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Xtep 160X Knit Multi-Tester Review

Chinese companies have begun to release their own special foam/carbon fiber plated marathon racers. Prototypes of the neon yellow Li-Ning Feidian or "Boom" shoe was something I saw early on, but had difficulty finding a safe place to buy from. Then came another brand, Xtep, that I was previously unfamiliar with. At the end of 2019, they released a marathon racing shoe called the 160X. A mesh version was originally present, but I was unable to find my size (44). Finally, I found a pair of the new knit version, which seems to be following the trajectory of the Nike Vaporfly series. A month later with back and forth calls with customs, the Xtep 160X Knit finally arrived for me to run in. After some fast miles in these, here are my thoughts.


Specifications
Weight: unknown
Measured Weight: 8.4 oz Men's size 10
Stack Height: unknown
Drop: unknown
Classification: Marathon Racing Shoe


HIGHLIGHTS

Matt: The Xtep 160X Knit is a narrow, full length PB midsoled, carbon fiber plated marathon racer from China. For those with narrow feet or looking for a super snug fit, with a ton of heel cushioning, outsole grip, a smooth toe off and plenty of cushion for fast long distance racing, the Xtep 160X may be worth taking a look at. Just know that only those with feet sized under a 44 or US 10 will have any luck finding a pair.

David: The XTEP 160X Knit is a highly cushioned carbon plated marathon racer that does a good job of balancing durability, responsiveness, and training ability. The shoe runs snug but the knit upper breathes well and is reinforced surprisingly well when taken into hard 90 degree turns. For those that love the PEBAX feel that you can get from some of the other plated racers but want a little more of a trainer/more forgiving feel this is a shoe worth looking into!


FIT

Matt: Although there is barely enough room length wise, the Xtep 160X fits extremely narrow and feels VERY short in Xtep size 44, which is apparently a little different than EU and US sizes. Length wise the shoe feels short, even though I still have a little room between my toe and the end of the shoe. The last (shape) and upper are extremely narrow. The fit in the heel is snug and secure with a small bit of cushion around the Achilles tendon to further hold the rearfoot in place. While this provides an incredibly good lockdown, it is still slightly too narrow for me and causes some extra pressure that takes a few minutes to get used to.  The narrow/snug heel transitions into an even narrower and tapered forefoot. My toes felt slightly smashed wearing these at first, so if possible, I would highly suggest going up a size. I was fortunate the the largest size, a 44, barely fit me. I suggest going to the Aliexpress website that I was able to order these from and measuring your foot by hand and comparing that to their chart before ordering. While I have not tried the mesh version, the knit version does stretch a little with time. However, those under a US 9.5-10 may be out of luck in this shoe. The upper uses a "integrated woven mesh" that is knit differently in certain areas to durability and appropriate fit. The mesh is decently breathable and my foot did not move as much as expected thanks to a very secure heel and locked in heel counter. There is almost no cushion between my heel and the heel counter, which caused a little irritation during the beginning of each run. This went away, but those with sensitive heels should be wary of this. I have done a single short sockless run and came away with some mild skin irritation, so I would not suggest running sockless in these, although wearing casually felt fine. There is not tongue as expected with a knit upper and while the laces integrated well, know if you pull them too tight, the upper can bunch. The insole in both shoes appeared to be loose when I received them. I did not notice any slippage with them on and although they appear to also be made of a PEBA material, I found that taking them out gave me more room and made my heel feel better.

David: Full disclaimer: I am using Matt's pair. I am normally a 9.5 with him being a 10 in Mens. The size 44 XTEP 160X Knit actually fit my foot very well. It runs a little narrow but the knit has some stretch to it without being overly compressive to the foot. The upper actually held really well in turns as a well and made the shoe feel stable and trust worthy. Even though the shoe is narrow throughout (heel, midfoot, and forefoot), the stretchy knit upper didn't bother me. Length was perfect for me. The heel collar comes a little high so I had to make sure to wear some higher socks. The knit upper was breathable and honestly my favorite racing specific knit upper I have worn. I am unfamiliar with sizing internationally but will say in my normal 9.5 the fit was very nice. 0 blisters or irritation and I took this through sharp turns and through some fast miles. 


