Sticky rubber approach shoes are an essential ingredient for fun and safety in the mountains. Seriously, these things can turn a low angle slab into a casual stroll, and make your approach to the cliff much less of an ordeal. We've researched over 50 pairs and selected the top 10 models for some side-by-side rigorous testing. We climbed cracks. Slogged up slabs with heavy packs, carried hundreds of cams up to the hallowed crags of Indian Creek, and scrambled all over the Sierra to determine which shoe is the best. Our team of wall rats, pebble wrestlers, sport climbers, and scramblers put each shoe through the wringer. We've assessed each shoe using our tried and true metrics: climbing ability, hiking comfort, support, weight, and packability. Read on to discover which shoe is right for your preferred style of rock climbing fun.
The 10 Best Climbing Approach Shoes for Men
Rolling into summer, it's time to start thinking about long days in the mountains and a fresh pair of sticky rubber approach shoes. This season we're excited to bestow our Editor's Choice Award on the light weight La Sportiva TX2. These slender shoes hike and climb with comfort and ease, while only weighing 20oz. The TX4 is still one of our favorite shoes for long approaches with heavy loads, while the venerable Five Ten Guide Tennie remains our to top choice for climbing.
Best Overall Approach Shoes
La Sportiva TX2
The La Sportiva TX2 is our new favorite approach shoe. It's very similar to our previous choice, the burlier TX4, and after some hands on testing we discovered that this shoe is much more than just a lighter version of the TX4. These shoes weigh a mere 20oz per pair, plus they have a special elastic cord system to secure the shoes together in to compact package when clipped to a climbing harness.
The breathable knit uppers kept our feet cool on long hikes, and the precise lacing system allows us to crank down the laces all the way to the end of the toe for a snug and secure fit when the going gets technical. The toe has a low profile, and we were even able to use them in red camalot sized cracks. The TX2 climb almost as well as the Five Ten Guide Tennies, and hike just as well as the TX4s.
Top Pick for Heavy Loads and Big Walls
La Sportiva TX4
The La Sportiva TX4 used to be our editors choice before we got our hands on the TX2s, but they're still an awesome choice for big wall climbing or when you need to carry big loads. The leather uppers are up to the task of scraping up thousands of feet of granite. The stiff and supportive midsoles can take you to your dream wall, whether it be roadside, or deep in the backcountry.
These shoes have a good balance of hiking and climbing ability. The TX4 is the shoe we want on our feet while humping loads to the base of El Cap, standing in aiders, busting free moves, and carrying the whole kit back down to the meadow. Are long approaches to remote backcountry objectives in your future? The TX4 has the support and comfort to take you there, heavy pack and all.
Read review: La Sportiva TX2
Best Bang for the Buck
La Sportiva Boulder X
Our Best Buy Award goes to the product that lets you play the longest and go the hardest for the least amount of cash. The La Sportiva Boulder X delivers for yet another season. This affordable shoe climbs well, offers support for miles hiking and scrambling, and features durable leather uppers that will stay with you for the long haul.
Additionally, the Boulder X has a lacing system similar to the La Sportiva Mythos climbing shoe. Lace extends around the ankle collar, ensuring slip-free operation for miles of hiking, or pitch after pitch of jugging. A stiff midsole also makes this shoe ideally suited for carrying heavy loads. However, this shoe is heavy and bulky, so it's not our first choice for climbing with a pair clipped to our harness.
Read review: La Sportiva Boulder X
Top Pick for Lightweight Shoe
Arc'teryx Acrux SL
Sole Rubber: Vibram MegaGrip | Midsole: Injected EVA
Our testers were skeptical of this lightweight, sleek looking pair of kicks until they put them on for a quick scramble up Mount Emerson, and we were blown away by how comfortable, and supportive a lightweight shoe could be. While the Evolv Cruzer Psyche is 5oz lighter, the Arc'teryx Acrux SL offers so much more hiking comfort that they are the shoe we want clipped to our harnesses on multi-pitch rock climbs with long walk-offs like the ones found in the High Sierra or Red Rocks.
