When Arc’teryx announced that the company was going to make footwear, it was one of those foreseeable surprises. As one of the more innovative brands in the outdoor market, their announcement wasn’t out of character, but footwear was somewhat unexpected.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the shoes once images started circulating, and after trying on samples at OR, I remained skeptical. The double-boot-style construction for approach shoes is innovative, and the inner sock-bootie is pretty cool. But I had my doubts; they seemed overly stiff, and felt somewhat clunky.
I’ll spare you the techno-babble, as Arc’teryx does a good job with this on their website. If you haven’t read it already, it’s probably a good idea to check it out so you have a better understanding of the construction before continuing on with this review.
I received a sample of the Acrux FL a few months ago, giving me enough time to try them out on various approaches, over rocks, roots and mud, through snow and rain, along with the usual around-town duties. And initially, just like the samples I tried on at OR, they felt a bit stiff and ungainly. But just like traditional leather shoes, it turns out these all-synthetic shoes need a break-in period.
After a few outings, the shell softened up and felt like it moulded to my feet, and thanks to the liner-inside-shell construction there is absolutely no rubbing or hot spots. Comfort is outstanding. Your foot is cosseted by the liner/inner bootie, which moves easily inside the shell. It feels unlike any other shoe I’ve worn. It’s comfortable, just completely different to how other footwear feels.
Arc’teryx say these are a standard D width last, but to my feet they feel a touch narrower. Maybe it’s the ungiving nature of the laminated upper, which doesn’t stretch out to the sides like traditional fabric shoes, but they don’t feel as roomy as my other shoes. Let’s just say there’s less ‘give’ than fabric or leather shoes. This isn’t uncomfortable, mind you, but again just a different feeling.
Length-wise they are spot on, which means you can order the same size as your other approach shoes and they should fit just fine. Commendable, and I hope this is true across the line.
The sole is an Arc’teryx design produced by Vibram, and is incredibly sticky. Put your foot down, especially on rock, and it stays put, the sole gripping exceptionally in every direction. Dry grip is excellent on rocks, roots, scree and other typical Rockies’ trail debris. Wet grip is great, too, as long as the surface isn’t loose — the shallow, closely-spaced lugs pack up with mud and snow. The climbing-zone around the toes holds an edge well, and smears superbly.
Abrasion resistance is exemplary. The one-piece laminated upper has no stitches to rip apart, and nothing to catch on rock crystals, edges, etc. This lack of exterior ‘accoutrements’ also lets the upper shed snow and mud easily, with virtually nothing sticking to the material. That said, the upper is porous — you can actually see the holes in it — so it does let water in. (Presumably, the Gore-Tex bootie version solves the wet feet issue, but I haven’t tried that version yet.)
And speaking of porous, the shoe’s breathability is beyond anything else I’ve worn (except for sandals and the like). You can actually see the holes in both the outer and inner sections of the shoe, and as these extend along most of the sides, heat simply doesn’t stay inside so feet are never sweaty.
The construction is innovative and functional, performance as an approach shoe is exemplary and the shoes fit well and are comfortable. Pair my grey samples with a nice pair of jeans and they pull off semi-casual very well, too. So why am I not more enthusiastic about these shoes? Maybe they feel too much like any other shoe out there, albeit with a whole lot more technology packed in? Maybe I was expecting more? Or something even more different? Honestly, I’m not sure.
The Acrux FL is a solid shoe. I can’t fault the fit, performance or design. At $200, they’re in line with other high-end approach / light trail shoes. They just don’t excite me as much as I wanted them to. But, what does get me really excited is applying all this technology to climbing boots — something I know Arc’teryx is working on for 2016. That is awesome. And I absolutely can’t wait to see what they come up with!