This summer has seen a monumental shift in my walking footwear. I have recently discovered the joys of approach shoes.
Think of approach shoes as a hybrid of the sole from a walking boot and an upper from a pair of your comfy slipper like trainers. Which is exactly what AKU have done with the Women's Rock Lite shoe.
With boots I've had some with a waterproof lining, and others without. I'm not going to come out and say one is better than the other, as I think they both have their merits. But for shoes I'm going to go for un-lined. Reason being you are much more likely to get wet feet. Simply, put a foot in a squelchy, boggy bit and you'll get water in the shoe whether it's waterproof or not but without a waterproof lining it'll at least have a chance to escape and the shoe to dry.
Pausing to admire the view on Ben Macdui in my Rock Lites
So to the shoes. A grey suede leather upper is reinforced by a further strip of suede where the upper and sole join. A black rubber rand and toe bumper protects vulnerable tootsies from sharp rocks, whilst a further rubber strip around the heel cup starting at the midpoint of the shoe seems largely decorative. The tongue is well padded fabric with only a splash of leather for perhaps structure at the top. Slot vents in the upper provide a little cooling air to one's foot. The upper is cut and shaped to be below the ankle bone then rises at the back to protect the Achilles.
The Vibram® sole unit has an open tread pattern, with square edged blocks giving good grip on slippery grass. The heel also has a good edge to it. The shallow instep is also dotted with tread.
My well used shoe
Construction quality of the shoe is excellent. Stitching is evenly spaced and parallel and bonding of the upper to the sole is tight with no visible gaps or blemishes that could open over time. The supplied laces are sufficient to tie a double knot if you so wish.
Fit is of moderate volume with the supplied insole, leaving enough room to replace it with a full length orthotic if required.
Out and about on Lake District Fells and Scotland's Munros they have really performed well, exceeding my expectations. There is more feel of the underfoot conditions with these shoes compared to a typical boot, but rough stony paths don't hurt your feet like they would with trainers. Boulder fields similarly can almost be skipped through. The lighter weight on your feet really noticeable. The upper has survived encounters with sharp rocks well and after four months of use have yet to show much signs of the abuse they've been given. Grip on steep, wet and slippery grass has been excellent thanks to the square edged tread. The sole is showing signs of a little wear and I'd expect another summer out of them before needing to be resoled.
So my conclusions as a first time buyer of approach shoes is that I wish I had 'bought into' these years ago. It's been a real joy and an eye opener!
Unfortunately, according to Alex at Keswick Boot Co, AKU have stopped making the Rock Lite. Why do manufacturers keep changing things even when they have such a fantastic shoe that obviously sells well?! The replacement shoe feels heavier, lined, and has a stiffer sole. I'm not sure that progress has moved on for the better.
Edited to add: Apparently the UK AKU distributor has had a lot of similar feedback - with the comment 'can we have them back please?'. Whilst 2016 season is done and dusted, I am assured there is hope for spring/summer 2017 but quite what could not be revealed.
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