These shoes feature an upper that is both light and durable, so they don't fall apart after hundreds of feet of easy crack climbing, but don't weigh us down while we're carrying them up a multi-pitch. To top things off, the Acrux SL climbs well and has a low toe profile that fits into cracks better than most other models. That being said, the TX2 Climbs just as well while being even lighter, while the Acrux SL feels a little bit more durable.
Read review: Arc'teryx Acrux SL
Top Pick For Climbing
Five Ten Guide Tennie
Sensitive for smearing, stiff enough for edges, and a great performer in hand cracks, the Five Ten Guide Tennie takes our Top Pick for Climbing. If the terrain warrants some easy slab climbing, and mellow splitters, but not full on foot binding climbing shoes, the Guide Tennie reigns supreme, edging out all competitors, and edging on granite holds pretty well too.
They've been updated again, this time to reflect the older classic Guide Tennie that started it all, featuring a lower profile toe like the original, but preserving some of the later tweaks, like the compression molded EVA midsole that improves hiking comfort and support. The Stealth C4 rubber is still the stickiest rubber in the game. This shoe is ideal for easy scrambles in Joshua Tree or the Buttermilks or climbing easy warm-ups. Plus, these shoes hike fairly well and are available in 4 colors; Gun Metal, Navy, Tent Green, and Twine.
Read review: Five Ten Guide Tennie
Analysis and Test Results
Each product's review discusses best uses and details its score in the five performance metrics. As always, we compare and contrast each model to the most similar products to help you make an informed decision. Our climbing ability metric takes into consideration how well each shoe edges, smears, and crack climbs, and you'll find the scoop in individual reviews. Below, in the main review, you'll find detailed descriptions of our evaluation metrics and the top scorers in each.
Climbing approach shoes are a specialty product. Rock climbers place unique demands on the footwear we use to get to and from the boulders, cliffs, and mountains where we practice our art. Two attributes define this category of footwear:Sticky Rubber Soles
All products included in this review utilize a rubber sole that prioritizes 'stickiness' on the rock. The rubber compounds used are softer than the ones used for hiking boots and shoes, generating more friction on rock. These sticky rubber soles give us confidence that our feet will stay put on steep rock slabs, the tradeoff being they wear down faster than harder formulations.Durable Upper Materials
Approach shoes usually feature a stick rubber toe rand that comes up high on the front of the shoe to protect them while you edge, smear, or ascend a fixed line. We often "improve" the uppers with a healthy smathering or seam seal or shoe goo, especially if the upper isn't fully leather.
Our Buying Advice article provides an in-depth discussion of what type of footwear to choose for getting to and from climbing areas, and an analysis of sizing your approach shoes appropriately for climbing performance, hiking comfort, or the best combination of the two.
As with any purchase, choosing one approach shoe over its competition usually means accepting certain trade-offs in features, such as climbing ability for hiking comfort. We've compiled all of the metrics that we believe are most important in a well-rounded approach shoe and created the table below to help demonstrate the overall value of the shoes in our test. Award winners are represented by blue dots (hover over them to see which shoe lands where), and the further into the lower right quadrant a product falls, the greater its relative value.
We tested each shoe in three sub-metrics here: Edging, or the ability to stand on small rock ledges ranging from a matchbook's width up to an inch. Smearing, or the ability to stick to steep rock that is devoid of any features. And crack climbing, the ability to stick your toe into vertical fissures in the rock and twist your foot to lock it in place. These are all important attributes for exposed scrambling, but consider which is most applicable to where you climb. At the end of this section, we list the top five performers for edging, smearing, and crack climbing. Climbing ability contributes 35% of each model's overall score.
The Five Ten Guide Tennie earned the highest score for climbing ability. We found it the best shoe for smearing, and it received a high edging rating as well. The La Sportiva TX2 comes in very close behind, losing a point because they aren't as stiff as the Guide Tennie. The La Sportiva Boulder X and Evolv Cruzer Psyche also fair well in overall climbing ability. The Evolv Zender, Five Ten Access, and the Salewa Firetail 3 are all very comfortable shoes, but our testers where a little gripped while climbing in these insensitive, clunky feeling models.
