“Wait a minute!” said some poor, foot-troubled soul schlepping along a trail of yesteryear.“Why the heck are we wearing these massive behemoths on our feet?”
“Isn’t it because we’re pretending to be Sherpa Tenzing and Edmund Hillary, even if we’re only on Scafell Pike?” said his equally troubled companion.
“But they’re heavy. And crap for scrambling. And clumsy. They almost feel like boxing gloves for your feet. Heavy ones.”
“Yeah, they do actually. Someone should do something about that.”
“Yeah, they should.”
“Let’s do it!”
The genesis of possibly the greatest blessing for feet in mountain and hill-going history went something along the lines of the above. Probably. With it, the fate of the foot-weary, sweaty, blister-ridden mountain-lover was transformed forever, and the pre-climb decision making process on footwear simplified enormously. No longer would climbing sections have to be negotiated in clumpy, cumbersome trekking boots or undertaken with a huge pack carrying those boots after we’d changed into rock shoes. No longer would our feet be encumbered with a pound or two of largely unnecessary weight and slip off of tight edges or toe-holds but would live and trek and scramble happily ever after in the comfort and care of a foot’s best friend – the approach shoe!
Since arriving on the scene in the 1990s, approach shoes have indeed been something of a godsend. Their versatility, dexterity, reduced poundage and overall functionality have made mountain-going all the more hassle-free and all the less problematic when it comes down to deciding what to put on our feet. Nowadays, indeed, the only problem that remains is familiarizing ourselves with the various ins and outs and features of approach shoes, and choosing from the humongous array of options at our disposal.
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|Scarpa Crux||Hiking and scrambling||Lightweight and eco-friendly||$$|
|Five Ten Guide Tennie||All rounder||Lightweight and good value||$|
|La Sportiva TX 3||Hiking||Lightweight and durable||$$|
|Garmont Dragontail LT||All rounder||Good support||$$$|
|Salewa Firetail 3||Hiking||Comfortable, with good grip||$$$|
|Evolv Cruzer Psyche||Scrambling and climbing||Great value and very lightweight||$|
|Vasque Grand Traverse Performance||Hiking and scrambling||Breathable with good grip||$$|
|Arcteryx Acrux2 FL GTX||All rounder||Comfortable and versatile||$$$$$|
What to look for in the best approach shoes
Below, Cool of the Wild’s going to help you do just that with our guide to choosing the best approach shoes and our top eight choices on the market in 2019.
Functionality and performance: true versatility
The approach shoe’s USP and the standard we as buyers must look for before getting out our wallets or clicking the ‘buy’ button, is the ability to function optimally in a variety of terrains. Any approach shoe that doesn’t score highly performance-wise in both hiking and moderate climbing or scrambling is, essentially, not doing what it’s supposed to.
The ideal approach shoe will combine, to a certain extent, both the comfort and grip of a hiking boot and the dexterity of a climbing shoe.
Though there are sure to be compromises in some features, forhiking performance look for:
- Decent tread to provide traction
- Slightly elevated heel
- Plenty of cushioning for comfort
- Rugged and durable materials
- Decent toe rand to protect from bumps and bashes
Forclimbing and scrambling, look for:
- An articulated, stiff toe for edging smaller holds or foot placements
- Grippy sole for smearing
- Less bulky tread than on standard hiking boots
A key benefit of using an approach shoe is their relative lightness compared to full-on hiking boots. Many hikers who don’t anticipate wading through boggy terrain, snow or having to use crampons will opt for an approach shoe for this very reason – why, after all, burden your feet with an extra pound or two when you can just as well not bother?!
If you happen to find an approach shoe that is fairly heavy, check to see what additional benefits you get for this extra weight (sturdiness, added foot support, an aggressive tread pattern, for example). If there are none, you might want to think twice about the shoe’s overall utility and worth in the weight to performance ratio.
Likewise, if you come across an ultra-light shoe, be sure to check key facets aren’t missing before you make a purchase. Some models cut down on weight by skimping on features like a toe rand, foot support, a decent tread and cushioning – all things you might be keen to have on lengthy hikes!
