I’m a fan of approach shoes. I like the practicality of waterproof, breathable, trainer-like footwear with grippy soles. I also like Converse though, so there’s still some hope for me.
Fresh out of the box the AKU Nuvola GTXs are decent looking, my test versions feature a smart grey suede and fabric upper, brightened up with vivid fuchsia laces. They are Gore-Tex lined, and feature a Vibram sole, so I expected good things of my new Italian-made acquisitions.
To put them to the test, I took them with me on a two-week camping/exploring holiday in the Spanish Picos de Europa mountains.
First test; wearing them around the campsite. Happily, the Nuvolas are instantly comfortable so there’s no breaking-in required. But I did find on a trip back to the tent from the showers that the right insole moved, which didn’t feel right. I put that down to having slightly damp, bare feet and moved on.
The next thing that I noticed was that while half-jogging to the toilets across a lumpy field I kept turning my ankles. Now, to be fair to the Nuvolas, they’re not designed for running and they’re shoes, so they don’t have ankle support, and I put this down to a combination of user error and uneven ground.
The second test was to put them to use on a proper trail. I chose a simple gorge walk along a well defined, gravelled, and occasionally rocky path and tramped off. The soles were as I’ve come to expect from Vibram – grippy and sturdy and they filled me with confidence over wet rocks. Walking through wet grass the outers became soaked, but inside their Gore-Tex protection my feet stayed perfectly dry.
The ankle turning, however, continued. If somebody had given me a euro for every time I went over on an ankle, I could have paid for my lunch at the end of the trek. Having studied the shoes for a while trying to establish what was making me act like a baby elephant, the conclusion I’ve reached is three-fold: firstly the laces are round, which means despite their bright and cheerful look, they are prone to loosening themselves, and therefore giving less support. Secondly, the soles themselves are slightly too narrow for the shoes – my feet aren’t particularly wide but looking from above the edges of my feet are further out than the soles – which I suspect is causing excessive instability. And thirdly, the insoles move around – they often partially come out when I take them off, and when I walk on uneven ground I can feel them moving with my feet.
I’m genuinely disappointed by the ankle turning, because aside from that I really, really like these shoes. They aren’t up to the job of trail use though, not unless you glue the insoles, have particularly narrow feet, and change the laces. Sorry AKU, keep trying.