Ecco’s marketing pitch: Offers an incomparable sneaker-like comfort.
Upper: Welt-attached leather with a waterproof Gore-Tex lining; not gusseted.
Midsole: Phorene Polyurethane with a softer heel core.
Outsole: Single piece of thermoplastic rubber.
Insole/Footbed: Leather-lined foam; removable.
Country of origin: Portugal, Europe.
Airport-friendly: No, the upper has metal eyelets.
Weight: 481 gms/ 1 LB 1 OZ for a half pair of Men's US 9/UK 8/EUR 42.5/CM 27
Widths available: D - regular (reviewed).
Within the segment of entry-level dress shoes that cost less than $250, Ecco is one of the few brands that offer excellent value.
At the same time, we also recommend Florsheim, Clarks, and Rockport as companies that produce well-constructed black and brown footwear.
However, Ecco does two things differently than its peers.
The first would be its unique construction, which is the result of Ecco’s highly automated manufacturing process. A few years ago, we discussed Ecco in our article on footwear manufacturing automation. By relying on directly injected Polyurethane as their sole material, Ecco bypasses the semi-manual process of attaching the sole to the upper.
This is why most Ecco shoes feature a cushioned polyurethane sole. While there are tangible benefits like cushioning comfort, stability, and a superior upper-sole bond, PU soles are heavier than EVA foam midsoles.
The second area of differentiation would be the leather that Ecco uses. A lot of their leather is sourced from their tanneries, and that equates to a higher level of quality control. We’ve rarely come across an Ecco product with inferior leather. At times, they also make specialty leather. A couple of years ago, we reviewed a casual Ecco boot with a soft Yak leather upper.
Not many brands that produce black and brown footwear use Gore-Tex waterproofing, but Ecco is an exception. Many GTX-lined shoes exist in their catalog, and the ST.1 Hybrid is one of them.
The ST1 Hybrid Plain Toe Gore-Tex is the waterproof version of the standard model. Surprisingly, the GTX model is $10 less expensive than the regular model.
The non-GTX version uses softer and (more) premium leather; also, the larger quarter panels do not have a separate lacing panel. We assume that these changes explain the pricing difference.
As both the versions share the same midsole, the level of ride comfort is identical.
In other words, the ST.1 Hybrid GTX is a comfortable dress shoe with a stable ride and excellent outsole traction. Though it’s a low-cut shoe, the waterproof lining does a satisfactory job of keeping the water out.
THE SOLE DESIGN AND RIDE COMFORT
The ST.1 Hybrid uses a dual-density PU (Polyurethane) midsole with a separate synthetic rubber outsole. It’s important to highlight this, because not all Ecco shoes feature outsole rubber. On many Ecco products, the PU midsole is also the outsole.
As a cushioning material, PU had once fallen out of favor. But in 2021, it exists in performance running shoes in different forms. Be it the expanded steam-molded version seen on the adidas Boost and Saucony Pwrrun+ to the directly-poured ones on the adidas Futurenatural models, there’s a version of PU midsole somewhere.
Ecco uses ‘Phorene’ on the ST.1 – a material that debuted on the Ecco Exostrike over three years ago. Though it’s softer than the standard PU foam found on Ecco shoes, the overall cushioning is quite firm.
A firm ride is a positive trait on a dress sneaker. On the ST1, the midsole also has a wide base – thanks to the leather welt between the upper and midsole. The functional welts reinforce the ST1’s dress shoe appearance.
The combination of the firm cushioning and wide footprint makes the shoe very supportive when standing or walking – this also applies to heavy individuals.
The midsole also has a satisfying sense of under-arch support, and that’s made possible by the contoured footbed and midsole design.
Having said that, softness is accessible in all the right places. Just under the heel, there’s a softer (non-Phorene) stack of foam molded in a Lime-Green color.
This ‘Shock Thru’ puck can be seen on the outsole, and underneath the removable insole.
The leather-lined insole adds a comfortable layer of softness between the foot and midsole. The molded blown foam insole cups the foot through its flared design and supports the arch.
The ST.1 Hybrid’s insole can be replaced with an Orthotic, but with a caveat. The removable insole isn’t very thick, so the Orthotic needs to be of an equal thickness. With a thicker Orthotic, the snug upper fit will become uncomfortably tight.
The midsole is inherently supportive, so an orthotic will not add a lot of value to the overall ride quality.
The TPR (Thermoplastic rubber) outsole has excellent grip on damp pavements as well as smooth floors. The full-contact design also allows the weight load to be transferred smoothly, thus making the ST1 Hybrid an excellent walking shoe.
However, the Ecco ST1 Hybrid has poor traction on icy snow and slush, so this is not a shoe for snowy winters. Even a thin layer of wet snow leads to a dramatic decrease in grip.
Just know that the outsole, when wet, produces a squeaky noise on smooth floors.
THE UPPER DESIGN, MATERIALS, AND FIT
A Gore-Tex lining is fine and all, but the absence of a gusset is puzzling. Without a gusset attaching the tongue to the sides, a waterproof shoe is only partially effective.
If we were to draw a ‘water line’ of sorts on the upper, it would intersect with the base of the quarter panel.
The ST1 Hybrid is waterproof, but only to a certain extent. Sure, the upper slopes downwards, so that makes it harder for the rain to get inside. However, stepping in a puddle might yield an unwanted outcome.
It’s hard to argue the merits of a gusseted tongue. On a waterproof shoe, a gusset is always desirable.