Hiking or Climbing
Are approach shoes best suited for hiking or climbing? As we defined the category, the top overall scorers are the models that do both well. Only you know what demands you place on your shoes, and which evaluation metric is most important for your use. The Salewa Firetail 3 is an excellent hiking shoe that climbs better than the average hiker thanks to the Vibram reptile sticky rubber. Meanwhile, the Editors' Choice-winning La Sportiva TX2, it's big brother the TX4 and Best Buy winning La Sportiva Boulder X offer the best combination of hiking and climbing performance. The TX4 has a thinner, more sensitive sole for climbing, and the Boulder X's tread pattern and stiffer midsole make it a better hiker. The TX2 has a knit upper that kept our testers feet cool and little less stiny on longer hikes.
Consider where you will use your approach shoes the most, and what attribute is most important to you. Even if there are only short sections of rock to climb or traverse, you may prioritize climbing ability for security. On the other hand, you may prefer a model that is more comfortable for hiking and offers better traction on dirt. All of the shoes we evaluated here both smear and edge better than trail running shoes and hiking shoes. Below, in our Best Applications section, you'll find recommended models for various climbing areas and uses. Use that discussion to help inform your choice of which model is best for you.
Snow and Ice
The La Sportiva TX4 and the La Sportiva Boulder X are your best options if you plan on encountering snow. Each readily accepts traction devices like the Kahtoola MICROspikes, and on their own are far better than trail running shoes when you depend on kicking steps. We have found that attaching crampons to approach shoes is problematic. Years ago, our lead tester attempted a long mountain day, the car-to-car traverse of the Three Sisters above Bend, Oregon, known as the Three Sisters Marathon. In early summer, several long sections of hard snow and a small glacier lay along the route, as well as low 5th class choss on the North Sister. Five Ten Mountain Masters with Grivel G-12 crampons attached for the hard snow sections, seemed the perfect choice for this mission. Everything went as planned until he learned a hard lesson. It is difficult to keep low cut shoes bearing crampons on your feet when things get steep. If you require the combination of hiking and climbing performance approach shoes deliver, and you want to mount a true crampon on them, do yourself a favor. Mount your crampons on a mid-cut shoe that will stay on your foot! Better yet, save the crampons for boots which are intended for them!
Low-Cut vs. Mid-Cut
For climbers out there that want the smearing and edging performance of an approach shoe, but also desire more ankle support and protection, a mid-cut model is a perfect match. Some folks are comfortable carrying moderate to heavy loads over talus and slabs in a low-cut shoe, while others will appreciate the added ankle stability a mid-cut model delivers. Covering the ankle bones can prevent bumps, bruises, and abrasions as well. Cruising through scree fields, a mid-cut model will also keep more debris out.
Five of the models we tested are available in a mid-cut version, including the La Sportiva TX4, Five Ten Guide Tennie, La Sportiva Boulder X. These two mid-cuts have the same construction and soles as their low-cut brothers. These over-the-ankle versions often have a Gore-Tex liner or the option. Check the "Other Versions" sections located at the end of each review for all the available flavors.
Best Uses for Approach Shoes
The variety of terrain and distances we encounter approaching and descending from climbs places quite different demands on our footwear. The La Sportiva TX4 and Five Ten Guide Tennie are the best do-everything products we tested. The Guide Tennie, with soft Stealth rubber, climbs better, and the TX4 hikes better, especially in loose dirt or mud. If you travel to many climbing areas, these are your best bet. Below, you will find recommendations for specific climbing areas and types of terrain.
Approaching Rock Climbs
In Joshua Tree National Park, most of the climbs are within a mile of the parking areas, and the "long" approaches are a few miles at the most. The unique feature here is lots of scrambling over rough granite. Smearing up and down steep slabs, and jamming your foot in flared cracks is part of most of the "to and from." Since its introduction in 1985, the Five Ten Guide Tennie has been the shoe of choice for many Josh climbers. It smears better than any other model we tested, and the new version extended toe rand provides additional protection for the leather upper when jamming those flared cracks. The Editors' Choice Award-winning La Sportiva TX2 is a great option too. It doesn't climb quite as well as the Guide Tennie (pretty close though) but it hikes better. The Arc'teryx Acrux SL is the most durable of the lightweight products we tested and is super comfy for short approaches with light loads.
