Approaching a crag to climb can be an exciting endeavor, if you’re equipped for all the ups and downs the trail has to offer. What you wear on your feet on the way to the crag can either make or break your trip.
Trekking to your climb in an unsupportive shoe might not only ruin your hike in - it can also lessen your enthusiasm for the act of climbing. Who wants to squeeze their sore, aching feet into elfishly-sized climbing shoes immediately after removing painfully uncomfortable approach shoes?
Finding the right approach shoe for you is a necessary first step to enjoying all your climbing adventures, especially if getting to the crag involves hiking any length of an unpaved trail (and let's be real, most of the best climbs in the world are off the beaten path).
That’s why we’ve taken the time to review the top approach shoes on the market today, so all you have to do is choose the one that appeals to you and approach your next climb in comfort and style!
If you’re like Goldilocks and you’re looking for the perfect approach shoe, look no further than the Five Ten Guide Tennie to meet your every need. Sporting unbeatable Five Ten Stealth rubber soles, these approach shoes perform impeccably on gravel trails and granite routes alike.
The impossibly sticky rubber provides superior grip on edges and makes smearing on low-grade routes feel like a dream. Weighing in at just under 1 lb each, the Guide Tennie is an impressively durable lightweight alternative to its hefty competitors like the La Sportiva Boulder X (we’ll discuss the weight to utility ratio of the Boulder X later in this post).
The Tennie offers a snug fit, not matter your foot width, with 9 pairs of lacing eyelets that allow you to cinch down the shoe significantly until it feels the most secure on your foot.
The Five Ten Guide Tennie can handle tough approaches without becoming uncomfortable, and can be used to climb Class 5 grades up to 5.7, making it the best all-around approach shoe on our list.
Don’t let the daunting price tag of $150 (￡115) scare you off from trying out the Five Ten Guide Tennie - the shoes will pay themselves off in no time with comfort, durability, and multi-purpose use for years to come.
A shoe designed to withstand rough terrain and wet conditions, the Scarpa Vortex XCR GTX is a hefty approach shoe built for the rugged climber and hiker alike. Despite being waterproof, with a Gortex upper, the material of the shoe breathes relatively well while keeping your feet warm and dry even in soggy conditions.
The thick, sturdy Vibram sole of the shoe achieves a superior grip on slippery terrain. You definitely won’t need to worry about slipping around on muddy ground with the Scarpa Vortex! A stiff overall shape also means these boots handle well over rocky surfaces, as they are sturdy enough to resist pressure from stones digging into the bottom of your foot as you walk.
These Scarpa approach shoes may be comfortable and lightweight, making them great for long treks through the woods or a strenuous approach to your favorite crag, but their bulky frame and chunky, durable soles mean the Vortex may be too heavy duty for everyday use.
The substantial girth of the Scarpa Vortex also detracts from its utility as a dual-use approach/climbing shoe - this one is better off staying ground-bound. With a hefty price tag of nearly $200 (￡153), the Vortex is a made for the tried and true cross-country thru-hiker or crag bagger who plans to trek through the roughest conditions year-round.
We recently did a long term review of the Scarpa Vortex XCR GTX if you want to know more.
Similar to the Scarpa Vortex, the La Sportiva Boulder X is a rough and ready approach shoe that is best suited for rough trails and heavy loads. The Vibram Idro-Grip V-Smear sole not only gets significant traction in dirt and muddy conditions - the rubber also sticks to the wall like a gecko on glass.
The laces can be cinched down tight for better edging purposes, but the wide, substantial toe decreases sensitivity on small edges - better to work on your smearing technique with the Boulder X, as they have impeccable smearing capabilities with impossibly sticky rubber.
The Sportiva Boulder X is also one of the best approach shoes for crack climbing, with a relatively low toe profile and a shape stiff enough to easily transfer a twist to midfoot in the crack.
In light of the durable, trail-ready design of the La Sportiva Boulder X, these shoes are relatively heavy compared to its competitors, especially when carrying them in your pack. However, the fantastic foot support offered by the sturdy insole make these shoes a great pick for hiking over rough terrain for extended periods of time.
If you’re looking for a rugged shoe to carry you through all your gnarly approaches that can also be used as a warm-up climbing shoe, then the La Sportiva Boulder X is the shoe for you! Ranging from $110-$200 (￡84-153), the Boulder X is an investment that your feet will undoubtedly appreciate.
If you’re looking for a shoe that checks all the boxes at a great value, look no further than the Scarpa Crux. These approach shoes can be used for hiking, scrambling, light climbing, and minor smearing and edging on rock. The edging and smearing capabilities of the Scarpa Crux help tremendously with gripping difficult terrain, so you should have no problem scrambling over rocks and gravel on your approach to or descent from the climb.
The Crux is also one of the best dual-use warm-up climbing approach shoes, as you can rely on its grippy texture for ascending easy 5th class climbs. The superior comfort of the Scarpa Crux makes them great approach shoes for any length of hike, no matter how strenuous, and their low-profile style means they can easily double as street shoes.
If you’re looking for an even lighter weight and breathable approach shoe for the hot summer months, you can also check out the Scarpa Crux Canvas, a great alternative to the original leather Crux. Coming in at just over $100 (￡77), the Scarpa Crux definitely gets you the best bang for your buck!
If all the other shoes on this list seem too aggressive or expensive for your tastes, don’t worry - there’s another option! The Evolv Cruzer is a reasonably priced approach shoe that makes it a budget friendly choice for the true dirtbag climber who needs a shoe that can be worn to the crag, the bar, and the grocery store - a shoe for every occasion!
The Cruzer is lightweight, making it very easy to carry from crag to car and it’s a breeze to throw it into your pack on the way up - you’ll hardly even notice the weight! These affordable approach/street shoes satisfy many of the basic needs required of approach shoes without weighing them down with all the fancy bells and whistles that many other approach shoes insist on including in their design.
The rubber on the Evolv Cruzer is definitely sticky, which can be useful for navigating gravel trails and slick boulder fields, but they don’t rank well as warm-up climbing shoes. The fit is a bit too loose and the rubber too thin to make them worthwhile on the wall, yet they are comfortable for all day wear while walking around town or on moderate terrain.
Ringing in at a mere $50 (￡38), the Evolv Cruzer is definitely a budget buy for the diehard dirtbag climber.
Your approach to the crag won’t always include trekking through snow capped glacier fields. But if you’re into alpine climbing or looking for a sturdy shoe for extreme terrain, then the Salewa Mountain Trainer may be the shoe for you.
The Salewa Mountain Trainer incorporates Gore-Tex into the shoe’s composition. The Gore-Tex makes it waterproof, which is ideal for wet or snowy approaches. This also means that the shoes will last longer in harsh conditions.
Due to the more rugged design of the Mountain Trainer, they are not great shoes for edging. However, these shoes could handle easy warm-up climbing. They excel in the arena of scrambling over slippery gravel and boulders. Their Vibram rubber soles will find traction on almost any less-than-vertical surface.
The high price tag reflects quality, so don’t be deterred by the cost if you’re looking to invest in a resilient, durable pair of approach shoes. Find them on Amazon for about $200 (£156).