Unless you climb exclusively in Rifle, Colorado, you will likely need to cover some ground between your car and your next climbing crag. Whether you hate hiking or love it there is no getting around it – the approach is inevitable. Might as well do it with the best approach shoes you can!
We at the Adventure Junkies understand that climbing approaches can feel like a burden but we’re here to tell you that they aren’t that bad! Approach trails are rarely busy as they’re often only used by climbers, the views can be spectacular and unique, you get a warm-up and some fitness, and of course, the end goal of climbing is super rewarding.
Approach shoes are designed as a blend between a traditional hiking shoe and a climbing shoe. They take your pre-climbing-hike to the next level with great support, super sticky rubber with wrap-around toe rand, and superior comfort that can perform on trails, scrambles, and easy technical climbs.
THE BEST APPROACH SHOES – QUICK ANSWER
- Evolv Cruzer
- Five Ten Guide Tennie
- Evolv Cruzer Psyche
- Five Ten Aescent
- Vasque Grand Traverse
- Scarpa Crux
- La Sportiva Boulder X
- Salewa Wildfire S GTX
- Arc’teryx Acrux FL
- Salewa Firetail Evo Mid GTX
THE BEST APPROACH SHOES – A COMPARISON
APPROACH SHOES 101
5 THINGS TO CONSIDER TO FIND THE BEST APPROACH SHOES
Approach shoes are specifically designed to handle hiking, scrambling, and easy technical climbing. To accommodate the demands climbers place on their shoes, they are highly durable and outfitted with sticky rubber for increased friction on rock. Approach shoes also come with a toe bumper that protects the toe and front of the shoe when scrambling.
The rest of an approach shoe can be made from a variety of materials, such as nubuck leather, suede or canvas, and they occasionally incorporate mesh for breathability.
Not all climbing approaches require full-blown approach shoes. Sometimes a lighter-weight trail runner is all you need, depending on your terrain and the weight load you carry. In these situations, hiking shoes can also be a great choice.
When purchasing approach shoes you typically want to size them to be fairly snug around the foot. A close fit will provide better control for scrambling and climbing on approaches. Many approach shoes have “climbing laces” that thread right down to the toe for full control of tightening along the length of the foot.
For hiking-oriented approaches you will want to size your shoes a bit bigger for greater comfort, and to prevent your toes from hitting the ends on downhills.
Approach shoes are built with sturdy materials to help you get yourself and your gear to your next climbing spot no matter the distance or terrain. The outsole (base of the shoe) is made of sticky rubber that wraps over the toe and heel for additional protection on rocks.
The midsole, found between the insole and outsole, is made of ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam that cushions and supports the foot while walking or scrambling. Approach shoes sometimes have a protective, rigid plate in the midsole that provides increased stability.
Climbing-specific approach shoes can generally be grouped into two categories based on the depth of the rubber treat. Several companies use a variation to traditional tread, called dot lugs (rubber dots on the soles of the shoe). Shallow lugs offer great friction for climbing, whereas deep lugs also offer superior traction in mud and dirt.
Most approach shoes also feature a “climbing zone”, a smooth area of sticky rubber on the inside edge or the shoe and the toe. The purpose of the climbing zone is to improve edging ability with enhanced shoe-to-rock contact.
5. APPROACH SHOE CARE
Your approach shoes are likely to get dirty, and that coupled with continuously slipping your stinky climbing-feet into them means that they require extra special care to keep them fresh and clean.
Never store your shoes away if they are dirty or muddy. Clean the outside of your approach shoes to prevent grit from getting into creases and slowly grinding away at materials. It is usually fine to wash your shoes with water, but be sure to dry them thoroughly.
Wear light hiking socks if possible to reduce sweat and wick moisture. If your approach shoe has a removable insole, take it out to help air out the shoes when your day is done.
