Review: Our Top 5 Approach Shoes

Conquer trail and technical approaches with our approach shoe picks
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Julie Ellison
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Conquer trail and technical approaches with our approach shoe picks

This story originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of our print edition.

helios in action

Photo: Andrew Burr

They carried you 10 miles on a trail into the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies for some low-angle scrambling, they slipped off and on a dozen times at your local after-work crag the next week, and by that weekend they were hopping from boulder to boulder on an alpine pebble-wrestling mission. One thing almost every climbing adventure has in common is the approach shoe, a beloved and reliable mode of transportation to your destination—no matter the rocky/root-covered/muddy/scree-filled obstacles that might stand in the way. For more than six months of a hot summer, a snowy winter, and a soaking-wet spring, our testers vetted almost a dozen pairs of climbing-specific approach shoes, light hikers, and trailrunners to find the best picks for trad-, sport-, alpine-, and boulder-loving climbers alike. From Spain to France to Canada to the U.S. and down to Mexico, we logged a few hundred miles, thousands of vertical feet, a handful of blisters, and countless hours of fun to bring you these five standouts that are fit for a variety of disciplines and distances.

Sticky Quickness

la sportiva helios SR Rock Climbing Approach Shoe

Review: La Sportiva Helios SR
Cover a light, zippy trailrunner in sticky rubber, and you get the Helios SR. Read the full review.

Lightweight Support

Review: Mammut Sloper Low

Mammut Sloper Low Rock Climbing Approach Shoes

The Sloper is excellent all-around and can be used for technical climbing, scrambling, and trail hiking, as well as romping around town. Read the full review.

Most Versatile

Arc’teryx Alpha FL Approach Shoe Rock Climbing

Review: Arc’teryx Alpha FL
“Complete comfort at first wear thanks to the mesh liner with thin foam, and the super-beefy sole package provided support for heavy loads and protection from trail obstacles.” Read the full review.

On-Trail Speed

Salewa Speed Ascent Rock Climbing Approach Shoe

Review: Salewa Speed Ascent
Excellent for running, peakbagging, and any type of trail travel, these have a one-of-a-kind rocker design that helps you get there faster with less fatigue. Read the full review.

Best Climbers

scarpa approach

Review: Scarpa Crux Canvas
“Any time getting there involves fourth or low-fifth class, I reach for the Crux, and the canvas version means I can comfortably wear them in any climate.” Read the full review.

What exactly is an approach shoe? 

From duct taped flips to burly, over-the-ankle boots, we’ve seen almost every type of footwear headed to the crag, but here are a few characteristics we look for in a superior approach shoe. 1) Sticky rubber, meaning the sole has a softer rubber compound, similar to climbing shoes, that conforms to deformities in the rock. 2) A partially lugged tread, which gives optimal purchase on the trail. 3) A “climbing zone,” which is a flat, usually smooth area of rubber on the underside of the toe and inside of the forefoot for edging performance on more technical terrain. 4) Burly but breathable upper (including a toe bumper) that protects feet from loose talus but isn’t a sweat box. 5) To-the-toe lacing that allows wearers to dial in fit for techier moves. 6) Full-support midsole for lugging heavy loads lots of miles. Bonuses: dot-pattern rubber, waterproofing, and fun colors. —Julie Ellison