Best Climbing Approach Shoes for Women of 2021
|Price||$130.00 at Backcountry|
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|$129.95 at Backcountry|
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|$126.79 at Amazon|
|Pros||Lightweight, great climbing ability, comfortable||Supportive, comfortable, durable||Lightweight, good technical climbing ability||Breathable, lightweight, climbs well||Climbs well, durable|
|Cons||Not as durable as some||Heavier, more expensive||Stiff for long hikes, expensive||Less comfortable for long hikes||Not supportive, expensive|
|Bottom Line||Thanks to its lightweight design, comfortable build, and top-notch climbing ability, this shoe is an all-around winner||This is a supportive, durable shoe that's made for big missions in the mountains||This shoe excels in weight and climbing ability but lags behind in hiking comfort||Great breathability and climbing ability at a low weight and decent price||Suited best for the sport cliff, our testers feel this shoe struggles to live up to its price tag|
|Rating Categories||La Sportiva TX2 - Women's||La Sportiva TX4 - Women's||Konseal FL||Scarpa Air Crux - Women's||Scarpa Gecko - Women's|
|Climbing Ability (35%)|
|Hiking Comfort (25%)|
|Weight & Packability (20%)|
|Specs||La Sportiva TX2 -...||La Sportiva TX4 -...||Konseal FL||Scarpa Air Crux -...||Scarpa Gecko -...|
|Weight per Pair (in oz)||16.8 oz||21.0 oz||19.8 oz||19.1 oz||23.0 oz|
|Sole Rubber||Vibram MegaGrip||Vibram MegaGrip||Vibram MegaGrip||Vibram Vertical Approach, Megagrip||Vibram Reptilla SR|
|Upper||Polyester mesh||Leather||Single-layer ripstop mesh||knit polyester mesh||Italian Suede|
|Midsole||Traverse Lite||Traverse Injection MIMIlex||Injected EVA||2D EVA-MP||Dual-Density EVA|
|Sizes Available||36 - 43 EU||36-43 EU||5 - 10 US||36-42 EU||36 - 42 EU|
Best Overall Women's Approach Shoe
La Sportiva TX2 - Women's
The TX2 from La Sportiva is, without a doubt, our favorite shoe in this review. We couldn't believe how light it is, and it entirely changed our scrambling and multi-pitch climbing strategies. This shoe climbs incredibly well, and its snug, comfortable fit makes it equally as at home in the mountains as at the crag.
Our testers felt agile, light, and secure in this shoe, and it quickly won our hearts as our favorite model of the test fleet. While other models might be a bit lighter or have a bit more durability, no other shoe that we tested has the consistency of high scores across the board like the TX2.
Read review: La Sportiva TX2 - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
La Sportiva Boulder X - Women's
Once again, we have awarded the classic La Sportiva Boulder X for the strong value this model presents. This shoe is a workhorse of a hiker and is our go-to choice for long treks into the mountains or any approach where technical scrambling is not required. We love how durably this model is built. The expected longevity of this utility approach shoe adds to its value.
This shoe earned the highest marks for support and comfort, and its durable design is ready to be put to the test. Its hearty structure coerced us to award a lower score for climbing ability, but the Boulder X's sticky rubber is abundant enough for the conventional approach. For those who value a good deal over technical climbing performance, this shoe is our recommendation.
Read review: La Sportiva Boulder X - Women's
Best for Alpine Endeavors
La Sportiva TX4 - Women's
After years of longing after our male colleague's shoes, the time has come for us to have our perfect alpine partner. The La Sportiva TX4 is just that: the ideal accomplice for big missions in the mountains. It's incredibly durable with reliable comfort and support. Scrambling through talus fields is rough on shoes, but these thrive in this environment.
This shoe does not climb technical rock with the same precision as some other contenders in this review. Nevertheless, we are impressed with its balance of support and climbing ability. While heavier than we'd typically like to carry on a multi-pitch route, the TX4 is significantly lighter than some of its competitors, with similar points awarded for support. Overall, the leather upper and burly heel cannot be beaten for long days in the alpine.
Read review: La Sportiva TX4 - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our approach shoe testing is led by Lauren DeLaunay, a member of the elite Yosemite Valley Search and Rescue team and an accomplished alpine and big wall climber. In the more than sixty rescues she has performed, she knows the importance of the right pair of approach shoes, whether she's hiking up Yosemite's most popular trails or being dropped off by helicopter to the top of El Capitan or deep in the backcountry. She estimates that she spends at least 300 days per year in approach shoes. When she's not in Yosemite Valley, she spends as much time as possible climbing in the High Sierra.
