While browsing for the outdoor gear, you’ve certainly seen some so-called approach shoes and wondered exactly what type of footwear they are, and what makes them different from trail shoes. If you’ve already used them, you may be wondering if they’re fit for climbing. Read through this article to find out if you can climb in approach shoes.
While you may go along just fine in regular climbing shoes, some cliffs and crags have challenging technical approaches. This may require you to access climbing routes by extremely steep and rocky trails. Therefore, manufacturers started creating hybrid shoes that combine hiking shoes and climbing shoes for a safer approach to crags.
If you don’t have any experience with this footwear, you may wonder are approach shoes suitable for climbing, and if so – how much? Whether you love the approach or not, it’s inevitable if you want to try something else than roadside crags and gyms. Read through this article to learn more about the versatility of approach shoes and much more.
Approach shoes are a great choice for mountain scramblers, climbers, and hikers. They provide more stiffness than hiking shoes or trail runners, they’re closer-fitted and come with a rubber rand for protection. But what makes them so specific are the ultra-sticky rubber soles for great grip on the rock. In short: you can climb in approach shoes.
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Approach shoes explained
Every extreme sport has its own thing for shoes, to put it bluntly. Approach shoes are typically associated with rock climbing. They are great for light hiking or getting to the base of a climb. You can also use them as everyday shoes. They come with a hard sticky rubber bottom, many of them with a rubber toe cap. They have low, ankle-cut length, and a relatively flexible upper construction.
Climbers use approach shoes to get through craggy and bumpy terrain to get to the base of a climb or to get back down after a climb. They are hybrid because regular climbing shoes can be extremely uncomfortable. This is why approach shoes possess the technical potential of climbing shoes and the comfort and sturdiness of hiking shoes.
While you can comfortably use them as everyday shoes, for running errands or walking the dog around the neighborhood, approach shoes are also great for vertical terrain. For climbing beginners, approach shoes are a great support on rocky terrain. They can save the day, or even your life because, unfortunately, many climbers have lost their lives on approaches.
Some basic characteristics
Approach shoes do resemble hiking shoes but there are some subtle, yet important differences. They are made using the same rubber found on climbing shoes. This provides more grip on rocky terrains due to a softer, stickier compound. This is different from a harder, more durable rubber compound found on hiking shoes which provide way less grip.
Besides, approach shoes are typically somewhat stiffer across the length of the shoe for edging. They’re also narrower for jamming into cracks. Additional grip is provided by a rubber band around the side of the shoe. The rand also protects your shoes from being damaged by the rock.
Why use approach shoes?
Primarily designed for climbers, approach shoes provide an additional level of security and safety. We all know how climbers like to practice their sport in extreme conditions. The perks of having super secure footwear make many climbing guides wear them when taking people up easy routes.
But approach shoes can also be a great choice if you’re into traversing rocky ridgelines or hiking with some easy scrambling. Some hikers may have second thoughts about them because of their stiffness or lack of insulation. However, there are heavier, better-insulated models available for the greater ranges.
Many climbers pick approach shoes over trail shoes, as climber trails are seldom real trails. They actually expose you to different class terrains and other challenges. This actually makes climbing approaches much more technical than what your standard hiking boots can handle.
In the last decade, approach shoes have become extremely popular among a wider population of outdoor enthusiasts. These hybrid shoes have grown in popularity to appeal to a wider outdoorsy audience because of the versatility, comfort, and support they provide. Let’s not forget the cool looks.
Because approach shoes are widely used as everyday shoes, some may doubt their technical performance. Yet, these shoes come with a super-grippy rubber outsole you’ll need to stick to slippery rock and keep your balance on uneven trails. They often have an adjustable fit with laces extending to the toe.
Finally, most approach shoes also come with a so-called climbing zone on the outsole. This is a smooth rubber at the toe, for increased precision and edging capability.
How to pick the right ones?
The first thing you need to know when purchasing approach shoes is that you should not size them like regular climbing shoes. This may sound like a good idea for climbing 5th class rock, but your feet are definitely going to need more comfort while you are approaching. Or you’ll regret it before you even start climbing.
