Words by Harry Bradbury
Introduction: Right, so let’s start this on a complete unbiased note - I had a pair of Arc’teryx’s original Acrux shoes and really didn’t get on with them; I could wear them for an hour or so before becoming crippled around my Achilles. The Konseal’s, however, are a dream to wear. The elimination of the sock and the change in overall heel shape has resulted in the only pair of approach shoes I’ve ever enjoyed wearing.
First impressions: When you first pull them out of the box, they feel far lighter, better made and better looking (in my opinion). The bend point around the toe box looks better suited to prolonged use and the heel is noticeably less bulky. The overall shoe looks a little more trim, lower down and less clumpy than the mk1 Acrux shoes.
Fit: So, this was the issue with the old mk1 Acrux shoes, the ‘sock fit’ just didn’t fit many people, and if they did manage to squeeze their foot in, many had the same issue as I did around the achilles. The Konseal’s are about as far away as you can possibly get in terms of comfort; they’re like the angel offspring of a slipper and a climbing shoe. Slipping your foot into the Konseal’s takes far less effort than Arc’teryx’s mk1 Acrux shoes as the sock has been eliminated, meaning you no longer have the two fabric straps to lever your foot in with; sometimes it’s best to not reinvent the wheel. That being said, the sock fit within the Bora range of boots is exceptionally comfortable and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them. I mentioned earlier that the heel is noticeably less bulky - this is true, however, the height is still exactly the same, meaning it feels more supportive than past approach shoes I’ve owned yet still comfortable enough to wear for multi-day trips. The Achilles pain which plagued the mk1 Acrux is now completely gone and I can (and have) worn these for upwards of 12 hours a day without a single issue. Heel rub is also non-existent, as is any discomfort from the inside. Provided you get the lacing right, the length is also spot on; I’m usually a UK 10.5 and the Konseal’s were no different. Not once did my toes contact the front of the shoe, even during long, steep descents.
Construction: Arc’teryx has always been one step up when it comes to the overall construction and abrasion resistance. After all, they were the first to begin placing seams inside hardshell jackets rather than on the outside, now it’s the norm. You could accurately predict that other footwear manufacturers will follow eventually, (much like the introduction to bitcoin) as this construction has no negatives whatsoever. Rather than stitching various pieces of fabric together, Arc’teryx heat-laminate synthetic materials to one another, creating their seamless upper. The benefit to using a synthetic rather than leather or suede is that the Konseal’s don’t soak up water and dry far faster. The outer is smooth and sleek, eliminating stitch points and reducing the likelihood that you’ll catch a piece of fabric or a loose thread. This construction also allows you to use fewer pieces of material, increasing durability, breathability and abrasion resistance. Since we’re on the topic of breathability, we’ll cover that here too. In minus conditions I have to stop myself before I leave the house, checking I have a thick enough sock or bringing a pair of Gore-Tex boots as a backup in case the Konseal’s are too cold - they’re that breathable! I would compare them most similarly to a running shoe; the sensation of a cool breeze passing freely through the sleek outer fabric is something you never grow tired of during summer months.
Sole: This is largely unchanged throughout Arc’teryx’s history of shoes, and for good reason - it works! The Konseal’s use Vibram’s Megagrip compound, a super soft yet surprisingly long lasting rubber which grips to rock like not a lot else. Honestly, you can walk up almost vertical rock faces (maybe a little exaggerated), but it’s pretty amazing stuff. I can’t comment hugely on longevity, however, to put it into perspective, I’ve owned these for around 6 months at the time of writing this review I have used them every other day since then and haven’t noticed a difference in tread depth, they’re just a little more rounded than before. A flat ‘climbing zone’ area has been placed on the toe area to increase accuracy when climbing and reinforcements are placed on the upper toe and heel for general abuse. Speaking of accuracy, you don’t really notice how accurate these are until you’re halfway up the route you thought you couldn’t do. It’s one of those features which sits out of the limelight but makes a huge difference to your confidence when climbing, walking and scrambling. In conditions other than rock, they’re also very good. In thick mud, you do slide around a bit, but that’s to be expected and not their intended purpose. Wet grass, light mud and roots are all something the Konseal has no issue with; you feel fully confident in their ability to provide grip pretty much all of the time.
Midsole/footbed: The Konseal FL’s, as the name suggests, are designed to be fast and light (FL = fast & light), therefore they’re noticeably less stiff than the mk1 Acrux’s, but about average in terms of approach shoes in general. For me this is ideal; I’m around 75kg, 6ft 2 and a slim build, therefore a super stiff shoe isn’t necessary. They hit the sweet spot in this regard; not too stiff to limit their climbing ability, however stiff enough to scramble and walk in for upwards of 8 hours. The footbed is also pretty much unchanged, which is another positive. The issue I have had with several sets of approach shoes in the past has been down to the feel underfoot - most were simply too firm. The Konseal’s are just about perfect, soft enough to walk in all day without discomfort but thin enough to allow a sensitive feel when climbing.
Dislikes/improvement suggestions: The laces are destructively thin, as with the first pair of Acrux shoes I owned. They dig into your fingers and are a pain to lace when your hands are cold; a slightly thicker set will be added to my pair soon! I’d also like to see a little more padding on the tongue too, this would prevent the laces digging into the top of your foot over long durations. Other than that, they’re flawless.
Conclusion: I can’t stress enough how much of an improvement these are over Arc’teryx’s first range of approach shoes. They’re the only pair of approach shoes I’ve ever actually enjoyed wearing. The fit is spot on, the feel underfoot is perfect (soft yet precise), the elimination of the sock means they’re far easier to whip on and off, the heel is exceptionally comfortable and hasn’t once created a hotspot, the sole is sticky, long lasting and precise, the seamless outer construction is tough yet stupidly breathable and I would happily recommend these to anyone needing a near-perfect shoe for approach, walking, scrambling and general outdoor use.