Monday, February 21, 2022

AKU Outdoor Ultra Light Original GTX, Rocket DFS GTX, & Selvatica Mid GTX Reviews. Seriously Evolved Italian Hiking Boots

Article by Dominique and Sam Winebaum

Ultra Light Original GTX  ($190), Rocket DFS GTX ($190), Selvatica Mid GTX ($190)


Avid hikers Sam and Dominique just put the AKU Ultra Light Original GTX, Rocket DFS GTX, and Selvatica Mid GTX through their paces in Utah on snow, dirt trails, and pavement. AKU of Italy is known for their superb craftsmanship, anatomical ELICA underfoot and last construction, and rugged uppers.  All boots reviewed feature the ELICA Natural Stride System, , Gore-Tex Extended Comfort and Air8000 mesh uppers, and very different purpose focused Vibram MegaGrip outsoles. 

Recently launched in North America, the brand is well known in Europe for hiking, trekking, and mountaineering footwear. So well respected in fact that they are the official mountain boot of the Swiss alpine troops, are the Danish Army cold weather boot, and also extensively equip the UK Army, and various special forces and police.. 

We mostly review “boots” derived from running shoes from running shoe brands with essentially modified running tech onboard  so we were curious to see how highly technologically evolved footwear from a company with no compromises “boot” DNA performed. 

Ultra Light Original GTX ($190)

Women’s sample weight:  514  grams/ 18.13 oz (US 9/ EU41)

Dominique: The retro look of the Ultra Light Original GTX appealed to me right away.   I was skeptical about hiking in a classic boot after hiking and testing half a dozen trail boots, mostly from HOKA and Topo Athletic.  

After a short hike on snowy hills, I was intrigued by the overall performance of my AKU, from the comfortably snug and secure fit to the enjoyable ride and amazing traction. This classic model, which was first launched almost 40 years ago as the Slope GTX (men’s version), has timeless appeal, especially in this new colorful edition reminiscent of the 80s.  

What’s more, this classic style features built-in technologies: Air8000®, GORE-TEX, Vibram, Anatomical Fit including ELICA last, with some of those technologies exclusively AKU.  Read on as I have been hitting the trails in Utah in my AKU and learning about the brand.

AKU is based in Montebelluna, Italy, the heartland of the outdoor footwear industry, with a longstanding tradition of craftsmanship, the use of premium materials, and attention to details. My Original GTX was made at AKU’s home factory in Italy. 

AKU’s motto is “to create the most comfortable and highest quality footwear available,” with a commitment to reduce its environmental impact by manufacturing “85% of its production in company-owned facilities in Italy and Romania” and to “trace the geographical origin of 100% of each product’s components.”  AKU calls it “traceability.” 

The AKU brand encompasses a wide range of footwear categories: hiking, everyday & travel; rock, ice & snow,  hunting,  and tactical & military.  Within each category, the selection is wide, offering classic styles to high-end technical products with specificity in mind.  

My Original GTX is designed for easy to moderate difficulty terrain, cool to warm climate, carrying a moderate load, and oriented for daily trekking and leisurely activities.  Sam is testing 2 models, the Rocket DFS GTX and the Selvatica Mid GTX, which are packed with high-end technologies, and more specifically oriented for fast hiking and tougher trail conditions.    

The Ultra Light Original GTX, as implied by its name, is surprisingly lightweight for a hiking boot, 514 grams/ 18.13 oz (women’s size US9 /EU 41), which is somewhat heavier than runner based “boots” from other brands, such as the Topo Athletic Trailventure 2 WP (419 g/14.78 oz), in the same size. The upshot is that this classic style boot with a secure hold around the ankle, albeit extremely comfortable, and with loads of technology, great underfoot protection & traction, with  a lightweight feel to boot (no pun intended). 

The colorful upper is attractive, bringing back the retro look of the 80s: purple, yellow canary, medium spring bud, and garnet, with a traditional shoelace system made with metal hooks.  

Let’s not forget the AKU logo, stitched on the lower ankle side of the boot and the tongue, adding a touch of orange into the colorful mix. 

The upper is made of suede meshed with Air 8000®, AKU’s proprietary mesh with suede reinforcements and is lined with GORETEX® Performance Comfort, creating a waterproof and comfortable environment for your feet while ensuring high breathability.  

True to size, with a slim heel and wider forefoot, the shape of the boot mimics the anatomy of the foot, and is on the narrow side, and is extremely stable, with a regular size toebox that I find quite roomy.  This is an extremely comfortable boot with a snug fit keeping my feet securely in place whether I hike uphill or downhill. 

