes and camping trips for years to come. But in the meantime, I’ll still be wearing the hell out of them while locked down in urban life.