Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition, and adventure courses and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ Sign up for Outside+ today.
We need good, sticky-soled climbing-specific approach shoes to help brace for sport belays, get us up long, steep hikes and across slopey, exposed ledges, and double as climbing shoes for speed and ease of travel in the mountains and on moderate terrain. Approach shoes have evolved significantly since they first appeared three decades ago. Today’s shoe manufacturers offer cool tech that combines trail running, approach, and mountain-shoe categories. For this review, we tested shoes designed primarily for approaching the cliffs, scrambling, and moderate terrain. They needed to be comfortable and supportive enough for the long haul, but also purpose-built for rock and/or scrambly alpine.
Note: Reviews are listed here in alphabetical order. The order does not reflect our preference.
If you hike often in wet conditions (think West Virginia or the Pacific Northwest), then the Acrux SL GTX is the shoe for you. Read full review.
If you’re packing heavy loads, navigating steep, gnarly terrain, and/or looking for reliable ankle support, the Magix is for you. Read full review.
The Sendai Vent was an edging beast, and cranked on 3rd- and 4th-class terrain. Read full review.
Comfy Slab Master
The Logics had such a light, natural fit that our tester tended to forget he had approach shoes on at all until he needed to make a technical move. Read full review.
The Zender hit the sweet spot for front-country objectives like quick laps up the Flatirons and approaches to Clear Creek Canyon sport crags. Read full review.
“As sticky as it gets,” said our tester, who climbed on polished Rifle limestone in the Guide Tennies. The Dotty tread coupled with Stealth C4 makes for a shoe that stays on every type of rock. Read full review.
“These were a performance scrambling machine,” raved our tester. “The flat sole [Hanwag Lava Ultragip] made for great friction and smearing.” Read full review.
With its blunt toe, the La Sportiva TX4 particularly excelled in cracks, with little or no signs of wear on the rand and uppers. “You can climb pretty dang hard in these things!” said our tester. Read full review.
Th minimalist Topo wore comfortable and light, and was perfect for shorter hikes and kicking around town, with a more urban, stylized look. Read full review.
The Wall Guides’ stiffness, which gives it a low-cut-boot feel, allowed for solid support on scree and talus. Read full review.
Citing the flexy sole and flat climbing zones in the Rockway’s forefoot, our tester said, “These all-arounders were ideal for smearing and scrambling.” Read the full review.
“The support was a nice blend of a running shoe and a boot, especially for the light weight and low profile.” The Verto, our tester felt, was built for covering ground. Read full review.
Our tester lauded the Firetail 3 GTX’s wider fit, which was great on toenail-pounding gullies and long days when his feet swelled. Read full review.
Cushy Stone Master
Our tester used the Geckos on Flatirons ridges, and noted their brilliance on rock, especially edging and cracks thanks to a stiff wraparound toe rand that imparts a rock-shoe-like shape. Read full review.
Our tester celebrated how readily the Libero, with its contoured, ergonomic NestFIT system and deep heel cup, locks your foot into position. Read full review.
Our tester loved the Vertical Velocity as a lightweight hiker for trail miles and the standard “straight-uphill” approaches to the cliffs. “It was awesome to have something so svelte underfoot,” he said. Read full review.