We are fallible, us humans. Some of these fallibilities are easy to see– our pettiness, our meanness, our inability to put other people’s shoes on our own feet– but others aren’t so. That they are harder to recognize doesn’t make these foibles any less insidious, however, just more difficult to deal with.
Take singleminded-ness, for example. It certainly has it’s place. Our ability to be singleminded got us to the moon, after all, and it is hard to think of a single “great” human being was wasn’t at least a little singleminded. Like all things, however, singleminded-ness comes at a cost. And that is the ability to see the forest through the trees. Singleminded-ness keeps you from recognizing your happy little accidents.
All of which brings me to the point of today’s review, the Arc’teryx Acrux FL Approach Shoe.
Or I should say, the Arc’teryx Acrux FL Water Shoe.
Arc’teryx changed to footwear game when they introduced their line of approach shoes and hiking boots. The line started out pretty simply, with a boot and a shoe, but this was quickly expanded upon. Now Arc’teryx is making trail runners, two different approach shoes, hiking boots, and mountaineering boots. Suffice it to say that by combining a radically new type of construction with space age looks, they made a shoe that everyone, and I mean everyone, was at least interested in. They remain the only shoes that people regularly stop me on the trail to ask about.
Across the interwebs people generally like these shoes. Myself, I’ve written an embarrassingly large number of words across a one million step review of the boot version. However, the forgotten step child of the bunch has always seemed to be the Acrux FL. Designed to be an approach shoe for deep back country climbing trips, it is a little too heavy for a light hiking and a little too stiff for scrambling, leaving it in an awkward middle ground. They were good, for sure, but lacked a dedicated purpose.
Then, around the fall of 2015 I found myself looking for a new pair of shoes for the light, hiking heavy canyonnering I love. They needed to be supportive enough for me to carry a reasonably heavy pack, drain well enough to keep the water off my feet, and grip well enough for scrambles. I looked all over the web, and wasn’t very happy with what I found. Though some people very much liked their 5-10 Canyoneers, they simply did not fit me. Then, while researching for the Bora boot review I stumbled back onto long forgotten about Acrux FLs. Though not billed as canyoneering shoes per se, on paper they fit the bill. The laminate was vented and didn’t hold water, megagrip outsoles promised scrambleability, and the stiffness would be welcome while carrying a pack. On a whim I bought a pair, and was incredibly impressed on my first trip with them.
Its been almost a year and a half now, and ever since the Acrux FLs have been my go to “wet feet” shoe. They are still going strong, but probably aren’t long for the world of front line action. Seeing as how they aren’t on the Arc’teryx website anymore*, they probably aren’t long for the retail world either. All that in mind, it seemed a good time to take a look back and see how the Arcux FLs held up over a service life.
You can’t talk about Arc’teryx footwear without diving the construction of the shoe itself. Arc’teryx footwear uses a laminated outer. The stiffness of this laminate varies greatly from model to model, but generally speaking it is stiffer and more abrasion resistant than the shoes you are used to. On the heavier models, like the Acrux FL described here, this is paired with a soft, sometimes removable bootie that cradles your foot. Confused yet? Just look at this picture:
Construction mumbo-jumbo out of the way, we can talk about whether the shoe actually works. As mentioned above, there are a great many things the Acrux FLs aren’t perfect at. However, as promised they are great as a dedicated water shoe. They dry fast, shed water like a champ, have a tough enough outer shell to stand up the horrors of walking in a creek where you cant see the bottom, and (most importantly) the elastic around the bootie is tight enough to keep crap out, but not uncomfortable like a neoprene gaiter. Breathability is excellent, as you might expect from a shoe with an inner that you can see through:
A year and a half later, my assessment hasn’t changed at all. They are tough (as documented below), have unnatural grip, and once broken in will stabilize more weight than you should ever be carrying. Surprisingly though I originally purchased them as a canyoneering shoe, they have also become my default wading shoe.
You don’t get something for nothing, however, and all that durability comes at a cost: these are not shoes you are going to take out of the box and wear comfortably on day one. The outer shells of these suckers are tough and tough things must be broken. Wear them around town a few days.
The Acrux FL’s use a climbing/scrambling biased lug pattern that emphasizes surface area over lug depth. Further, these shoes utilize a Vibram MegaGrip compound, which is one of the stickier rubbers Vibram makes. Taken together, you’d be forgiven for assuming that outsole durability would be a problem.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised in this area. In addition to being my go to shoe for any trip that involves getting wet for a year and a half, the Acrux FL’s were also my day to day shoe for 12 months or so. I walk about 5 miles round trip to work and back every day, so these soles have seen significant mileage.
The outer of the Acrux FLs held up really well for about 9 months. However, after this time I began to notice a that the layers of laminate were separating and high wear points. Flash forward another 5 months and all these wear points have opened further. Here is a look at the worst one:
And, just this weekend, one rand began to pull away from the toe box:
The laces didn’t hold up well. That is an easy fix though.
Before everyone freaks out, let’s pause and put all this in perspective. These shoes have tons of miles on them. Huge chunks of these miles were underwater, where they were slammed against every rock you can imagine. That they held up as well as they did, for as long as they did is a testament to the quality of the shoe itself. It is also worth noting that the boots don’t feel like they are coming apart and I am confident they will hold up acceptably for the foreseeable future. Testing gear to failure requires it to fail, after all.
That being said, I noticed similar (but less significant) wear points during my one-million step review of these shoe’s boot sibling, the Arcteryx Bora Mid. I’m not a designer by any means, but I’d encourage the engineers over at Arc to find a way to better gusset the wear points, which would both cut break in and protect the structural integrity of the boot. I’m sure that is a terribly difficult thing I just recommended, but I’m recommending it just the same.
Summing up a piece of gear that has been with you for some time is hard. These shoes have seen easy tips,
And everything in between,
I can’t say for sure whether Arc’teryx meant these shoes to be water shoes when they designed them or not. What I can say, however, is that if Arc’teryx designed a water shoe this good while trying to make a regular old approach shoe then the Arcux FL’s are heading straight to the Happy Accident Hall of Fame.
But are they perfect? Well perfect is a very high bar, you see. The laminate is starting to come apart, the laces are (and always have been) crap, and the break in was long. So no, they aren’t perfect.
But I wouldn’t have anything else.
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*As of 1 May 2017
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Max Wilson is a graduate student studying ecology at Arizona State University. He writes here at Lesser Places, occasionally for Backpacker.com, and even more occasionally for scientific journals. You can follow him on twitter @maxomillions.