Photo by istockphoto.com/portfolio/HeavenUSA
BEST APPROACH SHOES REVIEWS
TOP 10 BEST APPROACH SHOES
1. BEST APPROACH SHOES FOR CLIMBING
WOMEN’S VERSION: EVOLV CRUZER
MATERIAL: 100% cotton canvas
RUBBER OUTSOLE: TRAX
FEATURES: Minimalist design on a trail running shoe last, soft microporous EVA midsole, microfiber lined memory foam insole
PROS: Inexpensive, barefoot friendly, moisture wicking, folding heal
CONS: Not waterproof, less stability
FIVE TEN GUIDE TENNIE
WOMEN’S VERSION: Five Ten Guide Tenie
MATERIAL: Nubuck leather
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Stealth C4
FEATURES: Laces run to the toe for a climbing fit, compression-molded EVA midsole, mesh lining, hand-ground beveled climbing toe
PROS: First approach shoe on the market in 1985, great for hiking, scrambling and climbing, water resistant
CONS: Not fully waterproof, some users find them uncomfortable
EVOLV CRUZER PSYCHE
WOMEN’S VERSION: Evolv Cruzer Psyche
MATERIAL: 100% Cotton canvas
RUBBER OUTSOLE: TRAX
FEATURES: New and improved trail running shoe last, soft microporous EVA midsole, microfiber lined memory foam insole
PROS: Inexpensive, very lightweight, barefoot friendly, easy to slip-on, folding heal
CONS: Not waterproof, less stability
FIVE TEN AESCENT
WOMEN’S VERSION: N/A
MATERIAL: Split-grain leather & mesh upper
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Stealth Mi6
FEATURES: Two-piece compression-molded EVA midsole
PROS: Supportive platform for biking or climbing, breathable, exceptionally sensitive rubber
CONS: No “climbing zone” on inside edge, no heel loop
VASQUE GRAND TRAVERSE
WOMEN’S VERSION: Vasque Grand Traverse
MATERIAL: 1.8mm suede leather, PU overmolded mesh
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Vibram Ibex with Idrogrip and Megagrip Compounds
FEATURES: Dual-density EVA foam footbed, molded EVA midsole, wicking lining
PROS: Lightweight shoe that bridges the gap between approach shoes and hiking shoes
CONS: Not waterproof, lower durability
2. BEST APPROACH SHOES FOR HIKING
WOMEN’S VERSION: Scarpa Crux
MATERIAL: Suede and recycled polyester airmesh
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Vibram Vertical Approach
FEATURES: Dual-Density EVA midsole, Kevlar® webbing on the natural suede upper retains its shape, lacing to-the-toe for customized fit
PROS: Climbing zone under the toe, great breathability
CONS: Some users report tongue twisting in shoe
LA SPORTIVA BOULDER X
WOMEN’S VERSION: La Sportiva Boulder X
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Vibram Idro-Grip V-Smear with Impact Brake System
FEATURES: Boulder last, micropore EVA midsole, 2mm polyproylene insole and mesh lining
PROS: Rubber stays sticky on wet rock, new padding for enhanced comfort, adaptable fit lacing
CONS: Heavier than other options, laces may wear quickly, can get quite hot inside
SALEWA WILDFIRE S GTX
WOMEN’S VERSION: Salewa Wildfire S GTX
MATERIAL: Ballistic mesh upper and GORE-TEX lining
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Vibram Tech Approach with Megagrip compound
FEATURES: Exa Shell grid structure and climbing lacing for optimal fit, mesh foot ventilation, GORE-TEX extended comfort lining, 100% blister-free guarantee
PROS: Breathable, lightweight, waterproof, adaptable to unique foot shapes
CONS: Expensive, poor traction in wet conditions
ARC’TERYX ACRUX FL
WOMEN’S VERSION: Arc’teryx Acrux FL
MATERIAL: PU coated nylon textile
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Vibram MegaGrip
FEATURES: Seamless thermolaminated upper, highly durable EVA foam midsole, non-removable stretch monomesh Adaptive Fit liner
PROS: Air permeable, seamless unified piece, great stability, quick drying
CONS: Expensive, narrow fit
3. BEST APPROACH SHOES WITH ANKLE SUPPORT
SALEWA FIRETAIL EVO MID GTX
WOMEN’S VERSION: Salewa Firetail Evo Mid GTX
MATERIAL: Synthetic aramidic fibers
RUBBER OUTSOLE: Vibram Scrambler with Megagrip compound
FEATURES: Mid-cut shoe, climbing lacing for optimal fit, GORE-TEX extended comfort lining, 100% blister-free guarantee, 3F System for firm ankle and heel support
PROS: Highly durable, waterproof, breathable, removable insole
CONS: Expensive, narrow toe box