For this review, Lauren tested shoes primarily in the Sierra, from Yosemite's big walls to the boulder fields of Bishop and the peaks of the high country. With trips to El Chalten, Argentina, and Cochamo, Chile thrown in, each shoe in this review got put through the wringer.
Analysis and Test Results
This fact may sound obvious, but there's a lot more to climbing than the climb itself. Unless you are primarily climbing at an indoor gym, getting to the rock almost always includes some work, whether that's a short jaunt on a manicured, well-kept trail or miles of bushwhacking and talus-hopping in the alpine. Climbers' trails tend to be a bit rougher than popular hiking trails and frequently involve some third, fourth, or even fifth-class scrambling. While a trail running or hiking shoe may be enough to get you to some crags, a specifically designed approach shoe includes many characteristics not found in your everyday shoe.
We took a close look at nine of the top women's models to see how they measure up on several metrics critical to this type of footwear. As always here at OutdoorGearlab, we walk you through all the things you need to know about choosing the right product for your preferences and give you the inside info on how the gear truly stacks up.
We understand that price is a significant influence in your decision-making process. We consider "value" to be the combination of price and value — essentially, how much performance you get per dollar. Many of the products that we tested in this review fell into a similar scope, which may make your decision slightly easier in the end.
One of the best values we found is in the La Sportiva Boulder X. This shoe costs a bit less than the La Sportiva TX2 and has fantastic hiking comfort and support. If you're mostly hiking on established trails, this is an excellent pick for a reasonable price. That said, the TX2 is also less expensive than several models we tested and is a great all-around purchase for any climbing mission. We also tested the Evolv Cruzer Psyche, the least expensive shoe in this review. It doesn't have a high overall score, but if you're looking for a lightweight budget shoe with sticky rubber primarily for descents, this shoe is ideal while keeping cash in your pocket for new quickdraws or even a sale on cams.
The Sweet Middle Ground
We have to admit it: many of our testers own multiple pairs of approach shoes. We have our go-to products for long hikes and our favorite models for scrambling. Some days we care about weight, and some days we don't. If you're looking for something specific, we'd suggest identifying the one or two metrics that are most important to you and looking at the highest scorers in those categories. However, we understand that many of you may just be searching for a pair to get you from one adventure to the next. If this is the case, we highly recommend the TX2, which earned its place at the top by having the best blend of every metric we tested.
Sticky rubber and the ability to travel over technical climbing terrain is the main feature that separates an approach shoe from a hiking shoe. Many approaches, especially in alpine terrain, require scrambling on third or fourth-class terrain, and it is critical that your approach shoe keeps you safe and secure no matter what. Thus, we decided that each shoe's climbing ability would account for 35% of its overall score, the highest percentage of any of the four metrics in this review. To test this, we took them out on all our climbing adventures, from the sport cliff to the alpine.
Now, more than ever, climbers are expecting more from their approach shoes, trekking far into the backcountry, or even climbing moderate fifth-class routes in them. It's an excellent way to protect your toes from grueling hours in tight climbing shoes, especially if the temperatures are dropping and socks are required. If this sounds familiar, then pay particular attention to this metric. However, if you do little scrambling and spend most of your time on well-maintained trails, this parameter may hold as much weight. In fact, you may even want to look at women's hiking shoes for products that excel in on-trail comfort.
Related: Best Hiking Shoes for Women of 2021
Several components go into the overall climbing ability of a shoe. To thoroughly evaluate the shoe's climbing performance, we individually tested each pair while executing three different techniques: edging, smearing, and crack climbing. As far as this review is concerned, Edging is a shoe's ability to help you stand on tiny footholds, from just a few millimeters thick to a few inches. Generally, how well a shoe does this seems to be a function of both the rubber's stickiness and the shape or design of the toe box. Smearing is what you do when you use traction alone to stick to a steep surface that doesn't have any features on which to edge or step. Smearing ability has a lot to do with rubber quality and stickiness, as well as the tread design. We find this particularly important in places like Tuolumne, where descent routes often involve trudging down steep slabs. Tread design with flatter lugs and, therefore, more significant surface area that can come in contact with the rock will typically perform better when you need to smear. The last type of climbing technique we evaluate is crack climbing. We wanted to know how the shoe performed when fitting inside, twisting, and locking your toes into vertical cracks to climb upwards. Often, shoes with a lower toe box height and a toe box made of more flexible rubber and upper materials are more natural to jam inside a crack.
The Arc'teryx Konseal FL and La Sportiva TX2 scored the highest out of any of the shoes we tested in this metric. The Konseal's snug fit, slim toe box, and definite edge made for some of the best climbing performance we've ever seen. The TX2's extensive lacing system made for a precise fit, and the narrow toe resulted in excellent technical performance on both slabs and cracks. Other solid performers include the Sportiva TX4 and the Black Diamond Technician. If you're looking for a shoe that balances climbing ability with hiking comfort, the Scarpa models proved to strike a balance between these two counter-balancing performance metrics consistently.