The multi-pitch climbs in Red Rock Canyon outside of Las Vegas present a different approach and descent scenario. Longer, with much more steep terrain on loose rock and dirt, the approaches demand a shoe that hikes well, has excellent traction on steep dirt, and can still bust out 4th class terrain. The La Sportiva TX2 and the Arc'teryx Acrux SL are great options here, especially for tricky approaches like the slabs that lead up to Levitation 29, where you'll need a shoe that climbs 4th class, has enough support for a long hike, /and/ is light on your harness. Models that focus more on support and comfort for hiking are also well suited. The La Sportiva TX4 and the Five Ten Access are two of the best hiking models we tested, and are exceptional Red Rock shoes.
Easy Alpine Rock Climbs
Ten or more miles round trip, a few pitches of easy 5th class climbing, and piles of 3rd and 4th class scrambling? Yes, please! The Matthes Crest and Cathedral Peak in Tuolumne Meadows, Royal Arches in Yosemite Valley, and Mount Emerson outside of Bishop these are a few of our lead tester's favorite days out. The length of these adventures places a premium on traveling as light and fast as possible, and carrying a pair of climbing shoes doesn't make the list. The La Sportiva TX2is the perfect shoe for these routes if you want substantial support for your foot during the long trail miles and want a shoe that climbs well. The Five Ten Guide Tennie and the Scarpa Gecko are great shoes for these routes as well. The Five Ten Access and the Salewa Firetail 3 feel excellent underfoot, but they don't climb as well as our Top Picks and Award winners. Many folks enjoy scrambling in the Evolv Cruzers and the Cruzer Psyche, but these minimalists shoes can be tough on the knees on longer hiking days and feel less stable on the walk down. We prefer these types of shoes for the excellent roadside scrambling found in Joshua Tree National Park.
Some climbing areas have relatively short approaches and longer descents that involve steep, semi-technical terrain. While some climbers are comfortable descending barefoot or wear climbing shoes that are comfortable enough to descend in, most carry a pair of shoes up the climb to wear on the descent. A very light, sticky approach shoe fits the bill perfectly.
For climbing multi-pitch routes in Tuolumne Meadows, Red Rocks, or Cochise Stronghold, we prefer a light, compact model. The Evolv Cruzer Psyche is a great descent shoe for the friction slabs in Tuolumne Meadows. Clipped to your harness or stashed in the second's pack, they're hardly noticeable. The Arc'teryx Acrux SL gets our Top Pick For lightweight shoe because they stowaway well on our harnesses /and/ offer great support for long hikes with light loads. Plus, it's also more durable than the lightweight canvas Cruzer Psyche. The La Sportiva TX2 has a special elastic cord system that keeps the shoes secured in tight package, about the size of a Nalgene bottle on the back of your harness.
Big Wall Climbing
Mere mortals will want a comfortable, supportive shoe for standing in aiders for days and humping big loads up to the base, and a separate pair of actual climbing shoes for the pitches they plan to free climb. The Best Buy Award Winning La Sportiva Boulder X, the most supportive model we evaluated, is the best choice.
The Five Ten Guide Tennie is also a good choice for humping loads and standing in aiders for days. While it isn't as supportive or durable as the Boulder X, it climbs a little better when you step out of your aiders. Consider the mid-cut version of these models if you need or desire ankle protection. For huge missions that involve aid climbing, heavy loads, and miles of hiking, the burly La Sportiva TX4 can't be beat.
How well an approach shoe hikes may be more important than climbing ability to many of you. For those who need sticky rubber to cross the occasional talus field, but primarily stay on trail, we would recommend prioritizing comfort and support - our two metrics that focus on how each model handles trail miles. Our rating for comfort focuses on features and comfort when carrying minimal loads, and contributes 25% to each product's overall score.
Comfort is determined in large part by how well your shoes fit your foot, and we recommend trying on several models you judge appropriate for your needs to see which matches your foot best. There is also a compromise when you choose your size. Size down a half or full size from your street shoe, and you'll get better climbing performance, but this can become uncomfortable on long approaches. The La Sportiva TX2, TX4 and Five Ten Access are the most comfortable shoes for covering many miles, and also have excellent traction in the dirt, but the Access earned a low climbing ability score. The La Sportiva TX2 is the most comfortable shoe to hike in that climbs well, with the Five Ten Guide Tennieclose behind. The TX2 has a synthetic knit upper that felt cool and breathable compared to heavier leather models like the TX4 and the Boulder X.