RIDE

Matt: The midsole is made of X-Dynamic Foam PB, which feels like a PEBA foam very similar to Saucony's PWRRUN PB material. It is bouncy, but firmer and a bit more stable than something like ZoomX. There is a small posterior-lateral heel bevel, which does smooth out the ride a bit. However, there is an odd posterior flare that makes heel landings less smooth at slower paces until the shoe breaks in. At faster paces, the foam bounces you right along, but know a majority of the cushioning is in the heel. The midfoot is fairly narrow and is not full ground contact. Despite the carbon fiber plate, as the shoe has broken in, I can feel the shoe flex at the midfoot (more on that later). This is less apparent with faster speeds. The forefoot is the best part of the ride. There is a decent amount of toe spring and the toe off feels fast and smooth with the medial and lateral edges of the plate. There is a surprising amount of flexibility in the forefoot, which makes the Xtep X160 smooth the forefoot for both for easy and fast running. I have not found any information on stack height or heel drop, but there is plenty of cushioning underfoot in the Xtep 160X for use as a lightweight trainer, workout shoe an long distance racer. The heel drop feels similar to the Endorphin Pro, in the range of 8mm. This number is VERY relative given how dynamic the midsole foam is, so that will change drastically depending on your footstrike and landing forces. Overall, the heel is fairly cushioned with a decent transition that rolls into a very smooth forefoot (that I wish was wider).

David: The ride of the XTEP 160X Knit was surprisingly nice! The shoe feels similar to the PWRRUN PB seen in the Saucony Endorphin Speed and Pro but with a different transition mechanics. The carbon fiber plate appears to make an X through the midfoot and almost feels more like a shank than a full length plate. The heel is highly cushioned, rigid through the midfoot, and a little more flexible up front in the forefoot. Overall the shoe feels like an awesome performance trainer, and I mean that in a nice way. For me, I would like the forefoot to be a little more snappy and rigid (like carbon plate in endorphin pro) but a lot of people do not need that much rigidity up front. The shoe reminds me a lot of the Endorphin Speed, but with the differences noted above (more midfoot rigidity in XTEP). So for me it is an awesome long run or workout companion, but I might reach for something a little more aggressive on race day, but this may work for those who like a little more forgiveness in their shoe! I agree with Matt that the forefoot doesn't feel quite as cushioned but I think that may be more due to the transition coming off the carbon plate through the midfoot. Overall its a pleasant ride. It feels like a PEBA trainer with a plate with good weight ratio. 


SPEED

Matt: The Xtep 160X is meant as a distance racing shoe. The PEBA midsole, plate, weight, ride and cushioning give it plenty of cushioning for longer distances but plenty of speed for racing. The 160X feels best at 10k to marathon paces and is a clunky at faster speeds. I have used this shoe to chase down a short Strava segment and while 4:30 per mile pace felt decent, it was hard to maintain (which could also be me). The slightly higher weight for a racing flat is more in line with traditional marathon racing shoes and the shoe feels best maintaining a steady pace. Moderate long runs have felt great in this shoe (with the exception of the fit) and I see this truly as a half to full marathon racer for many. There is enough cushioning that the 160X can be used as a lightweight trainer (similar to older versions of the Adidas Adios and others in that category).

David: I somewhat agree with Matt. For me this is definitely a long distance racer for the general population and some faster runners that may not like a super aggressive forefoot. For me, I had a hard time getting it to PR half marathon pace, but it felt great at steady paces. I took the shoe through a long run progression that cut down around 6:15 down to about 5:40 and the shoe felt great at steady efforts. The day before I had a hard time getting it to fast paces 5 to 5:20 paces (which would be half to goal full pacing). This to me is an awesome lightweight trainer or training companion, but not quite what I would reach for on race day. 