As with any product (though perhaps especially crucial for footwear), it is essential that you stay comfortable when you're using the gear. You're likely going to be spending many hours and miles hiking in these shoes, so it is certainly not okay to get blisters or hot spots or have aching feet. Comfort is a crucial factor, so we weighed it at 25% of the total score.
And it's not just about the hike. If you've just walked miles in an uncomfortable pair of shoes, you're not going to be psyched to stuff your toes into rock climbing shoes. In this way, your whole mission's success can depend on getting to your objective with comfort and ease.
A typical feature of shoes designed for technical climbing is to have laces that go further down the top of your foot than a regular hiking shoe or boot. When climbing, precision in the toe is critical, so you want to be able to tighten down the laces for a snug fit. When hiking, however, you want a roomier toe box that doesn't constrict your forefoot or rub your toes. Therefore, many models feature laces that go all the way to the toe area to help make this tightness more adjustable, depending on your activity of the moment. Of course, this can also help give a more customized fit for people with high or low arches or broader or narrower forefeet. We awarded higher comfort scores to shoes with more versatile lacing designs.
We also looked at things that aid in a shoe's all-day comfort. We liked shoes that had plush tongues and heels, and the interior fabric was important, too. While most of these shoes are not that breathable, ones with mesh uppers are much better at this than leather ones. The Crux Air is more breathable than most of the shoes in this lineup, which is an excellent comfort-based trait if you're often in hot locations.
The shoe that scored the highest marks for comfort was the La Sportiva Boulder X. The plush tongue, heel, and inner materials made for exceptional all-day comfort, making this shoe our go-to choice for long approaches. Other high scorers in this category were the TX2 and Scarpa Gecko.
If you expect to be carrying a full backpack or haul bag with rope, rack, and other daily or overnight gear, the support metric will be important. While most of this metric is hiking related, aspects of support can also affect a shoe's climbing ability. If a shoe has a stiffer midsole, it will provide more arch support, preventing foot fatigue. When climbing, a stiffer midsole will be beneficial when edging or crack climbing if the shoe fits snugly on your foot. Still, a stiffer midsole could also hamper a shoe's smearing ability if it doesn't allow as much of the rubber to contact the rock. If you expect to encounter any snowfields on your approach, a stiff midsole is very valuable to help with kicking steps to cross lower-angle snow patches safely. Each shoe's support score accounted for 20% of its overall numerical score.
Another important aspect of this category looks at how stable the shoe feels when traveling over uneven terrain. If you are rock-hopping across a boulder or talus field, you want a shoe that doesn't feel sloppy. A good approach shoe is secure enough to stay with you on uneven terrain.
The last aspect of the support metric is how well the shoe protects your feet. Our favorite shoes have a robust upper and midsole to shield the sides and bottoms of your feet from sharp and abrasive rock edges. Bonus points go to waterproof shoes and products that protect your feet when crossing creeks or snowfields. We take all of these things combined into consideration for the support category.
Two shoes tied for the highest score in this category: the Boulder X and the TX4. These shoes had the perfect balance of stiff yet flexible soles made for secure, comfortable hiking on rugged terrain and established trails alike. Their leather uppers and lateral reinforcements facilitated protection from the elements.
Weight and Packability
Weight should always be a consideration when you are talking about gear that is involved in physical endeavors. It's a no-brainer that if all things are otherwise equal, you should choose the lightest gear. Well, of course, it's not that simple. That's why we at GearLab are here to help you figure it out. This metric made up 20% of each shoe's total score.
Weight is less critical if the climbing areas you frequent typically have short approaches. However, when you have a complicated or long approach, weight is usually a significant factor when choosing which gear to use. Unfortunately, low weight is typically a trade-off for other desirable traits. Durability is one of the most significant trade-offs because the most durable materials are usually heavier (mesh uppers, for example, are lighter but less durable than solid leather). Additionally, it's usually inevitable that a comfortable, supportive shoe's features will be more cumbersome as well. To determine how important the weight metric is for you, look at your regular climbing routine.
Other considerations that influenced the weight scores for each shoe were its packability and compactness. The highest scorers in this category were products that could easily be stuffed in your backpack or clipped on your harness while climbing a route. All these we evaluated for the weight scores. When multi-pitch climbing, it's crucial to find a shoe with the right balance for you.
A shoe like the Evolv Cruzer Psyche may be perfect for you if the approach is short, but the route is long. Though it lacks in support, this lightweight canvas approach shoe is barely noticeable when clipped to your harness. If you're hiking deep into the alpine and need something that strikes a better balance between weight and support, the TX2 is an obvious choice.
