Best Climbing Approach Shoes

We looked at 13 of the best climbing approach shoes and put them through rigorous head-to-head tests. We scored them on smearing, edging, hiking, durability and their lightweight/compactness. We took them up El Capitan, to the sport crag, on long hikes, or just around town. In the end we choose a winner, but there were actually multiple winners depending on what activity you do the most (listed at the bottom of the review).

Check out our Approach Shoe Buying Advice for tips on how to select an approach shoe.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara ⋅ Founder and Editor-in-Chief, OutdoorGearLab December 3, 2012

Top Ranked Approach Shoes - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 10 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
La Sportiva Ganda
La Sportiva Ganda
Read the Review
Video video review
Evolv Cruzer
Evolv Cruzer
Read the Review
Five Ten Guide Tennie
Five Ten Guide Tennie
Read the Review
Video video review
Five Ten Camp Four
Five Ten Camp Four
Read the Review
Scarpa Zen
Scarpa Zen
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award  Best Buy Award  Top Pick Award   
Street Price Varies $200 - $250
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $60 - $75
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $79 - $130
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $105 - $150
Compare at 9 sellers
Varies $116 - $145
Compare at 6 sellers
Overall Score 
100
0
80
100
0
76
100
0
76
100
0
74
100
0
64
Editors' Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
User Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
86% recommend it (6/7)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
67% recommend it (2/3)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
71% recommend it (12/17)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
80% recommend it (8/10)
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
80% recommend it (4/5)
Pros Maybe the highest performing approach shoe on rockLight, comfortable, great for long multi-pitch routes, stylish, smears well, great valueClimb great, low-bulkDurable, good all-around performanceBurly construction, great laces, durable, good toe rand
Cons Expensive, not great for longer hikesDurability (if using it hard on hikes,scrambling), not ideal for long approachesDurability, not enough cushion for big approachesNot great at edging, a little bulky when put in a backpackTake a little while to break in, irrated heel at first
Best Uses Guides and climbing addicts who want a comfy shoe to climb technical rock routes that are well below their ability.Urban style approach shoe that also climbs well and is ideal on multi-pitch climbsBig wall climbing, alpine rock, craggingBig walls, big hikes, every day approach shoeHiking, scrambling
Date Reviewed Nov 26, 2012Aug 29, 2012Apr 11, 2012May 04, 2012Jun 01, 2012
Weighted Scores La Sportiva Ganda Evolv Cruzer Five Ten Guide Tennie Five Ten Camp Four Scarpa Zen
Smearing - 20%
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
5
Edging - 20%
10
0
10
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
6
Hiking - 20%
10
0
6
10
0
5
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
7
Durability - 20%
10
0
8
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
10
Compactness Lightweight - 20%
10
0
7
10
0
10
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
4
Product Specs La Sportiva Ganda Evolv Cruzer Five Ten Guide Tennie Five Ten Camp Four Scarpa Zen
OGL Weight /pair (ounces) 15.4 (size 9.5) 26.6 (size 10.5)
Manufacturer Weight /pair (ounces) 29 15.4 (size 9) 29 29 31
Sticky rubber? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Tread pattern Dot
Upper Material Leather and synthetic leather Cotton canvas Leather and mesh Leather Suede leather
Lining Material Microfiber
Toe rand Yes

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



Smearing
The best shoe for slabs and smearing is the Five Ten Guide Tennie. It has a full sheet of dot rubber on the wold and the super sticky Stealth C4 rubber. Very close behind is the La Sporiva Ganda. The Five Ten Daescent was a top scorer as well. We expected it to be better because of the flat sheet of sticky rubber on the toe. However, the shoe was a little too loose fitting in the toe to put it at the top. The surprise in this category was the Vibram Five Finger KSO. Even without sticky rubber, it is so sensitive that it scores surprisingly well whether bouldering on rounded holds or climbing a slab.

