Evolv Cruzer $75; evolvsports.com
If your typical week includes biking, bouldering, after-work cragging, a pub night, scrambling, and a long hike to a remote crag, and you want one shoe that can handle it all, then the Cruzer is your secret weapon. Even if you’re a bimonthly weekend warrior, you’ll enjoy this cozy “TOMS with climbing rubber” hybrid that’s lined with soft microfiber. The super-slim fit with Trax rubber soles makes this shoe secure for tenuous approaches and descents. A tester wore or carried the Cruzer all day in Yosemite Valley while doing a massive soft-man link-up of the Five Open Books and commented how light and unobtrusive they were while strapped to his harness. “I hardly noticed them even while groveling up a squeeze chimney,” he said. With the memory-foam insole, you can feel the shock absorption in your heel the first step you take. The back of the heel is meant to be folded down, so you can slip them on and off comfortably between burns on your project. They also fold over on themselves and flatten nicely, so packing them is a breeze. Plus, four snazzy colors will have you looking fly.
GREAT VALUE Scarpa Crux $99; scarpa.com
During a three-week bouldering trip to Bishop in January, our tester wore these approach shoes every day while hiking around the big granite blocs, across meadows and through brush, and around camp and town. The Crux shone on slabby approaches and scrappy edges when scrambling, thanks to a precision toe, climbing-zone edge, and sticky rubber sole. “Not only were they sturdy and trustworthy when crossing the river or hopping from one boulder to the next, but they were also comfortable and aesthetically pleasing enough that I actually wanted to wear them when it was time to head into town,” the tester said. Supportive of both arch and ankle, without being “too much shoe,” these shoes were really comfortable from the start, and they fully broke in within a few days. Keep in mind that these shoes are designed for low-volume feet, but if they fit, they’ll conform to your foot much like a climbing shoe, inspiring confidence on everything up to near vertical. One tester reported, “I would feel comfortable climbing up to 5.6 or 5.7 in these.”
Five Ten Guide Tennie Canvas $130; fiveten.com
Every so often a company will take one of its best products, one that is performing just fine, and alter it in some major fashion. Many times this seems like pure marketing—we don’t really equate this to, say, Apple upgrading hardware to make it faster or more secure. So it was with much trepidation that our testers tried on the canvas version of the reliable leather Guide Tennie. Our worries were unfounded. The normal leather upper has been replaced by a super-durable canvas that didn’t show a scratch despite our abuse of the shoe in various Colorado climbing areas. The canvas increased breathability tenfold and maintained the Guide Tennie’s superior support and climbing ability. The canvas version also keeps the classic dot-rubber sole and Five Ten’s griptastic Stealth rubber, so traction is not in question. On a really cold day, you might be bummed that you didn’t opt for something warmer, but if you’re looking for a lightweight approach shoe that’s comfortable, breathable, and has a time-tested design, look no further. The leather version is still available for $114.95.
Fire Vent $119; salewa.us
Comfortable out of the box, supportive, and burly—these lightweight approach shoes (less than 1 lb./pair in size 9) simply rock. The mesh upper breathes like mosquito netting, yet the leather toe, firm heel cup, and Salewa’s tensioned wire-to-lacing support system made them super-stable under light to medium loads. As she talus-hopped through the North Cascades’ steep, loose “Gully of Momentum,” our self-described “ungraceful” tester didn’t slip once. The sole is a durable hybrid of dot rubber and a smooth edging platform in the toe for climbing, along with lugs around the heel and inner forefoot for downhill braking. Another tester found the soles slicker than expected on dry rock, but still managed a smooth ascent of Boulder’s First Flatiron (5.6 slab). To-the-toe lacing and a two-tiered footbed help you dial in the fit. After eight months of hard use, these shoes showed only slight wear in the soles and a missing S on the Salewa logo on the toe rand. Want more protection? The Firetail GTX is a very similar shoe with Gore-Tex uppers ($148.95). Both are available in men’s and women’s sizes.