The padded collar and gusseted tongue are particularly well designed as they encircle the ankle with a steady hold that is both snug and secure. Initially, I had to get used to a higher collar after hiking in lower “mid height” type trail boots, however, I enjoy the stability that it provides and the secure feel around my ankles.

After a first introductory short hike wearing my AKU, I noticed that something was at work which generated a pleasant experience when walking. I read about the ELICA Natural Stride System, which is an AKU technology, branded in the more technical AKU footwear.  A classic style boot, the Ultra LIght Original GTX has ELICA, but only in the last - a solid form shaped like a foot around which the boot is formed.  

Along with the ELICA last, which creates a comfort zone for your feet, is the fairly high stack height and 14mm drop of the boot.  In comparison to the TOPO Athletic Trailventure 2 WP, which has a stack height of 33 mm heel/ 28 mm forefoot, it has a much higher drop, 14 mm versus 5 mm for the Topo. Interestingly, TOPO Athletic highlights the high stack height of the Trailventure 2 WP whereas AKU is silent – it should be noted that the former is a trail boot and the latter a hiking boot, however, both are lightweight and designed for fast hiking, more so the TOPO than the AKU as it is lower.  

A fairly high stack height means more cushioning separating your feet from the ground and a fairly high drop is conducive to a more propulsive motion of the foot, from heel to toe.  The cushioning is not super plush, however it is  extremely comfortable and protective.  The midsole is double density die cut EVA and the lasting board, which provides stiffness, is made of 4-2 mm TEXON + TPU, but is extra flexible.  The stability of the boot is solid which is enhanced by a sturdy and very gripping outsole. 

The outsole is Vibram Erica Everest providing incredible traction and protection.  By taking a closer look at the outsole, this AKU model, and in comparison to Sam’s two shoes, has a very high density of lugs, which are multi-directional and strategically placed to maximize traction. 

When hiking the traction is noticeably excellent. 

In addition, the outsole (and boot)  is shaped in a rocker with the heel and forefoot a bit off the ground.  

Measuring from the center of the heel, the first inch is made of flat rubber before the first line-up of lugs which are higher on the inside of the heel than the outside.  It is the opposite at the forefront of the foot with lugs slightly higher on the inside than the outside.  In short, along with the 14mm drop, the outsole supports heel strike and toe off. 

Since I received my AKU Original GTX a few weeks ago, I have enjoyed wearing them on walks, pavement and trails, and gone on four hikes (8-9 miles) on snow covered trails, sometimes with icy crossings, but also on dry ground with muddy sections as well as also pavement for 3 miles half a dozen times.   

Very little break-in time is required and almost instantly I developed a liking for my AKU!  When I hike in them, I don’t feel I have to try to trail run, however, if I want to push the pace, I can comfortably do so.  

I have experienced zero issues with my feet during and after hikes; no flare-ups of last year’s plantar fasciitis as I have been spending more time on feet, and no sore feet after a day-hike.  I have not hiked all day in my AKU, mostly, 4 hours at a time to experience how they would perform on much longer hikes. 

On that note, I am planning a trek in June, the Tour du Mont-Blanc, carrying a 20 lbs/ 9kg pack, and for the most part hiking on trails as opposed to more rugged terrain such as in my home White Mountains of New Hampshire. This is a “senior” girls’ trip and I have planned accordingly to maximize the comfort of our feet - 11 days to hike the 100 mile distance and  selecting the best adapted and most comfortable footwear.  

The AKU website provides “ a footwear recommender” and if I select “trails” as opposed to “rugged terrain” or “mountains”  wearing a “weekend” backpack (20-45 lbs) as opposed to a heavy day pack (20lbs or less), I obtained 6 boot recommendations, including the Ultra Light Original GTX, the Alterra GTX, the Superalp GTX, the Tribute II GTX, the Tribute II LTR, and the Selvatica Mid GTX ranging in price from $170 to $300 with many price options in between.  

Take note that the “footwear recommender” does not take into consideration the number of days hiking, but only the type of terrain and the backpack load.  Though I would be tempted to wear the Original GTX on the trek, a more technical boot with a sturdier platform, such as the Selvatica Mid GTX which Sam reviews below might be a better option.  Some of the boots are better adapted to rugged terrain and carrying a moderate load, such as the Tribute II GTX and LTR and Superalp, however, they are slightly heavier and not as responsive and agile as the Selvatica Mid  GTX.   