STABILITY

Matt: the Xtep 160X is a racing shoe and has a conflicting personality when it comes to stability. The midfoot is very narrow and as mentioned earlier, flexes as you transition. The outsole is not full ground contact. However, when compared to other shoes, the forefoot and heel shape of the shoe are not that narrow (despite a very narrow upper), the plate has a section that comes up along the medial heel and the forward section of the plate splits and provides a stable toe off. This provides plenty of stability at the heel and forefoot, which may me feel very comfortable during long and fast miles. I expected this shoe to be far less stable due to the narrow midfoot, but the plate, forefoot and heel do a decent job keeping everything on track. There is no posting or wedges to speak of, but for those with narrow feet looking for a stable marathon racer with a PEBA midsole, the 160X may be a good option.

David: This shoe is surprisingly stable for me for being a plush racer. The plate is felt and firms up the ride slightly and the heel is beveled posterior laterally to smooth out initial contact. The upper originally had me nervous but I sent it on a few hard turns and it actually did really well. The knit upper is stable for being knit, but could always have more reinforcement with mesh or cage like presentation seen in adizero pro. Honestly I am really impressed with the stability. It may be less stable at slower paces but still doable where it shines more in those tempo like paces. 


DURABILITY

Matt: The full length PB midsole is wearing very well and feels just as fresh as when I first put them on. The forefoot and heel are covered with a decent amount of outsole rubber. I have only a tiny bit of wear at the posterior lateral heel and zero wear at the forefoot. The outsole rubber also grips really well. I accidentally ran through wet pavement during a faster paced run and the grip was fantastic. The upper, despite not fitting my feet, has stretched slightly and shows no signs of wear. Even the exposed PB sole is just dirty and has not been worn (even after running on some trail sections). Overall I expect a fairly high number of miles out of the 160X and expect it to last as long if not longer than most lightweight trainers. 

David: I am running after Matt, who is the destroyer. There is some wear noted but it is still holding up very well! The heel is doing well for me and I notice a little more wear in the forefoot from me digging into the ground a little bit. I think that is more due to the forefoot being more flexible. The foam still feels good and I have not had any problems with it losing pop or plushness. This will have the durability of lightweight trainer. 

Image from Aliexpress

THOUGHTS AS A DPT

I have discussed this extensively, but split midfoot designs with plates do not work well. Despite the plate, there is a clear flex point in the midfoot. That is NOT a good thing as there is no joint in that area in that foot that moves like that. As the plate breaks down, that will only get worse. The more shoe bends there, the more abnormal load through the midfoot will occur. The only joints that have sagittal plane (front to back) motion as their primary motion (nothing in the foot joint wise is truly straight) are the talocrural joint and the metatarsopahlangeal joints. Also known as your ankle joint and your toe joints. Those are at your heel and forefoot, not the midfoot. My suggestion to correct this is to create a full ground contact outsole, fill in the midfoot and add a flex groove or two (or three) in that outsole material in the forefoot. This will facilitate more motion from the forefoot and may decrease excessive motion at the midfoot. 


I am interested in the posterior medial aspect of the plate. I think this design is a positive and will work decently to guide motion for those that land more posterior. Having this extend up makes it more similar to a guide rail than post. This isn't new as it mimics many custom orthotics with a modified rearfoot post. It is just interesting to see the plate extend out of the midsole.


RECOMMENDATIONS

Matt: The Xtep 160X has potential, but there are a large number of changes that need to be made. The upper fit is the most uncomfortable one that I have tried in the last several years. This knit version is WAY too narrow for me (although it may fit others better) with a very tapered forefoot. The heel counter sits far too close to the heel and causes a decent amount of discomfort for me. I would suggest widening the uppernd d putting a bit more between the heel and the counter. If anything, an external heel counter may work even better. You could even extend the plate up to further stabilize the heel. As I mentioned earlier, make the outsole full ground contact and create a mild flex groove in the forefoot. That will smooth out the ride and help the shoe flex at the correct spots. That weird posterior extension of the midsole? Don't do that. It is unnecessary weight. Bevel the heel a little more and you will smooth out a bit of that clunkiness at the heel. There is a great deal of potential here, so I am excited to see how this shoe evolves. I also hated the knit Vaporfly and have hopes that Xtep will hit this shoe out of the park on the next version.

