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Best Approach Shoes of 2017

By: Seiji Ishii

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. 

For more reviews beyond this 2017 test, check out our climbing shoe testsclimbing harness testscrag pack tests, and other related climbing gear tests.

Salewa Men’s Firetail 3

89

2017

Salewa Men’s Firetail 3

The Salewa Firetail 3 is a comfortable, stable and breathable approach shoe with a flat profile and traction qualities that make it ideal for long, rocky approaches in warmer climates.

Arc'teryx Men’s Acrux FL

87

2017

Arc'teryx Men’s Acrux FL

The Arc'teryx Acrux FL sports a unique design that produces a durable shoe capable of handling rock strewn approaches with heavy loads while providing a friction free fit.

La Sportiva Men’s TX2

87

2017

La Sportiva Men’s TX2

The LaSportiva TX2 is a nimble, close fitting and lightweight approach shoe the clings to slabs and begs to be taken on quick jaunts to multi pitch routes.  

Five Ten Men’s Access

86

2017

Five Ten Men’s Access

The Five Ten Access provide extreme traction on rock and have a technical fit, creating an approach shoe that performs its best on more demanding technical approaches.

Scarpa Men’s Gecko

86

2017

Scarpa Men’s Gecko

The Scarpa Gecko is an approach shoe that is borne of climbing shoe DNA. It provides great overall climbing ability while still being able to tackle the trails and scrambles to the cliff. 

Adidas Outdoor Men’s Terrex Solo

86

2017

Adidas Outdoor Men’s Terrex Solo

The Adidas Outdoor Terex Solo is a light, breathable and sensitive approach shoe with incredible traction on rock slabs and hard packed trails.

About the Author

Seiji Ishii

Seiji Ishii

Seiji Ishii works as a trainer to professional supercross/motocross riders, adventure based motorcycle testing contributor at multiple outlets, and as an AMGA certified rock climbing guide/instructor for White Star Mountain Guides/Austin Rock Gym. His personal time is spent rock climbing, any form of dirt biking, cycling, and training for the next mountaineering adventure.

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