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Call of the Hill: The 8 Best Approach Shoes

Posted By

Apr 3, 2015

Category: Gear

If the words “approach shoes” are new to you, let us break them down: They’re a combination of hiking boot and rock climbing shoe that are made for people who prefer a little more verticality to their ascent. You can just mosey along up a switchback, but why do that when there’s a nice avalanche slide full of boulders that you can climb up and over straight to the top? Trail runners, rock hoppers, and anyone with an eye toward the heavens can find hard working shoes to suit their upwardly mobile lifestyle.

Crag climbers and multi-pitch hikers are aware that the right set of shoes is the difference between making the grade and slip sliding away. They’re made for transitional movement between scaling and walking, giving superior traction on shale, gravel, loose grit, and let you boulder about like a mountain goat. Anyone who has found their boots or shoes lacking when it came to traction during their solitary game of King of the Mountain should look at approach shoes as an alternate option.

Five Ten Guide Tennie

Five Ten Guide Tennie

Pro: Equally good at climbing and hiking
Con: Poor durability

Transition Marker: Indeed, the fine fellows at Five Ten couldn’t decide whether to make an outstanding climbing shoe or an unbreakable hiking shoe, so they did both. In that ethereal place where the trail ends and the climb begins you’ll find the Guide Tennie. Stiff as hell, the sole could easily replace your standard climbers for finding grips and edging along the narrowest of ledges. Lightweight, capable of smearing at the professional level, able to last and last, we just can’t find anything wrong with them…at least, until they fall apart in a few months. [Purchase: $49+]

Vibram FiveFingers KSO

Vibram FiveFingers KSO

Pro: Highly flexible
Con: Limited lifespan

Phantom Weight: Have you ever thought about using a minimalist running shoe as your approach shoe of choice? If not, then you are missing a whole new experience. The weight of the KSO makes them better for short approaches and steep climbs rather than long, leisurely walks. The barely-there feeling adds a new layer of interactivity when it comes to trail running, walking, and certainly taking on a cliff face. When you’ve tried everything to get the weight down to the absolute basement and are still feeling like you’re strapped into cement sneakers, spend a couple of bucks and give these a shot. You’ll be walking on air in no time. [Purchase: $59+]

Five-Ten Camp Four

Five-Ten Camp Four

Pro: Additional ankle support
Con: Strange fit with a narrow toe box and expanded heel

Big Dog: Feast your eyes on this beefcake. Yes it looks like a hiking boot, but be not afraid for it has plenty of vim and lightness to allow it the ability to scramble up a six pitch like a champ and then get you down in the rain without missing a step. If you don’t fall in love with the stealth sole then you are completely dead inside. The toe is plenty sharp for edging while the deep heel can tackle off-road gravel and rocks. Made with a slight high-top design you’ll get more than your share of ankle protection and support even as it keeps grit out. [Purchase: $69+]

La Sportiva Xplorer

La Sportiva Xplorer

Pro: Handles trail running comfortably
Con: Low tops let detritus in

The Long Walk: Don’t let the climbing shoe look mislead you, once you strap these on you’ll find that they handle long approaches or gentle trail hikes as well if not better than reaching the next ridge or finger grip. With a slightly wider sole you’ll get more stability on a stroll than most approach shoes can provide. That wide stability, in turn, offers you a better sense of the either the ground under your feet or the tiny toe-hold that stands between you and the void. [Purchase: $78+]

Salewa Wildfire

Salewa Wildfire

Pro: Interchangeable orthotics
Con: Lacing system prone to failure

Wet/Dry Adherence: When the rubber hits the rock, you want that rubber to be designed by the German geniuses and their legendary engineering. Said rubber is courtesy of the Vibram Tech Approach EVO sole which sticks to anything in tons of conditions for going up a steep slope or standing on a sheer rock face. The uppers are tough as hell and damn sure aren’t going to take a hit lying down. The protection offered by the Wildfire is very solid allowing the comfortable interior to work equally well for hiking as for climbing. [Purchase: $88+]

Merrell Proterra Sport Gore-Tex

Merrell Proterra Sport Gore-Tex

Pro: Eliminates wetness
Con: Poor edging capabilities

Quick Step: The Proterra Sport is a strange animal that some heavy climbers will dismiss as just another pretender to the throne. Already it has been called a trail running shoe with delusions of grandeur. To dismiss it as such is a grave disservice. First, the truly waterproof body is able to keep you dry and fight off mildew and jungle rot like a water shoe for days of fording streams as you evade bloodhounds. The removable EVA footbed is comfortable for just about any excursion, though doesn’t add much weight or reduce the marvelous flexibility that these shoes provide. [Purchase: $114+]

Scarpa Zen

Scarpa Zen

Pro: Long lasting
Con: Soles lack stickiness

Unbreakable: Durability is always one of the first things to consider when buying any type of active wear shoe, and though many can live on the razor’s edge or keep you comfortable on long hikes, they might also fail your feet at the worst possible moment. Not so with the Zen. The higher price is well-earned as these survivors tackle the worst you can throw at them without giving way. You’ll get a nice edging ability out of the Zen, but the bottoms aren’t sticky, so you could find scrambling and bouldering with these will bring you to your knees. [Purchase: $145+]

La Sportiva Ganda

La Sportiva Ganda

Pro: Can be resoled multiple times
Con: Too stiff for long hikes

On the Edge: Planning to take a walk down to the mailbox? Then prepare to have your toes crushed and smashed and then mocked for their weakness. The Ganda is an approach shoe for climbers who sometimes have to walk a few steps, but not much farther. You’re going to want to keep these in the holster for rapid approaches where you won’t need to tread far. The narrow body is ideal for getting up to kiss the sky, but terrible for terrestrial creatures just looking for an average running shoe. Resole it, rebuild it, reuse it, these are hard to hurt and impossible to kill. A removable sock liner adds stiffness when you need it, and cuts down on weight when you don’t. [Purchase: $187+]

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