Best Approach Shoes of 2017
Why does a climber need a different shoe just to get to the base of the route instead of just using a hiking boot or shoe? Cliffs are often accessed through steep terrain that includes scree slopes, slabs and fourth class scrambling with occasional fifth class moves. Although a running shoe or hiking shoe may suffice right out of the parking lot, having an approach shoe with rock climbing prowess lends confidence and peace of mind as the steepness of slope gains on the way to the objective.
Approach shoes can be purpose built from scratch or be modified hikers or trail runners. Manufacturers have seen the need for this specialized footwear; some are long time climbing shoe producers, some make alpine or hiking footwear, some come from the outdoor apparel segment and some are athletic shoe giants. The different core products are equally matched by different design angles, each having strengths and weaknesses that become apparent depending on the terrain, loads and speed pursued.
The main design challenge resides in the need for stability, support and protection (especially with heavier loads) and the sensitivity preferred for climbing. Having a stiff sole for stability, support and protection is at odds with the softer shoe needed for sensitivity while climbing. Add to this equation the midsole stiffness that aids edging but detracts from slab climbing and you have quite an array of demands for the “perfect” approach shoe.
Shoes in this test come from all the entities mentioned above: climbing shoe/boot makers, athletic shoe companies and outdoor apparel producers. Their approach shoes can range from feeling like hikers to feeling like light trail runners, each with added climbing specific features. The “middle ground” would be shoes that are designed from the start to perform the job of getting you and your gear to the cliff.
Testing the six widely varying styles of approach shoes happened over the course of two months on days of rock climbing in Central Texas, across the US and during a mountaineering trip to Central Mexico. Temperatures ranged from the mid 40’s to the mid 80’s and terrain ran the gamut from deserts to alpine mountains, both dry and wet. Testing was done by Seiji Ishii, an AMGA certified rock climbing guide who has been pursuing all types of vertical ascent since the 1990’s. Approach shoes were evaluated in these categories: Stability/Support, Protection, Comfort, Quality/Construction and Performance. The Gear Institute rating is a combined score across all categories, representing overall performance.