The hiking boot market is one of the most competitive and crowded in the entire outdoor industry. There are literally dozens of companies producing a wide variety of footwear designed to fit the specific needs of climbers, trekkers and backpackers everywhere.
Italian boot manufacturer AKU is one such company. For more than 30 years AKU has been designing and testing mountain footwear in the Alps, and over those three decades the company has grown from a small workshop to a large scale operation. The brand is well known in Europe and other parts of the world, but now AKU is coming to North America and their bringing their high quality boots with them.
I recently had my first experience with AKU boots when I put their SL Trek GTX to the test. Lightweight and durable, these shoes are built for hiking. Their design incorporates an intriguing blend of AKU’s traditional mountaineering heritage with a mix of modern, high tech elements that make them a great choice for trekking trails in the backyard or the far side of the planet.
One of the first things that struck me when I started hiking in these boots was how comfortable and breathable they are, even in very warm conditions. Hiking Texas trails in the summer heat can be brutal on your feet, but the SL Trek GTX managed to keep my feet dry, happy and blister free. No boot is perfect in hot conditions of course, but these were some of the best I’ve encountered, especially considering some of the other features it brings to the table.
Performance isn’t limited to simply venting heat off our feet either. The aggressive Vibram sole has an impressive grip that provides stability and traction on a wide variety of surfaces, both wet and dry. These boots are obviously well suited for the trail but I found they were equally adept at scrambling up a smooth rock face or across a field of loose scree too. This level of performance and versatility is obviously a cross over from AKU’s line of mountaineering boots but considering how unpredictable trail conditions can be, it is nice to know you’re wearing a pair of boots that are up to the task.
One of the more unique aspects of AKU’s design is a polyurethane exoskeleton, which wraps around the exterior of the boot. That exoskeleton is meant to provide an extended level of stability without adding bulk or weight, and for the most part it works. This feature does give the Trek GTX a certain rigidness however, which made for an extended break-in time. As is generally the case with a pair of new boots, they did eventually loosen up and became more very comfortable but it took a bit longer than I expected.
Other features of the AKU SL Trek GTX include a Gore-Tex liner that helps keep moisture out, a memory foam footbed that molds to the foot the more you wear it and a sole that provides excellent cushioning from the rigors of the trail. All of these elements work well together to create a lightweight, comfortable boot that is durable enough to last for years.
AKU has a winner on their hands with these boots. They not only perform at an extremely high level but they also have their own unique look and feel as well. If you’re in the market for a new pair of hiking boots for serious alpine trekking or backpacking, I highly recommend giving these boots a try. Just be prepared to give them ample time to loosen up and break in and you’re likely to find you have a fantastic pair of boots that will accompany on far flung adventures for a long time.