In terms of value, AKU makes high end quality products, that in my opinion, are reasonably priced considering the use of premium materials, excellent craftsmanship, and sustainable platform under the umbrella of “traceability.”   I am going to keep hiking in my Original GTX training for the TMB hoping to report later this summer about my trek – boots and all!  

AKU ELICA Natural Stride System

Built in (as in Sam’s boots)  is another AKU technology, the ELICA Natural Stride System, which “follows the anatomical shape of the sole of the foot and adapts to normal heel and forefoot inclination to reduce impact and strain.”  The sockliner, lasting board, midsole, and even outsole are all anatomically shaped. 

The insole board is inclined outwards to support heel strike and at toe off is also inclined. 

The AKU illustrations above are more relevant to Sam’s boots below which have the full ELICA system.

Selvatica Mid GTX ($190) and Rocket DFS GTX ($190)

Sam: I tested the Selvatica Mid GTX and Rocket DFS GTX.  The Selvatica is classified as a hiking, light trekking and backpacking boot as well as a tactical boot. The Rocket is classified as a fast hiker. 

I have most recently tested “hikers” from running shoe companies such as the Kaha Low and Mid GTX, the Sky Toa and Anacapa from Hoka as well as Inov-8’s Trailfly Ultra G 390 and Roclite Pro G 300 GTX to which I will compare the AKU models below here . 

With AKU we are clearly in “boot territory” with denser underfoot cushioning, highly evolved outsoles, and more stout uppers than “modified” trail runners. Not to be left out of the tech game, AKU’s ELICA tech is clearly high evolved for the specific needs of walking and hiking, 

They both share the full anatomical ELICA shaping, uppers with Gore-Tex Extended Comfort waterproof breathable bootie, and Vibram Megagrip outsoles but in different configurations.

The difference is that of course the Selvatica has a stout mid height plus boot with an extensive Dynamic Frame of welded PU support while the Rocket is a low top with 3D print reinforcements.

The Selvatica midsole is a dual density injected EVA while the Rocket has a main EVA  midsole with PU inserts at the “ELICA positions” so lateral heel landing and medial toe off. In test, the Selvatica EVA provided a somewhat softer and more agile feeling while almost as equally protective and cushioned while Rocket’s midsole is a bit firmer, denser and more stable in feel.

The Vibram outsoles are quite different with the Selvatica having a greater number of smaller surface area lugs in a variety of shapes and depths while the Rocket has bar shaped lugs with Vibram’s new Traction Lug technology of micro lugs on the sides of the larger lugs said to increase traction up to 25%.


Selvatica Mid GTX ($190)

Weight men’s sample: 485 grams/ 17.01 oz (US 8.5/ EU41)

Fit and Upper

The fit is true to size for me with a relatively narrow  but high toe box. While I had a bit of bunion area pressure when they were new, after my first 7 mile hike the boot developed some flex and the pressure there subsided completely.

The fit is notably secure with the combination of the Dynamic Frame PU external overlays and a very clever lacing system of internal lace loops on the tongue alternating with external loops tied to the Dynamic Frame providing an impeccable and secure mid foot lockdown. 

The single top hook on the thin but stiff collar is well padded, often an issue with light boots, so no back side of the hook digging into the ankle here.

The heel and achilles collar are incredibly stable and secure, not overly thick, not overly stiff up top with an unmistakable sense of rear hold without being overly heavy in feel, or weight. Squeeze the sides in with one hand and there is some give up top that decreases the further down you squeeze. There is no mistaking the rear and overall hold here for a running shoe with a high collar or a “light hiker”. There is plenty of stability from the upper for moderate backpacking loads and any terrain hiking.

While extensive the Dynamic Frame flexes forward on the move while retaining its side hold so the upper is well mated to the platform below for motion. 

I have not yet tested in warm conditions as all hikes have been within a few degrees plus and several degrees minus of freezing on hard snow and dirt. The Gore-Tex bootie with external Air8000 mesh and the Dynamic Frame over that have been very comfortable: warm, dry, and never overheated. I do suspect in summer conditions things will get toastier. 


The midsole is a firmer (than run shoes) injected EVA, unlike the Rocket below which is EVA with PU inserts. It is in a dual density format with the ELICA system providing a slightly higher and softer lateral landing than the medial with the forefoot on the medial side having a slightly lower softer toe off on that side. The Selvatica also has a small nylon shank at mid foot for stability. It sure is stable.

