First test: AKU Trekker Pro GTX boots reviewed (2019)

Designed to better distribute pressure, are these boots ideal for the UK mountains?

DSC_0944.jpg
  • Upper Suede, Air8000 synthetic mesh, welded

  • PU film, Gore-Tex waterproof lining

  • Sole Vibram Curcuma

  • Men’s 6-13

  • Women’s 3-9

  • Weight 1676g (size 11 pair)

Foot fatigue is generally something walkers have learned to accept and tolerate, but with modern technology improving the design and performance of all outdoor equipment, the stresses and strains placed on our feet can be reduced through more careful selection of gear. Reducing the weight of kit, ensuring your rucksack is properly loaded and well balanced, and using trekking poles are all good practises to adopt. But the thing that can probably do more to reduce foot fatigue than anything else is wearing the right footwear.

Too little or too much cushioning or support can increase foot fatigue when walking on mountains. The new AKU Trekker Pro GTX promises to both improve distribution of foot pressure when walking and permit a more natural gait with its Elica Natural Stride System technology.

The technical stuff

A last is a mould that replicates the anatomy of the forefoot, arch and heel, and it is used to create the shape of the boot during manufacture. The last for this boot has been created to give the heel the opposite inclination to the forefoot, and in so doing allows for a more natural walking action.

The midsole consists of two layers with a softer cushioned rubber under the toe to aid propulsion and at the heel to reduce impact, while the rest has a harder material for support and stability.

For grip, the sole is curved using oversized lugs at the landing zones of the heel and inside of the forefoot to increase contact with the ground, as well as enhancing grip, control and stability as required.

Aku asked an external laboratory to compare the Elica Natural Stride System technology with standard boot construction. Their results showed that the new design provided a more even distribution of pressure during the walking gait, with better arch support and lower pressure on the foot when pushing off with the toe. This means that when walking, there should be more comfort and less fatigue.

On the trail

The degree of cushioning underfoot is very noticeable and I found walking on tarmac roads from the car park to the foot of the Lakeland fells more comfortable than with some boots. But more importantly, there’s also enough underfoot support to mean this doesn’t feel like walking on a wobbly bouncy castle. In contrast it feels like walking on a firm supportive sole, but with cushioning that reduces pressure points.

This combination of features proved ideal for the road and, more importantly, the rocky paths that climb onto the fells. I also found scrambling over rock a joy, as the boot allowed such precise footwork. There was enough flex in the forefoot to flat-foot up slabs, with the sole lugs clinging to the rock nodules very easily.

Edging was good too, although the broader toe box means this isn’t as precise as a more dedicated scrambling or climbing-orientated boot. In contrast, this boot feels great for more general walking over rockier ground, when a narrow, precise toe isn’t required. The outsole has deep well-spaced lugs that were ideal for mud and soft grass but also great on looser grit and scree terrain, where the stiff sole allowed a firm foothold to be obtained. The upper is well stiffened, and a full rubber rand adds extra protection so that overall the upper performance matches that of the sole unit.

These boots tip the scale at a reasonable 1676g (size 11 pair) and are well priced for the features and performance. The clear benefit is the Elica Natural Stride System technology, so this should definitely be on your list if you’re looking for a great boot for hill and mountain walking where you need great performance on a wide range of terrain from hard paths to easier rocky scrambles.

Hoka-One-One-Sky-Kaha.jpg

Verdict

Elica Natural Stride System technology improves comfort and support, making the AKU Trekker Pro GTX a must-try for hill and mountain walkers who want high performance on rocky terrain.

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%


For the latest reviews - including extra photos and products that won't appear online - 
pick up a copy of the current issue of Trail magazine!


First test: Hoka One One Sky Kaha boots reviewed (2019)

Is this the future of waking boots? Fusing the technology of a running shoe with the protection of a boot, has Hoka created the comfiest walking footwear ever?

Hoka-One-One-Sky-Kaha-1.jpg
  • Price £180

  • Material Upper Full-grain waterproof leather

  • Lining eVent waterproof lining 

  • Sole Rangi foam and Vibram Megagrip

  • Sizes Women’s 4.5-9.5, Men’s 7.5-12.5

  • Weight 1004g (pair, size 7)

Heavy. Brown. Stiff. These are the characteristics I’ve come to associate with a trusty mountain boot. So it was with some scepticism that I tried Hoka One One’s new Sky Kaha walking boot.

Heavy, brown and stiff it is not. Hoka One One (pronounced oh-ney oh-ney – Maori for ‘to fly over the earth’) is now the world’s fastest-growing running brand, owing to its revolutionary exaggerated cushioning in the sole. The Kaha has taken the principles of momentum, comfort and cushioning pioneered by its French trail running designers ten years ago, and put them into a boot that is light, bright and flexible.

Hoka-One-One-Sky-Kaha-2.jpg

I’d not tried Hoka One One footwear before, and wearing Kahas for the first time I had to reset my expectations of walking boots. They looked different. And they felt very different.

