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La Sportiva Boulder X Review


Approach Shoes

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Best Buy Award
Price:   Varies from $87 - $110 online  —  Compare at 6 sellers
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
Editors' Rating:     
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Manufacturer:   La Sportiva

Overview

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.

RELATED: Our complete review of approach shoes - men's

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Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings

Review by:
Brandon Lampley
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Tuesday
March 31, 2015
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.

Performance Comparison


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While hiking comfort and support are strong suits of the Boulder X, they climb surprisingly well.

Climbing Ability


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.

Edging
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).

Smearing
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.

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Running some laps in Joshua Tree. We found the Boulder X smears the best of all the products we tested that have a hiking traction oriented sole.

Crack Climbing
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.

Comfort


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.

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Comparing two award winners side-by-side. Both are excellent do everything shoes. The Boulder X has more foot support and better traction in dirt, while the Guide Tennie smears and climbs much better.

Support


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.

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La Sportiva Boulder X approach shoes getting ready for the East Ledges Descent, El Capitan.

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.

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The Boulder X and Guide Tennie are the best do-everything products we tested. While the Boulder X hikes better, it is also much heavier when carried up multi-pitch routes.

Durability


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.

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Out of our award winners, this shoe has the most hiking traction focused sole. If you need a good compromise between climbing ability and good traction for dirt and mud, this is a great choice.

Best Applications


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.

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Jeremy Bauman on the descent from the East Wall at Lover's Leap. The La Sportiva Boulder X is a relatively affordable, do everything shoe, and won our Best Buy award.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

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This approach shoe edges and smears well considering its overall bulk and equal focus on hiking comfort and support.

Other Versions


La Sportiva Boulder X - Women's
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  • Cost - $110
  • Weight per shoe - 14.39 oz
  • Women's version

Boulder X Mid GTX
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  • Cost - $170
  • Weight per shoe - 17.9 oz
  • Mid-cut version
  • Gore-Tex liner
  • Perfect for late spring and summer conditions in the Rockies, Sierras, the PNW or New England
Brandon Lampley

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: February 20, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:   
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 (3.3)

43% of 7 reviewers recommend it
Rating Distribution
8 Total Ratings
5 star: 25%  (2)
4 star: 25%  (2)
3 star: 13%  (1)
2 star: 38%  (3)
1 star: 0%  (0)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
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   Apr 19, 2015 - 09:21pm
BradP · Climber · Pasadena, ca
This is a specialized shoe - with all the good and bad points of such. I use these when I go to the Sierra and scramble around, need good footing on rocks, and maybe need to carry a backpack. They are heavy - but very sturdy and padded so you will not bang your feet. Good support for a pack. I have used them on things like Mt Russell, Middle Palisades, Mt Darwin, and other class 3/4 things with mile of approach. The only bad moment in them was in a crazy downpour. But the price is right and the functionality of them is perfect.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Feb 20, 2016 - 06:17pm
Brokedownclimber · Climber · Douglas, WY
I can attest to one feature I really love: comfort! I don't just use these as approach shoes, but as my everyday footgear.

They are great in all terrain, and I've used them for approaches to climbs in the Dolomites, as well as at Joshua Tree and City of Rocks. I also climbed a couple easy routes in the Cinque Torri in them, with no issues.

I'm planning for a new pair when the one's I have on my feet give up the ghost. They are really sturdy and well made. I'm on my 2nd pair in 3 years.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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   Feb 20, 2016 - 05:57pm
dindolino32 · Climber
I got these on sale for $60 so I was overall happy, BUT they felt like I was walking on platform shoes since the sole is so thick. Second, if you size them snug for any climbing, the toebox is not very deep and would smash the top of my toenails. I had to take the inserts out in order to create a good fit at the toes. The toe rand isn't that durable, and the rubber under the ball of your foot is worthless because there is soft crepe under that area, meaning that the only good spot to edge is directly under the end of the big toe. I ended up buying some guide tennies (on sale too for $70) and climbed much better. Boulder X shoes are for hiking throughout the sierras with basic scrambling, I found them unreliable for climbing above 5.6 whereas the Guide Tennies I can climb up to about 5.10b in yosemite. I think it depends on your wants and needs, I wanted better shoes for climbing.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Feb 19, 2016 - 10:44pm
jimdonohoe · Climber
Excellent balance between hiking comfort and scrambling ability. Unlike the review written here, I think they are not too bulky because the upper crushes down pretty well in your pack. Not too heavy either. Durable? No, not at all. Toe rand is paper thin and manufacturer decided to skimp on 2cm of leather by cutting the leather short of the toe. This is hidden by the rand, so you pay for it later. Would be my preferred shoe except that flip,flops would last longer.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Oct 2, 2015 - 05:25pm
cannyjoe · Climber · england
these are light weight and very comfortable. However my fist pair lasted 1 week before they started to drop to bits. After a fight with the shop I bought them from they eventually replaced them. The second pair lasted 6 outings before they started to drop to bits.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   May 12, 2015 - 05:05am
Punter · Climber · Hong Kong
First the good news. The shoes climbed super well, and I liked the rigid soles. The rubber seems pretty sticky, and even when wet. They are also acceptably comfortable on longer hikes. Its a great idea of an all around shoe with sticky rubber climbing soles, and decent cushioning for hiking longer distances. The bad news is the poor quality construction and lack of durability. My first pair experienced delamination of the cushioning layers at the heel, as well as general disintegration of the cushioning. And this was within the first 20 outings. This pair was returned, and the replacement pair has also evidenced delamination of the soles, again, with less than 20 outings. Also, the rubber on the toe rand has completely worn off. Given problems with 2 pairs, it seems that the shoe does have genuine quality problems. So what in theory looks like a great shoe, in practice disappoints. All the great functionality amounts to nothing if they are sitting in the bottom of your garbage bin.

Bottom Line: No, I would not recommend this product to a friend.
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   Mar 31, 2015 - 09:24pm
climberdude · Climber · Clovis, CA
I have both the low top and high top models. I like them both, particularly the high top version which only gets brief mention here. I do a lot of approaches for rock climbing where I am carrying a heavy load over rough terrain. The low top model does not have sufficient ankle support for this, so I really like the high top model. If you do a lot of easy rock climbing and approach hikes in rough terrain, I recommend finding a cobbler who can add a thicker rand on the high top model. I also had the high top version resoled with a Vibram hiking shoe sole instead of the dot sticky rubber. However, in both the low top and high top models eventually the leather in the side toe area will tear, at which point replacement of the shoe is necessary. If you are considering rough approaches or approaches with backpacking combined with rock climbing, then you should also look into the high top Gore Tex model.

Bottom Line: Yes, I would recommend this product to a friend.
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