11 Best Approach Shoes of 2020 [Reviews & Buying Guide]

Best Approach Shoes

For the longest time, footwear was not very specialized.  Only in the 80s and 90s did shoes truly start to get more and more tailored toward you.  One such pair has helped out climbers tremendously: that of approach shoes.  In the days of old, pre-1990s, the choices were clear and simple, albeit not exactly what you needed.  You had the option to either have a pair of hiking shoes or a pair of climbing shoes.  Those were the two choices you had.  There was no gray area to be had, and this caused some consternation.  What you need was something that could help you climb up using small footholds.  But you didn’t want to have to sacrifice comfort when you are on a long hike.  These two needs ended up producing the approach shoe, which is the subject of our buying guide today.  We’ll inform you of all you need to know before we review some of the top pairs.  So, let’s get to climbing!

Top Approach Shoes Comparison Chart

ProductMaterialPriceWhere to Buy?
1. Adidas Outdoor Men’s Ax2 Hiking ShoesTextile$$$Check Price On Amazon
2. Vasque Men’s Juxt Multi Sport ShoesSuede Leather$$Check Price On Amazon
3. Scarpa Men’s Mojito Casual ShoesLeather$$$$Check Price On Amazon
4. Scarpa Men’s Gecko Approach ShoesLeather$$$$Check Price On Amazon
5. La Sportiva TX4 Approach ShoesLeather$$$Check Price On Amazon
6. Vasque Men’s Grand TraverseLeather & Textile$$Check Price On Amazon
7. La Sportiva Men’s Boulder X Approach ShoesLeather$$Check Price On Amazon
8. Scarpa Men’s Crux Approach ShoesSuede & Textile$$$Check Price On Amazon
9. Five Ten Men’s Access Mesh Approach ShoesSynthetic$$$Check Price On Amazon
10. Evolv Zender Men’s Approach ShoesLeather$$Check Price On Amazon

Approach Climbing Shoes Buying Guide

What is the “Approach?”

Some people reading this may not be sure what is meant by ‘approach,’ so it would be wise to clear that up before we get into the meat of the guide.  The approach is the hiking that happens before an upward climb.  While all climbing shoes are made, generally, with both hiking and climbing in mind, approach shoes do differ by taking a look at how they can eliminate added weight placed upon you.  So, an approach shoe is going to be lighter and give you a bit more energy over the long trek, as well as being more flexible and allowing for slightly more freedom of movement when compared with heavier and stiffer shoes.

Figuring Out What You Need

A big part of your success, or lack thereof, when climbing is going to depend on your footwear.  And ultimately that is going to come down to how well you can evaluate yourself and the climate around you.  You can have the best pair of shoes ever made, but if they are of no use where you are at, then they won’t be doing you a whole lot of good.  To get a grasp on what you need, you need to take a long, hard look at where you are headed.  Is the hike or is the climb harder?  If the hike is long and the rock is not going to be that difficult for you to climb, then you will want something that is geared more toward the hike.  If the rock is going to be tough to climb, then you want more of a climbing type shoe, especially if the hike will not be a particularly long one.  Climbing is very specialized, and just like that, you can find approach shoes that are fit and made for you and your intricacies.  They are not all the same, and that can and will help you reach your goals and do so in a more efficient and comfortable manner.

Shoe Stiffness

After you determine what kind of climbing you are going to be doing, then you need to settle on how stiff you want the shoes to be.  In order to successfully traverse climbs time and time again, you are going to want to have a pair of shoes that have a stiff sole to them.  When you have this, it’s much easier to dig into the rock and to gain a nice, strong foothold.  When you don’t have this, it is going to be harder to do this, especially for a long time.  With that being said, you can also argue against stiffness in the shoes if you are on long hikes.  Those long hauls are going to be torturous with a stiff sole that doesn’t allow a whole lot of flexibility.  It will get uncomfortable after a while, and you’ll be wishing you had something a little (OK, a lot) less extreme on your feet.  Also, remember that you have to factor in how much weight you are carrying with you as well.  If you have a backpack, that’s only adding to the workload being placed on your stiff soles, so that has to be accounted for, too.

Breathability

One of the things that definitely separates approach shoes from the shoes of old, and many of the others still on the market, is that they seek to give you a lot of airflow.  Breathability refers to how much air can be let in and the amount of sweat that is able to escape.  If you have ever had a pair of shoes on that made you feel super hot in your feet, or ones that made sweat pool up in there, you’ll know what this is all about.  You just want to take them off in a hurry, but you can’t because you need that protection.  You end up suffering through the day, hotter than all get out and heavier, too, seemingly because of all of that additional weight being placed upon.  If you are going to be hiking on a long, hard day, then you certainly need to have something breathable.  Without it, you are going to be running hot and will not be very happy with the results.

