Designed primarily for trail running, these shoes offer enough support and foot protection that testers reached for them frequently when trekking to climbs. The mesh uppers breathed well during a week of hot, dusty approaches in Red Rock, Nevada, and our tester really appreciated the beefed-up rubber toe bumper as she hiked out from long climbs.
Approach Shoe Reviews
“These will become the only approach shoe you’ll ever wear,” one tester said after a few weeks of use at NorCal bouldering areas and around the Front Range of Colorado. Thanks to the shoes’ airy comfort right out of the box, all other testers agreed. Designed as a follow-up to the lightweight Vertical K trail runner, the Helios is a bit burlier with a thicker midsole and a slightly beefier upper for added foot support for long distances, weighing in at 8.9 oz. per men’s 10.5 shoe.
Ultralight approach shoes are fine and dandy, but for ankle support when scrambling up a creek bed or surfing scree on a descent, look no further than the Xplorer Mid GTX. La Sportiva took its popular low-top Xplorer and beefed it up for heavyduty hikes, yet added only about 5 oz. to a pair.
An approach shoe is a hybrid—part hiking boot, part climbing shoe—intended to take you from trailhead to climbing objective, be it an alpine summit or crag not far off trail. (See our five favorites on the following pages.) They are generally snug and narrow for increased agility for varied, up-to-near-vertical terrain. But what really sets them apart from dedicated hiking or trail running shoes is the outsole. Here’s what to look for.
The Scarpa Tech Ascent GTX ($219; scarpa.com) far exceeds its approach shoe label. Our veteran tester wore them for six months from Chilean Patagonia to Italy’s Dolomites to Colorado’s alpine on via ferrata, treks, and scrambles, saying, “They’re one of the most versatile boots I’ve ever worn.” Thanks to the Gore-Tex lining, they never leaked, even when postholing in wet moss and duff in Fjord de las Montanas in Chile.
Finishing off a multi-pitch route with a painful descent in tight climbing shoes can strip the enjoyment from an otherwise great day. Thankfully, there are a number of shoes well-suited for carrying up a route in a pack or on a harness, and then putting on for the hike or scramble back down. For this review, we tested five of these downward-minded, lightweight kicks.
Five Ten Guide Tennie Canvas - Every so often a company will take one of its best products, one that is performing just fine, and alter it in some major fashion. Many times this seems like pure marketing—we don’t really equate this to, say, Apple upgrading hardware to make it faster or more secure. So it was with much trepidation that our testers tried on the canvas version of the reliable leather Guide Tennie. Our worries were unfounded.
A bumper crop of sport, trad, and approach rigs - Shoe designers still find ways to tempt those of us who need the perfect shoe for a specific climb. So, as with last year, we asked them to send us their flagship high-performance sport/bouldering model and then a traddie version of the same. We recruited 15 testers with as many different foot shapes and ability levels, showing no mercy to our kicks on rock (and plastic) from coast to coast.
By Chris Weidner - Not long ago, you either bought a trad shoe (stiff) or a sport shoe (painful). But nowadays, the way people wear shoes has changed high-end tradsters will often wear the same model (sized up for comfort) on El Cap free routes they’d use on Rifle sport climbs. Still, with that in mind, it’s hard to know which shoes work best for you until you try them.
A year and a half ago, I noted in our leashless tool review that the designs then available were only a precursor of shapes to come.
When it comes to moderate rock routes and summer alpine climbs, it pays to have a versatile approach shoe.