Best Approach Shoes
Sometimes, how you approach a situation makes all the difference. If you’re a climber, you know that sometimes getting to the actual climb can be a challenge in itself, with the terrain varying from grassy fields and gentle slopes all the way to icy sheets with dangerous rock slides and boulder fields. As you expect, having the right equipment can make all the difference, especially when it comes to your feet.
If you find yourself searching for a great choice in your footwear as you get to your next rock face, finding the best approach shoes may be in your future. After reading through our guide, you can ensure your next climb will be a success with your new approach shoes that will bring you more durability and strength.
- Salewa MS MTN Trainer GTX
- La Sportiva TX4
- Scarpa Crux
- Five Ten Guide Tennie Mid
- La Sportiva Boulder X
- Evolv Cruzer
- Scarpa Zen
- Arc'teryx Acrux SL
- Five Ten Guide Tennie Leather
- Salewa MS Wildfire Vent
- Criteria Used for Evaluation
- Other Factors to Consider
- Frequently Asked Questions
Top 10 Picks
1. Salewa MS MTN Trainer GTX
Very comfortable to wear
Customizable support system
Provides good ankle support
May run slightly small
This first entry on our list is a phenomenal shoe overall. Not only does it provide great overall traction and stability over multiple terrains, but most people find it to be a very comfortable shoe overall. If you’re looking for a general approach shoe that will likely serve you well, this is the one to consider buying.Read more
Due to the inclusion of Gore-Tex and other protective measures in the composition of the shoe, the durability of this particular approach shoe is pretty substantial. No matter what the terrain, chances are these shoes will be able to handle it.
Generally speaking, most customers found this shoe to be comfortable enough to wear during some extended treks to the climbing locals but found the shoes to be too tight overall for everyday use. However, the Multi-Fit foot bed and a climbing-inspired lacing system did provide for great customization and increased comfort levels overall.
Unlike many low rise approach shoes, this example from Salewa has been designed to offer great support not only in the arch and toe box area but also in the area of the ankle.
The soles of these shoes feature a synthetic rubber sole with a Vibram outsole material that promotes active adhesion to nearly every ground surface that it comes in contact with. The sole is also strong and firmly attached to the shoe itself to promote increased overall stability and responsiveness when needed.
If there is one area where these shoes might need to be improved it’s in the overall fit category. While approach shoes should have a snug fit, a number of people found the shoes to be a little too snug, especially in the toe box area. This is definitely a shoe that you want to try on and test out before you buy for that reason.
The Salewa MS MTN Trainer GTX Hiking shoe is a fantastic choice overall for a general use approach shoe. In most cases, these shoes can offer the comfort and support you need to traverse a wide range of terrains as you head to that all-important climb.
2. La Sportiva TX4
Extremely comfortable – wider toe box area.
Great overall fit
Great compromise for hiking/climbing
Durable leather uppers
Doesn't climb as well as thinner soled models
If you’re looking for an approach shoe that can provide all-day comfort and support, especially on rocky terrain, the TX4 hiking shoe from La Sportiva is definitely one that should be on your short list.Read more
The TX4 shoes are sturdy and built-to-last shoes. Thanks for the STB Control System, the shoe has structure and stability. The leather uppers have a clean design and abrasion resistant thanks to the PU TechLite rand. Finally, with the Vibram MegaGrip sole, the climbing zone at the toe, and Impact Brake System at the rear gives a great balance of performance and longevity.
This approach shoe from La Sportiva provides a great deal of comfort overall. It expertly finds the balance between the need for rigidity and overall stability and cushioning that is hard to match, especially in a low rise shoe such as this. In addition, many customers found that the slightly roomier toe box area helped to increase their overall comfort levels and keep fatigue to a minimum.
The support system in this shoe is designed with an STB control system that helps to balance out the use of both rigid and flexible support.
The sole of this shoe is comprised of a combination of synthetic rubber material and Vibram outsole for superior gripping power. In addition, the heel area features an area that is designed to “bite” at the surface of the ground to ensure that slippage is kept to a minimum.
One of the areas where this approach shoe really shines is in the overall fit and feel of the shoe. Almost all – nearly 100% -- of the customers surveyed found that these shoes fit so well that they nearly forgot that they were wearing shoes at all.
If you're looking for a quality, nice-looking shoe with great all-around performance the TX4 shoes are for you.
