Aku Superalp NBK GTX Boot Review.....
I always think that the two items of outdoor equipment that are most likely to ruin a mountain day are your boots and rucksack. You can get away with a pair of trousers that are a bit loose or a jacket that’s a bit snug, but boots that are ill fitting or a rucksack not up to the job will have you throwing all your toys out of the pram in no time. Of these, I would then say it is boots that top the list because they need to fit well, be supportive, have a decent grippy sole and keep your feet warm and dry. A lot is asked of them and so if you are going to pour money into one key item above all else, let it be your boots.
One boot may, depending on your activities, be all you need, but many of us are now turning into true mountain Jack’s of all trades and so we have several pairs in our Imelda Marcos footwear cupboards - those lightweight summer cruisers won’t be up to keep you warm and dry in winter and those high altitude B3’s will, as well as getting plenty of strange looks, fry your feet on a Spring day on the Peak moorland.
However, there are also those in-between time that are very common in the UK mountains. The middle of summer can be wet and squelchy and go out in spring or autumn and you may well be facing snow or freezing temperatures. So out of all your boots, I would imagine there’s that 'go to’ pair that suit a broad range of conditions and so get pulled off the rack more than any others - those ones that can be used with crampons, keep your feet dry on the rainiest day, will keep you comfortable even when wearing a heavy rucksack and conversely will keep you happy on a multi-day fast and light adventure. The all season multi use trekking boot is certainly a sought after beast.
So, with all this in mind, I was intrigued to recently be asked to test a pair of Aku Superalp NBK GTX boots. Intrigued that is, because although I had heard of Aku by reputation, this was going to be the first pair of their footwear I’d used. Even better, the Superalps seemed on paper to perfectly fit that all season trekking boot category…..
Aku - a genuine love of manufacturing
I did some research on Aku, as I always do when testing products from an unknown company, and immediately liked what I read. Although now a huge name in sports footwear, Aku’s heritage stems from a small craftsman’s workshop in the famous Treviso region of Italy. The company are clear that they remain fully committed to producing sustainable products using a traceable supply chain (there’s plenty more detail on this via the website link below), they strive to keep production within Europe and above all seek to make top quality products that will last and last. Reading the website reassures you that you are buying a product right at the top of the sustainability and quality pecking order.
The boots - a work of art in leather
The box arrived from Aku and I opened it excitedly. although I still didn’t know much about Aku I was still expecting big things from these boots. Luckily I wasn’t disappointed. The styling is best described as ‘traditional with a modern feel’. Aku say they offer ‘top range comfort and protection’ and are designed ‘for true backpackers who prefer long distances and with heavy loads.’ They are certainly a substantial boot that look like they will cope with any conditions or terrain.
On the face of it the features of the Superalp package, although very comprehensive, are quite easy to explain. The upper is made from full 2.6mm Nubuck leather which is protected by a substantial rubber rand and the Goretex liner makes the boots fully waterproof. The Outsole (the part of the sole that contacts the ground) has a Vibram Foura sole unit fitted and the midsole is made from double density PU with a nylon and carbon fibre lasting plate topped off with a custom fit footbed. My boots, in size UK8.5, weigh about 830 grams per boot.
However, underlying all that simplicity is a lot of design wizardry and complexity. The Superalp features an ‘exoskeleton’ that adds the required support and lateral stability to the sole. The midsole is also cleverly designed to offer sufficient support and comfort by combining the lasting plate with a double density cushioning material to provide the right amount of firmness with sufficient cushioning. The sole unit has an aggressive tread pattern with a defined heel block to add grip on steep descents. There is also a soft leather on the tongue to aid comfortable lacing and even the eyelets, which are described as roller eyelets, are carefully thought out to be low profile while allowing easy lace tensioning to be achieved. A product where it really feels like everything, and I do mean everything, has been really carefully thought out to be as efficient as possible.
The test - four season adventures in varied terrain
Over the last few months the Aku Superalps have been used in winter conditions in the Scottish, Cumbrian and Welsh mountains along with many days trogging the Peak District moorland. The conditions have varied from deep snow to soggy blanket bog, from bouldery scrambles to rolling grassland. I’ve used them with heavy rucksacks and light day sacks, in a broad range of temperatures and in everything from driving rain to dry and dusty trails. They have, by any measure, been well tested!