The outsole’s design matches the needs of the stride with more surface contact and slightly higher more squared off lugs at the lateral heel with the same  more aggressive approach up front on the medial side for toe off.

The result is a noticeable smooth stable landing and then easy roll forward on flats, uphill and downhill with just enough give to the EVA itself and some flex to not feel brick-like. This is not a soft midsole as one might find in a trail runner but for sure a boot like feel but not a harsh one so closer to a trail runner than an old school hiking boot. 


The outsole is Vibram MegaGrip in a custom pattern of squared off lozenges (blue) at the medial heel and lateral forefoot with more squared off higher contact area black lugs at the lateral heel and medial forefoot, this part of the design ensuring secure landings on any terrain and toe off grip working in conjunction with the ELICA geometry above. 

Grip on snow, dirt, and mud has been outstanding with mud clearing excellent.

Ride and Conclusions

The Selvatica is secure, stable, and agile. The upper goes well beyond the usual mid height hiker’s level of support without overdoing it. The underfoot platform is pure hiker, stable and on the firm side but with a touch of softness from its EVA midsole and an agile rolling feel. The ELICA system and some flexibility  is clearly felt as moving you along up or down without the usual flat stiff boot like feel of conventional hikers. The Vibram outsole performs brilliantly on all surfaces and contributes to both the agility and stability of the platform. I do think the EVA midsole could be a touch softer yet without compromising stability. 

More testing to come in rocky rooty New Hampshire but I think Selvatica is a nearly ideal boot for the White Mountains as it is supportive, agile, and decently light with the Gore-Tex based upper suitable for the often variable and wet conditions there. I wish for a touch more width up front or tuned down overlays at the bunion area. 


Topo Trailventure WP 2 (RTR Review)

Sam: The Topo is trail runner born but in this edition gets wider under foot and higher in stack. Somewhat lighter at 15.9 oz  / 451g  (US8.5) It is more softly and deeply cushioned especially upfront as it is lower drop (more cushion stack up front)  and almost as stable. Its broad toe box is clearly the right option for broader feet than the relatively narrower Selvatica can accommodate. 

After the toe box the advantages end for the Topo in the upper department as the AKU is clearly more supportive especially at the rear. With a pack for sure the Selvatica and on more technical terrain as well. For longer smoother firm terrain treks, and especially if you have a wider foot, the Trailventure likely will be more comfortable.

Inov-8  Rockfly G 390 (RTR Review)

Sam: At less than 13 oz in my US 8.5 with about the same forefoot stack and more forefoot stack, the G 390 is softer and more dynamically cushioned with a very comfortable, very simple (comparatively) upper. It does not quite have the upper support of the Selvatica but gets fairly close as the platform is wider on the ground while underfoot it feels more like a high stack trail run shoe. Its unusual deep Adapter Flex groove near the heel makes for a more ground conforming if not quite as “platform” like feel as the Selvatica has.  As with the Topo, the AKU leans more technical terrain, the Inov-8 is the shoe I would pick for long, long faster trekking miles on moderate terrains although it can handle the tough stuff very well.

Inov- 8 Roclite Pro G300 GTX (RTR Review)

Sam: The mid height Roclite is designed to be a technical trails scrambler closer to trail runner than hiker. It is runnable and weighs 14 oz vs. 17 oz for the AKU. The upper while adequate is not to be confused with the AKU’s in level of support as the mid height does not add heavier pack ready support for me and neither does the considerably thinner forefoot. Off for a quick technical day hike with some running in the mix the Roclite as it is lighter and more agile . For everything else hiking including with a pack  Selvatica. 

Rocket DFS GTX ($190)

Weight men’s sample: 390g / 13.77 oz (US 8.5/ EU42)

Approx. Full Stack Height: 30mm heel / 20mm forefoot

Fit and Upper

The fit is true to size and a touch more accommodating up front than Selvatica due to the lighter upper with fewer external overlays. Fit overall up front is similar to the Selvatica.  

Nonetheless this is not a wide fit up front such as provided by a Topo Trailventure but a more secure one.

DFS lacing system…We have laces plus a more forward pull quick lace system. The yellow quick laces draw the outside 3D support in while the laces pull from the inside.

The lacing system is derived from AKU’s Rock series approach shoes and is intended to allow a more relaxed fit on the way to the crag and then using the pull laces additional lockdown for climbing.