3. Scarpa Crux
Climbing zone under toe
Tongue may twist
Sole wears quickly
The Crux might be Scarpa's most popular all-around shoe. It can handle almost anything from side-hill slogs to moderate climbs. The suede and mesh with Kevlar webbing keeps your foot comfortable. This might be the shoe for beginner climbers that are looking for a comfortable shoe that can perform well in a variety of situations.Read more
While the rubberized sole and the leather uppers were found to wear quickly, the upper part of the shoe stays intact. The suede and mesh last a long while, far beyond the soles.
Most people found these shoes to be very comfortable to wear. The combination of the adaptive and breathable liner and leather uppers means that feet remain relatively warm, so these shoes may not be the best choice in warmer climates or weather.
Most people found that the overall arch support and increased heel and ankle support was more than enough for their overall needs.
The soles of the Crux might be the one downfall of these great all-around shoes. They tend to wear out rather quickly though, the performance is middle of the pack. Overall this is still a great car for a beginner looking for comfort.
The majority of people found this shoe to be comfortably snug and a great overall fit, especially while in use.
This lightweight shoe from Scarpa is a great overall choice if you’re searching for an approach shoe that can easily adjust to whatever type of terrain you want to conquer. While we would like to have seen a little more durability when it came to the sole, overall this isn’t a bad shoe.
4. Five Ten Guide Tennie Mid
Great stability and support for the ankles
Durable upper portion
May run on the small size
Rubber sole wears through rather quickly
If you want an approach shoe that offers great ankle support for those treacherous scrambles over rocks and hills, you need to take a closer look at the Five Ten Men’s Guide Tennie Mid Hiking Shoes. The slightly higher profile and overall fit allows for more support in the ankle area, regardless of your climbing or trekking environment.Read more
Overall the upper portion of the shoe, which is made of a combination of leather and textile holds up remarkably well, even with frequent use. The rubber sole, however, does tend to wear down with regular use at a somewhat startling rate. If you don’t mind re-soling the shoe in about a year of regular use, then these would be a good choice. If you’d rather spend your money on other things besides the sole of your shoes, you may want to consider other options.
Most people who tried this particular approach shoe to be very comfortable overall, if slightly on the heavier side. The mid-rise design makes it a great choice for those who have less than stable ankles, or situations where ankle support is an important factor, such as boulder fields or unconsolidated sand or dirt.
For the most part, the stability and support of this particular approach shoe is focused on the heel and ankle area. It is designed to keep the ankle, foot, and lower leg aligned properly to get the job done in the most efficient manner. The shoes are also capable of aiding in the carrying of heavier loads based on the shoe’s ability to evening distribute the weight over the length of the shoe.
The sole itself is made from a highly textured rubber material that is designed to grip any and all surfaces that it encounters. It should be noted, however, that with frequent use, the stickiness of the sole does wear down.
About 75% of the customers indicated that the overall fit of these approach shoes was what they expected, and about a quarter of the people indicated that the shoes were entirely too small for comfort.
If you want an approach shoe that is strong enough to give you the support you need for weaker ankles, and still be relatively comfortable in a wide range of situations, this shoe from Five Ten is definitely worth a close look. We certainly would have liked a longer lasting sole portion, but if you don’t mind a little shoe repair from time to time, these shoes should serve you quite well.
5. La Sportiva Boulder X
Excellent grip strength
Designed for long, treacherous hikes
Can run a bit small in size
May be too heavy for some people
These approach shoes from La Sportiva are designed to help keeping things moving smoothly over the longer treks to the climbing areas, especially when carrying a larger amount of equipment. If some serious technical approaches and climbs are in your future, this is one shoe to take a look at.Read more
The synthetic materials used and the quality construction provides this shoe with excellent overall durability. There were very few reports of undue wear, detachments, or signs of distress even after numerous uses. There is a very good possibility of these shoes lasting with proper care for years to come.
However, where these shoes from Sportiva fail slightly is in the overall comfort levels of the shoes. Many users found them to be a little too heavy to wear for long treks, as they were designed to do. Also, even with the extra LaSPEVA layer of cushioning in the mid-sole, people found that the shoe overall could be a bit jarring, especially in more technical terrains. And lastly, quite a few users found the toe box area to be surprisingly narrow in width.
These shoes actually provide a great deal of neutral support, using a closed cell pattern within the rubberized mid-sole region to help absorb the shock of walking and provide for proper alignment.
Created using state of the art technology feature Vibram-Idro grip material, these shoes have some of the most potent gripping power on the market today. Short of smooth glass or ice, there are very few surfaces that these shoes won’t adhere to.
A little over half the people who used these shoes found them to be a good fit after a break in period of about two to three weeks. However, quite a few people found these shoes to be either somewhat small or painfully too small.