However, we do wonder if this is a Gore-Tex quirk. It is possible that the Gore-tex inner membrane is only cut in a pre-determined shape, and that excludes a gusset. We say this because even the New Balance 880 GTX (a running shoe) has a similar shortcoming.
We also recommend wearing a no break, straight-leg trouser that covers the heel opening. That makes it harder for the water to find its way inside the shoe.
Otherwise, the Gore-Tex membrane works as advertised. It’s interesting to note that Gore-Tex branding is all but absent. It’s only when one takes a closer at the heel pull tab that an embossed logo becomes visible.
We have been testing the shoe in the rainy weather, and so far, the feet have stayed dry. We recommend this shoe for rainy commutes, but if the job involves standing out in the rain for a long time, then buy a shoe with a waterproof gusset or a bootie. Scroll to the bottom of this page for alternatives.
Low-cut dress shoes can only offer moderate levels of water repellency due to the open heel. Walking around town on a rainy and windy day also makes things worse. So if the temperature isn’t a concern, it’s better to buy a waterproof Chelsea boot instead.
The ST1 Hybrid’s upper is the quintessential derby with two-piece quarter panels, and a heel strap with an attached pull tab. The vamp area is clutter-free, thus the ‘plain toe’ name. The quarter panels have invisible eyelets that are reinforced with metal grommets on the inside.
This is also a very cleanly finished shoe. It does help that Ecco uses direct midsole injection that eliminates gluing, but the ends justify the means.
And if the country of origin matters to you, the Ecco ST1 Hybrid is manufactured in Portugal, Europe.
The sizing fits true to size, but the forefoot is narrow, and some tightness is felt over the small toe.
We assume that this is due to the GTX lining. The standard ST1 Hybrid has a more accommodating fit due to the thinner and softer leather upper. Wearers with wide feet should look elsewhere; we have a few recommendations towards the end of this review.
Also, wearing a pair of thicker woolen socks will result in a shortage of space, even for regular width feet.
The toe-box isn’t shallow, and the ceiling height is just right. The smooth interiors have no hot spots or bumps. The heel collar requires some time to break in. The stiff outer side of the collar is felt during walks, and that’s because the heel midsole has a soft cushioning center.
During walking, the foot sinks inside the midsole by a few millimeters; this causes the collar to ride up the foot. It’s not uncomfortable, but something a ST1 owner should be mindful of.
The heel fit is comfortable, and so is the slightly padded tongue with a folded edge.
The heel collar has some foam quilting, and that helps achieve a satisfactory grip quality. The supportive heel counter is semi-stiff; it’s not overly rigid, but not collapsible either.
The lace quality is poor. They are not waxed and struggle to stay tied. So if you feel the heel slipping during the day, that’s probably the laces coming undone. This is an easy fix though; just get a pair of aftermarket waxed laces. We transplanted the laces from the Cole Haan Zerogrand, and they’re so much better.
Caring for the shoe is relatively straightforward. The upper uses corrected grain leather which is easy to wipe off and shine. CG leathers are usually frowned upon, but for shoes that cost less than $400, higher-grade Aniline leather is rarely used.
On a waterproof shoe, CG leather is actually beneficial due to its ease of maintenance and water-resistance context. Just wipe the leather upper with a soft jersey cloth, and occasionally brush after applying a cream polish.
A Cedarwood shoe tree is a must for all leather shoes, waterproof or not. A shoe tree helps the shoe retain its shape while minimizing deep creases and odors.
PROS AND CONS
Besides the obvious waterproofing benefits, there are many likeable things about the Ecco ST1 Hybrid Gore-Tex.
The fit and finish is excellent, and so are the levels of ride comfort and overall stability. The welted construction gives the ST1 a dress shoe undertone, and the leather upper fits smoothly and looks premium. The removable insole is helpful for wearers who prefer an orthotic.
Although the outsole squeaks on smooth floors, it has an excellent grip on wet surfaces.
The ST1 Hybrid isn’t perfect. At over a pound, this is a heavy shoe. We’re also mystified at the absence of a tongue gusset that would have augmented the waterproofing properties.
And the laces; why doesn’t Ecco use waxed laces that do a better job at being tied? Also, given the narrow fit, an optional width (or two) would be nice to have.
OTHER WATERPROOF DRESS SHOES
We recommend two Johnston & Murphy shoes that not only offer a tongue gusset, but more interior space as well. The first is the XC4 Lancer Wingtip; the upper has a sock-like heel entry for superior waterproofness.
The other J&M shoe is the XC4 Tanner plain toe. It doesn’t have a bootie, but the tongue is gusseted for enhanced waterproofing.
Both these shoes have a ‘dual width’ insole. That means that the primary insole/footbed can be removed to reveal a second (mesh) footbed underneath. In the running shoe world, Skechers is a brand that does this frequently.
Thus, removing the stock insole creates a lot of additional room for wide feet. J&M XC4 doesn’t use Gore-Tex, but the waterproofing is dependable.
The Ecco Citytray Gore-Tex plain toe is another waterproof shoe in a simple derby silhouette. Just like the ST1 Hybrid, the Citytray GTX lacks a gusset as well. However, the Citytray is a much lighter shoe than the ST1 due to the lighter PU midsole without a welt.
The Florsheim waterproof Forecast Bike Toe is one of the many variants of the ‘Forecast’ shoe series. Though we’ve featured the bike toe, there are Cap Toe, plain toe, and slip-on versions available as well.