Before buying your approach shoes, be sure to either try them on and have a walk around the shop (up and down stairs if possible) or spend some time reading user-reviews online – there’s no point having a shoe that can do it all but melts your toes after a few paces around the car park.
There are a host of factors which contribute to an approach shoe’s comfort, but the most important are:
- Size: sizing, unfortunately, is not uniform across all brands. Some brands, such as La Sportiva, are notoriously ‘pinchy’ about the toe and better suited to narrow feet. Head to the brand’s online sizing charts to check your measurements before clicking ‘buy’.
- Foot support: look for EVA midsoles, a stiffish sole and reinforced arches
- Cushioning: look for padding around the ankle and heel
- Breathability: Gore-Tex fabric or mesh panelling will usually do the job nicely
The build of your approach shoe is a vital consideration for a number of reasons. Foremost among these are durability, ruggedness and also overall performance and practicality. While most manufacturers will boast their shoes rate highly in each of these aspects, it’s best to read user reviews from a few months down the line to see which have withstood the test of time and which haven’t.
The best stomping ground for each approach shoe will depend on a number of variables included in or omitted from its construction. Some designs excel in trekking, others in climbing. While it may seem to make sense just to plump for a solid all-rounder, in reality all-rounders are likely to come up short in one feature or the other, scoring some ways behind the best performers in either hiking or trekking alone. Knowing what you’re most likely to be up to and in what sort of terrain will help you make your decision.
The 8 best approach shoes in 2019
Lightweight, robust, super comfortable and eco-friendly to boot, the Scarpa Crux sets the standard of our shoes on review very high. Boasting very robust yet lightweight construction, a nicely articulated toe for edging and a reasonably aggressive tread for muddy or wet approaches, the Crux actually defies an approach shoe’s usual limitations by excelling in both hiking and climbing environments. Whatever terrain you find yourself in, this well-thought-out and very well-made shoe will have you covered and allow you to tackle your route in all-day comfort…winner!
- Very robust and well made
- Grippy toe
- EVA midsole
- Very comfortable
- Lightweight (under 700g per pair of size 42)
- Eco-friendly (uses 100% recycled lining, 70% recycled stroebel, 40% recycled leather, 29% recycled polyester mesh and 25% recycled rubber)
- Foot cradle system for extra support
- Take a while to break in
- A fraction on the narrow side
The very popular Five Ten Tennie is a superbly comfortable all-rounder that comes in at a mere 770g and at a fraction of the prices of many of its competitors. As with any all-rounder, it lacks a little performance-wise both in hiking and scrambling or moderate climbing, but for those looking for an affordable, comfy and stylish happy medium, this is a safe and solid option. All in all, a middle-of-the-road shoe that doesn’t quite scale to the heights of its competitors in either hiking or climbing performance but performs adequately in both.
- Stiff sole
- Reasonably priced and good value for money
- Excellent grip on rock
- Quite bulky and cumbersome – lacks the nimbleness and dexterity of competitors on steeper rock
- Tread pattern is fairly slight and lacks grip on steep descents or wet terrain
La Sportiva’s lightweight, breathable, comfortable and hard-wearing TX3 is another superb all-rounder that provides very close competition for the Scarpa Crux and Vasque Grand Traverse. The best features include a hardy rubber rand, a nicely cushioned midsole, a fairly aggressive tread for hiking performance and a super sticky sole. The wider forefoot on the TX3 is a break in La Sportiva’s normally narrow-toed footwear and will be welcomed by many, even if it does detract ever so slightly from edging performance. The TX3 doesn’t quite have the climbing performance of the Crux or Cruzer but beats the latter hands down on hikes of any length.
- Light (790g per pair!)
- Aggressive tread great in muddy terrain
- Not Waterproof
- Tread on the sole wears quickly if used on paved surfaces
On first impression, the Dragontail looks like a true competitor for the big boys and best buys from La Sportiva and Scarpa. The Dragontail boasts a very tidy articulated toe area, a decent tread for grip, a great lacing system and a healthy rand that extends into heel and toe bumpers. Once on your feet, however, that first impression changes fairly quickly. The sole is not as sticky as competitors the Crux or Grand Traverse and both weight and comfort-wise it falls a little behind most of its all-rounder competitors.
