Gear Review- AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes

It’s no secret I have a thing for approach shoes. I’m lucky that I get to demo so many models each year. Occasionally a pair really stick out to me as a well designed high performing standout. The Italian made AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes are this season’s stand out and I’m excited to finally share my experiences and thoughts on this shoe and brand!

Let’s start with how I tested:

Test period: Early May – Late August

Use: Day hiking in the White Mountains, approx. 50 miles and 16,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. Summited Mount Washington, Cardigan, Jackson, and Mount Chocorua wearing these.

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

Manufacturer Description:

The DFS Rock collection uses a ground breaking Dual Fit System (“DFS”) to give you both maximum comfort during your approach and high performance fit while climbing and scrambling. The Rock DFS has two separate lace zones that utilize lightweight webbing that wraps around and under your foot which enables you to customize your shoe for the fit you want. The Rock DFS midsole incorporates a lightweight EVA foam for cushioning and a polyurethane heel for durability and support. The midsole is then wrapped with sticky climbing rubber to protect your shoe and to provide extra grip. Together with a Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip, the resulting Rock DFS offers a high-performance approach shoe for all day comfort.

AKU’s DFS collection of approach shoes allows for optimum enjoyment and maximum confidence over the most demanding terrain. Whether you’re on flat trails or going vertical, AKU DFS shoes will take you there in comfort.

The VIBRAM Approach sole is designed to make quick work of trails while giving also giving you the confidence to edge and smear on your climb.

ELICA Technology ensures an anatomical fit to provide better stability and weight distribution across your boot sole to reduce pressure points and encourage better hiking form.

  • Upper: 1.6mm Suede Leather, Air 8000 & Microfiber
  • Lasting board (stiffness): Soft Flex
  • Footbed: Ortholite Hybrid
  • Midsole: Dual Density EVA & PU
  • Outsole: VIBRAM® Approach
  • Upper protection: Rubber Rand
  • Weight Per Shoe: 380 Grams

AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review


It is hard for me to pick the attribute I liked the most out of these shoes so I’ll randomly start with…


Out of the box these fit my feet perfectly. AKU suggests to order a half size smaller than your “normal AKU boot size” for a “performance fit”. I’ve never worn an AKU boot before so this suggestion wouldn’t help me. I went with my normal US 8.5, EUR 42 that works well for me for LaSportiva boots and shoes and the fit was perfect. The toe box had plently of room while still maintaining a slim profile, and the heel cup was shaped perfect for my feet with zero slippage while ascending granite slabs. The footbed and midsoles offer great cushioning over our rocky and root ridden trails. The soft flex lasting board also kept my feet from feeling sore after many above tree line miles.

Advanced Lacing

The two separate “lace zones” definitely helps these shoes standout in the category. There is a typical toe to top of ankle style lacing system then a shorter quick lace system on top of the lower part of the foot. The idea is you can have them laced comfortably for a long approach and then crank the quick pull system tight for more technical scrambling. While it might sound gimmicky at first in reality this system works great! I wore them comfortably laced up the famous Huntington Ravine Trail (often referred to as the most dangerous hiking trail in the White Mountains) then tightened the secondary lacing system for the 1000 foot semi-technical scramble out of the ravine. The snug more precise fit was comforting both on these section and while technical rock climbing YDS 5.5 face climbing across the road at Square Ledge.


AKU Rock DFS Approach Shoes Review

AKU uses a Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip and with a “soft flex” lasting board I found the traction of these to be excellent. I tested them on wet rock slabs and steep muddy trails around Ripley Falls. The performance in this category is excellent.


The thickness of the outsole combined with the full circumference rubber toe rand gives me confidence in the overall durability of these. It is sometimes difficult to talk about durability after just a few months of use but close inspection of these inspires confidence in all levels of construction. They truly look and feel “Italian” made and I would predict these easily lasting over 1k miles.

Company Values/History

Liking a product a company makes is already a bonus for me, but when that company is authentic and socially responsible that’s icing on my cake! If you’d like to learn a little more about AKU’s history and philosophies check out this five minute YouTube video:


This is the first AKU shoe I have ever demo’d and I’m highly impressed with the brand after this experience. I’ll definitely be trying one of their mountaineering boots, hopefully this winter. If you are shopping for a new pair of approach shoes or a great below the ankle day hiker this is an Italian made model that performs as advertised and doesn’t break the bank. I plan on summiting many more of New Hampshire’s 4000 footers in these (between finding time to test other brands/models). I highly recommend trying a pair of these.