Then again, if you size your approach shoes too large, it can reduce your performance, especially in steeper and rockier terrain. This is why you should opt for the middle ground. You’ll need a mid-weight sock, not too thick, to size the shoe so that it provides great comfort and leaves no room for forwarding movement.
To check the comfort level of the shoe, try moving your toes and feet in the shoe. Simulate the motion your feet do while climbing. If you feel like there is not enough control, you should size them down and focus on comfort as your primary goal.
If you’re more into hiking, you know that you need cushioned, supportive, and grippy shoes. But standard hiking boots may not be that great after the hike. This is when approach shoes step in. They’re similar to both hiking boots and rock-climbing shoes, made for those who need to get across rugged rocky trails to start climbing. But without lugging heavy climbing boots up the cliff.
So, how do you choose the right footwear that will be both comfortable and with the technical performance to keep you safe?
Different styles of approach shoes
Due to their trendiness and features of technical climbing shoes, approach shoes make and a superb hybrid between hiking and everyday footwear. Still, approach shoes come with different features, including non-marking rubber or waterproofing for wet climates. To find the best options for your type of activity, you should consider these features. But most importantly, make sure you pick the shoe that fits your foot.
Among the variety of available models, there are basically a few styles of approach shoes to consider. The key factors you need to be aware of when picking the shoes include material, weight, profile, and fit. They’re typically classified as all-around, climbing, cragging, and mountain shoes. To simplify the process, we’ll classify them as:
- Light and Fast
- Bad Weather
All-around approach shoes
These shoes are a perfect hybrid of hiking and climbing shoes in that they provide both comfort and climbing ability. There are different types of approaches and it may be challenging to pick the right shoe that works for each one of them. All-around shoes are light enough to carry during the climb, but with significant support. This Is why both guides and experts pick them as everyday workhorses. The best shoes in this category include Five Ten Guide Tennie, La Sportiva TX3, and Garmont Dragontail LT.
All-around shoes hike and climb extraordinary well, but some of them may lack breathability.
Light and fast approach shoes
If your primary concerns are pack size and weight, you should pick the shoes that fall within this category. Big hiking shoes may be a great choice for the approach, but you may regret the extra weight while you climb. If you opt for this type of approach shoes, some of the best picks include La Sportiva TX2 and Scarpa Iguana.
These shoes are typically compressible, lightweight and you can easily attach them to a harness. Yet, they may lack durability and their edging ability may be limited by their flexibility.
Bad weather approach shoes
Avid climbers know that there are as many types of approaches as you can think of. Some of them are wet or snowy and you’ll need proper shoes for these conditions. If you want to buy approach shoes that perform great in bad weather, the models to consider are Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX and La Sportiva TX4 Mid GTX.
Bad weather approach shoes are typically supportive, durable, and waterproof. The downside of these shoes is that they may be bulky and uncomfortable in easy terrain.
Fashionable approach shoes
While good looks may not be your primary concern on a climbing/hiking trail, climbers do like to look good. Having sticky rubber on your feet may not be an actual fashion statement, but if you’re keen on fashion, Evolv Cruzer Psyche or Evolve Cruzer Classic may just be the right choice. They’re great for those buying on a budget, lightweight, and with good climbing ability. However, they have a relatively thin sole and are not durable.
Can you climb in approach shoes? – final takeaways
The incredible versatility of approach shoes often remains overlooked when picking climbing gear. However, this does not make them less crucial than other pieces of your gear. From the first commercial approach shoes (Five Ten Guide Tennie), approach shoes have become the regular product line for most climbing-shoe brands.
For rock climbers and those who do a lot of technical walking and scrambling, the best choice would be climbing-focused footwear. This is due to a sticky rubber, stiffer sole, and performance fit. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for footwear fit for comfortable walking and light scrambling, you’ll need a softer, less specialized alternative.
Approach shoes combine the features of hiking shoes, climbing shoes, and even mountaineering boots. This incredibly versatile piece of gear provides stability and traction on rock. But, there’s also a high level of comfort on the trail.