Whether you're scrambling up fourth class talus fields or hiking down a manicured trail, we've got the shoe to get you to and from your climbing objective. We researched the top 40 pairs of women's climbing approach shoes and put the top 9 through rigorous side-by-side testing. From the soaring granite of Yosemite to the challenging terrain of Argentine Patagonia, we pushed each shoe to its limits during endless hours of hiking, scrambling, and big wall climbing to determine which were the most comfortable and supportive. Month after month, we climbed everything from boulders to big walls and alpine peaks to decide which ones excelled in climbing ability and lightweight practicality. We lived in these shoes and gained expert opinions on the ins and outs of each model. Whether you're lacing up for a quick jaunt to the sport crag or are taking off on an alpine expedition, we're prepared to help you find the perfect accomplice.
The 9 Best Climbing Approach Shoes for Women
For Spring 2018 we decided to add in the La Sportiva TX2, and boy, were we impressed! We shifted around our award winners to make room for this new Editors' Choice Award winner, whose lightweight design and excellent climbing performance boosted its score to the top of the charts. The big sister of this favorite shoe, the La Sportiva TX3, a burlier, sturdier model that we awarded our Top Pick for Toughness. We stand by the Arc'teryx Acrux SL, our Top Pick for Climbing Performance, and the La Sportiva Boulder X and Evolv Cruzer Psyche, our Best Buys. Now complete with nine top-of-the-line products, we're sure you'll find the perfect fit for whatever adventures await you.
Best Overall 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, cozy fit make it equally at home in the mountains as it is at the crag.
Our testers felt agile, light, and secure in this shoe, so we had no choice but to promote it to our esteemed Editors' Choice Award winner.
Read review: La Sportiva TX2 - Women's
Top Pick for Toughness
La Sportiva TX3 - Women's
The La Sportiva TX3 is an excellent all-around shoe that will get you to the crag and into the mountains with comfort and ease. This shoe's sticky rubber toe and stiff sole make for secure scrambling on technical terrain while its durable mesh upper is both breathable and supportive.
When compared side-by-side to these eight other competitors, the TX3 stood out for its versatility, all-around performance, and burly design. When the terrain gets tough, the TX3 stands strong, taking home our Top Pick for Toughness.
Read review: La Sportiva TX3 - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
La Sportiva Boulder X - Women's
For the second year in a row, we here at OutdoorGearLab have awarded the Best Buy Award to the classic La Sportiva Boulder X. 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.
This shoe earned the highest marks for support and comfort, and its durable design is ready to be put to the test. Its robust structure forced us to dock it points for climbing ability, but for the conventional approach, the Boulder X's sticky rubber is more than enough. And at $120, this is the second least expensive shoe we tested.
Read review: La Sportiva Boulder X - Women's
Best Buy on a Tight Budget
Evolv Cruzer Psyche - Women's
The Evolv Cruzer Psyche is a very specialized approach shoe, but for the great price of $78, we couldn't help but give it our Best Buy on a Budget Award. Designed as a descent shoe for days when you just need a pair of shoes to get you off your multi-pitch adventure or to a roadside crag, the Cruzer is crazy light and compact. Easy to clip to your harness and go, you won't even notice it's there.
With little support and a thin canvas upper, we wouldn't bring it along with us on long hikes or expect it to last season after season. For a standard multi-pitch route or in climbing areas with short, manicured trails, the Cruzer may be all you need.
Read review: Evolv Cruzer Psyche - Women's
Top Pick for Climbing Performance
Arc'teryx Acrux SL - Women's
When Arc'teryx joined the approach shoe competition, we didn't know what we'd find. But we were quickly blown away by the Acrux SL for its slipper design and incredible climbing edge. The snug fit, stiff sole, and climbing shoe-like edge make for the best climbing ability we've ever seen in an approach shoe, so we couldn't let this one slip by without awarding it our Top Pick for Climbing Performance.
While there are more comfortable shoes for long hikes, the Acrux SL is decently supportive without compromising its precision.
Read review: Arc'teryx Acrux SL - Women's
Analysis and Test Results
This may sound obvious, but there's a lot more to climbing than the climb itself. Unless your main locale is 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 bushwacking and talus-hopping in the alpine. Climbers' trails are often a little more rugged than popular hiking trails and can 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 features not found in your everyday shoe.
We took a close-up look at nine of the top women's models to see how they measure up on several metrics that are 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.