Purchase: You can purchase these directly from AKU. The men’s models come in both the regular version and a Goretex model, as well as a Mid version for those who desire more ankle support. The women’s model is currently only available in the Goretex version.

The author purchased these for purpose of review. Affiliate links above help support the content created on Northeast Alpine Start. Thank you.

Gear Review- LaSportiva Boulder X Approach Shoes (and Giveaway!)

The LaSportiva Boulder X approach shoes are a rugged and supportive trail shoe best suited for rough trails and heavy loads. This past summer I received a pair to review and have since put about 80 miles on them and am ready to share my opinion on them.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
LaSportiva Boulder X Review

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Right out the box I noticed they are significantly heavier than most of my other approach shoes weighing in at 2 pounds 2 ounces (968 grams) for my size 42’s. It is easy to feel the weight difference when compared to the super light LaSportiva TX 2’s that I reviewed here, which only weigh 1 pound 5 ounces (592 grams), however these two shoes perform differently based on the design choices and task at hand. Let’s look at some of the details.


For reference I am a US Men’s size 9 (European 42) with a medium forefoot width, medium heel width, and slight Morton’s toe. I received a size 42 in these and they felt slightly snug in the forefoot but the relatively thick padded tongue and all leather upper packed out and broke in nicely after about a dozen miles. The removable LaSportiva “Fit-thotic) insole has a nice amount of cushioning and is more than just a flimsy insole. Under the removable insole is a 2 mm polypropylene insole, then a Micropore EVA mid-sole, and finally a Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear™ with Impact Brake System™ out-sole. This is a ton of support underfoot that translates to less foot fatigue after grueling days on rugged terrain but also has some negative effect on climbing performance that we will get to below.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
LaSportiva Boulder X Review

 Hiking Performance

The LaSportiva Boulder X’s are great on rocky terrain and rough trails. The Vibram® out-sole offered plenty of traction in dirt, mud, and scree. After a short break-in period I could hike for 8+ hours in these and my feet would not be sore at the end of the day. This is because of the stiffer than most sole. You won’t feel every little pebble or protrusion under foot as you move through the mountains. They are also heavier than most so you might feel a little more leg fatigue after a long trail run. Because of this added weight and stiffness these would make a great early Spring/Summer alpine approach shoe if you need to occasionally cross snowfields. They will be able to edge in Spring snow better than lighter weight models and would match well with some Kahtoola Microspikes when added traction is needed.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author heading off on an alpine adventure while testing the LaSportiva Boulder X approach shoes- photo by Matt Baldelli

Climbing Performance

The stiffness that helps prevent foot fatigue and provides so much support has positive and negative effects on the LaSportiva Boulder X’s climbing performance. The stiffer sole makes edging feel more secure but this also compromises the shoe’s ability to smear. It’s a trade off that can not be avoided. These felt great in all 4th class and low 5th class terrain but the author would swap into dedicated climbing shoes for 5.5 and above.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author on in alpine climb in Huntington Ravine- photo by Matt Baldelli 


These are definitely one of the more rugged models of approach shoes I have tested in recent years. This comes with having a full leather upper and a full circumference sticky rubber rand in addition to the relatively thick Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear out-sole. After 80+ miles and thousands of feet of scrambling and climbing the shoes are still in great condition. I’d expect the soles of these to provide 500-1000 miles of rugged trail use before needing a re-sole.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
Vibram® Idro-Grip V-Smear™ with Impact Brake System™- LaSportiva Boulder X Review


When thought of as a hiking or trekking shoe this category wouldn’t matter that much, but as an approach shoe we must consider how pack-able the shoes are when it’s time to don more technical rock climbing shoes and in this case these shoes are quite heavy and bulky. While that extra weight equals more support and durability there is a definite trade off if you need to clip these to the back of your harness or stuff them into a small climbing pack.

LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author belaying his partner on Cloud Walkers, Huntington Ravine, New Hampshire- photo by Matt Baldelli

Summary/Best Use

The LaSportiva Boulder X is a durable and supportive hiking/trekking shoe that can cross over to approach shoe realm by climbing technical routes better than most trail shoes but not as well as lighter approach shoes more dedicated to that cause. The stiffer soles are great for people who find their feet sore after a rugged hike and also make this a great choice for aid climbers who spend time standing in aiders. If support and durability are high on your list of priorities you should take a close look at these. If lightweight, pack-ability, and climbing ability is more prudent than take a look at my review of the LaSportiva TX 2’s!

