When it comes to boots, I have really fussy feet. They confound the employees at REI, annoy the reps that send me footwear to review, and disappoint the trade show staff that spend twenty minutes telling me about their awesome features, only to discover that we cannot find a pair that fit me comfortably. So although I have no trouble with unstructured minimalist running shoes, finding a hiking boot that fits well and is always a challenge. But I can be honest and accept that it’s my feet, and not the footwear.
Luckily, I happened to find AKU, an Italian company with a history of boots that fit and perform every bit as good as they look. Their rep sent me the La Stria Suede GTX, which I promptly returned for the next size up. (That’s par for the course with me, as most European brands seem to run small compared to my every day shoes) Described as a “New concept trekking boot which delivers exceptional comfort”, the La Stria Suede GTX is “Ideal for intense, energetic hiking and medium length fast-paced treks with light loads on your back.” Does that describe my typical hike? Not really, but I found they work well for regular paced hikes, with or without a pack. And here’s why:
Starting at the bottom, AKU has chosen a Vibram® sole designed specifically for the intended use of these boots. That means tread pattern, rubber durometer (hardness) and even shape were taken into consideration when developing the outsole. Seeing as how my two favorite pairs of running shoes both employ Vibram® soles, this immediately inspired confidence when hiking.
AKU’s IMS, or Internal Midsole System places the midsole inside the boot for additional cushioning. A contour-matched layer of EVA placed over the lasting board means that your foot is resting on shock absorbing material designed to match the shape and curves of your foot. Working in conjunction with IMS is SMF, which is an ultra light and breathable Slow Memory Foam. Similar to a memory foam pillow or mattress, it molds itself to your body. In this case, the foam is used in the footbed, ankle, and tongue area to improve fit, and therefore comfort. It’s like being custom fit for boots every time you put them on.
If you look at the photo above, you’ll notice the band with AKU written on it that starts mid foot and wraps around the heel. This is their Heel Support System, and it does exactly what the name implies, keeping your heel firmly in place whether climbing or descending, even with a pack on your back.
Air8000® and INFINITY AIR can be summed up quite simply – they provide up to eleven times better airflow than traditional materials used in boot construction. Breathable materials allows a mostly suede upper to keep your feet cool, even during summer hikes. Combine that with a full GORE-TEX® lining, and you’ve got a boot that resists water intrusion, yet allows perspiration to escape.
So how does all that technology and alphabet soup work together? In a word, outstanding. Initial fit (once I had the correct size) was perfect. Using a thinly padded Darn Tough Vermont sock, I felt no hot spots after lacing them up. The toe box was roomy enough (for a hiker), my arches felt supported, and there was no slipping in the heel. Although I did wear them out and about a bit to break them in before hiking in them, that may have been unnecessary. No rubbing, no complaints, and their “Custom Fit” turned out to be just that. On the trail, they provided plenty of traction in loose, rocky soil, and although the rubber soles are pretty hard, I found them fairly grippy on dry rocks. Although we didn’t encounter any water crossings, GORE-TEX® is a trusted name when it comes to staying dry, and I don’t expect that liner to let me down during should they get wet. I also appreciated the extra protection at the front of the boot, since I have a habit of kicking rocks and small logs off the trail as I hike. Hot and sweaty feet ruin a good hike as quickly as ill-fitting boots, neither of which was a problem for me. When combined with Merino wool socks, heat and moisture management was better than expected. Construction quality was very high too, with even stitching throughout. I have no doubt they’ll hold up to plenty of mileage. If they fit me this good, chances are they’ll fit anyone at least as well, if not better. aku.it