At OutdoorGearLab, we see value in awarding products with a variety of awards. In addition to the best overall product, we've constructed our price comparison chart to highlight all contenders that have been tested in our fleet. You'll find that the models that fall toward the bottom right offer the highest price per value, as they've earned high scores and offer an unbeatable price.
The Sweet Middle Ground
We have to admit it: most of our testers have more than one pair 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 looking at our Top Pick Award winners, all of which excel in one category over another. However, we recognize that many of you may want just one pair to get you to and from all of your adventures. In this case, we'd highly suggest looking at our Editors' Choice Award, the TX2, or reading through our charts to see which shoes had the highest scores overall and by metric.
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, and it is crucial that your approach shoe keep you safe and secure no matter what you encounter. Therefore, we wanted to ensure that this metric was one of the most important, and the climbing ability metric accounted for the largest amount (35%) of the overall score. To test the climbing ability of each shoe, we took them out on all our climbing adventures, from the sport cliff to the alpine.
Many climbers are asking more of their approach shoes than ever, trekking far into the backcountry or even climbing moderate fifth-class routes in them. If this sounds like you, you'll want to pay particular attention to this metric. If, however, you spend most of your time hiking to climbing areas on well-maintained trails and do little scrambling, this parameter may not be as important to you.
Several different 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. Edging is a shoe's ability to stick and 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 stickiness of the rubber 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 to edge or step on. Smearing ability has a lot to do with rubber quality and stickiness, as well as the tread design.
A 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 evaluated was 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 that have 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.
Without a doubt, the Arc'teryx Acrux SL scored the highest out of any of the nine shoes we tested in this metric. It's slipper-like fit, slim toe box, and definite edge made for the best climbing performance we've ever seen. Next up we had the La Sportiva TX2 and Scarpa Gecko. Though complete with quite different lug patterns, we found great edging and smearing performance with both.
As with any product (though perhaps especially important for footwear), it is essential that you stay comfortable when you're using the gear. It's likely that you're going to be spending many hours and miles hiking in these shoes, so it is certainly not okay to get blisters, hot spots, or just have uncomfortable feet. Therefore, we also feel that comfort is a crucial factor, so we weighted comfort at 20% of the total score for each shoe.
While extra cushiony and luxurious-feeling shoes might make for less achy feet at the end of an epically long day, they can also decrease your sensitivity while climbing — so keep in mind that balance when you are looking at different models.
A typical feature on 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 key, 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 have been designed with 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 wider or narrower forefeet. We awarded higher comfort scores to shoes with more versatile lacing designs.
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 Adidas Terrex Solo, TX3, and 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 an important one to consider. 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 which helps prevent foot fatigue. When climbing, a stiffer midsole will be beneficial when edging or crack climbing if the shoe fits snugly on your foot, but 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.
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, does the shoe feel sloppy as you adjust the angle of your foot to each rock you step on or does it feel like the shoe is moving securely right along with your foot?
The last aspect of the support metric is how well the shoe protects your feet. Does it have a robust upper and midsole that will shield the sides and bottoms your feet from sharp and abrasive rock edges? Is the shoe waterproof, or how well does the shoe protect your feet when crossing creeks or snowfields? All of these things combined are taken into consideration for the support metric category.
The highest-scoring shoe for this metric was, once again, the Boulder X. The leather upper and stiff sole made for a snug fit great for boulder-hopping and whatever tough terrain you may encounter. We found the Five Ten Guide Tennie and TX3 to be great runners-up in this category due to their rigid soles and burly exteriors.
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 just choose the lightest gear. Well, of course, it's not that simple, and most often all things are not equal. But that's why we at OutdoorGearLab are here to help you figure it out.
Of course, weight is less critical if the climbing areas you frequent typically have short approaches. However, when you have a difficult or long approach, weight is usually a significant factor for most people in choosing which gear to use. Unfortunately, low weight is typically a trade-off for other desirable trails. Durability is one of the most significant trade-offs because, often, the most durable materials are 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. So to determine how important the weight metric might be for you, it depends on what your normal climbing routine looks like.
Other considerations that influenced the weight scores for each shoe were its packability and compactness. How easy is it to stuff the shoe in your backpack or clip it on your harness while you climb a route? These are all aspects that were evaluated for the weight scores. When multi-pitch climbing, it's crucial to find a shoe with the right balance for you.
If the approach is short, but the route is long, a shoe like the Evolv Cruzer Psyche may be perfect for you. Lacking in supporting but excelling in low weight, this 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.
As climbers, we don't really like to work very much. We subsequently want to have the things we buy last a long time so we can get the most for our hard-earned dollars. Due to the rugged, rough-and-tumble nature of climbing, durability is an especially important quality. Most of the shoes in this review are highly durable when compared to a standard hiking or running shoe.
