Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Durable, great traction in dirt and mud, excellent value, workhorse approach shoe
Cons: Heavy and bulky, especially when carrying on your harness or in a pack
Best Uses: Rough, non-technical approach, big wall climbing
The La Sportiva Boulder X wins our Best Buy Award, delivering the most bang for your buck. Durable and supportive for rough scrambling, it still climbs well on technical rock. The Vibram Idro-Grip V-Smear sole provides a great compromise between climbing ability and hiking performance in dirt, sand, and mud. While we would enjoy this shoe even more if it were lighter, it's a model we recommend for the traveling climber that wants one pair of (less expensive) approach shoes for the many areas they visit. This product is a better choice for carrying loads over long miles than our other three award winners.
We consider the Boulder X the second best do-everything approach shoe we tested, behind the Editors' Choice winner Five Ten Guide Tennie. The Guide Tennie is noticeably lighter – and climbs better – while the Boulder X is more durable and offers better support and traction for hiking. The expensive La Sportiva Ganda is the best product we tested if you want to climb difficult 5th class rock in approach shoes. If you are looking for a super light, casual approach shoe, check out the slipper-like Evolv Cruzer.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Our Best Buy winner received better than average scores in all our performance metrics with the exception of weight and packability. It is a durable product that climbs quite well considering the excellent foot support and great hiking traction off the rock. Along with the Five Ten Camp Four, the Boulder X is recommended for multi-day big wall ascents.
The La Sportiva Boulder X performed well while climbing on technical terrain well below our limit. This shoe tied for third with the Evolv Cruzer in overall climbing ability, but for very different reasons. The barely there Cruzer only climbs well when fitted tight like a climbing shoe. The Boulder X delivers good climbing ability when fitted with a little extra room for comfortable hiking.
The La Sportiva Boulder X is the best overall climber that also provides great hiking traction in dirt, sand, and mud.
The moderately stiff Boulder X comfortably stands on medium sized edges, but doesn't have the sensitivity for small edges. The lacing system can be cinched down for better edging, but its ability to stay on little edges is limited. The toe shape is also a bit more rounded than the top edging performers, making it a poor choice for edging in pockets. What the Boulder X does offer is great foot support for standing on medium to large edges all day (something the very stiff Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX does as well).
We were pleasantly surprised with how well this shoe smears. While it feels big and clunky on the foot at times, there is just enough forefoot flexibility to get good smearing performance out of the Vibram Idro-Grip sole. The three models that smear better - the Guide Tennie, Cruzer, and Ganda – all have tread patterns that focus on smearing ability. We feel the rubber and tread pattern on the Boulder X is the best hybrid - finding a balance between climbing performance and good traction on the trail.
We judged this shoe the second best crack climber we tested. Nothing comes close to the Ganda for climbing performance in a range of crack sizes, and the Cruzer has a lower toe profile, but the Boulder X has a fairly low profile toe considering its overall bulkiness. Like the Ganda, the Boulder X also has the stiffness to transfer twisting forces to the mid foot. You aren't gonna stuff these into a thin hands crack, but for big hands and on up, this shoe is a great crack climber. Additionally, the larger rubber toe rand contributes to its flared crack smearing ability and increases durability.
While we found this shoe comfortable for hiking, especially over very rough terrain, it is a bit clunky and heavy. A lighter model like the Scarpa Mojito or Vasque Grand Traverse is more appropriate for smooth terrain and minimal loads. The more hiking shoe-like Scarpa Zen is the best choice for folks that need to carry loads over relatively smooth terrain. The lacing system for this product is unique to La Sportiva, shared with their do-everything climbing shoe the La Sportiva Mythos. A very long lace first passes around the ankle collar of the shoe, and then continues down to the toe through tunnels of leather. As the laces zig zag back up from the toe, they exert a pulley-like force, allowing you to adjust the fit at the ankle collar as well as the forefoot. While this lace system offers fine-tuning to fit a variety of feet, it has durability challenges. The leather tongue on this model is not gusseted to the upper and doesn't provide much in the way of breathability.
Our Best Buy winner fits a narrow or low volume foot better than the Editors' Choice winning Five Ten Guide Tennie.
Travelling over rough terrain with a heavy pack can leave your feet tired when you arrive at your objective, but the Boulder X offers great foot support to help prevent this. Whether you are humping a load up to the base of El Cap, or carrying overnight gear, rope and rack into the backcountry, this shoe provides enough support to keep your feet happy. Its stiffness also contributes to good edging and crack climbing performance.
Support is where the Boulder X really shines. It offers more foot support than any other model that earned a similar or higher overall climbing score. It is the best choice among our award winners for carrying heavy loads.
Weight & Packability
The only significant down side to the La Sportiva Boulder X? It is heavy. Our size 46 test model weighed in at 2 pounds and 8 ounces for the pair, only one ounce lighter than the Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX, the heaviest shoe we tested. If weight is an important consideration for you, the do-everything Five Ten Guide Tennie is 7 ounces lighter per pair. What the Boulder X provides with this additional weight is much better foot support for carrying heavy loads and increased durability compared to the Guide Tennie. That said, we still see lots of these shoes hitching a ride on harnesses up multi-pitch climbs for the descent.
While the Best Buy Boulder X is more durable than the Editors' Choice Guide Tennie, it earned a durability score right in the middle of the shoes we tested. Overall, it is a very durable product, but two features caused us to subtract a point – the lacing system and front of the toe. As discussed in Comfort, the laces pass through tunnels of leather - and while these are reinforced internally with synthetic material – if you crack climb a lot, they can wear through at the toe. While we appreciate the ability to fine-tune the fit with this lacing system, replacing the laces when they wear out can be an exercise in frustration. While the sole material of most shoes extends all the way forward, the toe rand on this model protrudes over the sole a little, and can wear thin. We are being a little nit-picky here, and if you won't be jamming these in cracks often, consider their durability right up there with the top scorers.
The Boulder X is most suited to climbing areas where you need to carry a heavy pack over rough terrain. It is a heavy and durable shoe that prioritizes foot support and good traction in dirt, rather than light weight and climbing performance. Want a durable shoe to get you to Sundance Buttress at Lumpy Ridge or up to Looking Glass Rock in North Carolina? This is a great choice. The Boulder X is a great shoe for multi-day big wall climbing as well.
Humping a big pack into the Palisades in the High Sierra or the Lower Saddle in the Tetons? The Boulder X is a great alpine rock approach shoe for most folks. It's durable and supportive for trips through the talus, supports you well when carrying overnight gear, and kicks steps in snow better than most others.
At $110, this shoe is a killer, screaming deal. It won our Best Buy award, which always goes to the product we feel delivers the most performance for the price.
The La Sportiva Boulder X is the second best go-everywhere and do-everything approach shoe we tested. If you seek an affordable shoe that does everything well, but places more emphasis on hiking comfort and traction rather than top-notch climbing ability and light weight, look no further.
The La Sportiva Boulder X – Women's also won the Best Buy award in our review of Approach Shoes for Women. The Boulder X is also available in a mid-cut version with a Gore-Tex liner.
— Brandon Lampley
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Most recent review: March 31, 2015
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