Whether you’re heading out for your first scramble, a long mountain hike or a multi pitch climb, we believe the right approach shoe is an essential piece of kit for the aspiring or seasoned scrambler.
From budget models to the best in class, we stomp our way through the best approach shoes money can buy in 2021.
The Low Down
What is an approach shoe?
Approach shoe care
Our approach shoe picks
Best overall approach shoe
Best budget shoe
Best lightweight approach shoe
Best for technical scrambles
Best shoe for mountainous terrain
Best approach shoe for the pub
What is an Approach Shoe?
Approach shoes, a bit like scrambling are a hybrid affair, combining characteristics of walking boots and climbing shoes into one. An ideal approach shoe will be robust, giving good foot and ankle support like a hiking boot but also have a snug fit and excellent traction similar to a climbing shoe. Getting the right blend of all these characteristics should enhance your scrambling experience, even on the toughest terrain.
Rather confusingly the purpose of an approach shoe is not just to use them on the approach to a climb or scramble, but to allow varying degrees of hiking, technical climbing and scrambling.
The best approach shoes are likely to feature a rubber toe cap (rand), sticky rubber bottom, low ankle cut height and a breathable or waterproof upper.
Historically the approach shoe was only adopted by the climbing fraternity and would generally be used on the walk to or ‘the approach’ of climbing areas such as crags or cliffs before commencing a day of climbing. Fast forward several decades and approach shoes have gained popularity with scramblers and hikers alike.
Ironically just as a portion of outdoor folk are moving away from heavy, old, high ankle boots towards hiking shoes, many who already made the jump are now going further and switching to approach shoes.
With updated designs and so many iterations of a similar type of shoe, the difficulty for the buyer is actually what defines a walking shoe, trail runner or approach shoe? Regardless of what class your footwear falls into, approach shoes offer plenty of additional benefits over other outdoor shoe types and picking the right pair based on your outdoor goals will give you the best chance of finding the optimal mix of comfort, weight, support and grip for your scramble, hike or climb.
If your climb and/or scramble incorporates short, easy walks to the location then you can wear whatever you like. However, for reasonable hikes, crazy multi-pitch adventures, or substantial treks into the mountains, approach shoes are an essential piece of kit to have in your outdoor adventure locker.
Grouping Approach Shoes
Climbing and scrambling are constantly evolving and with it approach shoes have had to keep up. Because of this each pair will have distinct characteristics that drop it into a specific category or class of shoe. These are generally broken down into: All-Round, Climbing, Scrambling, and Mountain.
All-around approach shoes are designed to get you through a mix of outdoor terrain to where you want to climb and/or scramble. They should all provide good comfort, support and give excellent grip on wet terrain and rock.
The key thing to look for here are the all-rounders that also perform well on technical rock and incorporate the scrambling features into their design.
These shoes come in synthetic and leather versions so you can decide what is more important to you, durability or breathability. Last but not least is weight. If you have to hump these shoes up a big old climb it’s worth checking out the lighter options available which are described below.
These shoes are significantly more comfortable than a standard climbing shoe and more accurate than the usual approach shoe. The items in the scrambling category favour technical-rock performance. As they are packed with features usually found on a climbing shoe they can lack comfort, support and traction across other terrain types. If you are looking for a single shoe to rule them all, this isn't the right bracket for you. However for the purposes of scrambling and if budget allows, having two pairs of shoes; a comfortable all-rounder or mountain shoe in addition to a scrambling shoe would give you the best of all worlds and open up pretty much all types, locations and seasons of scrambling available to you.
If you’re planning on hitting Snowdonia, The Lakes, The Peak District, Scotland or most areas during the winter months, you’ll want an approach shoe that can handle snow and changeable terrain. The best performers in the all-round category will get the job done in most instances, but a dedicated mountain shoe will give better stability, protection and waterproofing. Anyone wishing to hike and scramble in the snow may wish to use strap-on crampons and you will definitely need a mountain approach shoe for that purpose. We only have one mountain shoe listed in our review but we would also recommend - La Sportiva TX4 Mid and the La Sportiva Trango Tech GTX.
Oddly this category is not overly relevant for the scrambler, more the climbing enthusiasts but it is still an important differentiation. Climbers going to a crag or bouldering area will generally only require a short walk to their destination followed by a day of climbing, usually in one place. Essentially once you reach your destination you just want a comfortable shoe to chop and change through the day with your climbing shoes.
