A versatile, high performing approach shoe/hiking shoe hybrid that you'll reach for in many mountain adventure scenarios; perfect for rocky scrambles and via ferratas
Extremely robust and durable
Innovative lacing for versatile fit
Gear loops for harness attachment
Slightly heavier than most leading approach shoes
Only one women's color option
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AKU Rock DFS GTX: First impressions
You will find pairs of AKU Rock DFS GTXs under the approach shoe heading, though there's definitely more to them than this. The best approach shoes aim to strike a happy medium between the rock hopping capabilities of a climbing shoe and the comfort and robustness of a hiking shoe. The Rock DFS GTXs are certainly towards the hiking shoe end of the spectrum, complete with a durable Vibram sole, mid ankle height option and waterproofing provided by GORE-TEX. All of this means that they stand up to the rigors of wild, backcountry hiking and long walk ins to the crag.
However, once you hit the rock, there are myriad features that help to elevate what appears to be a premium hiking shoe into the realms of the high-performance approach shoe. The "DFS" in the name stands for Dual Fit System, which is new and exclusive technology and very much the standout USP. Traditional lacing gives you a comfortable fit when walking, while a second fast-lacing system towards the front of the shoe enables you to tighten things up even further for climbing precision once you start to take on rocky scrambles and steeper crags.
Since AKU's previous Rock approach shoes, a new last has been developed (check out our guide to the parts of a hiking boot), giving increased comfort on rugged scrambles, as well as a low toe box and tip for enhanced precision when edging on steep terrain. You can be aggressive when scrambling, thanks to the shoe's robust design, wedging it into gaps in the rock confidently, with the protection afforded by the rubber rand and a flexible yet sturdy Vibram Approcciosa sole.
Speaking of which, the sole is thoughtfully designed with both climbing and hiking in mind. The Elica Natural Stride System reduces impact, while its lugs enable you to grip a range of terrain types. Meanwhile, the very front and back of the soles are flat for climbing shoe style traction on the rock.
All in all, these are the perfect shoes for taking on long, rocky scrambles, via ferratas or easy multi-pitch climbs. At the crag, if swapping out for climbing shoes, they easily attach to a harness thanks to their gear loops. Their ability to adapt to both hiking and climbing applications, thanks in part to the innovative Dual Fit System, make them a unique proposition in the approach shoe world. They are also durable and robust enough to act as a full-time hiking shoe, even if you never intend on hitting graded terrain.
• RRP: $180 (US) / £180 (UK) / €185.90 (EU) • Weight (average, per shoe): 400g / 14.1oz • Materials: GORE-TEX extended comfort lining, Vibram Approcciosa Megagrip outsole, doube density eva + pu midsole, Ortholite hybrid footbed • Colors: (men’s) blue/orange, black/orange, green or yellow, (women's) jade • Compatibility: Hiking, easy climbing, scrambling, fastpacking, via ferrata
On the trails
The AKU Rock DFS GTX's took to the trails admirably, keeping my feet warm, dry and protected in the wintery, wet conditions of the Scottish Highlands. When called upon to convert from the mountain paths to a soggy multi-pitch climb, they were reassuringly stable, perfect for both precise ledge placements and more aggressive wedging. Their ability to transition from trail to crag is the very hallmark of a quality approach shoe.
The Rock DFS GTX's are available in a mid length and low ankle option and there is also a women's specific model, designed with the female plantar anatomy in mind. I tested the male, mid length model and it was comfortable straight out of the box, with plenty of toe room. The shoe remained comfortable for many days on the trail, while the additional mid length ankle support was reassuring on rocky paths.
I wouldn't recommend tightening the additional lacing for extended periods of walking, as it squeezes the foot across the dorsal region, but this isn't what is was designed for anyway. Once you reach a scramble or climb, that's when the double lacing system comes into its own, bringing the toe area in tighter for maximum precision.
The Rock DFS GTXs perform well when put to hiking and climbing use. The Elica Natural Stride System and Vibram sole kept me comfortable on the rocky trails for days, avoiding the foot aches you often get with less robust footwear when exploring mountainous terrain for hours on end.
I took on some rocky scrambles and low-grade climbs in fairly damp conditions and found they gripped well throughout. Their sturdy build meant I could be aggressive when finding placements, which is often the case when it comes to scrambling, with plenty of wedging going on. My feet didn't feel too much strain, making them my preferred choice over the less-comfortable option of a climbing shoe for long but low-grade multi-pitch adventures.
These are approach shoes that are aimed more towards scrambling and climbing hikers, rather than sun-worshipping cragrats. If the shape and feel of the shoes didn't give this away, the inclusion of GORE-TEX waterproofing technology certainly does. It held up very well over a day of Scottish drizzle and a few hours of heavier rain, though water does eventually seep through the top in such conditions without the use of gaiters. However, considering the conditions, my feet were as dry as could be expected by the end of the day.
The Rock DFS GTXs are superbly durable, putting them in the same league as the best hiking shoes when it comes to longevity thanks to the quality of materials they have been crafted from. On one outing, I was tasked with breaking apart pallets for firewood, something I would not fancy doing without sturdy shoes on my feet. They were perfect for this task, their robust construction, rubber rand and Vibram sole more than up for the challenge of stomping and kicking a couple of pallets to pieces for the campfire. Even after this rigorous task, the shoes were still as good as new, giving me confidence that they will stand up to the test of time.
Alex is a qualified Mountain Leader, adventure writer and content creator with an insatiable passion for the mountains. A Cumbrian born and bred, his native English Lake District has a special place in his heart, though he is at least equally happy in North Wales, the Scottish Highlands or the European Alps. Through his hiking, mountaineering, climbing and trail running adventures, Alex aims to inspire others to get outdoors. He is currently the President of the London Mountaineering Club, training to become a Winter Mountain Leader, looking to finally finish bagging all the Wainwright fells of the Lake District and hoping to scale more Alpine 4000ers when circumstances allow. Find out more at www.alexfoxfield.com
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