Best approach shoes for rock climbing

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We focus so much on the act of climbing and the essential gear in this arena – rock shoes, harness, rope, gear, helmet, backpack – that we sometimes overlook what is useful to actually get to. the ascent. The approach can be anything from a short scramble to rock or a multi-day bump to a valley of granite towers and everything in between. Either way, the best approach shoes combine the stability and support of a hiking shoe with the grip and dexterity of a climbing shoe.

Building a quality approach shoe is an art and a science. Manufacturers use wildly different materials and delicately press, weld, glue or sew them together to form a cohesive unit that should get you from your car to your climb as efficiently as possible. Before buying a pair of approach shoes, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the materials that keep you glued to the stone:

  • Outsole: The lugs (the knobs on the sole of the shoe) dig into the dirt for better grip on the trails. Some approach shoes have a shallow stitch pattern that creates more contact between rock and rubber, so they lay out better on stone slabs.
  • Midsole: It is the main shock absorber that lessens the impact on the track. Two common materials are polyurethane (PU) foam and ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) foam. PU is dense and strong, with a longer lifespan than EVA, but it is not as soft. EVA is lighter and softer but less durable.
  • Drop: This refers to the difference in “stack height” (the measurement of material between the bottom of your foot and the ground) at the heel and forefoot. The smaller the drop, the more minimalist the shoe and the more you will feel the ground under your feet, which helps for approaches that require precise scrambling and technical movements. Traditional hiking boots and trail runners have a higher stack height and drop, which provides more cushioning and support for heavy loads.
  • Forefoot plate: This high-density foam or plastic piece provides extra support and protection for the ball of your foot.
  • Wedge : This midsole component, usually a softer foam, absorbs impact during initial heel strike to provide a more comfortable ride.
  • Upper: It is the upper part of the shoe that adds support and protects your foot from outside threats. The upper can be synthetic, leather, mesh or a combination to provide varying degrees of water resistance, breathability and insulation.
  • Sole: Also called an insole, it sits directly under your foot. This foam insert provides comfort and support, adapting to the unique shape of your foot. If you really like a shoe, but need more arch support, for example, try an aftermarket insole.

How to size your approach shoes

It’s easy to obsess over a shoe’s climbing ability while ignoring how it works. However, keep in mind that you will probably spend a lot more time walking in your shoes than climbing. Size your shoes to be moderately comfortable on a five-mile hike, while making sure you can tighten the laces for a tighter fit on your climb. Your toes shouldn’t reach the tip of the shoe, but they shouldn’t swim in an overly spacious toe box either.

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How to increase the life of your approach shoes

Delamination, one of the most common durability issues, is the breakdown of the glue between the outsole and the midsole. Most shoe layers are bonded with an adhesive, usually a heat-activated glue held together by strong chemical bonds. The main cause of delamination is heat, so don’t let your shoes bake in your car between climbs or in direct sunlight. And, tempting as it is, don’t put your feet right next to the campfire or let your shoes dry next to it. However, if you experience a rubber tongue that comes off the toe shortly after purchase or without much wear, it may be due to ineffective contact between the glue and the rubber, which is a mistake. which occurs during manufacturing (usually due to the absence of both perfectly clean surfaces during bonding). Contact the company directly to have them repaired or replaced.

Our favorite approach shoes

Guide La Sportiva TX

The La Sportiva TX Guide is among the best climbing approach shoes one of our testers has ever worn, “and I don’t say that lightly,” he wrote. “They are responsive, precise and comfortable.” La Sportiva describes them as a middle ground between trail runner and hard-hitting climbing boot, and while they’re certainly a supportive hiker, we find them a little too bulky to throw away our running shoes for. jogging on rest days. They’re stiff through the midsole, but the four-millimeter Ortholite sockliner and high-cushioned heel are still nice and springy. When hiking uphill, this combination of stiffness and cushioning means that whether you’re hopping between rocks or accelerating on the flat, you always feel stable, while the shock absorption pampers your joints.

Price: $159

Read the full review here.

Black Diamond LT Medal

For such a lightweight approach shoe, the Tag LT is surprisingly comfortable. Comfort comes from their slippery feel and midsole support, which was expected by more than one tester. Its sole is sticky and reliable on rough terrain, and it packs easily onto the harness with a profile-reducing cinch strap. Overall, we approve of the Tag LT: it strikes the delicate balance between weight, performance, and compressibility, making it one of the best approach shoes our tester has ever used.

Price: $135

Read the full review here.

Scarpa Gecko

Scarpa’s more technical and climbing-focused approach has been revamped for Spring 2021, featuring an updated color palette and approximately 2 ounces of weight savings per shoe. Like the original Gecko, they have a smooth, intuitive and natural feel on technical terrain – you can dig into fairly small toeholds (up to 5.10/5.11 jibs and crimps), sticky rands/toes are stable into big cracks, and, with plenty of forefoot flex, the Geckos smeared extremely well. Technically, the new Geckos get the same high marks as their predecessors; they are truly top notch for jamming and moderate rock. The lacing throughout the foot is also excellent – you can really reduce the fit when needed.

Price: $149

Read the full review here.

Butora Icarus

The narrow-strap Butora Icarus combines backcountry ruggedness with post-climb style, making it the ideal approach shoe for alpine bouldering and alpine approaches mixed with the city. Our tester jumped the embankment at Eldorado, threw snow steps up high peaks, and bouldered along a steep base. “The NEO Zone flat climbing surface provided great edge-holding power,” he said.

Price: 129

Read the full review here.

Five Ten Five Tennie

After a long hiatus, the Five Tennie returned in 2019 to much fanfare. The updated version has soft leather uppers, a lace-up closure that wraps around the ankle (if you choose to lace up through the last two holes), textile lining, EVA midsole and mesh tongue gusseted stretch that forms an enclosure sock designed to keep debris out. One of the testers said the tongue was his favorite feature – even with the shoes fully laced, it could slide in and out like a slipper, which was great for climbing when swapping between approach and trail shoes. rock, or when you need to tap on shoes. and get out quickly. For longer, more technical approaches, the sticky sole and stable edge of the Five Tennie inspired confidence and efficient movement.

Price: $125

Read the full review here.

La Sportiva TX2

Scrambling approaches, climbing up to 5.6, hoisting a long multi-pitch, the TX2 shines for all of these situations. “This shoe was one of the snuggest I’ve used thanks to a knitted polyester upper that really wraps around the foot and toe-to-toe lacing that keeps the whole shoe secure,” wrote the blogger. one of the testers. A Vibram Megagrip sole has dot rubber throughout the foot, with a flat section under the asymmetric toe for climbing, inspiring confidence where you need it most.

Price: $125

Read the full review here.

Evolve Rebel

Available in leather and vegan versions, this lightweight and ultra-comfortable tennie-style approach made gangbusters on rocky trails, slabs and technical terrain thanks to the grid-patterned Trax Enduro sole and rubber toe cap. The liner is water resistant (and the upper has been treated), a plus for one of the testers on a January approach through a foot of snow. Despite a sleek profile ideal for urban wear, the shoe also has a welcome magnifying touch thanks to its compression-molded EVA midsole.

Price: 115

Read the full review here.