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.

DUAL FIT SYSTEM
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.

VIBRAM APPROACH
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.

AKU ELICA TECHNOLOGY
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

Opinions:

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

Comfort

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.

Traction/Grip

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.

Durability

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:

Summary

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- Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

Black Diamond has released their most advanced approach shoes yet this past Spring, the Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes. I’ve been testing a pair for the last few weeks and am ready to share my take on their comfort and performance. First lets look at the manufacturer claims and specifications.

Manufacturer Description

Engineered for days when the word “approach” actually involves full-on climbing, the Fuel is our most technical performance shoe. The Fuel’s upper combines breathable EnduroKnit, a durable stretch woven lateral panel, and welded TPU film overlays for maximum durability and precision fit. The internally overlapping tongue allows for fewer seams and a sleek comfortable fit with minimal bulk, while the lace-to-toe construction features webbing and scalloped eyelets for variable, adjustable fit and tensioning to suit different conditions. A climbing-specific forefoot construction allows for exceptional edge control and our BlackLabel Mountain rubber is ultra-sticky for superior grip on rock. Finally, a tag-loop on the heel and tongue gives you the option to clip the Fuels to your harness once you rope up.

  • Capable of easy 5th class climbing with confidence and comfort.
  • Upper construction of Black Diamond developed knit and woven textiles with welded TPU film overlays for adaptable fit and maximum durability
  • Low profile molded collar padding and lining
  • Protected lateral laces and smooth upper construction
  • Overlap tongue means fewer internal seams for precision fit
  • Lace to toe with webbing and scalloped eyelets for adjustable fit and tension depending on conditions Functional climbing forefoot construction for edging control and durability
  • Tuned dual density EVA midsole with stiffness and comfort
  • Black Diamond BlackLabel Mountain is a high performance sticky rubber
  • Rubber toe protection
  • Multiple webbing loops for tagging options

Tech Specs

  • MaterialsPolyester Enduro Knit, EVA Midsole, BD BlackLabel-Mountain Rubber
  • Size RangeM’s US 6-14 1/2 sizes
  • WeightEACH: 312 g (11 oz)
Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

My opinions…

Out of the box the first thing I noticed was the lightweight feel. My US Size 9 pair weighs 1 pound 5 ounces (600 grams) which is slightly lighter than the manufacturer claimed weight an about an ounce heavier than my LaSportiva TX 2’s. A fair comparison in terms of weight and support would be closer made to the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes.

The second most notable feature was the welded “TPU film overlays” especially on the upper around the heel. I’ve seen this technology used in high end waterproof jackets and using it on an approach shoe not only gives the shoe a very high tech look but also inspires confidence in the long term durability of the shoe.

Fit/Comfort

I went with a US Men’s size 9, EUR 42, and the fit was pretty spot on for my medium width regular arch foot. I probably could have sized down a half size but with a full length lacing system I was able to snug these up sufficiently for low 5th class climbing. I did notice some heel lift while wearing them around the house on Day one of testing but interestingly when hiking around Rumney NH I didn’t notice the heel lift. The heel cup could definitely be a little deeper. The wrap style tongue and padding was quite comfortable while testing with and without socks… something to consider in hot weather these actually felt pretty comfortable without socks. The EVA midsole provided plenty of under foot support and had noticeably more cushioning in the heel than other approach shoes in this category.

Performance

In class 2, 3, and 4 terrain these perform well as approach shoes. They definitely had adequate grip and comfort over 4-5 mile trips in New Hampshire’s rugged White Mountains. To test them in fifth class terrain I climbed a half dozen routes at Rumney, NH ranging from 5.3 to 5.7. They felt more secure while edging vs. smearing which I think may be in part to the rubber used in the outsole. The “BlackLabel Mountain rubber” feels a little stiffer than the compounds used in competing brands which makes these feel like the soles will have longevity with a small reduction in the coefficient of friction. As I’ve found with most approach shoes I’ve tested the friction can improve as the soles break in a bit. I usually have maximum confidence in my smear-ability once the “dots” on the soles have been worn down and the bottom of the approach shoe looks more like the bottom of a climbing shoe. Perhaps after a full season of use I’ll feel these smear a bit better.

Durability

It’s not easy to speak to much on durability when my testing window is only a few weeks long. That said a close look at the construction of these inspires confidence you will not wear through a pair of these in a couple seasons. They would certainly outlast some similar models with the futuristic welded seams and significant toe rand.

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

Summary

The Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes are a welcome addition to the growing list of approach shoes. The price and features puts them up against shoes like the LaSportiva TX Guide approach shoes and they certainly can compete. A slightly deeper heel cup would be nice and a softening and smoothing of the outsole over time will likely increase the security while heading up slabby terrain. I also think it is great that Black Diamond is producing a women’s version since options for women’s approach shoes haven’t always been there. If you are in need of some new approach shoes this is a model to consider, especially if you’ve worn Black Diamond climbing shoes before and know their sizing fits your feet!

Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review
Black Diamond Fuel Approach Shoes Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links above support the content created on this blog. Thank you.