The king of boots - What’s not to love?
I already said these are the Monet or Van Gogh’s of the boot world. Nothing showy. No glaring colour schemes or in your face styling - but beauty in their traditional elegance. Get them out of the box and you won't be sure whether to hang them from the wall or wear them!
Firstly, the Aku’s were out of the box comfy. Now most manufacturers are focussing a lot of time and energy on getting immediate comfort dialled because they know that if a boot fits well on initial try then customers are more likely to buy them. The Aku’s felt like slippers - admittedly not quite like my fluffy Donald Duck one’s at home, but the fit was great for my mid to wide feet. Of course, the key thing about any footwear is to ensure that the fit suits your feet, but if these do I guarantee they will become treasured companions.
The fit, it is worth mentioning, is aided significantly by the roller eyelet lacing system, which I must admit I first thought to be a gimmick. The eyelets actually allow the lacing to be pulled to the right tension with simplicity and ease. Importantly the eyelets are also low profile and of solid build meaning they will last well while not being likely to catch on obstacles or features.
As mentioned, the midsole of the Superalp is rather clever and, although I’m no expert on footwear construction, I can say the boots have performed well on extremely challenging terrain and carrying heavier loads. This fits with the design which combines a stiff last with a double density midsole - the last is needed to provide sufficient rigidity while the two densities of PU allow sufficient shock absorption while still allowing the support needed on rugged ground and especially when wearing a heavy rucksack. I understand that this also equates to a long lasting midsole but not much chance to comment on this yet.
The boot sole is definitely an all terrain design. Vibram has long been the manufacturer of choice for leading bootmakers and this one doesn't disappoint. The blocky tread clears mud and small stones well while seeming to stand up easily to the rigours of mountain life. The heel block is great when descending steep slippy ground and the edging, combined with the rigid sole, means the boots are great for scrambling too. Infact, I have been especially impressed with how the boots have coped when working on all types of both wet and dry rocky terrain.
The upper has a substantial rand that is so far showing no significant signs of wear and tear. This also helps with waterproofing and protection although the leather of the upper is clearly durable and stiff enough to stand up to the knocks and bashes of a tough mountain life. The leather is top quality Nubuck and has stood up to all uses from snow to peat bog with ease. There is also a Goretex liner unit although I suspect the leather itself will keep most moisture out. My use has included some very wet conditions and, at times, very cold temperatures. No water has entered the boot at any time and I have been very impressed with the insulating qualities.
I've cared for the boots well of course. As always this has been down to a warm air boot dryer and Nikwax products plus regular cleaning. My old scout leader told me to 'look after your boots and they'll look after you' and it's advice that has stuck with me ever since.
Summary - You won’t regret the investment
So, the end (of the review) is near, and so we face, the final conclusions…….put simply, these boots are FAN-TAS-TIC. Super comfortable, supportive and yet nimble, extremely warm, totally waterproof and with a sole system that will ensure you don’t lose your grip. They are the perfect boot for long and short range trekking, backpacking, easy grade scrambling and even for winter hill days on non technical terrain. The Superalp is steeped in the legendary boot making skills of the Italian masters and wearing them feels like a privilege. Plus, they are so well made that the investment (the RRP is around £190) will easily pay you back in miles walked - infact you’ll probably be able to hand them down to your children. Very very highly recommended. Well done Aku.
Full details can be found on the Aku website here and the video below explains the technology perfectly.....
Posted by Paul
Lets keep the conversation going…….
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Hi, I'm looking at some of those aku superalps you've reviewed but before I order some to try are they crampon compatible? I can't find the information anywhere so thought I'd go straight to the man! Noel
Hi Noel, The Superalps have a rear welt that will take a clip in binding although there is no welt at the toe so a basket style front binding is needed there. I have used them with crampons but must say I have only used a crampon suitable for a C1 binding as of yet. So, a C2 binding could work but am sure a C1 fitting would be optimum given the stiffness of the sole unit. Hope that helps. Paul