These approach shoes from La Sportiva provide one of the best, and most durable gripping surfaces for your feet on the market today. While there are some significant comfort issues dealing mainly with the weight of the shoe and sizing issues, if you want a shoe that will clearly last through many approaches, this is one to consider.
6. Evolv Cruzer
May run a bit small
Not a whole lot of cushioning or support features
If you’re looking for a minimalist-style approach shoe that has simply what you need, and none of what you don’t, this lightweight canvas shoe may just be what you want.Read more
Despite the minimal amount of material used in these shoes, they are surprisingly durable and long lasting. The canvas uppers have been shown to withstand quite a few treks up into the mountains, and the rubber soles, although on the thinner side have been shown to be tougher than most soles twice as thick.
One of the potential drawbacks for this particular pair of approach shoes is that they really don’t provide much in the way of cushioning. There is a memory foam insole that provides moisture wicking ability, but other than that, there isn’t much to absorb the impact shock you may encounter. As such, we wouldn’t suggest running around in these shoes or doing activities that require a great deal of impact.
As expected in a minimalist style shoe, the overall support is quite a bit less than in some of the other approach shoes listed here.
The rubber sole on these shoes is relatively thin and flexible, making them a fantastic choice for scrambling up and over rocks and debris with relative ease. They have decent grip strength and are best suited for small to medium length scrambles over the average technical terrain.
A little over half of the people who used these shoes found them to be a comfortable, if snug, fit which is perfect for using them as approach shoes. The rest, about 40% found them to be slightly on the smaller size. While this is by no means the majority of users, it may be worth considering getting a half size larger than normal just to be on the safe side.
The Evolv Men’s Cruzer Approach Shoe is a great overall choice if you’d rather keep things simple. Although it has little cushioning and support, the simple yet flexible design makes for a versatile shoe that is extremely durable and lightweight.
7. Scarpa Zen
Comfortable to wear
Breathable leather uppers
Rubberized sole with a strong grip
Run a bit small
The third entry on our top ten best list is occupied by the Scarpa Men’s Zen Hiking Shoes. These shoes are designed to be a comfortable choice in a wide range of different terrains and to offer great overall support.Read more
Generally speaking, these approach shoes are durable enough and offer additional rubber around the toe and heel area for added protection from scrapes and tears. While there are no exceptional measures taken to promote durability, the shoes are well made and should last for quite a few seasons.
The combination of natural leather material uppers and rubberized soles provide for a great deal of flexibility and overall comfort. While the amount of cushioning is kept to a minimum, for the most part, the overall support and flexibility lend itself to long-wearing comfort.
Overall, this shoe relies on support in the arch area and an overall comfortable fit to make sure that the foot is well supported during the trek. We certainly would have liked to see a bit more ankle support, but provided that the terrain isn’t too rugged, these approach shoes should serve a person well.
While this particular shoe doesn’t have quite the gripping power of our top contenders, the molded Vibram Spyder II sole does provide a great deal of traction in a wide range of situations. For the most part, climbers will find these shoes to be an efficient choice for getting to the climb in one piece.
Most people found these approach shoes to be a snug yet comfortable fit, with about 20% indicating that they would probably buy a larger size the next time around.
If you’re looking for a good all-around approach shoe that provides good comfort and decent stability over a wide range of terrains, this leather and rubber shoe might be a great choice.
8. Arc'teryx Acrux SL
Extremely light weight
Great for steep ascents or descents
May run a bit small
General lack of cushioning
Sometimes the pair of approach shoes needs to be lightweight and agile to match the type of terrain and the person wearing them. These shoes from Arc’teryx are designed to be lightweight and nimble, providing great overall agility for those times when it’s needed.Read more
Overall, these shoes are very well put together, although the durability is nothing spectacular. With proper care and maintenance, these shoes should last for a few years.
If you don’t like a whole lot of bulk or weight on your feet, then these shoes will feel like a dream overall. They are designed to be extremely light, and the adaptive fit liner is air permeable for increased overall breathability. While the lack of substantial cushioning may make this shoe a no-go for some, others will like the refreshing lightness overall.
These shoes do provide a fair amount of support, especially in the heel and arch area, leaving the toe box area with somewhat less overall support.
The sole of these shoes not only has great gripping strength overall but also features a very flexible nature that is configured to help manage descents and ascents over steeper slopes and hills.
About half the people found these shoes to be a great fit overall, with the other half fluctuating between the shoes being small or very small comparatively. Many indicated that these shoes were not suitable for people with wider feet as well.