A decent all-rounder offering good value for money, but for optimal performance you’re better off with the Scarpa Crux, the Grand Traverse or the La Sportiva TX3.
- Good toe rand and bumper
- Great foot support
- Nicely articulated toe area great for edging
- Very tight-tying laces
- Not the most comfortable – material is very stiff
- Not waterproof
- Not as grippy as competitors
- A touch heavy (930g per pair)
The very robust Firetail 3 is a decent little performer that offers great friction on wet terrain and plenty of cushioning, support and durability. Compared to other all-rounders, it lacks a little in terms of climbing performance and is comparable to the Five Ten Tennie pretty much across the board, though is perhaps a fraction more durable and robust and a little less bulky. If you anticipate spending more time on the trail than on steep, rocky ground, the Firetail 3 is decent, middle-of-the-road option both in terms of price and performance. Otherwise, the Grand Traverse, Scarpa Crux and La Sportiva TX3 all offer far more for your buck.
- Robust and durable
- Great friction, even in wet terrain
- Comfortable even on long hikes
- Nice toe rand
- Gore-Tex lining
- Lacks climbing performance
- Slow to dry when wet
- Laces – not durable, poor design
- Middle-of-the-road option
Although not the most rugged or durable option out there, the Cruzer is a delightfully lightweight, comfortable and minimalist option for those who anticipate doing more in the way of rock-climbing and scrambling as opposed to long distance hiking or trekking with heavy loads. If your approach happens to be a short one and your climb a long one, this is undoubtedly the shoe for you. On steep ground and even graded climbs, the Cruzer outperforms most competitors by quite some way, even narrowly edging out the impressive Scarpa Crux, La Sportiva TX3 and the Vasque Grand Traverse.
All in all, this is a great option for those looking for a super-lightweight, cheap option for scrambling or even graded and trad routes, but one unlikely to serve your purposes well on longer hikes through varied, rough terrain.
- Feel closely resembles that of a real climbing shoe
- Excellent for via ferrata, advanced scrambling and moderate to medium difficulty climbs
- Incredibly light
- Collapsible heel – just like a slipper!
- Less comfortable and practical on longer hikes
- Moderate lug pattern offers less grip than competitors
- Not the most durable
- Short on foot support
- Not waterproof
The Grand Traverse is a lightweight, tough and very high-performing approach shoe that comes into its own in rocky terrain but doesn’t disappoint on the trail. Particularly attractive in the Grand Traverse is the relatively stiff, reinforced and abrasion-resistant toe, which is great for climbing and edging small footholds on steep scrambles or moderate climbs. If you anticipate taking on some trickier routes, the Vibram sole is also super sticky and the heel lug (the pattern of the tread) aggressive enough to prevent slips on muddy ground, particularly when moving downhill. Another hugely endearing feature, especially for those likely to be hiking or climbing in warmer climates, is the breathability that comes from the mesh side panels.
- Great breathability
- Articulated and durable toe
- Substantial rand
- Very grippy sole
- Slightly narrow toe-box
The revolutionary Acrux2 steps things up a notch in the quest for the ideal approach shoe. Although you may need to rob a Swiss bank or two to get your hands on a pair of these pricey plodders, for the added expense you get, wait for it…an approach shoe with removable liners! Beyond this undoubtedly handy and innovative quirk, the Acrux2 does a lot of other things very well. The low-profile sole is great for smearing, the stiff and articulated toe great for edging and even graded climbs. Where this sleek-looking beauty drops a notch in desirability is the comfort stakes. Compared to other all-rounders, the Acrux2 doesn’t quite offer enough support on longer hikes and is slightly behind the Scarpa Crux, Vasque Grand Traverse and La Sportiva TX3 in climbing performance too.
- Versatile: has interchangeable liners
- Stiff sole great for steeper ground
- ‘Smearing grip insert’ on outsole
- Very (very) expensive!
- Not comfortable on longer hikes
Eight pairs of gobsmackingly good shoes to choose from, only one pair of feet…ah, what a dilemma! Hopefully, our review has helped you narrow it down. In any case, we’re sure whichever plodders you plump for you’ll be happily stomping the trails and scrambling to the peaks like never before!