(available in Men’s and Women’s)

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LaSportiva Boulder X Review
The author about to hike down the famous Huntington Ravine Trail while testing the LaSportiva Boulder X approach shoes- photo by Matt Baldelli Photography

Contest & Giveaway:

The good folks at Friendly Foot have supplied me with a steady flow of the best damn foot-powder in the whole world. Every footwear review will offer a chance to win a bottle of this awesome sauce. Contest ends 10/31/17 12:00 am EST. To enter just click the link below!

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See you in the mountains!

Northeast Alpine Start

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Five Ten Guide Tennies Review (and Friendly Foot Giveaway)

It would not be a stretch of the imagination to state that I have spent more time in the Five Ten Guide Tennies in the last 10 years than any other shoe! From May to November if I’m heading out with the sole purpose of rock climbing I am wearing these. This staple of my closet has recently undergone some changes and improvements that help guarantee it will continue to be my go-to shoe for all technical climbing. To really point out the changes it would be best to look at the pro’s and con’s of the older version first.

Previous version of the Five Ten Guide Tennie
Previous version of the Five Ten Guide Tennie- photo from

Simply put, they climbed better than any other approach shoe option out there, but lacked durability. I can attest to this as I happily replaced mine about every other year. Considering I would guide or climb in them 100+ days a year I was happy to sacrifice some longevity for how well I could climb in them, essentially being equals to dedicated climbing shoes on almost all routes up to 5.7 in difficulty. In many situations I felt I could climb better in these approach shoes than in climbing shoes. Two examples;

  1. Moderate slab climbing. The amount of Stealth rubber surface contact you could get with these on sub 5.7 slab climbing made long run outs seem like semi-technical hikes rather than climbs. They actually felt even more secure as the “dots” on the soles wore down leaving a smooth climbing shoe style sole for maximum friction.
  2. Foot jam territory. No better example than the classic Reppy’s Crack on Cannon Cliff. This crack is notorious for making your dogs bark like crazy when jamming it in snug fitting climbing shoes. Climb it in your wider more protective Guide Tennies and it feels a whole grade easier to me.

Peter Sielicki styles Reppy's Crack in his Five Ten Guide Tennies
Peter Sielicki styles Reppy’s Crack in his Five Ten Guide Tennies

There were two disadvantages to the older version. The first was the well known durability issue. I know some guides who were just not willing to keep replacing them after each season of guiding and looked for alternatives. Some would land on the much more expensive La Sportiva Ganda. Other’s would go for the more affordable Scrapa Crux. The durability issue seems to have been addressed as the new version is noticeably reinforced throughout, but especially in the heel and forefoot of the sole.

More supportive and robust heel cup than previous model
More supportive and robust heel cup than previous model- photo from

Thicker and slightly stiffer outersole made with C4 Stealth Rubber
Thicker and slightly stiffer outersole made with C4 Stealth Rubber- photo from

I’m expecting these to last a bit longer than the older version. I plan on maximizing their life with two tactics;

  1. Maintenance: Treat them with Nikwax. The uppers of the shoe are made of Nubuck Leather. Nikwax Waterproofing Wax will protect the leather from both drying out over time and from abrasion. I’ve been using this on leather for 2 decades. It darkens the leather a bit, which I like. After trips brush off loose dirt/mud and put them away dry. I’ll reapply the Nikwax at the start of every rock season.
  2. Selective use: I don’t wear these when I’m not going rock climbing. Ever. Walking down sidewalks wears C4 Stealth rubber down. I have another shoe I prefer to use for dedicated (non-technical) hiking and I’ll be posting a review for that updated model soon! If I save these for only technical rock climbing days I’m quite certain I’ll get 100-150 days out of them.

The latest version of the 5.10 Guide Tennie
The latest version of the 5.10 Guide Tennie

As with the previous version these shoes can still climb technical rock like no other in their class. The thicker outer sole and heel cup will definitely last longer than its previous incarnation, however it has stiffened the shoe up a bit. The “hand-ground beveled toe” makes this newer shoe edge better than its predecessor with only a small dip in smearing performance. The stiffer sole has another more subtle advantage over the previous sole in regards to foot fatigue. The older version was so soft you could feel every pebble you stepped on during an approach. I once hiked Mount Washington in my older Guide Tennies and could tell the next day it wasn’t the right tool for the job. Every rugged section of the trail massaged the bottom of my feet in a sadistic way. Rugged trail hikes require a bit more support on the bottom of the foot. The new version seems to have found the balance between sensitive-enough-for-technical-rock-climbing, but supportive enough to handle approaches that are a bit rougher than strolling up to Cathedral Ledge.