The Arc’teryx Acrux SL Approach shoe is a great choice if your approach includes a number of steep inclines where agility, control and the weight of the shoes play an important role. While some may find these shoes on the smaller side, and less than comfortable, for those special situations, they are a great find.
9. Five Ten Guide Tennie Leather
Very good grip
Comfortable once they are broken in
Sole is not as durable as we would like
Not a whole lot of cushioning overall
The Five Ten brand makes another appearance on our list with the original Guide Tennie Approach Shoe. Designed primarily to aid climbers in the trek to the start of the climb, these shoes are well known for their commitment to quality and comfort.Read more
Unfortunately, the durability of these shoes isn’t what we would expect given Five Ten’s overall reputation for quality. Quite a few customers reported the soles of the shoes detaching after a few months of use. While the leather upper portion was found to be relatively resistant to wear, the sole left a bit to be desired overall.
These shoes have very little padding and can take a long time to break in, but once they conform to your feet, most customers indicate that they are a very comfortable shoe overall. The only significant complaint found was that the leather upper portions were not as breathable as desired on longer treks.
Support is provided through the use of a compression molded EVA midsole and neutral stability arch support. It is minimal at best but does provide what is needed for most people.
The sole of this particular shoe features two things that make it stand out from the rest. First, the tread is made from a high-friction rubber material that is specifically designed to grab the surface and to imitate the ability to smear that is often used by climbers. Second, the toe area of the shoe features a unique “smedge zone” that is designed to have superior edging power. This makes traveling along more technical paths, including using crags and crevices a relatively easy thing to do.
Once the break-in period was completed, most people found these shoes to be comfortable to wear and a good fit overall. A little over a quarter of the people indicated, however, that these shoes were slightly larger or smaller than expected.
If your approach to the climbing local is a short one, and you don’t mind having to re-sole your shoes after a few months of use, then this entry from Five Ten is something to consider. The grip on the sole is one of the best in the industry, and once the break-in period is over, discomfort is no longer a factor. There are, however, some durability issues, especially with the thinner sole.
10. Salewa MS Wildfire Vent
Superior Grip Strength
Overall comfortable fit
May run a bit small
Upper portions showed some durability issues
The Salewa brand makes another appearance on our list, and with good reason. The MS Wildfire Vent Approach Shoe is designed to be highly breathable while still offering the support and gripping strength needed for the most technical of approaches.Read more
While the rubberized sole is truly tough as nails, many customers found that the upper synthetic portions and mesh layers were less than tough. These areas were known to wear through with repeated use, long before expected.
Overall, these shoes were found to be fairly comfortable, if a bit on the snug side. Many customers found the toe box to be slightly too tight for comfort on longer treks, but for short jaunts, up to the climb (under a mile) they were found to be manageable.
Extra support is offered in the heel and ankle area of the shoe, and the arch is supported somewhat to provide a great deal of neutral stability overall. While the support is nothing extraordinary, it will certainly get the job done in many different environments.
This particular pair of approach shoes has one of the best overall grip strengths on the market today. They combine Vibram technology with a durable rubber compound that is often used in actual climbing shoes to create a truly “sticky rubber” feel to the shoes.
Many people found these shoes to be true to size, with about one-quarter of them indicating that their shoes were a bit on the smaller size. However, the climbing inspired lacing and the overall adjustable fit allow for a more customized fit experience than normal hiking boots or shoes.
The Salewa MS Wildfire Vent Approach Shoes have been proven to be quite versatile and able to deal with a number of different surfaces. While we would certainly have liked to see better levels of comfort, and slightly better durability, for most climbers and hikers, these shoes will fit the bill quite nicely.
Criteria Used for Evaluation
It's obvious that these shoes will take quite a beating. They will take you to the mountain peaks and help you scale that you have had your eye on. Hence, the durability of approach shoes is one the most important aspects of the shoe. The sticky rubber sole needs to be strong and thick. The outer materials must be strong. The strongest approach shoes have a rubber rand that extends around the upper portion of the shoe. In our research of the best approach shoes available today, we investigated the materials of the shoes and also listened to customer feedback to give you an honest, well-rounded idea of the shoes and how durable they are.
Another important factor to consider when shopping for approach shoes is the level of overall comfort that they provide. After all, depending on where the climbing face is located, you could be traveling on foot for a few miles in the approach shoes. In addition, the terrain may not exactly be easy to travel over. Having shoes that are comfortable to wear can help keep your fatigue at a minimum and allow you to save your strength and stamina for the actual climb. You should always try on the shoes with the socks that you intend to wear on your adventure. Depending on the thickness, the socks could cause rubbing and blisters in a certain place.