The oversized sole cupped my foot and did indeed make me feel like I was walking on air. But it was more than the cushioning; the shape of the sole rolled my foot in a forward motion, adding a spring to my step. It was more like wearing trainers – on steroids. Not only are they the antithesis of the minimalist trend towards mountain footwear, but they somehow manage to cram an eVent waterproof lining, full-grain waterproof leather and a Vibram Megagrip high-traction sole into a very lightweight package (just 1004g a pair, compared to my trusty Alt-Bergs at 1512g).

Hoka chose Iceland to launch the product in Europe, on relatively easy mountain paths and in deep snow. Perhaps not the terrain the designers originally had in mind, but more than enough to covert me into a Hoka One One fan. The comfort level was outstanding. Most surprisingly after five hours of walking in the mountains, back in the bus I had none of the usual desire to take off my boots; it was like I’d already got my slippers on!

Hoka-One-One-Sky-Kaha-4.jpg

The boots lack a heel breast (the notch in the sole that aids braking downhill), as this is sacrificed for the deep midsole cushion. But this omission is made up for by the direction and spacing of the 5mm lugs, which along with the more flexible and sticky material of the sole provides increased grip.

In use, I found the sole super-sticky on rocky terrain, the softer material creating a larger contact area with the ground, like big fat off-road tyres. They aren’t the ideal choice for scrambling as they lacked feel, precision and stiffness. However, on rock and snow I found the grip to be solid and stable.

Back home in Snowdonia the boots coped equally well on rough mountain terrain and provided a comfort level I’ve never previously experienced in a walking boot.

The materials used are good quality and feel well-made. How hard wear over time will affect the softer materials is unknown for now. It is likely a traditional brown leather boot will outlive a Sky Kaha; but if you’re not a very heavy user the comfort factor may well be worth it.

Verdict

An excellent addition to the hillwalking boot market, offering something totally different in looks and feel. You’re likely to either love them or hate them. But if they fit you correctly, we bet you won’t find a comfier boot for mountain walking.

Hoka-One-One-Sky-Kaha.jpg
  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 5/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 96%


For the latest reviews - including extra photos and products that won't appear online - 
pick up a copy of the current issue of Trail magazine!


First test: Zamberlan 330 Marie GTX boots reviewed (2019)

Is Zamberlan’s Epic Women range of female-specific boots just another marketing ploy, or is there really something revolutionary about the Marie?

Zamberlan-330-Marie-GTX-1.jpg
  • Price £230

  • Material Upper Hydrobloc Full Grain Waxed Leather Lining Gore-Tex Performance Comfort 

  • Outsole Vibram Lite Wolf 

  • Sizes 36-43 (including half sizes)

  • Weight 1215g (pair, size 40)

When Zamberlan announced its new ‘Epic Women’ range – totally designed and tested for the needs of the feminine fit, weight, performance and aesthetics, by an almost all-female team – my initial reaction was surprise. It made me wonder whether, until now, women’s gear hadn’t been made with actual women in mind after all. 

When it comes to gear, though, it’s often a case of you don’t know what you’re missing. I remember a time many years ago when I used to walk in a baggy cotton T-shirt, a hand-me-down men’s rucksack, and a pair of cheap and cheerful walking boots. But now I’m spoiled with female-fit wicking base layers, a short-backed women-specific rucksack and custom-fit boots…

The female-fit debate

When the most technical boot in the Epic Women range – the Zamberlan 330 Marie – arrived for testing, it sparked an intense and somewhat heated debate in the office about women’s gear. The question that remained at the end of it all was: are women sufficiently different to need specially-designed boots? We decided the answer was, in a lot of cases, yes. So, according to Zamberlan, what is it that I’ve been missing out on with its new women-specific range of boots? 

First Zamberlan carried out detailed research on the needs of today’s female mountain, hill and nature lovers. Then rather than tweaking an existing men’s model, it designed a range of boots built to specifically accommodate the foot, fit and posture of women. Finally, it wanted to capture the spirit of pioneering female climbers and mountaineers. So how do these concepts translate into the 330 Marie boot? 

Zamberlan-330-Marie-GTX-2.jpg

Instant comfort

On the foot, the Marie is immediately and very noticeably more comfortable than most boots suitable for 3-season high mountain terrain. This seems to be down to a combination of a really nice cushioned footbed, a soft collar and padding around the ankle, and a robust but flexible sole. The shape of the boot appears to be slightly narrower at the ankle and wider at the toe, which suits the shape of my foot perfectly and is a common requirement for the female foot. 

While some boots lack good support for the foot, this was not a problem with the Marie. Even without fitting my beloved custom footbeds, my foot felt well supported and I was treated to a nice straight footfall with no inward rolling. Fit is a very personal thing though, and all female feet are, of course, not the same, so having your boots professionally fitted will still always be best. 

Italian design

To look at, the Marie is clearly a quality boot, made in Italy and incorporating full-grain Tuscan leather, a Gore-Tex liner and rubber protection at the toe and heel which protects the necessary parts from abrasion. They feel very light compared to other full-leather boots, which was welcome when my legs got tired. I wasn’t initially sold on the peacock green leather, but they’re also available in camel – which still makes a change from the traditional brown leather boot we’re all used to seeing, albeit less of a ‘statement’. 

