In the strangest of years, a 14-day spell of isolation ends, with precision, on the day that Wales locks down. While everyone I know stocks up to stay indoors, my backpack and boots are propped up, ready to go out. The boots are brand squeaky new, the rain relentless – and I can’t wait to get walking.
The boots in question are the AKU Trekker Pro GTX in black with a viola trim. It’s a local walk, this being lockdown, and I splosh out in the direction of Coed Garthmaelwg, one of my favourite forests. The October colours are glorious and my feet dry, but I’m under a canvas of trees and ahead is an exposed ridgeway. I wonder how long my socks will stay soak-free, and whether it’s yet time for my Yorkie.
Other than a couple of brief, extremely close-to-home pootles in our local field during isolation, this is the first time I’ve tested these boots, but I’m already a big fan of AKU, an Italian brand with a tradition of more than 40 years’ manufacturing. These are not one-season, throwaway boots, but footwear to last, reducing resources and environmental impact. I’ve run more than 1,000 miles – many of them marvellously muddy – in my AKU Selvatica trail shoes, and they’re nowhere near wearing out, so AKU has already earned my trust. Wonderfully, these boots seem even lighter than the shoes, the suede and Goretex cradling my feet like old friends. The first two miles of my route run gently uphill, yet there’s no rub against my heel and, later, as I descend the same way, no sign of the sore toes that some new boots induce.
The Trekker Pro is described as being ideal for hikes of ‘medium’ difficulty on varied terrain, which could have been written about my walk. Nearing seven miles and with plenty of ascent and a mix of tarmac, soft leafy tracks and grassy uplands, the route’s a good test and the boots, er, stand up well. They have well-cushioned Vibram soles, which are springy but stable, and ankle support that proves stronger than the light flexibility of the fabric suggests.
I leave the shelter of the forest and strike out across open hillside to the iconic Cariad stones and beyond. It’s been raining – proper Welsh raining – for days, and the ground is proper Welsh sodden, but I’m just gleeful to shake off the cabin fever and notch up the miles. The best thing about these boots is that there’s no pull across the bridge of my feet. I have problems with my left foot in particular, which can swell up throbbingly under stiffer footwear. But, to my surprise, this familiar niggle doesn’t even enter my head until I spy the ruins of a stone chapel I’m tracing on the map, and I settle down for half-time soup and that Yorkie. The ache is simply not there.
I detour up to the eeriest trig I’ve ever bagged, it reduced to a matchstick by chains of towering pylons and whirring wind turbines, then set out along the return leg. The weather, although gruesome, is still relatively mild, and I suspect a sterner test of these boots will come midway along a harshly frozen Beacons ridge in the depths of January. But for a changing – and changeable – season such as late autumn or early spring, the AKU Trekker Pro is a sturdy and reliable option at a good price. At the end of my outing, I slide the boots off and my socks are bone dry. I suspect I won’t be swapping these for the winter boots for a good few hikes to come yet.