For this reason the approach shoes in the climbing category are of a casual nature and generally have a knit or canvas upper to make taking them on and off an easy operation. Also a bonus to these shoes is that they are perfectly capable of managing bouldering and easy rock climbs without the need for dedicated climbing shoe.
These types of shoes also come into their own on multi-pitch climbs when the climber wants a light shoe to carry up the climb to use on the descent back down.
Waterproof or Breathable?
Most climbers or scramblers do so when it is dry and warm and for that reason breathability is usually more desirable than waterproofing. If you don't fall into that category and are likely to undertake some river/stream crossings, waterfall scrambles or during rain or snow then you may want to consider waterproofing. The downside to this is that the extra layers required for waterproofing add weight to the shoe and also wipe out breathability. If this is essential criteria we would recommend the Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX featured below or the waterproof variation of the TX4, the La Sportiva TX4 Mid GTX
Also worth considering is the use of synthetic materials for approach shoe uppers, models like the La Sportiva TX2 and Black Diamond Technician listed below offer virtually no water resistance but their synthetic uppers wick water really well and don’t get heavy when wet. Therefore they also dry out really quickly after getting drenched. For us that makes approach shoes with a synthetic upper a good choice in summer when getting wet feet isn’t a safety concern. As an added bonus, the La Sportiva TX2 is also one of the most breathable shoes on the market.
Most shoes in the scrambling category are made to fit snugly so that you can feel your terrain. This aids more accurate and confident foot placements for scrambling. Conversely shoes in the all-round category will fit more like a hiking boot, allowing toes to move a little and also providing space for feet to swell after a long haul out on the trail.
Nearly all approach shoes have a to-the-toe, lacing design which allows you to give more or less room depending on what you are doing. This means you need to size the shoe comfortably i.e. slightly larger in most cases. All models size differently, ake for example La Sportivas TX4 are recorded as being ‘rather wide’ and on the flip side a lot of experienced climbers/scramblers will tell you that Scarpa are usually smaller than most other brands.
Giving Your Shoe Some Love
None of the approach shoes we have listed are cheap and we want to keep them as good as new for as long as possible. Listed below are a few things that can be done to extend their life and retain their performance.
Your approach shoes will likely go through some grim terrain in their life and all the mud, sand and water thrown in or at them can accumulate quite quickly. Personally we give them a spray down with some water as soon as we get back from our trip out. If you have encountered a dreaded bog or some other form of vile filth then running under a tap and removing debris with lukewarm water is a good option but remember to take the insoles out first! Under no circumstances should you dry them directly on a heat source like a radiator, we guarantee this will ruin the rubber, coatings and/or synthetics in the shoe. On that note, don't you dare put them in the washing machine either! Best option is to stuff with newspaper or kitchen roll, leave them on their side and do not put away until they are completely dry.
Even if the exterior has escaped the crossfire it's good practice to remove the insole and give the shoe a good tap. You'd be surprised how much dirt etc. can accumulate in there and also how much damage the barely visible particles can do to the shoe’s material.
Shoes with a leather upper should be treated with a leather conditioning/waterproofing product regularly. If not, it can absorb water making your boots heavier along with stretching and shrinking which will crack the leather and at that point it’s game over for the poor thing.
Best Overall Approach Shoe
1. La Sportiva TX4 (£117)
Category: All-Round & Scrambling
Pro’s: Market leading design has them at the top of nearly every approach shoe metric
Cons: Not ideal in scorching weather
La Spotiva’s TX range is loaded with options for every kind of scenario but of the plethora of awesome shoes in this range, the TX4 gets our vote as the best all-round approach shoe money can buy. The TX4 has been through many iterations and tweaks over the years but you will be hard pressed to find a list which does not rank them as numero uno, year after year. For us, the combination of support, weight and durability is what allows this shoe to attack a multitude of terrains and applications with ease. Whether it's climbing a sheer wall fully harnessed or humping all your gear over questionable terrain to a scrambling location, the TX4’s make mincemeat of them all. As with the rest of the TX range, the Vibram rubber feels like super glue on both hiking and scrambling routes alike. The TX4 has a slightly wider toe area than its younger counterpart the TX2, which lends itself to additional comfort particularly on a serious hike.
In the blazing summer months the leather upper can be less comfortable than the TX2’s mesh version but this comes at the expense of durability. The solid construction and harder materials employed by the TX4’s make them essentially bomb proof and allow genuine all year usage. Winter, spring, summer or fall means nothing to these all-weather, all-terrain goliaths of the approach shoe world.
