The revolutionary new Acrux2 FL GTX approach shoes from Arc’teryx had the outdoor industry abuzz when first announced, so how did they perform?
When Kev announced that the new Arc’teryx shoes had arrived I was more than a little excited, after all Arc’teryx have developed an enviable reputation with their technical clothing and it was going to be interesting to see how this transferred to footwear. The shoes certainly looked different, to be honest they looked more street shoe than ‘trainer’ and on their first outing up to The Cliff I was asked if I’d escaped from Sunday School by one of my more comedic friends.
On first wearing the Acrux2 FL GTX I was a bit nonplussed, they felt very stiff (almost clumpy) and weight-wise were at the upper end of what I would consider acceptable as an approach shoe. To be honest on first wearing I was not as impressed as I was expecting. Comfort wise the removable stretch GoreTex liner was amazing, no pressure points or rough edges just a beautifully uniform cradling of my foot. A closer examination of the outer shoe revealed the typical Arc’teryx attention to detail and their signature ‘laminated’ construction; there is no stitching to blow out or allow ingress of water anywhere on the upper. It was clear that these were built to last with burly synthetic uppers and minimal seams to reduce weak points. The sole is a Vibram Arc’teryx approach sole with the now ubiquitous blocked ‘climbing zone’ along the inside fore edge. Overall there is a lot of clever stuff going on and rather than regurgitate the technical specs just take a look at ‘Evolution in Action‘ page on the Arc’teryx site. You can also buy additional liners from Arc’teryx including insulated and bootie versions, I’m not sure how these would effect the fit of the shoe but they further add to the shoes versatility. The robust build quality may initially be off-putting to people used to the virtually instant comfort of modern trainers. I can quite happily buy a pair of trail/fell shoes in the morning and run 15km with them at lunchtime. However with the Acrux2 FL GTX there is a distinct break-in period, much like a walking or mountaineering boot. For myself it took about a week before the stiff clumpy feeling disappeared and I started to appreciate the qualities of the shoe. Be aware that the synthetic uppers are not going to ‘give’ very much, far less than a leather or lightweight synthetic approach shoe so don’t bargain on these stretching out or moulding to your feet much at all. The corollary of this is that you can buy them with the confidence that they will maintain their fit and performance. The smooth laminated upper had another unexpected benefit in that it was extremely easy to clean, with no stitched bands or reinforcing there was little opportunity for dirt to become lodged so you can just wipe them clean with a damp cloth.
So how did the Acrux2 FL GTXs perform? Throughout the test period I used them across a variety of typical British terrain, short approaches to local crags as well as longer hour plus walk-ins to mountain crags in the Lakes. The Acrux2 FL GTX handled a wide variety of terrain brilliantly, the soles provided excellent friction on rocky terrain but also coped well on the slippery grass/mud which is so often the undoing of approach shoes designed for drier climes. Climbing performance is good too – certainly on a par with other approach shoes though the ‘double boot’ construction reduces sensitivity and there is a little more lateral roll when inside edging compared to conventionally built shoes.
The shoes proved very waterproof up to the point where you go in deeper than the toe box when water will get into the outer at the laces, your feet will remain dry protected by the inner but it is a slightly odd feeling! Walking through long damp grass they were excellent. Being all synthetic and with a removable bootie it is also very easy to dry them at the base of the crag – be careful the lightweight booties don’t blow away though! The booties will do double duty as a hut boot if staying in mountain huts. The shoes were very comfortable though perhaps a little snug on my E width feet (the Arc’teryx last is a standard medium D fitting) and have proved very durable.
So what are the down sides. Well although these are tagged as FL – fast and light they are hefty. In fact a single size 9 weighs 517 grams which more than a pair of my normal trail shoes. This is especially telling when you clip them to your harness and they wouldn’t be my first choice for routes where I was expecting to carry them up. The Acrux FL2 is also a very warm shoe, although it breaths better than other GoreTex shoes I’ve used you have still got large areas on impermeable material and a double boot construction to add insulation. I won’t be taking them to the south of France or even the Alps this summer but you can bet they will be coming with me on my winter trips – perfect for dealing with slushy snow on apres climb walks into Cogne or Kandersteg to buy pizza, or wandering around Fort Bill in the rain to get fish and chips. The other issue for most climbers with Acrux2 FL GTX is the price, at £225.00 they are more than double the price of most conventional approach shoes.
Overall the Acrux2 FL GTX is a waterproof, tough, versatile approach shoe built to the exceptional high standards you expect from Arc’teryx. There are some interesting technical aspects that could make it a winner depending on your needs but it is not light and the price reflects the innovation and build. They are definitely an impressive debut into the footwear market. The laminated upper with liner design shows a lot of potential and if Kev’s reports from the Arc’teryx Alpine Academy are anything to go on a lightweight alpine boot may realise its true potential.