Another noticeable difference with the new version is the lacing. While the Guide Tennie has always had lacing similar to a climbing shoe Five Ten is using a thin low friction lace that allows the shoe to be snugged up from “Approach Mode” to “I Should Probably Put My Climbing Shoes On But I Kind Of Want To Show Off Mode” with out having to start the snug-fest all the way at the bottom. Subtle, but there.

Tight lacing
Tight lacing

At 14.43 oz these pack away small enough in my light alpine rock pack to not be noticed, though if the climbing is moderate I’ll probably just keep them on my feet!

Top of Cannon Cliff after climbing Lakeview, Grade III 5.6
Top of Cannon Cliff after climbing Lakeview, Grade III 5.6

Bottom line, the company that has been designing approach shoes since 1988 has redesigned this time tested model based on 2 decades of feedback. While no shoe will ever be absolutely perfect the Five Ten Guide Tennie does pretty well at trying to obtain that goal.

Friendly Foot Giveaway!

No matter what approach shoes you go with one thing is certain. Climbers feet stink. Luckily there is a company called Friendly Foot that understands this, and sells a product that actually works. You can refer to their website for all the details, but all you really need to know is my wife is adamant I never run out of it.

Works better out of the bottle
Works better out of the bottle

So, to enter to win a bottle of this great stuff just comment below on approach shoes, foot stink, the weather, what ever. That’s it. One comment = one entry. One entry per person. Contest ends at 11:59pm on 11/18/15. Drawing held 11/19/15. 

Don’t like leaving it to chance? I got you covered. Use Coupon Code “FF14” at checkout on their website to get a 10% discount on your order. Shipping is free on orders of 4 bottles or more! Pro-Tip, these are excellent stock stuffers for all the climbers on your Christmas list!

The Five Ten Guide Tennie- Best technical climbing shoe in its class!
The Five Ten Guide Tennie- Best technical climbing shoe in its class!

Thanks for reading! See you in the mountains!


Disclosure: I bought these with my own money. This post contains affiliate links which help to fund this website. 

Five Ten Camp Four Approach Shoes

I bought my first pair of Five Ten Camp Four Approach Shoes in 2009. Over the last 4 years I have worn them on hundreds of miles of White Mountain trails, dozens of guided trips, and quite a few search & rescues. They have served me so well that when I finally wore them out I had no doubt that I would be replacing them with the same shoe. They are the perfect 3 season supportive hiking shoe for a number of reasons.

While stick when wet
Will stick when wet


I only wear boots when their is snow & ice on the ground, so from April to November these are my most worn shoe for hiking in the Whites. It’s important to note even when carrying a heavy pack I don’t need the ankle support that some folks do, so if you question the strength of your ankles you might prefer something with ankle support. However these do offer excellent support for your foot from a full length nylon shank and comfortable EVA mid-sole. This under-foot support is a big difference from my softer Five Ten Guide Tennies, which I prefer for moderate rock climbing, but are to fatiguing when covering many miles of rugged terrain.


  • Proprietary molded PU external heel cage adds rear-foot support and stability, allowing you to hump heavy loads for long distances, without the need for a high-top boot


The Stealth C4/S1 high-friction soles provide amazing friction on wet & dry rock. This is also probably the beefiest sole I have seen on a trail shoe which is probably why these weigh in a bit heavier than similar trail shoes at 1lb 12 ounces, but I’ll take a few extra ounces for the great durability and support this out-sole provides!

Comfort: It’s a no brainer a shoe with great traction and support isn’t going to be worn if it isn’t comfortable. I would consider this a low to mid volume shoe. As mentioned on :

  • Lace to toe closure can be worn relaxed for a long-distance fit, or tightened – for climbing and scrambling

I’ve put a few 12+ mile days on these, much above tree-line, and they are the only trail shoe I’ve put so much abuse on that I haven’t wanted to take off the second I get back to the car. They are that comfortable.

The only con I can think of is they are not waterproof. No biggie there, since they are made with Nubuck leather I would waterproof them myself with Nikwax Waterproof Wax every other year or so.

Bottom-line: I hope they never stop making this shoe. I plan on finishing the 48 four-thousand footers with these, and continuing my red-lining of the WMNF. I think these would be the PERFECT AT Thru-Hike shoe, though I imagine it might take 2 pairs to complete the 2,100mi trip. Check em’ out!

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