A pair of TX4’s grace our climbing wardrobe and I can't think of a time when they have not performed beyond expectation, you quickly get complacent in that you just don't need to think about what to put on your feet each and every time you head for the outdoors.
If money allows and you plan to only own one pair of outdoor shoes which need to incorporate scrambling then the TX4’s simply cannot be beaten!
Best Budget Shoe
2. Evolv Cruzer Psyche (£68)
Category: Climbing Cross
Pro’s: Nearly as light as the TX2’s, canvas packs small and breathability is excellent
Cons: Limited use off climbs due to poor support and durability
The Evolv Cruzer Psyche is one of the best in class for climbing due to their foot hugging materials and excellent support. This shoe is well known in climbing circles for being one of the lightest and affordable shoes you can buy.
Cruzer Psyche’s would be on the money if you are looking to complete long multi pitch climbs that do not require significant approaches or descents. In essence this shoe will serve you incredibly well once you hit the bottom of the route and within a reasonable distance once you leave the climbing behind. The main difference between the Psyche and the classic Cruzer is a different last and additional padding that offers more support for longer approaches. That said, if you are planning a lengthy walk in or out, the Psyche is not the most practical footwear to select.
In a nutshell if you already own a reasonable pair of hiking or walking boots then for a budget price you can add this string to your scrambling bow for a minimal outlay and reap all the benefits this classic shoe provides.
Best Lightweight Shoe
3. La Sportiva TX2 (£95)
Category: Climbing Cross/All-Round
Pros: Lightweight, sensitive, phenomenal traction, technical excellence
Cons: Lightness negates a bit of support, not as durable as the rest of the tx range and a no go on muddy walking trails
The TX2 is our favourite shoe on this list by far and in any other circumstance we would have given it the top spot over its older sibling the TX4 but as an all-rounder it just gets pipped to the post.
At 560g a pair the TX2’s come in as the lightest shoe on the market with this spec and in combination with the patented cord system at the rear makes them easily transportable.
My TX2’s have taken a fair battering in varying conditions. My first impression was they look awesome but I’ll be replacing them sooner rather than later. Impressively after a quick scrub they still look brand new!
Now for us the real cous de twois of this shoe is its climbing credentials, only the TX4 of the other walking or hiking shoes on this list can compare. Strangely for such a light shoe the balance between performance on rock and rough terrain is usually an approach shoes downfall but this is where the TX2 really stands out. The classic lacing system and ‘climbing zone’ are more akin to La Sportiva’s climbing footwear which really do give these shoes the edge over their competition. One thing which is instantly noticeable is how much you can feel through the shoe, this allows the wearer to edge and smear with confidence on really tough terrain. The stock Vibram Megagrip sole is uber sticky which contributes to the shoes climbing prowess.
Comfort is an often-overlooked feature of these shoes, simply put they feel like the most comfortable trainers you have ever owned with the benefit of sticking to a multitude of surfaces like glue.
The TX2’s are as a lot of people put it, an ‘all-round weapon’ but only in dry weather conditions. Use these on a muddy, downhill walking trail and you’ll end up on your backside pretty quickly.
In summary if I’m planning on some ad-hoc climbing, taking on a mega multi pitch route or just going for a stroll in the nice weather the TX2 has become my shoe of choice.
Best Technical Scrambling Shoe
4. Black Diamond Technician (£90)
Pro’s: Outstanding on technical rock sections
Cons: Not your choice with comfort in mind
Black Diamond have a few different lines in the approach shoe market and the Technician as you probably guessed is their offering with scrambling at its core.
For complete transparency we would have given this award to the TX2’s but as it already bagged the best lightweight category we decided to let the runner up in on the action. That should not detract from the Technician’s prowess at all, it's just the TX2 is an otherworldly offering in our book.
The Technician ticks all the right boxes for a shoe aimed at technical scrambling.
Combine that with its reasonable price and that gives you an indication as to why it rose to the top in the Technical Shoe category. They feature a flat sole, dotted rubber forefoot and narrow toe box area to maximise performance on even the smallest of edges. We know plenty of people who swear by the knitted upper which is extremely breathable and hard wearing making them surprisingly robust.
So knowing the Black Diamond Technician has such climb focussed design it'll be no surprise that they do lack in the comfort department. Similar shoes like the Crux (see below) are far less stiff and the cushioned sole keeps a spring in your step, while the larger toe box gives far better protection to tired feet after a long day out on the trails.