Gear Review- Salewa Wildfire Edge Approach Shoes (and Giveaway)

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The new Salewa Wildfire Edge approach shoes arrived a few weeks ago and I’ve since logged a dozen or so days hiking and climbing in them. The obvious feature that intrigued me is the so called “Switchfit” system that promises a select-able performance orientated “climbing mode” and a comfortable casual “hiking mode”. I’ll go into how this “tech” lives up in reality but first let’s cover some of the less “edgy” features of this higher end approach shoe.


Fit/Comfort

Out of the box these felt great. I went with a US men’s size 8 after Salewa recommended downsizing a bit. In a US Men’s Shoe I typically bounce between a 8.5-9 and since I wanted to be able to take full advantage of the “climbing mode” downsizing felt appropriate. The size 8 was the right call and the width was perfect for my medium width feet. The toe box is sufficiently snug without being too snug. This might not be the right choice if you have a very wide forefoot. The heel cup is also the right proportion for my foot and feels quite secure without having to lace them up excessively tight. An interesting feature of the removable foot bed is that they can be customized to adapt to different volume feet. I left them assembled for a “medium” fit and they feel great!

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- Options for a narrow or medium volume foot.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The outsole and midsole offer a fair amount of torsional rigidity and underfoot support. Forefoot flex is on the stiffer side for approach shoes which is advantageous for reduced foot fatigue on long rocky treks, security while edging in technical terrain, and a bit negative for smearing on slab.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Well sized heel cup

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge- ample room in toe box


Traction

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Salewa uses a Pomoca sole which has one of the nicest tread patterns I’ve seen on a trail shoe. I found traction to be excellent in dirt, mud, and forest duff. The diamond shaped lugs are about 3 mm raised in the forefoot which make for great traction while fast-hiking up dirt trails during our “mud season”. On the heel 5 mm raised lugs made descending dirt/mud trails feel quite secure if I needed to pump the brakes.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

Under the big toe the lugs have been suppressed to create a climbing zone, or “EdgePlate” which is becoming popular in this specialized shoe category. The idea here is to provide more surface area for technical rock climbing. These felt somewhat secure on dry 5th class rock that was edgy. They were definitely adequate for 5.5 featured face climbing, but 5.6 slab quickly felt in-secure. The rubber compound used is noticeably denser than something like 5.10 Stealth rubber. The advantage is I feel this sole will easily outlast a softer higher friction sole, at the cost of friction on slabby dry rock. On one test hike I encountered a very low angle wet section of granite bed-rock where I found the soles to really struggle with decent traction. This was a very un-traveled spot and my suspicion is I was walking on some Spring thin lichen that will pretty much make any shoe slip but friends who had joined my fared a bit better on this short section with their softer sole compounds.

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

For the most part these shoes provided excellent traction for what we encounter hiking and scrambling in the White Mountains, handled featured low fifth class rock well as long as it wasn’t too slabby, crushed muddy steep trail runs both up and down, and only came up short on wet “licheny” slab.


SwitchFit

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Left shoe is laced tightly to engage “climbing mode” which forces the foot forward in the shoe. Right shoe is left laced casually for “hiking mode”.

Time to talk about the elephant in the room! What is SwitchFit? Salewa says these shoes have a “hiking mode” and a “climbing mode”. At first look it might appear that the difference between these two “modes” is simply lacing the shoes tighter to activate “climbing mode”, and that’s not too far off from reality. However it you look a little closer there is some actual effective design in this system that changes how these shoes feel when you crank them tight. The last eyelet the laces run through functions like a 2:1 pulley attached to a Spectra type cord that runs around the heel. When you snug up the laces for technical climbing and pull the laces forward the snugger heel pushes your foot forward in the shoe. In this mode my foot felt completely stable while edging on 5.5-5.6 face climbs. To switch to “hiking mode” you simply loosen the lacing which opens the toe box up and makes for more comfortable hiking. It’s a pretty simple system but it does what it claims to do!


Durability

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review
Salewa Wildfire Edge performing well on a 5.6 face climb at Square Ledge, New Hampshire

While I’ve only put a month or two of mileage on them I’m confident they will be be one of the longest lasting approach shoes I’ve tested. I base this on the thickness and relatively denser POMOCO outsole and the way Salewa wraps a substantial rubber rand up and over the big toe on the toe box. Close inspection of seams and eyelets reveals every point of potential stress has been appropriately re-enforced.


Summary

Salewa Wildfire Edge Review

The Salewa Wildfire Edge is a well built durable approach shoe suitable for rugged trail runs, 4th and low-5th class scrambling, and fast & light backpacking. While the “SwitchFit” system might seem a bit gimmicky at the end of the day it does exactly what it claims. Durable and comfortable this is one of the best approach shoes I’ve tested. Nice work Salewa!


Purchase

Buy on Backcountry.com <- 20% off with coupon “TAKE20MAY”

Buy on Moosejaw.com <- 20% off with coupon “FLIPFLOP”

Buy from REI.com

Buy on Amazon


Other media


Friendly Foot Giveaway!

Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer
Friendly Foot Shoe Deodorizer

Every footwear review I run this summer will be an opportunity to win some of the best damn foot deodorizer ever! I’m been a die-hard fan of this stuff for at least 5 years now. My wife takes notice if my stock is getting low as it is the only thing that works on my funky feet! Climbing shoes, ski boots, approach shoes… it doesn’t matter! A sprinkle of this in my socks and my feet smell great after any full day adventure. Enter for a chance to win a bottle by clicking the Rafflecopter link below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start


Other big deals right now!

EMS “Upgrade Your Gear Sale” ends today!

REI “Anniversary Sale” ends today!



A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links support this blog. Thank you!

Gear Review- Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review

The Five Ten Access Knit approach shoes are a stylish super breathable cross over between casual kicks and performance approach shoes. I’ve been testing a pair on trails and climbs for two months now and will share my impressions in this review. First the manufacturer details and specifications.

Buy from Adidas (Five Ten)Backcountry or REI


Manufacturer Description and Specifications

The Stealth® PH™ outsole on the Access Knit features a climbing zone for added durability, technical edging and smearing performance. The lightweight EVA midsole has a high rubber content which increases shock absorption and adds durability. The knit upper provides a snug, sock-like fit and added breathability.
  • MATERIAL: Polyester Textile/Synthetic
  • BENEFIT: Stealth
  • WEIGHT: 12.1 oz (343 gm)
  • Breathable & snug, sock-like knit upper
  • Rubberized exoskeleton lacing system for added torsional support
  • Reinforced toe cap protection
  • Injection-molded EVA midsole
  • Stealth® PH™ non-marking outsole
  • Recommend ordering 1/2 size larger than your standard shoe size

Fit and Sizing

I went with a US Men’s size 9 (EUR 42) and the fit is pretty generous for my medium width feet with slight Morton’s toe. At first “try on” they feel pretty similar to the fit of a pair of NRS Water Shoes. There is definitely enough width for these to be an option for folks looking for a wider fit. Narrow feet might need to size down or risky sliding around a bit. The heel cup is well sized with a rubberized stiffener providing a secure hold. The toe box is also generous with plenty of wiggle room. I’ve worn these both with and without socks and had no discomfort after 8+ mile hikes.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes- Roomy casual fit


Hiking Performance

These are pretty ideal for long distance comfort, especially in hot weather. My feet are notoriously warm and sweaty and probably the greatest strength of this model is the high breathability due to the almost all knit upper. The EVA Midsole is thick and provides plenty of cushion on the most demanding descents. They are not waterproof but do dry very quickly when you mis-step while rock hopping over that stream. Most hikers will be overly impressed with the performance of the dot pattern Stealth® PH™ non-marking outsole when it comes to walking up wet slabby rock but miss a more aggressive lug pattern in muddy or very soft trail conditions. The torsional rigidity falls in the middle of the spectrum, offering more rigidity and support than the softer LaSportiva TX2 but not as stable platform as the Five Ten Camp Four.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Sock like design does not have a traditional padded tongue

The lacing unfortunately does not extend further down the toe so you can’t really snug them up for a “performance lace”. In fact lacing them too tight led to some uncomfortable pressure on the top of the foot as the model does not really have any padding in the seamless tongue (similar to a neoprene wet shoe). Overall these are quite comfy on flat and moderate trails. The casual fit is most noticed on steep descents where the lack of form in the upper is noticed as the foot moves around a bit in these moments.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Legendary Five Ten Stealth Rubber Outsoles!

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Supportive heel cup with ample EVA cushioning in the midsole


Climbing Performance

To test their climbing ability I took a lap up Upper Refuse (5.6) on Cathedral Ledge and Sea of Holes (5.7) on Whitehorse Ledge. As expected they smear great with that legendary Stealth rubber! Edging performance was a bit lacking due to the very rounded edges on the toe portion of the outsole. There is a heel loop for clipping them to your harness when it’s time to switch to actual rock climbing shoes and the knit upper is quite crushable for storing in a small pack though the heel stiffener that provides a nice hold on the heel resists crushing so they will take up a little more room than the LaSportiva TX2, but much less room then the Five Ten Camp Four. I did not test them much in cracks as I think it’s obvious the knit upper would take a real beating if they were used in such a manner. Overall these climb “ok” but I would stick with models like the Five Ten Guide Tennie or LaSportiva TX4 for more serious technical climbing.

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Casual toe design, the outsole smears great but doesn’t edge as well


Summary

This new model is an interesting addition to the Five Ten line. If thought of as a casual lifestyle type shoe that can handle a mellow or moderate approach they fit the bill. People with hot feet who don’t mind trading a little overall support for awesome breathability should take a look at these. Hikers and climbers with wide feet may find this model to live up to its “sock like fit”.

Buy from Adidas (Five Ten)Backcountry or REI

Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review
Five Ten Access Knit Approach Shoes Review

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Disclosure: The product links provided in this post are affiliate links. Purchases made using these affiliate links go to support the content created here at Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you. Thank you for your support!

 

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

Support:

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.

From EMS.com:

  • 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

Traction:

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 EMS.com :

  • 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!

Buy on Backcountry