David: Ironically, me and Matt differ in opinion here. The knit upper is awesome for me and I had 0 problems with it (except MAYBE being slightly high up?). For me I would like the forefoot made more rigid and maybe extending the plate more forward to make the shoe feel like it has more pop. The bevel was ok for me, but I can see it being a little problematic with hard heel strikers. Our sizing is different though and I am running 9.5 US in the XTEP at size 44. 


CONCLUSION

Matt: The Xtep 160X is a half to full marathon racer for those with smaller and narrower feet looking for a fast, stable ride for long distance racing. The outsole is fairly durable and the grip is great. The PB midsole has plenty of stable bounce which combined with the plate provides a decently stable ride. For those looking to run fast and steady paces, the Xtep 160X is worth a look. For me, the fit is WAY too narrow and the heel/forefoot is very uncomfortable. The splitting in the midfoot makes me nervous and the heel is a bit clunky. Xtep has some major work to do, but again I have faith that they can really refine this shoe to create something special. Despite the fit, I have enjoyed them for

David: The XTEP 160X Knit is a more forgiving and less aggressive plated marathon racer that will work for a good amount of people (assuming narrow feet). The shoe works really well for me as a lightweight performance trainer that can tackle long runs and workouts on the road but will probably function more as a racer to those who like a more forgiving feel. The shoe is plush yet stable and a good option for training companion or even racing for some. 


GRADING

Matt: 
Fit/Upper       5 /10 (Super narrow, tapered upper. Feels short and heel counter is too stiff. Loose insole)
Ride/Midsole 8 /10 (Slightly clunky heel with narrow midfoot, but super smooth forefoot)
Stability          8.5 /10 (Very stable forefoot and heel. -1 for narrow midfoot)
Speed              9 /10 (Best for moderate to fast and steady paces. Also doubles as a lightweight trainer. Mostly 10k-Marathon paces, slightly clunky at 5k paces) 
Durability       9 /10 (Outsole has very little wear after 25 hard miles. Great grip)

David: 
Fit/Upper       9.25/10 (I'm half size down. Still a little narrow, high heel collar. Otherwise good)
Ride/Midsole 9.25/10 (Slightly clunky through heel, good midfoot transition, toe off could be snappier)
Stability          9/10 (Stable for a plush racer, knit upper is good but still has some stretch in turns)
Speed              9/10 (Best at fast steady paces. Top speeds hard but marathon, tempos, long runs ok) 
Durability       9/10 (Good durability for a racer, though for me lightweight training companion, some wear noted in forefoot)

TOTAL: 84.5% (M: 7.8/10, D: 9.1)

TESTER PROFILES

Dr. Klein is a 140 lb male with notable PRs of 14:45 for 5k and 2:32:44 for the full marathon.  He typically runs 70-100 miles per week and trains at a variety of paces from 8min per mile recovery runs to 4:40 per mile 1k repeats.  He prefers firmer and responsive shoes with snug heels and medium to wide toe boxes.  He is particular to less cushioned shoes and close to the ground shoes, but can handle a little cushion when he gets beat up.  IG handle: @kleinrunsdpt

Dr. David Salas is a 135 lb male with notable PRs ranging from 3:54 in the 1500m to 1:08:36 for half marathon. He typically runs 40 to 50 miles per week and trains from about 7:30 recovery runs to fast shorter efforts at 4:30 pace. He normally prefers neutral shoes with a firmer ride, but is completely open to other types of shoes.  He is a footwear enthusiast at heart and will always appreciate a high quality shoe when it comes around. For updates on training or testing, IG handle: @docsofrundavid

Thanks for reading!

Editor's Note: As always, the views presented on this website belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts. This website should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.

Matthew Klein, PT DPT OCS FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist
Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

Nathan Brown PT DPT MS
Doctor of Physical Therapy 
Masters in Anatomy and Clinical Health Science
Movement Performance Institute Certified in Advanced Functional Biomechanics 

David Salas PT DPT CSCS
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

***Disclaimer: These shoes were provided for their full Chinese retail price.  This in no way affected the honesty of this review. We put at least 35-75 miles on trainers and 10-25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them. Currently I have 23 miles on my pair (Matt) and 37 miles (David, same pair). Our views are based on my extensive history in the footwear industry and years testing and developing footwear. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.

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