The Rock DFS from AKU is an approach shoe with a twist: it has a unique double lacing system which enables you to quickly adjust the fit at the front of the shoe. How does this work in practice? How do they feel to walk in, and how are they for climbing and scrambling?
The main thing I want an approach shoe to do is to get me to the crag comfortably, and the Rock DFS does that with ease. I've found them comfortable to wear over long distances, and they're grippy on both rocky and grassy approaches. That sounds like something which most approach shoes should do easily, but often they do one or the other so this is a big plus-point for the Rock DFS.
Underfoot you get a Vibram Approcciosa outsole, with Megagrip rubber. The deep lugs provide secure grip on grass and mud, and unlike some flat-soled approach shoes you get a really pronounced heel breast, which inspires a lot of confidence on steep downhills. While the sole is well suited to walking off-trail on rough and wet ground, the rubber is also sticky enough - and with a climbing zone over the toe - for scrambling and climbing. In short, it's a genuinely all-terrain sole, which is a big advance over the many shoes out there with soft, flat soles and dotty rubber tread.
For an approach shoe I would describe the Rock DFS as medium-stiff. It's stiff and supportive enough for any approach and stiff enough for edging on most ground, especially when you tighten up the Dual Fit System. However, it's not quite as stiff as something like a TX4. This means that the Rock DFS is flexible enough to be comfortable and stiff enough for most easy climbing so long as you're not on your tiptoes the whole time - and for me that's a very sensible balance.
But the unqiue feature of the Rock DFS is really its Dual Fit System. Essentially you have a normal set of laces which you use for everyday walking. You then have a set of orange laces which go from the toe to half way up the shoe, similar to a speed lacing system. These orange laces can be quickly tightened to reduce the volume of the front of the shoe, making it a closer fit and giving you more control for climbing. In practice it does tighten the front of the shoe quickly and easily and it's similarly easy to loosen them back to a regular approach shoe once you've finished climbing. I often find approach shoes difficult to climb in because they're too baggy and don't have enough control, and the Dual Fit System does help with this: you can wear them as a regular pair of approach shoes and then tighten them up for more effective climbing and scrambling. The Dual Fit System works, and I'm a fan, but it isn't totally revolutionary since it is no real hardship to have to stop and adjust the lacing on a more conventional shoe.
My Rock DFS are the Gore-Tex version as I'm a firm believer in waterproof approach shoes for UK use [heathen - Ed.]. As usual the Gore-Tex lining is very waterproof and my feet have been kept dry. For anyone who's horrified at the mere idea of waterproof shoes in summer [that's me - Ed.], an unlined version is also available, and while this will have drawbacks on a boggy mountain crag approach it will inevitably be cooler and less sweaty in warm weather.
With its suede and microfibre upper, and chunky sole, this is quite a beefy and boot-like approach shoe in itself, but if you want even more of a boot then a mid-cut version is also available. All the models in the range feature a big, protective rubber rand.
AKU say 380g for a single shoe, but they don't specify the size (and it must be a small one!). My pair of size UK10 weighs 910g, but while that is reasonably heavy for an approach shoe, I'd say they don't feel cumbersome when you're walking. However the Rock DFS is quite a big beast, and arguably too big to comfortably carry on your harness whilst climbing. Sure, you can do it on the odd route, but you'll certainly know they're there.
Fit and Comfort
The Rock DFS also comes in a women's / lower volume fit, and both versions are available in a good range of sizes. They fit as you would expect - I'm a UK 10 and they fit to size. I haven't experienced any discomfort or rubbing at all; the shoes have been comfortable out of the box.
Perhaps the best feature of the Rock DFS - and an important one for any approach shoe - is that it's really comfortable. When laced loosely, and without the Dual Fit System done up, there's a lot of volume in the shoe. That can quite easily be tailored to your individual foot with the ample lacing. The Dual Fit System really helps here. Often an approach shoe can be either comfortable but too baggy for climbing, or tight enough for climbing but uncomfortable as a result. The Dual Fit System lets you switch between these extremes faster than normal laces, or indeed find a happy place in the middle, and because it's more convenient than normal laces you're arguably more likely to stop and adjust to optimum fit.
Despite now having worn them on multiple trips, there has so far been very little wear to either the sole or uppers of the Rock DFS. There are a few components which surprised me: both the regular laces and the uppers seem thin. That said I haven't had any unusual wear on them, but it could become a cause for concern in the long term.
Another of my favourite things about the Rock DFS is the way they look. Several colours are available. In black with orange highlights they're actually really smart, without any garish colours. From the width and size they're obviously an approach shoe, but as someone who has worn a lot of approach shoes this is one of my favourite-looking because it doesn't instantly scream I am a climber.
At over £160 this is not a budget option, but it's a substantial shoe with decent build quality. I've found the Rock DFS GTX a really nice pair of comfortable approach shoes for both walking and climbing. The Dual Fit System works well and enables the shoe to be both comfortable on the approach, and tight enough for climbing when you need it. If you're looking for a shoe just for scrambling and easy climbing then there are other options which give more climbing control and accuracy, but if you're looking for a pair of general approach shoes that are actually good to walk in but which you can also occasionally turn into climbing shoes for easy pitches (and in my experience this is exactly what I want in an approach shoe) then the Rock DFS would a great choice. I think they also look really good.
Heir to the historic Rock model, from which it derives the typical construction of the forefoot with the protective band that wraps and protects the midsole in the internal area, this technical approach and light climbing shoe is ideal for via ferrata and excursions on mountain paths. The new double lacing Dual Fit System allows you to adjust the comfort and precision of the fit in the different phases of use: a traditional lace for maximum comfort while walking and a fast lacing to increase sensitivity in the climbing phase. The Vibram Approcciosa sole with Megagrip high performance compound provides maximum grip with a specific design for climbing. Also available in a womens version suitable for the specific female plantar anatomy.
- Sizes: 3-13 (men) 3-9 (women)
- Weight: 910g/pair size UK10 (our weight)
- Upper: suede 1,6 mm + microfibre + air8000®
- Rubber rand
- Lining: Gore-Tex® extended comfort
- Outsole: Vibram® approcciosa megagrip
- Midsole: double density eva + pu
- Lasting board stiffness: flexible
- Footbed: Ortholite® hybrid – partially recycled