Durability

The durability of a pair of shoes depends on a whole lot of factors.  Many people assume that it’s all about materials.  While materials are a very big factor, it does extend much further than just that.  But we will start there, anyway.  Materials, especially in the upper, are going to have a very big say in how long your shoes last.  Unfortunately for you, breathable shoes do come at a price.  Those made with mesh are just not going to hold up as long.  Leather is the preferred choice for durability, but the trade-off there is going to be a lack of breathability.  That’s just the way it is and you can’t have it all, so you will have to settle for one or the other.  With that being said, shoes have progressed greatly over the years, and many companies are now using a more durable mesh that has been ‘reinforced.’  There are all sorts of techniques to make them last longer, giving you a nice mix of breathability and durability.  The way the materials are constructed also matter a great deal.  If you have great materials and haphazardly throw them together, you will not have a whole lot of use for them.  So, the use of good sewing or paneling is important.  Lastly, the durability will depend on how much you use the shoes and how well you use them.  Some people are much rougher on their shoes than others, so that’s one way that you may affect the durability.  Wearing them for things other than what they are intended for is also a good way to ensure they don’t last as long, too.

Waterproofing

To waterproof or not to waterproof, that is the question.  This is all going to, once again, depending on the individual and what he or she wants and needs.  Having waterproof shoes can be a huge helper to you some days, obviously.  When it’s pouring out, some shoes just shrivel up and don’t do so well.  Others will be so ridiculously wet that they never, ever seem to dry out properly.  Plus, your socks get drenched and they make you feel terrible.  When it’s cold, this can cause sickness and other awful conditions that can seriously and negatively impact your health.  It’s not something you want to mess around with, so waterproof shoes can be nice to have.  The way that most shoes in this market combat this is by using Gore-tex technology.  This technology has been massive in the world of outdoor sports for years now at keeping wearers warm and dry.  Of course, there are naturally going to be some negatives to go along with it.  With this, you do have to put up with added weight being applied to the shoes.  It may not seem like much, but if you are climbing or hiking for hours, then it will add up and make you feel more tired.  It’s also more expensive than other materials since it is such a specialty product.

The other thing you have to think about is breathability.  If you have a breathable shoe, there are holes built-in.  This isn’t so good if you are looking to curb the flow of water into your shoes.  Unfortunately, there are no examples of approach shoes, at the moment, that is able to give you both.  Some shoes out there in other segments of the shoe market are able to do this, but even then it’s a tenuous and difficult relationship to have to toe the line with.  There seems to be no great middle ground, but the closest you can come to find that would be to look for good synthetic leather, since it is more breathable than normal leather but can have Gore-tex as well.

Comfort

We’re all different, so this is sure to be something that differs for all of us.  With that said, at the end of the day, comfort is extremely important and is not to be overlooked.  Comfort has many components to it.  It can be your fit, more on that below, or it can just be the way that the shoes are made.  They could use very rough and coarse materials, and that could give you a lot of irritation.  They may not be breathable enough for you, or possibly there aren’t flexible enough.  Anything that can throw you off by taking your mind off what you are doing is naturally going to be something you want to avoid.  When you look at approach shoes, you have to take a long, hard, holistic look at the entire picture with comfort, that way there is no one piece of the puzzle that isn’t complete.  A couple of things we have not discussed include the support and cushioning.  The invention of EVA in shoes has been massive over the years, and it’s allowed them to be lighter and offer more support.  Look for this material in the midsole of the shoes if you want added support to them.  Also, cushioning is worth a mention as well.  No one wants to have those rough edges we talked about above, and you can make doubly sure you don’t have them if there is adequate padding around.  Padding under the tongue and on the heel collar (where the back of your footrests) is ideal for making you feel just a tad bit plusher and like you are at home, helping you to concentrate on the task ahead instead of thinking about your feet hurting.

Rands

One thing that should not be failed to mention here is what are known as ‘rands.’  This may be a totally foreign word to you if you are new to climbing, but if you have been involved for a while you will know and understand its importance.  Rands are built into shoes in order to give you more protection.  The way that this is typically done is in the toes, where they will help you from stubbing your toes.  If you have ever done so much as a walk on a trail before, you’ll know all too well that it is very easy to hit your toes on objects that may not be easy to see.  While climbing and hiking, this is also a problem that could arise.  On top of simple toe protection, a rand can also be very useful in giving you traction upfront.  Some rands even go above and beyond their call of duty and will extend all over the shoes.  The larger the rand is, the more durability will come from it.  It will also perform better for you when climbing.  However, there is a drawback.  And that’s that fully encompassing rands are going to make you less breathable and will also weigh you down more.  So you do have some give and take to be aware of and account for.  Most shoes made for the approach are going to have them, it’s just a question of how big they are going to be and how much they will protect.