When you’re on the approach, the last thing you need is to have a shoe that doesn’t offer the support that your body needs. Often you’ll have to move and bend your ankles and feet in strange positions, smearing on a small rock face, or hopping onto a small ledge just to get to where you need to be. If you don’t have an approach shoe that can offer the support and stability that you need overall, chances are you’ll face injury or at least tiredness by the time you get to the rock face.
When it comes to the bottom of the shoe, approach shoes are in a slightly different category than most. When you’re approaching a climb, nine times out of ten it will be on very treacherous ground, and the need for good traction will be paramount. As such, a quality approach shoe will have something called a “sticky rubber” sole. Essentially, the soles of the shoes are designed to adhere to the surfaces that it touches to help prevent slips and falls in dangerous areas.
Of course, one of the most important factors to consider when thinking about making a purchase of a pair of approach shoes is the overall fit of the shoe itself. The fit of the shoe can influence everything about it, including how it performs, the comfort level it provides, and even how long it lasts. Thankfully, many of the shoes on this list were shown to fit well enough to not only last a significantly long time but also were shown to provide the support and comfort needed for long-term use.
Expert Interviews & Opinions
Another factor to consider when buying a pair of approach shoes is the amount of equipment that you’ll be carrying during the trek. The more equipment, and the more weight that is being carried means that you’ll need shoes that offer better overall support and ankle stability. Often, large or heavier packs will necessitate the use of shoes with higher rises or stiffer ankle support, such as boots, or mid-rise shoes. However, if you’re just taking basic climbing equipment along with you, a low rise approach shoe or supportive hiking shoe may be all that is required.
Your approach shoes will last a lot longer if you take care of them. Cleaning them thoroughly after each use is a great way to elongate their life. You may also want to apply a leather treatment to the top of the shoes. If the shoes come in contact with water, the leather may shrink or lose it's strength.
Other Factors to Consider
It’s sometimes truly amazing what people will travel through to get to a great climb. The terrain you travel over can consist of anything and everything, including water, dense forest, a boulder-strewn field, a marshy wetland, a sandy beach, and even frozen tundra. While you can’t predict absolutely every terrain you’ll travel over, knowing the type of terrain that you will most likely travel over does play an important role in choosing the right approach shoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Like climbing shoes overall, approach shoes need to have a snug and comfortable fit. Often the heel area needs to be snug against the foot, and the toe box area needs to allow for some wiggle room, but should also provide great overall support. Essentially, you’ll need the shoe to allow for a great range of motion as you navigate over the varied terrain on your approach.
Simply put, you’ll need to find the proper balance between flexibility and stability. For example, if you know that you’ll be traveling up a snowy slope and traveling over larger ice sheets to get to the climb, something akin to a mountaineering boot with cramp-on attachments will offer the stiff stability that you need without the need for too much-increased flexibility. However, if you’re looking at traveling over a field filled with rocks and boulders of various sizes, having an approach shoe that will provide good ankle support while still maintaining a wide range of motion is important. In this case, something like a mid-rise approach shoe or hiking shoe might be the best choice overall.
Not surprisingly, considering the terrain that you’re most likely to travel over on your approach, the overall durability of your approach shoe is an important consideration. Let’s face it, some of the potential rocky terrains that you have to travel over to get to a climb is sometimes harder on the shoes than the climb itself. Many times the durability of the shoes are dictated by the materials used as well as the strength of the workmanship involved. Often materials like leather, hardened rubber, and tough synthetic materials are chosen over lighter, less robust materials in order to provide great overall protection and durability.
The exact nature of these sticky rubber soles varies from shoe to shoe. Some rely on superior traction and treads, while others focus more on the actual material used in the making of this part of the shoe. In either case, the approach shoes presented here represent some of the better, or stickier soles out on the market today.
The short answer to this question is when you feel that it is time to replace them. In truth, there are a number of factors to consider when thinking about replacing your approach shoes. The first, of course, is how much use that they are getting. Like anything else, the more approach shoes are used, the faster they are going to wear out. So be sure to inspect them on a regular basis for signs of wear, tread loss, fraying around the seams, or other signs of deterioration. The other factor to consider is the overall fit of the shoe. As a rule, approach shoes need to maintain a comfortable, yet snug fit. Over time, both your feet and the shoe itself will change shape over time. Since you want to make sure the fit stays true, you might want to consider replacing your pair of approach shoes if they become too stretched out or misshapen.