Zamberlan-330-Marie-GTX-5.jpg

Great grip

On test in Snowdonia, the sole gripped superbly on all terrain, from sodden grass to the slippery rock of Tryfan, and protected the foot well. Durability is yet to be tested over time, especially as the sole rubber is slightly softer than some, but they are re-soleable if required. The lack of stitching is also likely to aid longevity so long as the leather is cared for.

Zamberlan has chosen to name each boot model in the Epic Women range after pioneering female mountaineers. But while the intention is clearly a celebration of women in the outdoors, I can’t decide if I find it a touch patronising – ‘Epic Men’ anyone? That said, given it wasn’t that long ago that mountains were places few women dared to venture, perhaps us women need a reminder that we can indeed be epic too. And to commemorate female pioneers – like the Marie boot’s namesake Marie Paradis, who was the first woman to reach the summit of Mont Blanc way back in 1808 – surely can’t be a bad thing.  

Verdict

The Marie is a supremely comfortable, quality boot, and one which will stay in regular use for my 3-season walking. 

  • Features 4/5

  • Fit 5/5

  • Comfort 5/5

  • In use 5/5

  • Value for money 4/5

  • OVERALL SCORE 92%

Zamberlan-330-Marie-GTX-4.jpg

For the latest reviews - including extra photos and products that won't appear online - 
pick up a copy of the current issue of Trail magazine!


First test: Hoka One One Kaha walking boots reviewed (2019)

Chubby-soled and you’re saying the brand name wrong – but here’s why Hoka one one’s ultralight kahas are need-to-know boots in 2019.

1099637-CGYB_2.jpg
  • Upper full-grain leather, eVent waterproof lining

  • Outsole Vibram Megagrip

  • Men’s 7-14

  • Women’s 5-11

  • Weight 483g (size UK7 men’s)

  • Price £180

  • More info

Hoka One One is a brand you’re going to need to know about sooner or later. They’re a disruptor of conventional wisdom, and in spite of their almost wilful oddity (French company, Californian-owned, Maori-named, pronounced ‘Hoka oh-nay oh-nay’) it’s working: Hoka is the fastest-growing running shoe maker in the world. But their big ideas, they say, apply at least as well to walking as to running, as they launch their Sky range of boots – the scrambling-focused Sky Arkali (£170), speedy-hiker Sky Toa (£150) and the full-leather, waterproof Sky Kaha we’re focusing on here.

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 16.22.20.png

The big idea is that for too long, boots have been too heavy, too unforgiving underfoot, and too clumpy and stop-start in the gait they enforce. From the moment you set off in the Kahas you get the idea. At 481g per boot (men’s size 7) they’re fully 20% lighter than equivalent conventional boots, and they feel trivially lightweight. A bit like that momentary feeling of weightlessness you get after taking off your pack at the end of a day’s walk.

Screen+Shot+2019-03-29+at+16.27.43.jpg

The spring in your step is consolidated by the shape of the sole, which has a heel-to-toe arc which gently urges forward motion in favour of standing still. But what strikes you most of all as you power off along stony, rooty or rubbly trails is the absorption provided by the Kaha’s gateau-like sole. Where before you could expect to deflect off roots, pivot over the top of sharp stones and have to plan each step with the avoidance of discomfort and the search for a stable foot placement upmost in mind, now you don’t. The Kaha’s soles – comprised of three generous layers of different density rubbers, in which your foot is comfortably cradled – act like balloon tyres, absorbing intrusions and establishing grip and stability quickly and carelessly. It’s liberating – and particularly advantageous going downhill toward the walk’s end, when instead of nursing tired feet and knees, you can stomp on down with abandon. The extra width of the oversized sole makes going over on your ankle almost impossible to do too.

Part of what makes the Hokas look unconventional is the absence of a heel breast – the step separating heel from instep and forefoot, which from time immemorial has been a boot-sole hallmark. Hoka’s instep instead is filled with lugs – more than enough extra surfaces perpendicular to the direction of travel to perform the heel breast’s ‘handbrake’ function says Hoka – while being formed out of softer rubber, meaning the instep is still there when you need it, like when you’re stood across the crest of a sharp boulder and need that anchored feeling.

Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 16.24.23.png

Hoka says in its early days ‘we knew people were laughing’ when they saw their running shoes, but that scepticism never survived a road test. Its Sky Kahas – styled to be less alienating than its earlier offerings, yet still unmistakably different – face a lower hurdle, perhaps, but a hurdle still. Don’t dismiss them. They might look like anti-gravity boots from the future, but in some ways they really are. And they’re certainly the most stable, untiring, and lightest full-leather boots you can buy today.

Verdict

+     ultraLight, grippy, stable and they leave your feet remarkably untired and untender.

–     Hoka’s ‘bucket seat’ design achieves stability without a stiff upper, so the boot hasn’t got that ‘armoured’ feeling you may like in a leather boot.


Screen Shot 2019-03-29 at 16.32.22.png