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Looking for the best approach shoes? Since 2012, we have bought and tested 55 different approach shoes. In this review, we compare 13 of the best models on the market today in side-by-side tests. These top competitors must be versatile enough for all your climbing journeys, near and far. From the Sierra Nevada alpine backcountry to the metamorphic desert sport crags of California, we used the shoes to monkey up fixed lines, hike with heavy packs, and traverse knife-edge ridges. All the while, our experienced testers took careful notes and compared performance. We scored and ranked the varying qualities of each model against our tried-and-true metrics to help you pick the right shoe with the qualities you need.
Sole Rubber: Vibram MegaGrip | Upper Material: Polyester TPU, PU
REASONS TO BUY
Great climbing ability
Comfortable for hiking
Stiff and supportive
REASONS TO AVOID
Our favorite approach shoe is the La Sportiva TX Guide. This shoe can do it all, from climbing moderate rock pitches to hiking through rugged terrain and aid climbing on big walls. It is supportive, lightweight, and precise, excelling in every movement test we threw at it. The sole is perfectly designed for smearing and edging, and the foot locks into place thanks to a narrow lace pattern. These shoes are nimble climbing machines, and they walk and hike pretty well too.
One major downside is construction quality. We noticed alarming construction defects early in our test period, and confirmed these fears with other users. However, we still think these shoes are worth the DIY shoe care that might be required, because of their jaw-dropping climbing performance that can eliminate the need to bring climbing shoes on many objectives. Also, the shoe is narrow, and wide-footed users report discomfort in the toe box. The Salewa Wildfire 2 is a good choice for an all-around approach shoe for those with wide feet.
Sole Rubber: Vibram Vertical Approach | Upper Material: Leather
REASONS TO BUY
Good climbing ability
REASONS TO AVOID
The Scarpa Crux nearly matches the performance of the highest scoring shoes, and it does so at an unbeatable price. High quality leather and rubber combine to produce a durable approach shoe that outlasts the competition. It has great climbing ability, plenty of support for long days in the aiders, and good comfort for longer hikes. All of this comes for less than most other approach shoes on the market, making this pair an easy choice for the best value.
The Crux is a bit on the heavy side, and the leather makes the shoes feel a bit stiff compared to approach shoes that use running shoe-style polyester uppers. This means that there are better shoes out there for hiking long distances and for carrying up and over hard multi-pitch climbs, but for most days, these shoes get the job done at an affordable price.
Sole Rubber: Vibram Vibram Idrogrip | Upper Material: Recycled knit with PU toe & heel
REASONS TO BUY
Great climbing ability
REASONS TO AVOID
Thin sole makes hiking uncomfortable
The La Sportiva TX2 Evo is a fantastic upgrade to one of the lightest approach shoes on the market. This shoe climbs like a dream, thanks to its thin and sensitive sole, precise toe box fit, and rubber toe cap. These shoes are one step away from being declared full-blown climbing shoes. They are one of the lightest models on the market, and have a thoughtful elastic cord on each heel that can wrap around the nestled pair to create a tight package for hanging on the harness or stuffing into a pack for carrying up a multi-pitch route. If you climb in a venue where short approaches lead to long and difficult routes with tricky walk-off descents, these shoes are unbeatable.
Of course, many features were eliminated to produce such a lightweight shoe. The midsole contains very little padding, so long hikes aren't very comfortable in th TX2 Evo. The upper is a light knit fabric that doesn't provide much support, and this material is also susceptible to wear and tear. If you need a shoe for rugged approaches and lots of standing in aiders, these shoes aren't the right choice. But if you want to move light and fast, and need a shoe that can accompany you up big routes without weighing you down, these shoes are perfect.
Sole Rubber: Vibram MegaGrip | Upper Material: Leather
REASONS TO BUY
Leather uppers are ready for miles of jugging
Supportive for expedition-sized loads
Climbs well enough to bust the occasional free moves
REASONS TO AVOID
The La Sportiva TX4 is a fantastic 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, while the stiff and supportive midsoles can take you to your dream wall, whether it be roadside or deep in the backcountry. These shoes are comfortable for hiking and standing all day, and they climb well enough for low-5th class terrain and alpine scrambling.
They aren't the best climbing shoes on the market, and their heavy weight makes them a poor choice for carrying up and over multi-pitch routes where weight is a concern. That said, the TX4 is the shoe we want to be wearing while schlepping heavy loads to the base of El Cap, standing in aiders, performing occasional free climbing 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.
