Reviews You Can Rely On

How We Tested Approach Shoes

Tuesday March 8, 2022

Nearly everyone here at OutdoorGearLab spends a lot of time climbing, from big wall routes to sport climbing and bouldering, and everything in between. We've burned through countless pairs of approach shoes over the years, and our collective experience is a boon to you.

approach shoes - just another day at the office.
Just another day at the office.
Credit: Matt Bento

Our lead testers assessed these approach shoes on the Tuolumne SAR site scrambling in the High Sierra, bouldering, and trad and sport climbing in Bishop, Lake Tahoe, and numerous other California, Nevada, and Utah climbing adventures.

We devised an updated set of evaluation metrics that balance climbing ability with hiking ability. We independently weighed each of the models we tested. We probably looked a little strange bouldering in Bishop and trekking up to Indian Creek crags wearing one Five Ten shoe and one La Sportiva shoe, but that's how we test: side-by-side.

Climbing Ability

We break down this metric into three subsections; edging, smearing, and crack climbing. We climbed slab routes, edging routes, splitter cracks, and offwidths. One of our favorite routes to test the performance in each category is the Northwest Books of Lembert Dome in beautiful Tuolumne Meadows, California. Our lead tester free soloed The Northwest Books in each model, noting how easily he could wiggle them into cracks, stand on edges, and make the occasional smear move. In shoes that rated poorly in the climbing metric, this was sometimes a scary process. We also tied in and lead climbs up to 5.11 to really test the limits of the performance of each shoe. We repeat the climb for each pair of shoes to highlight the strength and weaknesses of each in the performance subsections.

Hiking Comfort

Walking, walking, walking to the crag, through the mountains down the scree fields with light packs for scrambling or heavy packs for search and rescue missions. We made careful note of instability, sore arches, rocks entering around the cuff. If your feet already hurt before you get to the climb, putting them in climbing shoes isn't going to make them feel any better.


Standing in aiders isn't comfortable. That's why aid climbers spend most of their time in supportive approach shoes and only occasionally dawn a pair of actual climbing shoes. To assess support, we stood in aiders, did a little jugging, and stood around in slings at the crag. Generally, a stiffer shoe is more supportive and comfortable for standing in slings.

Weight & Packability

The easiest and most objective of our metrics is determined by first weighing each pair of shoes and then climbing around with them clipped to our harnesses. Models with an easy attachment for a carabiner scored more points in this field.

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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

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