These days, plenty of companies are making their version of an approach shoe. It’s not just the megaliths of La Sportiva, 5.10, and Scarpa, but also smaller players like Evolv and Butora. Across the board though, there’s a theme surrounding what an approach shoe is and how it behaves. The AKU Rock DFS Mid GTX Approach shoe breaks that mold. It’s mid height, leather, waterproof, has a raised heel, and sports an unusual lacing system. Really, it’s a thinly veiled hiking boot playing climbing games, and it plays them well.
AKU Rock DFS Mid GTX Approach Shoe Features:
- GORE-TEX waterproof/breathable membranes let your feet breathe while protecting them from wet weather, keeping them dry and comfortable
- Gusseted tongues keep out trail debris and use soft materials to provide a smooth transition
- Dual Fit System (DFS) has 2 separate lace zones that are easy and fast to adjust
- Primary lace zone provides maximum comfort while walking or hiking; secondary fast lace provides support and a precision fit
- AIR 8000® fabric offers superior breathability
- Elica Fit technology allows your feet to move through their natural range of motion, providing enhanced comfort and reduced fatigue and foot strain
- IMS3 chassis combined with polyurethane exoskeletons and midsoles support your feet, help control flex, reduce ankle strain and enhance stability
- Midsoles incorporate a lightweight EVA foam for cushioning and a polyurethane heel for durability and support
- Midsoles are wrapped with sticky climbing rubber for protection and extra grip on slippery rocks
- Vibram® Approcciosa rubber soles are coated in Megagrip for added grip and traction in both wet and dry conditions
- Pair Weight: 1 lb. 12.2 oz.
- MSRP: $220
A Do-It-All Approach Shoe
Approach shoes need to be a few things in order to succeed. They need to be comfortable over long distances, precise and grippy enough to climb lower 5th class, and packable for daypack storage when you journey up bigger walls. The terms “packable” and “precise” may not conjure up images of a boot for you. Nor do waterproofing and leather uppers naturally translate to the kind of breathability that make hiking long, hot miles comfortable. This being the case, I approached the Rock DFS Mid GTX with hope …and some healthy skepticism.
When it came to grip, the Rock DFS performed well. The Vibram soles have proved their mettle in a variety of hiking conditions for me the past 3 months. From hardpack to gravel, talus to moderate-angle snow, sand to scree – these soles hold their own when hiking. Prominent lugs definitely helped all around. On an early-bird trip to bag a peak in the North Cascades this Spring, I ended up taking the Rock DFS up some steeper snowfields. They were surprisingly capable. It’s no mountaineering boot, of course, but you can certainly see AKU’s know-how at work in their performance. I couldn’t be happier with their traction while hiking.
The same was largely true on technical rock. The broad and flat frontal section of the sole combined with the tacky composition of the rubber translated to excellent grip on the rock. I was quite comfortable climbing slab and face routes in the 5.7 neighborhood (around my norm for approach shoes), and was happy and assured when climbing 5.8 crack lines wearing them. For cracks especially, the long, grippy rand adds a lot. And on several occasions in off-widths, I found definite value in the mid-height ankle protection. If there’s any catch to these shoes’ performance on technical rock, it’s that they got stuck more frequently in foot jams than past approach shoes of mine. Those big gummy lugs can sometimes provide more security than desired. Still, you can jam all day in them without foot fatigue, which is more than I can say of my Sportiva TX2s.
Part of what makes the Rock DFS a solid shoe while climbing is the Dual Fit System (DFS). DFS allows you to maintain comfortable lacing for hiking, and quickly tighten only the forefoot when you’re ready to climb or descend. It might look a bit tacky, and I was often left wondering what to do with the extra orange lace loop after tightening, but it does provide quick adjustment for an objectively more precise feel on the rock. In all my prior pairs of approach shoes, I’ve either fully adjusted my lacing at the base of technical sections, or I’ve just dealt with a miserably tight fit for hiking. Neither choice is good, and AKU has presented me with option C. I think there’s room for improvement for lace storage, but it’s an interesting and effective idea.
As for fit generally, the Rock DFS is a strange one. I ordinarily wear a US Mens 10.5 for approach shoes, which tends to be the happy medium between spacious enough for hiking and toe-crushing enough for proper feel and control on technical stone. Testing the AKUs, I went with a US Mens 10, and it still fit a little on the bigger side. I was able to lace down to a reasonable fit, but sizing is definitely odd with these boots.
Once adjusted, the boot goes on comfortably and requires a fairly minimal break-in period. They were on the stiff side for about 10-15 miles before giving way and becoming comfortable. My story with these boots has been inconsistent comfort-wise though. For the first 2 months of consistent, heavy testing, they were a win all around – comfortable on long hikes, and an enviable technical scrambling companion. Somehow though, things turned South in month 3, and the shoes began to give me heel blisters on particularly long days out. Lacing adjustments and switch-ups in sock choice have not fixed this. I don’t believe this is any fault of the boots, but I also can’t omit that part of my experience with them. My hunch is that it’s related to the increasing temperatures of Spring and slightly sweatier socks, not to overshare.
Something that doesn’t come with any caveat or mystery is the waterproofing. The built-in Gore Tex sock-style waterproofing is super effective. To test them out I kept the shoes submerged to the ankles in my local stream as I read a book. 20 minutes later, I stepped out, dry as a bone. You have to love that. Waterproof membranes aren’t as breathable as no waterproof membrane, so it does come at a cost temperature-wise. Even so, I’m a guy who crosses streams and walks in muddy gullies often when approaching climbs, so it’s a price I’m happy to pay for dry feet.
There are two other things to address: durability and packability. Both are easy topics. The uppers on these puppies are leather, and the construction is good all around. The rubber has seen some things over 3 months of abuse, and it’s largely unaffected except some slightly scrappy edges. If it weren’t for the thin-ness of the DFS lace (which is getting a tad fuzzy), I’d call these bombproof. As for packability, I was initially hesitant to get a mid height approach shoe. I was wrong. These shoes fit in my climbing pack easily, and only take up about an inch more space along the soles than my old Scarpa Cruxes used to. If you ask me, the ankle stability while hiking and protection in wide cracks are worth that measly extra inch in the pack.
Fit: I ordinarily wear a Men’s 10.5 for approach shoes, but sized down to a Men’s 10 for the Rock DFS. I’d recommend trying these on in person, since the sizing isn’t 1:1 with other street shoes.
- Quality construction and durability
- Gore Tex membrane is super effective
- Vibram soles work wonders on loose terrain and technical rock
- Dual Fit System is efficient for adjusting toe-box tightness
- Can jam all day long comfortably
- Mid height ankle keeps you bleed-free in off-widths
- Surprisingly packable
- Security in foot jams also means getting stuck more
- DFS lace storage could improve
- Waterproof membrane and leather outers do make them a bit toasty
- Began to give me blisters on high-mileage days 3-months into testing
- They’re not cheap
The Bottom Line: AKU Rock DFS Mid GTX Approach Shoe
Mid height ankles and a Gore Tex membrane make these shoes a bit burlier than your average approach shoes. They perform like a high-quality boot for hiking, yet they are nimble and precise enough to comfortably climb lower 5th class lines. If you’re in the market for a hard-wearing, capable pair of approach shoes, these might be a good call.
Buy Now: Available at REI