Purpose-built, ultralight approach shoes
Arc’teryx has long been a name associated with a meticulous, almost obsessive attention to detail in the craftsmanship of their apparel and gear, so when they introduced a line of footwear for the Spring 2015 season, I was interested in seeing what exactly they were planning to bring to the table.
As expected, Arc’teryx delivered their signature level of rampant nerdery with the Bora Mid boot, the Bora² Mid boot, and the Acrux FL and Acrux² FL. Naming conventions–or the redundancy thereof–aside, the real show-stealers were the Bora² and Acrux² FL, with their modular and removable liners, thermolaminated, seamless uppers, and the adaptive fit that was purported to result from the combination of the two.
Now we come to Spring 2016, and as is their wont, Arc’teryx has begun to take the initial ideas that defined their first foray into footwear and begun to specialize.
Enter: the Acrux SL.
Full disclosure: Arc’teryx provided another tester and I with the Acrux SL’s free of charge.
Shaving an impressive 127 grams from the Acrux FL to weigh a scant 300g (10.6 oz), Arc’teryx has created an uber-light, purpose-built approach shoe. This lightening of the load on your feet came with some concessions, however, namely some of the more aggressive tread patterning on the outsole as well as the stiffness afforded by the more burly laminated heel counter and rand that was found on the Acrux FL models.
What does this mean? Well, as I said above, the Acrux SL is a purpose-built shoe. That purpose being? Approaching rock climbs. I can’t think of another approach shoe that does what it says on the package quite so well as these. The Acrux SL shone on packed trails during testing, and was exceptionally sticky on steep slabs and boulders. Given their lightweight packability, the Acrux SL’s are perfect for making your way up steep and challenging approaches and then packing them away for your exit hike after a climb.
That being said, the design of the Acrux SL’s outsole does not lend itself to the type of conditions you often find hiking on the east coast. While the sticky Vibram MegaGrip™ rubber made me feel like Spiderman on all of the boulders and slabs that the trail threw my way, wet roots, mud, and loose earth all proved to be trying obstacles for the Acrux SL.
And it’s not hard to see why. While the large amount of surface area afforded by the shallow, circular lugs on the outsole and the totally smooth climbing zone at the toe of the shoe will make short work of rock, such a design does you no favors when traction is needed. The lugs simply don’t have the bite to deal with loose earth or mud, and as far as wet roots are concerned, the heel brake on the Acrux is a little too minimal to catch on anything when you inevitably slip on one.
Does this matter? Not really. The Acrux SL is a minimalistic approach shoe through and through, and if you wanted to buy it to be a “one-shoe quiver”, then you would be doing yourself a disservice. This is a shoe that is most at home on the rocky outcroppings, talus, and boulder fields you find on your way towards sending your next project, not when you’re deep in the muddy green tunnel of the Appalachian Trail. It is more than serviceable on most trail conditions you’ll encounter on your approach, but don’t buy it as a hiking shoe outright. Add it to your collection of shoes that fill a specific niche.
Speaking to the fit of the shoe? A decidedly narrow toebox means that some wider-footed folks will need to be mindful of their lacing. While the narrower fit was perfect for me and my “man-sized-lady-feet”, it was a point of contention for our other tester, who has rather a noticeable (to others) bunion on one foot that she hadn’t quite realized the existence of until trying on the Acrux SL.
Provided that your feet are narrow (and let’s be honest, approach shoes aren’t known for being particularly wide anyway) then the Acrux SL will fit straight out of the box. The adaptive lining that is welded to the seamless upper of the Acrux SL proved to be extremely comfortable and breathable, as though I didn’t even need to be wearing socks with them. The absence of a tongue was also enthusiastically noted, and that adaptive liner conformed to my feet with no rubbing or hotspots to be felt anywhere. Our other tester noted that the shoes felt less constrictive with each subsequent hike, as well.
Specialized, lightweight, and without unnecessary frills, it’s safe to say that the Acrux SL is one of the best approach shoes on the market today, and Arc’teryx brings to their construction the high level of craftsmanship and laser focus on quality that the company has made itself known for.