Best Approach Shoes for Women of 2021
|Price||$130.00 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Lightweight, great climbing ability, comfortable||Durable, stiff, great climbing ability||Supportive, comfortable, durable||Breathable, lightweight, climbs well||Lightweight yet durable, great climbing ability|
|Cons||Not as durable as some||Lacks cushion, expensive||Heavier, moderate climbing ability||Less comfortable for long hikes||Low profile, stiff midsole|
|Bottom Line||This is an all-around awesome shoe with excellent climbing performance and a comfortable, lightweight design||These shoes are confidence-inspiring, durable, and designed for alpine scrambles and other rugged missions||If you're heading into the alpine or big walls, this durable and supportive model is well-suited for your endeavors||A great all-around shoe with above-average breathability and weight to keep feet feeling fresh||A low-profile shoe designed with climbing ability over comfort in mind|
|Rating Categories||La Sportiva TX2 - W...||TX Guide||La Sportiva TX4 - W...||Scarpa Crux Air - W...||Konseal FL 2|
|Climbing Ability (35%)|
|Hiking Comfort (25%)|
|Weight & Packability (20%)|
|Specs||La Sportiva TX2 - W...||TX Guide||La Sportiva TX4 - W...||Scarpa Crux Air - W...||Konseal FL 2|
|Weight per Pair (in oz)||16.8 oz||21.5 oz||21.0 oz||19.1 oz||19.6 oz|
|Sole Rubber||Vibram MegaGrip||Vibram Mega-Grip||Vibram MegaGrip||Vibram Vertical Approach, Megagrip||Vibram Megagrip|
|Upper||Polyester mesh||Synthetic||Leather||knit polyester mesh||60% nylon, 40% polyethylene mesh|
|Midsole||Traverse Lite||dual-density compressed EVA, TPU Torsion Shank||Traverse Injection MIMIlex||2D EVA-MP||TPU chassis|
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 at home in the mountains as it is at the crag. The slim profile and low weight make it ideal to clip to a harness or stuff into a climbing pack. The breathable mesh upper is appreciated in hot weather, too.
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 provide more support or have more durability, no other shoe that we tested has the consistency of high scores across the board as 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 sticky rubber of the Boulder X 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 Missions
La Sportiva TX Guide - Women's
The La Sportiva TX Guide is the latest addition to the impressive fleet of TX models from La Sportiva. This shoe is a climbing machine. With burly yet breathable uppers, a stiff midsole, and the most impressive climbing ability of any shoe we've tested, the TX Guide is made for the mountains. For us, the shoes on our feet can sometimes be the most important safety tool when traveling in technical terrain. If we don't feel solid or trust our feet, it can be massively detrimental to any alpine mission. Whenever we set out in the TX Guide, we felt confident in our climbing abilities and rarely second-guessed a foot placement. Their slim profile makes them easy to clip off to a harness, making them great for technical rock climbs as well as long ridge scrambles.
The biggest downside to these shoes is their narrow toe box and lack of hiking comfort. Our lead tester has wider feet, which was a bit of an issue when it came to the fit of the TX Guide. The narrow toe box combined with a super-stiff midsole makes for a lower score in the comfort metric for these shoes. Still, their climbing prowess makes them our favorite for technical alpine romps.
Read review: La Sportiva TX Guide - Women's
Why You Should Trust Us
Our approach shoe testing is a combined effort from two retired members of the elite Yosemite Valley Search and Rescue team. Jane Jackson and Lauren DeLaunay have spent plenty of time under the burden of a heavy pack, moving through challenging, mountainous terrain. Both of our testers spend more time in approach shoes than any other style of footwear. From Yosemite's big walls to the long, talus-filled approaches of Patagonia, to the slightly tamer, yet still talus-filled endeavors closer to home, our team of testers have put in the work to determine which of these models excels and which ones fall short.
For this review, Jane and Lauren spent several hours researching the best options available, comparing specs to their combined experience of wearing approach shoes for over a decade. After selecting the top models, our testers spent time hiking and climbing in the High Sierra and Yosemite Valley. Additional trips to El Chalten, Argentina, and Cochamo, Chile were thrown in to ensure that each shoe in this review was put through rigorous field testing. Each was worn for at least 15 miles, and specific climbing capabilities, like edging and smearing, were tested on granite and volcanic boulders. With months of testing each pair, we are confident in our assessments and recommendations.
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 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 on your decision-making process. We consider "value" to be the combination of price and performance — 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. If you'll be mostly hiking in your approach shoes, you'll likely find the best value in the Boulder X shoes. If you plan to mix hiking, scrambling, and climbing in your shoes, the TX2 stands out as the best value for this application.
The Sweet Middle Ground
We have to admit it; many of our testers and climbing partners 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 approachies, 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 2 and La Sportiva TX Guide 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 TX Guide has a similar set of features, including a narrow profile and a super-stiff midsole. This, combined with the sticky Vibram MegaGrip rubber soles and the classically reliable La Sportiva "Climbing Zone" inspired confidence on technical scrambles where precision and good footwork are crucial.
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.
When it comes to traversing snow and ice, more and more climbers are venturing into mixed terrain in their approach shoes due to today's lightweight strap-on crampons and improved technology. Some of these shoes are burly enough for quick sections of snow without crampons. For this, we'd recommend the TX Guide first and foremost. This model is burly enough to handle kicking steps and traversing glaciers by themselves but also works well with crampons due to their reinforced toe cap and stiff midsole.
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. 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. 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.
If you're hiking deep into the alpine and need something that strikes a better balance between weight and support, the TX Guide or the TX4 are obvious choices.
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. The Evolv Cruzer Psyche is the lightest pair we tested, and also a good option for carrying up a climb to have shoes for the descent. Of these two lightweight options, the TX2 is by far the more versatile shoe.
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 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.
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 and Jane Jackson