Finally, we often need to clip our shoes to our harness for descents off multi-pitch terrain. Every shoe we tested had this clip loop, but some were much more confidence-inspiring than others. The TX2 has additional elastic to bundle the shoes together, which means they take up considerably less room on our harness or in our pack.
A Note on Durability
We didn't score these approach shoes for their expected durability, as none of the shoes tested showed significant wear and tear during testing. However, from our experience testing approach shoes for many years, it should go without saying that shoes with leather uppers will predictably be more durable than those with mesh uppers. Mesh is great for saving weight and staying breathable, but if you want to get extended life out of your shoes, or if you know you'll be spending a lot of time in rough terrain (or standing in aid ladders), leather is the definite way to go. In this review, the shoes we tested with leather uppers were the La Sportiva Boulder X, La Sportiva TX4, Scarpa Gecko, and Five Ten Guide Tennie.
Types and Uses
Hiking Oriented Approach Shoes
Some climbing objectives require extensive hiking, which could mean carrying loads of equipment for several days and nights in the mountains. Even if you don't need overnight gear, it's easy for your pack to get heavy if you're trying to stay prepared for whatever might happen. You'll want a shoe with better hiking ability if long days or overnight journeys are in the works. Shoes like that have a somewhat aggressive tread to help with traction in the dirt. You'll also want a stiffer, stable midsole to support your feet and arches. The following shoes are hiking-oriented: La Boulder X, La Sportiva Guide Tennie, La Sportiva TX4, Scarpa Gecko, and Scarpa Crux Air.
Climbing Oriented Approach Shoes
On the other side of the approach shoe spectrum are models with excellent technical climbing performance. If you frequent crags with short approaches, for instance, comfort and support may not be as important. Or perhaps you're looking to do some scrambling or very moderate climbing where a full-fledged technical climbing shoe is a bit excessive. Or you may know that your objectives often include talus-hopping or rocky scrambling to reach. If this sounds familiar, look into this category for your perfect pair of tennies.
The flatter tread lets more of the shoe surface contact the rock, giving you more traction. You'll also want either a snug fit overall or laces that run down to your toes so you can make the toe box tighter when you begin more difficult climbing moves. Look for a shoe with a low profile and flexible toe box if you are climbing on rock with cracks you'll be using to climb. In this category, the Arc'teryx Konseal FL, Evolv Cruzer, TX2, Black Diamond Technician, and Scarpa Gecko stand out.
A third category, a blend of the two above, is descent-specific shoes. You may or may not wear them to the base of a climb, but you do clip them to your harness to carry up the route. At the summit, you switch from your climbing shoes to these shoes to wear for the walk-off back to the base. Ideal shoes for descent are low profile and lightweight, yet relatively sticky for slick rock surfaces. Two pairs we tested best fit the bill; the Evolv Cruzer Psyche's 7.8-ounce weight makes for an easy multi-pitch companion, while the TX2's 8.4-ounce weight is incredibly light without sacrificing as much structure.
Snow and Ice
Sometimes getting to the base of the route is a crux in and of itself. Crossing snowfields and glaciers would have not long ago called for a full-on mountaineering boot. But with today's lightweight strap-on crampons and improved technology, more and more climbers are venturing into mixed terrain in their approach shoes. Some of these shoes are burly enough for quick sections of snow without crampons. For this, we'd recommend the TX4, Boulder X, Gecko, or Guide Tennie. These three are burly enough to handle kicking steps and traversing glaciers by themselves but also accept cramps well due to their wide heels and reinforced toes.
Big Wall Climbing
Anyone who has stood for hours in aid ladders can tell you that the right footwear is of utmost importance. While aid climbing and jumaring, having a stiff midsole is key to keeping your feet happy. We tested a few of these shoes on Yosemite's most famous big wall, El Capitan, and while the Terrex Solo was comfortable on our toes, the midsole was too flexible for all-day aid comfort. We much preferred the stiffer TX4 and the Boulder X if not doing any free climbing. Though rigid on the bottom, the TX2 did not provide enough lateral support. As we're generally hauling dozens of pounds of gear already, weight usually isn't a significant factor on big walls. Look at our top-scorers for "support" and "comfort" before considering weight.
In this review, we take nine of the top women's approach shoes and put them through the wringer. In the mountains, on the big walls, and in the boulder field, we tested each product side-by-side with its competitors. We gathered data and reported on our findings, marking each model's performance in climbing, comfort, support, weight, and durability. Our expert testers spent months compiling this research and are proud to bring you the most comprehensive review of women's approach shoes you can find.
— Lauren DeLaunay