Sole Rubber: Vibram MegaGrip | Upper Material: Mesh, PU
REASONS TO BUY
Comfortable for running and hiking
Doubles as a running shoe
REASONS TO AVOID
Poor climbing performance
The Scarpa Rapid is built for the growing segment of climbers who want an approach shoe that is comfortable, capable of light scrambling to get to the crag, and versatile enough to use as a running shoe for fast alpine missions and ridge traverses. When boiled down, this is a running shoe with a sticky rubber to improve security during exposed moves. It also is a great everyday shoe that can double as an approach shoe for rocky trails on the way to the crag.
Don't expect much climbing performance, support, or durability. Just like any other running shoe, when you take it into vertical and technical terrain of consequence, you might wish you were wearing more technical approach shoes. These aren't the holy grail "running shoe that can also climb 5.7" that many were hoping for, but it's a great choice if your running adventures occasionally lead you into the vertical realm.
Our time-tested approach to gear reviews starts by doing market research on all of the available models, and comparing them to the products we have tested over the years. We look at product specifications, design, user reviews, and anecdotal evidence to select the best products for side-by-side testing. Over months and sometimes years, we approached, scrambled, descended, hiked, schlepped, and slogged in each pair of shoes, as well as performing specific objective tests and climbing selected routes. We've tested approach shoes since 2012, and have individually tested 55 products in that time frame.
Our approach shoe testing and scoring are divided into five performance metrics:
Climbing Ability (30% of overall score weighting)
Hiking Comfort (25% weighting)
Support (15% weighting)
Weight and Packability (15% weighting)
Construction Quality (15% weighting)
This review is brought to you by longtime rock climber and mountain guide Jeff Dobronyi. Jeff lives and breathes rock and alpine climbing, from the canyons and cliffs around his home in Boulder, Colorado, to the granite peaks of the Tetons, Sierra, and European Alps. As an internationally-licensed Mountain Guide, Jeff leads climbing trips around the world, always packing a trusty pair of approach shoes for hiking, climbing, and just walking around the streets of mountain towns everywhere. Whether he's approaching the crag or short-roping guests through complex alpine rock terrain, his life and livelihood often rely on his approach shoes to get the job done and keep him attached to the mountain.
Also contributing to this review are seasoned dirtbags and GearLab review editors Matt Bento and Sean Haverstock. Traveling around the country in his van, Matt's spent countless hours hiking to the base of many crags. Over the last ten-plus years, he's dedicated his life to climbing and living in many world-class climbing areas. Sean has worn and tested approach shoes in all imaginable scenarios and conditions, from fast-and-light ropeless ascents in the Sierra to heavy-and-slow slogs to far-off basecamps in the Himalaya and over one hundred descents off Yosemite Big Walls. He has spent the better part of the last 12 years in an approach shoe.
Analysis and Test Results
We compare and contrast each model to the most similar products to help you make an informed decision. For each shoe, we identify strengths and weaknesses and share the activities that suit it best. You'll find detailed descriptions of our evaluation metrics and the top scorers in each.
In general, the approach shoes in our review are relatively similar in price. There are deals to be had, but the difference between the least expensive and most expensive options is not great. That said, we find the Scarpa Crux to provide the best bang for the buck, especially if climbing ability is most important. These shoes climb nearly as well as the best shoes on the market, at a lower price. If you are looking for an inexpensive approach shoe for aid climbing, the La Sportiva Boulder X is a highly supportive and comfortable shoe that excels at standing in aiders and crushing miles on the trail.
The primary reason for wearing approach shoes is to have an advantage in rocky, technical terrain, compared to a running shoe or hiking boot. Good approach shoes enhance our movement abilities in high-consequence terrain and keep us safely attached to the mountain. For that reason, this important metric contributes 35% of each model's overall score.
Earning our highest praise for climbing ability, we find the La Sportiva TX Guide to be the best shoe for smearing, edging, and crack climbing due to its precise, narrow fit and stiff midsole. In this shoe, we can confidently push on small edges, smear on scary slabs, and jam into cracks without fear of popping off the rock. This performance is enhanced by the use of Vibram MegaGrip rubber, which is also found on the La Sportiva TX4, Scarpa Rapid, Scarpa Crux, and Arc'teryx Konseal AR.
