Approach shoes are a hybrid mixture of rock climbing shoes and hiking shoes, which gives them wide versatility outdoors. Primarily, approach shoes allow you to climb easy routes and scramble in them when approaching crags and boulders. Additionally, you can hike or trail run in them without changing to specialized shoes.
However, there are a couple of things you should look for when choosing a pair of approach shoes. These include how well they climb, how well they hike, weight, durability, comfort, protection, and other deciding factors. With all the choices you have, it can be a little difficult finding a pair that suits you best. This is especially true if it’s your first pair. But, hopefully after reading our guide on how to choose approach shoes, you’ll be an expert. Let’s begin!
How to Choose Approach Shoes
What makes approach shoes so special compared to all your other outdoorsy types of shoes is in its ability to climb. This is possible because of the rubber sole added to the bottom of approach shoes, which gives it a stickiness similar to rock climbing shoes.
A pair of approach shoes’ ability to climb should be the most important thing to look for. You’ll be able to tell by the type of rubber it utilizes as well as the lug size and pattern. (Thinner lugs are better for climbing, thicker lugs better for hiking). It should be grippy enough to scramble in as well as climb lightly in them. Light edging, smearing, and sensitivity are good things to consider and if you’re primarily using your approach shoes to descend in, look into how well the rubber grips rock and how stable they are. How they perform against wet or dry rock is also important since the weather and outdoor conditions will vary.
Lots of approach shoes have a sole made out of the famous Vibram rubber, but it really depends on the manufacturer. The reason why an approach shoe’s ability to climb is so important is because in most cases, falling is not an option. Keep that in mind when learning how to choose approach shoes.
Top Picks Based on Climbing Ability
|1. Evolv Cruzer Psyche|
|2. Five Ten Guide Tennie|
|3. Evolv Cruzer|
Even if a pair of approach shoes climb well, you should be able to use them to hike short distances as well. Essentially, that’s why they’re called approach shoes. They’re meant for approaches, short hikes, and backpacking while also being able to grip rock so that you won’t have to change to a pair of climbing shoes when the going gets tough. That’s where support, comfort, and protection come in. It’s important to look for these aspects when learning how to choose approach shoes.
A pair of approach shoes should be stable and support you when walking, even if you’ve got some heavy gear on your back. They should also be comfortable enough to walk in for extended periods of time, although not too long as this defeats the purpose of approach shoes. (Opt for hiking boots if you’re going to hike for a while). They should also provide a good amount of protection from bumping into rocks, brush, branches, etc. Weather resistant approach shoes are also amazing for keeping the elements such as water and snow out.
Top Picks Based on Hiking Ability
|1. Salewa Firetail EVO Mid GTX|
|2. Scarpa Zen|
|3. Five Ten AEscent|
Approach shoes can utilize different kinds of materials to make them more effective in the outdoors. This can directly affect the amount of durability, weight, comfort, and protection it provides. Most approach shoes are made of leather since it’s heavy duty and generally weather resistant. Canvas and mesh are more breathable although they are thinner and provide less protection and durability. Gore-Tex is also breathable but provides amazing water resistance as well. Synthetics are a good alternative to vegetarians and vegans.
Weight is a very important factor to look at if you’re a multi-pitch climber or looking to carry your approach shoes. Hiking shoes and boots often weigh more due to all the extra materials and rubber it uses to provide protection. Approach shoes are designed to be more lightweight so that they won’t weigh you down as much and you won’t get tired as quickly. Most approach shoes weigh under 3 or 4 pounds per pair and are made out of lightweight materials. Oftentimes, less weight means less protection provided, so choose approach shoes based on the amount of weight and protection you need.
Top Picks Based on Weight
|1. Evolv Cruzer / Cruzer Psyche|
|2. Scarpa Crux|
|3. Adidas Terrex Solo|
Fit / Comfort
The way a pair of approach shoes should fit is really dependent on your needs, which is something you’ll pick up when learning how to choose approach shoes. Are you more into the climbing aspect or the hiking aspect? If you’re more into climbing, you’ll want to fit them nice and snug (maybe even tight) in order to edge, smear, and feel more stable in as you hop from rock to rock. Size them a little more roomy if you’re into hiking and backpacking longer distances as they’ll make the trip a lot more comfortable. There’s always a trade-off when it comes to sizing though since most of the time, you can’t have approach shoes that excel both at climbing and hiking.
Generally, approach shoes don’t last as long as hiking shoes and boots. But they shouldn’t fall apart after a few uses either. There are different approach shoes out there with varying levels of durability, each designed for a specific purpose. Talus-hopping, light climbing, and descent shoes often have less durability due to the fact that they use more lightweight materials to climb better. Hiking oriented, weather resistant, and protective approach shoes are often a lot more durable because of the use of abrasion-resistant and waterproof materials.
Top Picks Based on Durability
|1. Salewa Firetail EVO Mid GTX|
|2. La Sportiva Boulder X|
|3. Salewa Firetail EVO GTX|
When learning how to choose approach shoes, pay attention to the other parts of the shoe as well.
- Laces – Should be durable, easy to tie evenly, and a good length as to not flop around. Long laces could possibly trip you
- Rand – The rubber part that wraps around the toe and possibly the heel. It should be durable and provide good protection from brush
- Insoles – The footbed inside of your shoe. The insoles should provide a good amount of arch support to keep you stable and comfortable
- Forefoot – The section toward the front of your shoe around the toes. It should be relatively stiff in order to maximize climbing ability (for edging, toe ins, etc.)
*** Tips on How to Choose Approach Shoes ***
- The rubber sole should be sticky enough to provide stability on different types of rock (also dry vs wet rock)
- Choose approach shoes based on your needs. If you mainly boulder, choose a breathable, climbable, easy to take on and off shoe (like the classic Cruzers or Cruzer Psyches). If you need rugged kicks that can withstand mother nature, go with a heavy duty, weather resistant shoe (like the Salewa Firetail EVO Mid GTX or LS Boulder X). And of course, if you need a pair that can do a little of everything, find yourself some all-rounder approach shoes (like the Five Ten Guide Tennie or Scarpa Crux)
- Make sure to check out the lug size and pattern of the outsoles. Thinner lugs are meant for more climbing while thicker lugs provide extra stability when hiking
- Ensure that the rubber toe rand (and possibly the heel) are sturdy enough to climb in
- Take into account the weather and outdoor conditions of where you intend to use your approach shoes. Durability, protection, and weather-resistance will be crucial in the right circumstances
- The forefoot of the shoes should be stiff. Try standing on the edge of a curb or ledge to see how much they flex
- The lighter the shoes, the less tired you’ll be walking in them or carrying them
- Decide whether you prefer climbing or hiking ability. Most approach shoes trade one for the other
- Fit your approach shoes snug or tight if you intend to climb in them. Size them a bit roomy if you’re looking to hike or backpack