Edging
The La Sportiva Ganda came way out on top. It has a very precise fit and narrow toe. It is the only approach shoe that climbs almost like a climbing shoe. Most other top scoring shoes fell into two categories. A sturdy shoe like the Scapa Zen or Camp 4 could stand on a medium size edge fairly confidently but you couldn't even feel a small edge because of the thick sole. A shoe like Guide Tennie could smear edges but didn't have enough support to confidently stand on them.

Hiking
Long hikes really separated our contenders. The three running-style shoes, the La Sportiva Exum Pro, Evolv Escapist, and Five Ten Savant, really rose above the rest. They are light and have aggressive tread patters for great traction. These are the only shoes we would take on an approach of four-plus miles instead of running shoes. The other top scoring shoes were the Zen, Boulder X and Camp Four. These are great for shorter hikes with big loads due to their sturdy design. However, they are not ideal for long, long approaches.

Click to enlarge
Matt Wilhelm smears his way across the The High Sierra's Evolution Traverse, a link-up of nine 13k ft. peaks, with the Hyperlite Moutain Gear Windrider pack and Them-a-Rest Z Lite Sol pad.
Credit: Max Neale
Durability
This is a big factor for any serious climber. The cost of the shoe is irrelevant if it wears out 2-3 times faster than another shoe. Here the Scarpa Zen really stood out. It is big, sturdy and has a hefty toe rand. The Camp Four also impressed us and there is a reason this is probably the popular shoe you see on El Capitan. The Boulder X also performed well. The Ganda was the most durable of the shoes that climb well. The rubber wears out much faster than the stitching, which is what you want and what is often not the case with approach shoes. More importantly, it is one of the few shoes that you can resole again and again without losing lots of performance. This helps make up for it's high initial cost. If you are using your approach shoes a ton, it is one of the best long term values.

Compactness/Lightness
Here the Five Finger KSO can't be touched. It was half the weight of the next lightest shoe. You can barely feel them when they are clipped to your harness. If you are OK with the whole "five finger concept" (and look), this would be hard to beat for multi-pitch climbs where you want to move as lightly as possible on the rock. The Sanuk Base Camp is the next lightest and is very compact when put in your pack. That said, its lack of support and durabilty keep it out of contention as a workhorse for multi-pitch climbs. The best light shoe for most people is the Five Ten DAescent Men's. It is really light but still performs well on approaches and descents.

The Bottom Line
The Editors' Choice award goes to the La Sportiva Ganda. It is the only shoe that climbs almost as well as a regular climbing shoe. Its price will scare away many, but its long term durabilty and performance will reward those willing to shell out the cash.

The Best Buy award goes to the Five Ten Guide Tennie. It is less than half the cost of the Ganda and scored second highest. Any shoe that cost less did not score nearly as well. This what most climbers should get who want solid scrambling performance. Even some of our testers who are guides, who get pro deals or free gear, mostly go with the Guide Tennie because they are just too afraid to trash their expensive Gandas while guiding.

Two shoes win a Recommended award. The Five Ten Camp Four is the best shoe for big walls and for short but rugged approaches. If you don't care a ton about how well your shoe edges, then this might be the shoe to get. It is comfortable and burly.

A special mention goes to the Vibram Five Finger KSO and the Sanuk Base Camp. Neither scored that well. However, the Sanuk is the shoe that we most often wear just because it doubles as an urban shoe. For mellow outings, we often find its easier to keep the Sanuks on then to brint an extra pair of approach shoes. The KSO is hard to compare to others. You are a believer in Five Finger concept or you are not. If you are a convert, these "shoes" might just be the ultimate climbing approach shoe – they weigh next to nothing when put away in your pack and climb surprisingly well (except in cracks).

Best Shoe for Each Application
Climbing 5th class terrain: Ganda or Guide Tennie
Big Walls: Camp Four
Long Approaches: Exum Guide
Hanging out: Sanuk Base Camp
Most multi-pitch climbs: Five Ten Daescent or Vibram Five Fingers KSO

Chris McNamara
Buying Advice
How we Test
Helpful Buying Tips
Get More OutdoorGearLab
Follow us on Twitter, be a fan on Facebook!
Subscribe to our Newsletter
Recent Editor's Award Winners