Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Super stable, supportive, durable yet sticky rubber
Cons: Heavy, bulky
Best Uses: Great all-purpose approach shoe but excels when you need extra support on long and difficult hikes
The La Sportiva Boulder X ties for first place with the Five Ten Guide Tennie - Women's in our scoring matrix. While we chose to give the Guide Tennie the Editors' Choice award because of its superior climbing ability, the Boulder X received our Best Buy award for presenting an excellent value. The Boulder X also climbs well, and has a super stable, supportive midsole that makes these shoes ideal for extra long hikes and ultra heavy loads. These shoes have long been a favorite of climbers, and for good reason. They perform well for many climbing purposes and are durable enough to withstand plenty of thrashing on rough rock and terrain.
Check out our complete Women's Approach Shoe Review to see how these compared to others.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The La Sportiva Boulder X is one of the most supportive shoe in our test group. They have a unique lacing system that allows the shoes to fit comfortably on most foot shapes as well as give the greatest amount of flexibility for switching between a looser fitting hiking mode and a snugger fitting climbing mode.
The Boulder X comes equipped with Vibram®'s Idro-Grip rubber on the sole. This rubber strikes a great balance between tackiness and durability. While the Boulder X does't have the awesome "Smedge Zone" toe design that is a huge part of why the Five Ten Guide Tennie - Women's is a step above the rest for climbing ability, due to the stiff midsole of the Boulder X, it is still able to edge fairly well. The tread design on the toe of the Boulder X is quite similar to both the Five Ten Guide Tennie and the Evolv Cruzer. The front and inside portion of the tread is smooth and solid to provide the greatest surface area for when smearing is necessary. We think a part of the reason that it doesn't perform as well when smearing is because of the different rubber. While the Idro-Grip rubber is a great rubber, the sacrifice for its increased durability is stickiness. The soles of the Boulder X are also very stiff, which certainly increases its edging performance, but at the same time seems to make it harder to get the largest tread surface area in contact with the rock. Besides the stickiness of the rubber, the amount of tread surface area in contact with the rock is one of the most important factors contributing to a shoe's smearing ability.
For crack climbing performance, the Boulder X has one of the higher profile toe boxes of the shoes we tested, which would make it more difficult to get inside cracks to gain purchase when locking your toe. However, this difference is slight compared to most of the shoes. With the exception of the Evolv Cruzer, most of the shoes we tested here would only be appropriate for wider or flaring cracks. One advantage that the Boulder X has with crack climbing is the larger area that the rubber covers in around and above the toe. This would help with traction but also protection and durability if you plan to do a lot of crack climbing.
The first impression we had of the Boulder X was that it has a snug fit. The toe box and forefoot area is more narrow than your average hiking shoe and also when compared to most of the other approach shoes in our test group. This is great for its climbing ability, however it also means that it took some adjusting and breaking in to keep our feet comfortable when hiking or wearing on long days.
The soles of the Boulder X are the stiffest of our testing group and it made the forefoot go numb at the end of the first 2 long days hiking in them. However, they broke-in fairly quickly and have since been very comfortable regardless of how long the day was. One feature that makes the Boulder X really stand out is the Mythos® lace system. This system gives these shoes the ability to adjust the width and tightness from the end of the toes all the way to the heels for the most custom fit of of all the other shoes we tested.
They are made of heavy and durable leather uppers and are protected by a good amount of Vibram rubber around the toe, side, and heel of the shoe. This makes them heavy and not very breathable. But they are right on par for breathability when compared to the other shoes that provide similar support and durability. These shoes seem to run normal for length and slightly smaller for overall volume. However, our lead tester has a forefoot that is on the wider-side and this shoe did not ever feel constrictive to her.
These shoes come in at the top, right along with the Five Ten Camp 4, for support. The outsole of the shoe gets wider towards the bottom which creates a very stable feeling while hiking. The lacing system and lower-volume fit allows this shoe to directly transfer your foot movement to the rock or ground, which increases its sensitivity despite its stiff sole. The custom fit, sturdy materials and stiff sole makes this shoe one of the best options if your climbing adventure m.o. is long hikes and/or carrying large backpacks.
The Boulder X is the third heaviest shoe we tested. However, it comes in just a few hundredths of an ounce under the Five Ten Guide Tennie and only a few ounces under the Five Ten Camp 4. So although they are technically in the middle of the group for weight, all of these shoes are basically similarly heavy while the other three shoes get significantly lighter. However, for the Boulder X, what is gained by the added weight in excellent support and durability is likely worth the few ounces if you ever plan on extensive and difficult approaches. Beyond the weight, it has a moderately low side profile. In addition, unique compared to the other highly supportive and durable shoes we tested, the very top part of the ankle of these shoes is a more flexible and cushy fabric that also make them slightly less bulky and more compact than all but the diminutive Evolv Cruzer - Women's and the Scarpa Crux - Women's.
These shoes are the second most durable, after the Five Ten Camp 4 - Women's. With the exception of the Camp 4, the Boulder X has the most rubber protecting the places on the uppers that predictably get thrashed – including a large area all around the toes, as well as the sides of the foot, and then wrapping all the way around and at the back of the heel. The Vibram® Idro-Grip rubber is more durable than the sticky Stealth C4 rubber that is on the Five Ten Guide Tennie, but more sticky that the long-lasting Stealth S1 that protects the mega-durable Five Ten Camp 4.
The forte of the La Sportiva Boulder X is supporting your feet on substantially long or difficult hikes, but they also perform well while climbing. This makes them a great choice for an all-around approach shoe that would perform well in many climbing scenarios and pursuits.
While the Boulder X will still set you back $110, bang for your buck, these shoes are the best value. The only other cheaper shoe in our test was the Evolv Cruzer, which isn't nearly as versatile. The La Sportiva Boulder X tied for first place in our scoring system and is one of the top performers of all the shoes we tested here. While they don't climb as well as the Five Ten Guide Tennie, they excel in many other important categories and tie for an overall score. Since they are also one of the least expensive shoes in our group, we feel they deserved the the Best Buy award for women's approach shoes.
A supremely supportive shoe that also climbs well and is one of the least expensive options in our test group, this shoe is a great all-around performer and excellent value.
This shoe is also available in a men's version, the La Sportiva Boulder X.
— Sarah Hegg
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Most recent review: June 29, 2015
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