The La Sportiva TX2 Evo performs nearly as well on the rock, offering excellent sensitivity on slabs and tiny holds thanks to its relatively thin sole. It also has a low-profile toe box that can fit into smaller cracks than any other approach shoe on the market. The downside to this thin sole is less hiking comfort, but these slipper-like shoes aren't meant to be worn for long walks. The Scarpa Crux also climbs remarkably well, and does so for a lot less money than the La Sportiva models.
Often, we find that the best approach shoes for climbing are not comfortable when used for long hiking approaches. This is likely due to the fact that thin, yet stiff soles are best for climbing, but thick and flexible soles produce good hiking comfort. The award-winning La Sportiva TX4 and Salewa Wildfire 2 are more comfortable for hiking than the best climbing approach shoes, yet climb very well nonetheless, and strike a good balance for users who need a shoe that can both climb and hike long distances.
Many crags and alpine routes require long and arduous approaches on rugged backcountry trails. For these objectives, an approach shoe that hikes comfortably might be more important than a shoe that can climb well. Our rating for comfort contributes 25% to each product's overall score. We assess approach shoes for hiking comfort while carrying light loads, not overnight packs.
Comfort is determined largely by how well a particular shoe fits your foot. We try to increase our certainty in this subjective metric by asking for as many user testimonials as possible to determine if the shoe fits a wide range of users, or just a minority. We recommend trying on several models to evaluate which fits your foot best while assessing if it's appropriate for your technical needs. It's important to note that there is 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. Beyond selecting a proper fit, and especially if you only plan to buy a single pair, be sure to choose a shoe that's tailored toward how you will use them.
The Scarpa Rapid is our favorite shoe to wear when covering many miles while carrying light loads. This shoe is similar to a robust trail running shoe, with the addition of sticky Vibram MegaGrip rubber to enhance its performance on technical terrain and talus. A thick, cushioned midsole absorbs small roughness on the trail, making backcountry travel a pleasant, comfortable proposition. These shoes are on the wide side, but narrow-footed testers report a good fit for them thanks to the well-designed lace pattern.
If the terrain becomes more rugged or the packs a bit heavier, the La Sportiva TX4 emerges as the most comfortable hiking shoe in our selection. These shoes feature a comfortable midsole and supportive leather upper, along with a generously roomy fit that can accommodate all foot sizes. The Arc'teryx Konseal AR is similarly stiff and supportive, with a thickly padded sole for long days on the trail.
The Scarpa Zen Pro is another very comfortable approach shoe, built for long-distance trail missions. It has sticky rubber, but poor climbing performance, and it is more at home on the trail than on the rock. It's also very heavy. That said, it hikes like a dream, with a thick and moderately stiff sole and comfortable, supportive cushioned leather uppers. If you spend most of your time on the trail and need a shoe that can handle the occasional piece of scrambling, the Zen Pro is a very comfortable option.
Finally, we'd be remorseful to not mention the Black Diamond Mission LT with its sock-like liner. After a few trudges up and off some Sierra peaks, we never experienced a grain of the kitty-litter-like dirt the Sierra are known for making its way into our shoes.
Foot support is important when carrying heavy loads, but even a "rope, rack, and the shirt on your back" weigh a fair bit. A more supportive shoe means less pain when the approaches get long and your pack gets heavy. Support is also important for a shoe's edging, crack climbing, and aid climbing performance. When standing in slings and aiders for hours on end, you'll want a stiff and supportive outsole to prevent the sling from pinching your feet all day. All else being equal, a more supportive shoe will edge and crack climb better, especially when carrying a heavy pack. The support metric contributes 15% of the total scores.
The most supportive shoes in our review are the La Sportiva Boulder X and Scarpa Zen Pro. The former is designed to be stiff for long days standing in aiders on aid climbs and big walls, and the latter is stiff for long-distance hiking performance through rugged terrain. Neither shoe bends much when standing in a sling, and they are both great candidates for long hikes, whether or not a technical objective lies at the end.
Not far behind, the La Sportiva TX Guide also has great support for long days on rough trails and standing in aiders. The La Sportiva TX4, our preferred shoe for big wall climbing, has excellent support, in addition to bomber durability, plenty of comfort, and good climbing performance, all attributes needed for the world's largest rock faces. The Scarpa Crux also has plenty of support, and costs less than the rest of the products on the market.
