Climbers must have a footwear fetish. That might be the only explanation for the ridiculous number of shoes that most of us have in our closet. Shoes for climbing, shoes for getting to the climbs, shoes for getting down from the climbs, shoes for chillin’ after the climbs. It’s never ending! Something that almost every climber has a “need” for, however, is a good approach shoe, but that moniker can cover a wide range of options, from models that are better for hiking, to those that climb like they are rock shoes in disguise. Over the last six months, we’ve taken approach shoes from several brands and put them through the ringer to see what comes out on top. The following five models represent what we feel are the best in their class, no matter where your approaches may take you.
These are the Cadillac of the bunch, big and comfy. More about the approach and less suited to actual climbing, the Captains are the ticket if you have a lot of miles to pound out to get to your objective, especially if you’ll be carrying a heavy pack. The TRAX rubber lugged sole was hands down the most secure in mud and wet trails, and the full shank does a great job of protecting your feet from whatever bumpy and pointy things you might be walking over. Also, these kicks wont stand out like clown shoes if you have a fancy dinner to run off to afterward. The fit is ideal for medium to wider feet. $120. More info here.
Easily the most stylish of the group, the Warhawks are a fun shoe that feature a half Stealth sole, which gives unbelievable traction on rocky surfaces. Ideal for places like Clear Creek Canyon, Red Rocks or Moab, where you might find yourself scrambling over a lot of exposed rock, the Stealth Mystique rubber does not disappoint. They’re fairly low profile, and fold up easily to stash in your pack, or hang off your harness on the way up. With my narrow foot, they weren’t precise enough for anything too technical, but those with wide feet should give these a look, as the fit would be ideal for them. $119.95. More info here.
The lightest shoe of the group, at a mere seven ounces, this is for the crowd that cuts every bit of weight on big missions up long routes. Being fairly minimalist, it’s not going to last as long as the others, but if light is right, then this just might be your path to enlightenment. The MorphoDynamic™ Injection Molded EVA midsole offers enough support to keep your foot cushioned on rocky trails, and the sticky rubber outsole provides decent grip. There are clip in loops on the back, or you can easily stuff them into your pack, either way you’re likely to forget you’re carrying them. And while the Vertical K’s are not really intended for technical climbing, they performed well on the rugged desert trails in Red Rocks, which are often no more than glorified gullies, full of various sized rocks. The fit is ideal for medium feet, and they run a touch small, we suggest going up a Euro half size when ordering. $115. More info here.
An all arounder offering solid climbing performance, don’t let the retro look fool you, as this shoe is all business. The laces come all the way down to the front of the toe box, allowing for a precise fit. This was a feature often lacking in other models that can truly compromise how well a shoe climbs. The Vibram® IdroGrip New Boulder climbing rubber is incredibly sticky, so much so in fact Patagonia cautions against wearing them indoors, as you’re likely to leave rubber marks on floors. A supportive midsole and injection molded arch shank provide all day comfort, and the leather upper gives the shoe excellent durability. For those on budget, they are designed to be resoled, which of course also fits in with Patagonia’s environmental responsibility values. The fit is ideal for narrow to medium width feet. $155. More info here.
The most technical of the models we tested, this is the one to get if you’ll actually be climbing in your approach shoes. It handled 5.10 hand cracks in Indian Creek and 5.8 trad routes with ease, thanks to a solid edging platform, narrow toe profile and the Vibram sticky dot rubber. Equally adept at hiking over long distances, these are the quiver of one for those who want a shoe that can climb as well as they do. The fit is on the snug side, and are ideal for a normal to narrow foot. (Editors note: This year’s model features a different sole, optimized for both hiking and climbing.) $189. More info here.
Disclaimer: Wait! Do you really need to buy more new stuff? If so, these products are worth a look. In the spirit of full disclosure, this product was provided to SplitterChoss.com for the purpose of reviewing. Don’t worry, though, our integrity can’t be bought!