However if you are looking for a shoe to get the job done on the scramble route and can keep hiking miles low, the Technician is a great addition to anyone’s shoe collection. They easily surpass the Five Ten Guide Tennie and other examples we have not listed here such as the pricier Scarpa Gecko.
Best Mountainous Shoe
5. Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX (£145)
Upper: Suede Leather
Pro’s: tank like qualities make them resilient and dependable almost anywhere
Cons: really narrow in comparison to similar shoes, very heavy
The Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX with its lavish Italian styling screams ‘mountain’ so loud I’m surprised it isn't tattooed all over its soles! Without looking too closely it is obvious these shoes were designed for tough mountain days. They feature a full rubber wraparound rand, an impressively spec’d Gore Tex membrane and the ultra-sticky Vibram sole. These characteristics all contribute to their mountain going credentials.
These are definitely the things you want on your feet if you plan on kicking snow, lunging over boulders or bog hopping. Even if you don’t actually fancy any scrambling (not sure why you’d be here?) they really do stack up as an excellent alpine boot in their own right.
One thing which is also abundantly clear as soon as you pick them up, I their weight, they are heavy. The most recent update to the ‘2’ model saw a 15% weight reduction which doesn't feel like a vast amount of difference when they still weigh in at a mighty 986g per pair (more than double the TX2’s). That said they are a whole different beast than their lightweight counterparts and the fact they are waterproof comes with a weight penalty. Putting it into context though, if you are hauling over Tryfan’s North Ridge in winter I know which approach shoe I’d be wearing!
In the right environment the Mountain Trainer 2 GTX is an absolute animal of a boot and you simply cannot beat its durability and protection.
Best Approach Shoe for the Pub
6. Five Ten - Guide Tennie (£80)
Pro’s: Excellent for technical climbing, classic design remains durable
Cons: Poor hiking credentials, no go on wet or slippery surfaces
The original Five Ten Guide Tennie’s are credited with leading the approach shoe category and even though the design has seen no major overhaul, they still remain a very popular shoe. In comparison to the fresh modern designs of the TX range or the
Black Diamond Technician, these start to feel like a bit of a throw-back.
As with the TX2’s, the Guide Tennie really excels on technical climbing routes. The bevelled toe and edging platform are more akin to climbing shoes than approach shoes and offer fantastic performance out on the rock. The great design on the toe box incorporating sticky rubber around and on top gives fantastic grip particularly when climbing cracks. That said we've made our feelings clear with the TX2’s and the Guide Tennies just aren't at that level. Its overwhelming rigidity when hiking is a bit of chore to walk in and the dotted rubber sole design is extremely poor on wet, slippy or icy rock and surprisingly just as poor when moving from rock to snow.
Although for £20 less than a lot of other approach shoes they will certainly float a lot of people’s boat. For us, paying that extra £20-£30 will get you something with better scrambling credentials and miles better performance for hiking in.
We’ve never owned an older pair of Guide Tennies but anecdotally we often hear that since being acquired by Adidas in 2011, quality has diminished significantly.
One positive thing, they still look like the ubiquitous Guide Tennies and their classic appearance isn't out of place away from the mountains hence the monika ‘Best Shoe for the Pub’.
7. Scarpa - Crux (£80)
Pro’s: Reasonably priced, good all-rounder and comfortable
Cons: Outsole lacks quality of other similar shoes
Scarpa’s Crux approach shoe gets an honourable mention purely because although we don’t put it at the top of any of the subcategories, it is an excellent option and is reasonably priced. This particular model is Scarpa’s highest selling and it is more than capable of performing well on the long hump to a crag but also getting up the majority of climbs you are likely to encounter. One particularly nice feature is the suede upper which gives the shoe a really solid fit.
The place where the Crux is lacking for us would be the outsoles, that isn't to say that the Megagrip compound used for them doesn't perform well; it's just that others do it better. Interestingly the tread is more prominent on the Crux than other similar approach shoes which gives reasonable smearing ability but decreased performance when edging. The upside of the tread design is that they do fly over softer terrain like mud, snow, soft grass etc.
For the money and knowing the Crux’s limitations we still feel they are a good purchase if you are looking for an all-round shoe with a reasonable price tag.
And that's a wrap, we told you it was a long one! Well hopefully we've given you some insight into what to look for in your next shoe and you never know, you might save a few pennies down the line as well.