The Arc'teryx Konseal AR also offers excellent support. Its sole isn't the stiffest out there, so if you are looking for a big wall shoe, there are better options. But, the rubber rand around the forefoot and thick leather uppers keep the foot locked into place, meaning a rolled ankle is less likely. We loved these shoes for the most rugged trails through rocky talus fields. They're on the heavy side, but they are still a top contender if you are entering the least hospitable terrain on the planet.
Weight & Packability
Weight is an important concern for approach shoe users because we often have to carry our approach shoes in a pack or clipped to the back of a harness when climbing. And if technical roped pitches aren't part of the day, a heavier shoe will slow us down over the course an objective, which could lead to less fun, longer recovery times, and in extreme cases, potential injury. We like our approach shoes light, but the lightest shoes often sacrifice performance.
The Black Diamond Session is the lightest model in our review, weighing in at around 10 ounces per shoe in size 13 (our lead tester has huge feet). Featuring a thin mesh upper and thin rubber sole, these shoes are like slippers, but unfortunately, they lack performance in most other metrics. We use these shoes for short approaches to difficult climbs where weight savings are important and the approach and descent are trivial. The La Sportiva TX2 Evo weighs a little more at around 13 ounces per shoe, and is our preferred lightweight option because it provides weight savings while also climbing and hiking very well. Furthermore, the TX2 Evo has elastic bands on each heel midsole that wrap around the shoes when paired together, keeping them in a tight package for clipping to the back of a harness or stuffing them into a pack.
The Scarpa Rapid, which is basically a mountain running shoe with sticky rubber, clocks in around 14 ounces per shoe, and is also a good option for gram-counters. The Black Diamond Mission LT also comes in a lightweight package, but we'd rather opt for the top-ranked La Sportiva TX Guide, which is relatively lightweight and provides excellent performance. The TX Guide is somewhat packable as well, thanks to a flexible mesh polyester upper.
If you only plan on wearing approach shoes to the bottom of the crag, or don't care about weight, most other approach shoes weigh only a little more per pair than the lighter options. For example, the affordable Scarpa Crux, is also fairly light and packable, and you probably won't notice the difference between this shoe and the TX Guide. The Salewa Wildfire 2 and Scarpa Gecko are about average for weight in the approach shoe market, and both feel light and nimble on the trail. The Scarpa Zen Pro and Arc'teryx Konseal AR both weight too much to reasonably carry up a technical climb, and are best used for missions where approach shoes stay on your feet the whole time.
Approach shoes take a beating, whether they're crushing miles on backcountry trails, smearing up sharp granite slabs, or scraping against rock while you stand in aiders on a big wall. They are torqued into cracks, bent into crevices in talus fields, and dragged up chimneys while clipped to the back of a harness. They should be built to last a long time and stand up to the abuse that we put them through, to a reasonable limit.
The Arc'teryx Konseal AR impressed us with its durability. The leather uppers are bomber, and a thick rubber rand covers the toes while a rubberized heel guard protect the back of the shoe. Metal eyelets ensure that the laces won't blow out anytime soon, and the thick rubber sole resists wearing thin. We appreciate this attention to construction quality in the most expensive approach shoe on the market!
Scarpa's burly Zen Pro and affordable Crux both have great construction quality, and we know plenty of people who are wearing their Cruxes many years after their initial purchase. The La Sportiva TX4 is well-made with sturdy leather uppers and durable Vibram MegaGrip soles. These shoes can take a beating, verified by our testers who chuck laps up big walls in Yosemite and Zion. The last thing you want when you're ten pitches up a big wall is for your shoes to fall apart.
Unfortunately, our favorite approach shoe, the La Sportiva TX Guide, showed some poor construction quality during our test period. Early on, we noticed that both midsoles were delaminating from the uppers on the insides of the big toe. This is disappointing for an otherwise excellent approach shoe, but our concern for their long-term durability was echoed in reports from other professional mountain guides.
We still feel comfortable recommending these shoes for their great performance in other metrics, but we need to warm potential users that they should expect to shoe-glue these soles back onto the shoes at some point during their lifespan.
Choosing the best approach shoes can be daunting, but we've compiled this review to help you sort through the options and choose the right pair for your needs. We tested lightweight shoes that climb like slippers and disappear into a pack, and shoes that will carry you up rugged trails and the biggest walls in the world. Armed with the information we've provided, you should feel confident to start your journey towards finding the perfect pair of approach shoes for your next objective or for your lifestyle. Thanks for reading, and we'll see you in the mountains!
After analyzing over 45 harnesses, we bought the best 15...
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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.