The approach … Some love it, some hate it. However, if you want to venture away from roadside crags and gyms, you must approach.
I say approach rather than hike because more often than not, this part of the adventure is not exactly a “hike.” Climbers trails are frequently not really trails at all, and instead, involve forging your way through fields of talus and scree, exposed 3rd or 4th class terrain, and/or countless other challenges that make climbing approaches far more technical than what your average hiking boot can handle.
So how do we choose a good piece of footwear that will get us to and fro our objectives in comfort yet with the technical performance to keep us safe? Fret not, for this guide will teach you everything you need to know about choosing the right approach shoe for any situation.
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How to fit/size an approach shoe
A common mistake when choosing an approach shoe is to size them like a climbing shoe in order to get the best performance.
While this idea may work while climbing 5th class rock, it is by no means beneficial to your feet while you are approaching. You need to keep your feet comfortable, otherwise, they will be beat up before you even start climbing.
On the other hand, sizing an approach shoe too large can make the shoe performance feel sloppy, especially when the terrain gets steeper and rockier.
When sizing an approach shoe, you want to land in the middle. Put on a mid-weight sock, not something thick, and then size the shoe so that it is comfortable but with no room for forward movement. If you’re happy with the comfort level of the shoe, then try manipulating your toes and feet in the shoe. Simulate some of the motion your feet do while hiking and climbing. If it feels like there is not enough control, then try sizing down, keeping all day comfort in mind.
Different styles and how to choose
There are several different styles of approach shoes to consider; weight, material, profile, and fit are all factors in determining the right shoe for you. For ease, recommendations are divided into the following categories:
- Mid-weight jack-of-all-trades
- Light and fast
- Heavy-weight high-tops
- Crag to town
- Other top approach shoe picks
Five Ten Guide Tennie (men’s and women’s)
Marketed as the first shoe designed for approaches in 1985, the Guide Tennie still remains a staple amongst modern approach shoes.
The upper is all leather, giving the shoe the durability to keep you scrambling through scree or jamming up cracks. It is also very stiff and features Five Ten’s beloved C4 Stealth Rubber. This rigidity gives you plenty of support to keep comfortable on hikes and also offers incredible edging power on more technical terrain. Weighing 1.8 pounds, this is a good rugged do-it-all shoe sacrificing a little weight for added durability.
La Sportiva Boulder X (men’s and women’s)
La Sportiva’s Boulder X is an all-around shoe that’s well-suited for nearly any approach, and it has much in common with Five Ten’s Guide Tennie.
It sports a leather upper for enhanced durability and is similar in stiffness to the Five Ten’s model. The difference here is that the Vibram Idrogrip rubber that La Sportiva has outfitted this shoe with boasts good performance even in wet conditions. This makes the shoe ideal if you encounter any river crossings or mossy and wet terrain.
They have also given these shoes their high-performance EVA insoles and an impact brake sole for added comfort on long approaches. Coming in at 2lbs 2oz, this is another great all-around shoe with some extra weight, but a little more security where it matters.
Light and fast
La Sportiva TX2 (men’s and women’s)
At 1lb 3oz, the TX2 is about half the weight of the Boulder X. This shoe has a knitted polyester upper making it extremely light and compressible.
The TX2 will fit in your pack with ease or clip to a harness with the built-in combo cord around the heel. La Sportiva outfitted these with the super sticky Vibram Megagrip rubber for all-around great friction on both wet and dry terrain. The knit upper is surprisingly durable and the whole fit gives a feel that is somewhere between an approach shoe and a trail runner. The TX2 is a great shoe for any approach where speed is necessary and performance is crucial.
The heavy-weight high-tops
Scarpa Mescalito Mid GTX
A “souped-up” version of previous boots like the Zen Pro, Scarpa’s Mescalito Pro’s now taller cuff provides all the stability and ankle support of their hiking boots with a touch of sensitivity needed for trickier terrain.
The Mescalito Pro also improves upon Scarpa’s standard Vibram outsoles by swapping standard Vibram for Vibram Dynamis LBT rubber combined with Megagrip tread. ACTIVimpact Technology midsoles help absorb shock and minimize the impact on your legs so you can save your legs for the climb, despite the added weight of these boots compared to less burly approach shoes.
Between the waterproof GoreTex membrane and ultra-supportive design, these boots will protect and defend your feet on brutal terrain.
The Scarpa Mescalito Mid GTX approach shoes are perfect for rugged talus hopping and severe alpine approaches.
Crag to town
Evolv Cruzer Classic (men’s and women’s)
The day is thankfully not always centered around long and technical approaches. Sometimes we just want to have a ten-minute hike to the crag and a quick jaunt back to town for the after-climb beer.
The Evolv Cruzers (just 8.4oz) are an everyday low-profile shoe outfitted with a Trax High Friction Sole for incredible support and friction. The cotton canvas upper keeps these shoes durable and breathable, making them stand up to everyday wear in town or abuse on approaches. On top of that, they keep you looking pretty fly wherever you may be. The Evolve Cruzer approach shoes is available in classic with laces and a slip-on version.
Five Ten Access
The Five Ten Access knit is a comfortable and stylish crag-to-town approach shoe (that’s flexible enough to perform as a light running shoe, too). Weighing in at only 12.3 oz, they’re even lighter than their Five Ten Ascent predecessors.
The breathable, stretch knit upper gives this shoe a sock-like fit that’ll make you forget you’re even wearing shoes. With comfort provided by an EVA mid-sole and incredible support and friction from Stealth PH Rubber, the Access will do just what the name promises: give you access to all those amazing places you’ve been dreaming about.
Approach shoes are an often overlooked piece of climbing gear; however, this does not make them any less crucial than the packs on our backs or the gear inside them.
They provide our feet with protection and give us the frictional confidence akin to that of our climbing shoes. We are able to safely access a much greater area with comfortable and supportive sticky rubber under our feet. Approach shoes inspire confidence and that is exactly how every climbing session should begin.
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