Review: Our Top 5 Approach Shoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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