My early sample’s heel hold is not the most secure, a bit roomy with a touch of heel slip. Interestingly this became less of an issue on the move as it allowed some foot movement over terrain given the stiff and firm platform below but I think it could be improved. Tightening the quick lace improved the hold but led to some pressure over the top of the foot. 

While everything works in the Rocket,  I think the additional quick lace is unnecessary. It makes the shoe visually complex and a bit messy looking and the lacing should be adequate as is but those black laces.. They are thin and stringy and prone to some stretching. A beefier lace as in the Selvatica without the quick lace I think would be an improvement. Or thicker laces with the quick laces.


The midsole is dual density with softer orange lateral heel (top above) and a bit firmer medial toe off PU inserts in the main EVA midsole. It is overall firmer and more block-like in feel than the Selvatica but more deeply and protectively cushioned. As such it is not as pleasant on very firm surfaces such as pavement although still fine but that is not what this boot is intended for. 

We have the full ELICA anatomical system on board with nice flex coming from the upper which is less armored than Selvatica’s. Underfoot things change as the firmer midsole and broader lugged outsole makes the ride stiffer and firmer in feel. As such there is more of a rocker vs rolling sensation here and while more block like in feel than the Selvatica there is a touch more climbing agility while less of a smooth flow on flatter. In terms of rock protection and underfoot support it is total, very deep, very stable and with few sensations of the trail getting through.


The outsole features Vibram’s Traction Lug which Vibram says can add up to 25% traction. 

A series of multi directional micro lugs are molded into the sides of each lug facing to the front at the heel and to the rear at the forefoot as shown above so braking grip on landing and toe off grip on take off..

I found the outsole performed well on steep loose dirt and especially on relatively but not totally hard packed snow.

I was very impressed how quickly they cleared very sticky Utah mud. A quick stomp and most was gone. 

Ride and Conclusions

Actually more boot-like in feel directly under foot (but not at the upper level) than the Selvatica, the Rocket is impenetrable underfoot, very stable for a low top shoe and quite decently flexible and also agile. The heel hold and laces could be tuned to perfect the rear of the shoe.  It is not that pleasant on pavement, or as smooth rolling as the Selvatica but that is not where it belongs!

Rocket makes a very solid technical trail terrain low top day hiker and for those who backpack light also a good option. As far as multi-day trekking with a pack I would lean towards Selvatica. 


Hoka Kaha Low GTX (RTR Review)

Considerably heavier at 16.24 oz /432 grams vs 13.77 oz / 390g here  (US8.5) with considerably more stack of slightly softer foam the Kaha plays in the same super stable, burly low top day hiker category as the Rocket. It is far stiffer with propulsion via its rocker geometry.  It has a thick leather upper backed by Gore-Tex. The stiff thick leather leads to a tighter snugger more secure fit than Rocket and a less comfortable one especially in the toe box. The rear of the Kaha is totally totally stable with its front, while more cushioned and more softly so, is less agile and harder to roll along on flatter terrain due to its bulk and stiffness.


Hoka Anacapa Low GTX  (RTR Review)

Sam: Take the Kaha and soften the midsole yet more and relax the fit compared to either. The Anacapa is a better choice for mellow well groomed trails but elsewhere the more stable Rocket is a better choice.

Tester Profiles

Dominique has run for over 40 years, consistently about 20 miles per week at paces between 10 and 11 minute miles. She races rarely, but always surprises more hard core runners in her age group when she does. She has a 1985 marathon PR of 3:16 in her second marathon which at the time put her on the top 10 Swiss women’s lists.  She has a background in nutrition from Geneva, Switzerland, and studied English literature.  She is the mother of two grown children, both runners post college, and enjoys nordic and alpine skiing, hiking and trekking, and gardening. 

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run and an avid hiker in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and Utah. With Dominique he has twice trekked around the Mont Blanc, gone from Chamonix to Zermatt and most recently followed the Via Jacobi across Switzerland for 200 miles. . He is 64 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 will be Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah  He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

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Tested samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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Anonymous said...

Please let me know how you rate the durability of the Rocket DFS outsole. There was an article on another site saying that the outsole wears down quickly after being used in the mountains, and scratches are noticeable on the toes and sides.

Untouch said...

Polyurethane is a concern due to hydrolysis. Even if it is never used, it will react with moisture in the air and decompose, causing durability problems such as peeling of the sole. Although it has the advantage of being light and soft, I think it is an unlikely material choice for shoes that get wet.