In each product's review, we discuss the lacing system. Many of these shoes have lacing that extends closer to the toe of the shoe than hiking and running shoes, allowing you to cinch down the toe of the shoe for climbing performance, or loosen it for increased hiking comfort.
Support is the second metric that focuses on hiking ability and contributes 20% of total scores. Foot support is most important when carrying heavy loads, but even a "rope, rack, and the shirt on your back" weigh a fair bit. While climbers tend to have solid feet, more support will mean less fatigue when the approaches get long, and your pack gets heavy. Support also is important for a shoe's edging and crack climbing performance. All else being equal, a more supportive shoe will edge and crack climb better, especially when carrying a heavy pack. You don't want to be all wobbly-footed in the backcountry, where a sprained ankle can be a real problem. A shoe that fits well and keeps you moving over exposed terrain with confidence is more important than trying to save weight with a lighter pair of shoes like the Five Ten Access or the Evolv Cruzers. As tempting as it is to go with a light and breathable shoe, remember how much of a pain it'll be hobbling out 10 plus miles from your backcountry objective.
The La Sportiva Boulder X is the stiffest, most supportive product we tested. It is an excellent shoe for carrying loads into the mountains. The La Sportiva TX2, TX4, Five Ten Guide Tennie, and Scarpa Gecko all offer similar foot support. The lightweight Evolv Zender, and the even lighter Evolv Cruzer Psyche are the least supportive of the bunch.
Weight & Packability
Weight is always an important consideration for us here at OutdoorGearLab. If we are choosing between two products with similar performance qualities across other metrics, we favor the lighter of the two. With approach shoes, weight is of primary concern when you clip them to your harness or stow them in your climbing pack on multi-pitch routes. The lightest models we tested, the Evolv Cruzer Psyche, The La Sportiva TX2, and the Arc'teryx Acrux SL are compact and very light in comparison to the other shoes we tested. The tradeoff here is obvious; these models do not support the foot and hike as well as heavier ones, but the Acrux SL snags our Top Pick for Lightweight shoe, because it's light /and/ supportive enough for light loads, While the TX2 is only 20oz, and has a unique elastic cord attachment system. Weight and packability account for 20% of overall scores.
Our lead tester prefers to have each climber in a multi-pitch party carry their shoes, water, and extra clothes on a multi-pitch route. Other folks prefer to give the leader the luxury of climbing without a small pack, or their shoes clipped to their harness. In practice, this means the second climber is often carrying a "second's pack," with food, water, clothing, and TWO pairs of approach shoes.
A Word About Durability
We are really hard on our gear, especially our footwear. While we don't have a metric for durability, it's certainly something we consider when buying an approach shoe. As a general rule of thumb, leather approach shoes are significantly more durable than breathable canvas shoes. The abrasion that the uppers of an approach shoe sustain while crack climbing would quickly destroy a normal shoe, and only the toughest shoes and withstand more than a season of abuse from a very active climber. Another consideration is wall climbing. When climbing a big wall, you'll likely be doing loads of jugging. On anything less than overhanging, your shoes will be scraping up all 3,000 feet wall (at least in the case of El Cap), pulling the sole away from the midsole and quickly abrading thought the rand at the toe. If you're wall climbing, do yourself a favor and don't worry about the weight of the shoes, just get something burly like the La Sportiva Boulder X, the La Sportiva TX4 or the Guide Tennie and save your lightweight shoe for scrambling or walking to the sport crag.
These shoes are designed to wear approaching a rock climb. They are made with a sticky rubber sole and sturdy uppers for protection against corrosive terrain. They can take you places that your tennis shoes cannot go. There are plenty of crags out there that require the occasional exposed move or two to access, and a good pair of approach shoes will keep you safer and ultimately have more fun. We hope that this review has helped you to determine whether you are looking for a pair for comfortable hiking with better traction, or if you need a pair known for climbing ability and protection. Read through our Buying Advice article for more information on what to consider when selecting the pair for you.
— Matt Bento