The one general exception to this is found with the rubber tread of approach shoes. The standard and established trade-off for a stickier grip is that the rubber doesn't last as long as the less grippy tread that is found on your ordinary hiking shoe or boot. And it is largely the case that the stickier the rubber, the lower the durability. However, just like climbing shoes, many of the shoes in this review can be sent to a re-sole shop to have a fresh layer of rubber applied when you've worn through the first layer.
The highest-scoring shoes for this metric were the Guide Tennie, Boulder X, and Acrux SL. The Acrux has a unique laminated exterior. Different than any material we'd ever seen in an approach shoe, this burly yet light material seemed to help the Acrux strike the balance between durability and weight.
Types and Uses
Hiking Oriented Approach Shoes
Some climbing objectives require more extensive hiking, which might also mean that you are carrying loads of equipment to spend several days and nights in the mountains, in addition to your climbing gear. But even if you don't require overnight gear, it's easy for your pack to get heavy if you're trying to be prepared for whatever might happen in a day. If long days or overnight journeys are the kind of climbing adventures you dream about, then you'll want a shoe with better hiking ability. Shoes such as that have a somewhat aggressive tread which will help with traction in the dirt. You'll also want a stiffer, stable midsole to support your feet and arches with the long miles and heavy cargo. We would classify the following shoes as hiking-oriented: La Boulder X, La Sportiva Guide Tennie, La Sportiva TX3, and Scarpa Gecko. The La Sportiva TX2, Five Ten Access and Adidas Terrex Solo may also be put in this category, though their lightweight designs keep them in more of a middle ground.
Climbing Oriented Approach Shoes
On the other side of the approach shoe spectrum are shoes with excellent technical climbing performance. There are many reasons a climber might be swayed in this direction. Comfort and support may not be as important to you if you frequent crags with short approaches, for instance. 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 any of this sounds like you, you probably want to look into this category to find your perfect pair of tennies.
The flatter tread allows for more of the shoe surface to contact the rock, which gives you greater traction. You'll also want a shoe that has either a snug fit overall or laces that run down to your toes so you can make the toe box tighter when you begin the more difficult sections of climbing moves. If you are climbing on a type of rock that has cracks which you'll be using to climb, you will also want to look for a shoe that has a low profile, flexible toe box for greater ease in getting your shoes inside the cracks. In this category, we found the Arc'teryx Acrux SL, Evolv Cruzer, TX2, and Gecko to be the stand-out models.
A third category, which is more of a blend of the two former categories, is the descent-specific shoe. These are shoes that you may or may not wear on the hike to the base of a climb, but that you clip to your harness to carry up on route. At the summit, you will switch from your climbing shoes to these shoes to wear for the walk-off back to the base and your backpack. Shoes that are ideal for descent shoes are low profile and lightweight, yet fairly sticky for walking down potentially slick rock surfaces. We tested two pairs of shoes that fit this bill. The two pair that we tested that best fits the bill. The Evolv Cruzer Psyche's 7.8-ounce weight make 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
Like we've mentioned, accessing our favorite climbing areas isn't often easy, and sometimes this means we'll be encountering snow and ice on the way. A fast-and-light way to tackle relatively small sections of mixed conditions is to use strap-on crampons with approach shoes. Often, these crampons are aluminum and are meant for simple areas of snow, not for front-pointing on technical ice. This is an excellent strategy for the High Sierra, where we did much of our testing. The best shoes we tested for this standard were the TX3 and Boulder X. Their burly bottoms were the best for accepting crampons, though neither performs as well as a high-cut boot that is designed with this qualification in mind.
Big Wall Climbing
A beast of its own, big wall climbing requires a whole host of logistical planning. Anyone who has stood for hours on end in aid ladders can tell you that the right footwear is of the utmost importance. Having a stuff midsole is key to keeping your feet happy day after day, especially while aid climbing and jumaring. We tested a few of these shoes on Yosemite's most famous big wall, El Capitan, and our suspicions were right. While the Terrex Solo was comfortable on our toes, the midsole was too flexible for all-day aid comfort. We greatly preferred the stiffer TX3 and, if not doing any free climbing, the Boulder X. The TX2, while stiff on the bottom, did not provide enough lateral support. Additionally, on big walls, weight usually isn't as big of a factor, as we're usually hauling dozens of pounds of gear already. We'd recommend looking 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 ringer. 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 on its 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 out there!
— Lauren DeLaunay