Weight

We have talked some about factors that influence the weight of the shoes, but we haven’t delved fully into the topic as of yet itself.  So, this is the section where we will do that.  The first and most vital rule of thumb for weight is that you have to remember that you will be carrying it for a very long time in some cases.  Just because you can handle that weight right off the bat does not mean that you will be able to do so for an extended, prolonged period of time.  That’s very much something you have to consider.  You also want to make sure that the additional weight that is added to a pair of shoes has some great benefit to you.  If you are going to have to essentially carry three extra ounces around all day, on both feet, you want to see that it produces something for you in turn.  If the weight is virtually useless and you don’t feel like it’s an improvement on your life, then you need to forget about that pair and move on.  By the same token, you don’t want to just settle for a pair of super-light shoes just because you don’t want to lug any weight around.  Super light shoes seem like a good idea on the face of it, but they can get you into major trouble if they don’t have features that are necessary for you to complete your journey with.  So many shoes will leave out big-time needs in order to reduce the weight, and that is not something you’ll want to get involved with.

Getting the Right Fit

You can’t have a good pair of shoes for anything without first getting the right fit.  Without it, you are going to be uncomfortable and will be begging to get out of the shoes as soon as you can.  They’ll soon be left to rot in the closet, such is their lack of use to you any longer.  Here are a few tips and tricks to take a look gander at as you attempt to make the most out of your day on the mountains and hills.

– Approach shoes should lean more toward the snug side of things.  Hardly any shoes should be worn that are too big, and it’s definitely not encouraged to do so with a pair of approach shoes.  The reason you want a relatively snug pair is so that you don’t have any slippage whatsoever inside the shoes.  If this takes place, then you can get injured very badly.  If not, your performance will certainly be hindered and you’ll be held back some.

– Sizing is not something that is uniform.  This is a fact that way too many people do not realize.  Your Nike tennis shoes you have been wearing for the last ten years do not correlate to everything.  This means you have to be extra vigilant to make sure you have the best size you can get.

– To get the best size, look at individual sizing charts from each brand at hand.  You do not want to pick a brand that is totally unknown to you and just assume your ‘normal’ size will work.  There are certain climbing shoe brands that are known for being very cramped in the toes.  So if you don’t account for that, you’ll either be sending them back or you’ll be a rather unhappy climbing customer.

– Tailor your sizing to your own needs and where you’ll be heading.  If you know that the climbing portion of your journey isn’t all that extended or taxing, then you might want to turn to a more relaxed fit of the shoes.  But if you are climbing, you definitely will want something that is a little bit snugger on your foot so that you will have the support and extra torque without the worry of slipping.

– Swelling is a major component.  There are so many people out there that don’t take all of their settings into account when trying to find their size.  One thing you often see forgotten is that their feet swell. As with any prolonged activity, the feet and ankles will swell up over time.  This can get extremely uncomfortable if you do not try to factor it into the equation at hand.  If you do try on shoes in-store, or if you do so for the first time when you get them delivered, just make sure to try them on after doing something active.  This way the blood is flowing and you get a much better idea of how they will feel when you are active.  Again, you may want to adjust this according to what you are geared toward more: climbing or hiking.

– Also, do the same thing with your socks.  So many people forget to so much as think about this.  The socks you wear are super important, just about as vital as the shoes you happen to wear.  But by not wearing the same socks when trying on your shoes as you will be wearing when you climb, you are doing yourself a huge disservice.  You are going to end up with sore feet or ill-fitting shoes if you do so.  You don’t want to have a super thick pair on when trying them on just to turn to a thin pair later on during your journey.  That just doesn’t make much sense at all, does it?

– Don’t leave out width.  Some shoes are going to run very, very narrow, especially in hiking and climbing shoes, so you need to be aware of that.  If you see a review, such as our or someone else’s, indicate as much during your own research make sure to factor that into the mix.  You may need to pick something else or just go up a half a size or a whole one.  It really just depends on what you need and what the feedback is like.

– When trying them on, give them a go using the stairs.  Go up and down them a little bit.  This will give you a much better understanding of how they feel on you when you are going into the climb or on a hike since the ground isn’t just level all the way around like it would be at the store or in your home.

The Top 11 Approach Shoes of 2019 Reviews

  1. Adidas Outdoor Men’s Ax2 Hiking Shoes

Kicking off our list here is a good pair of shoes that are more driven toward the hike rather than the climb but nonetheless can be referred to as approach shoes. These shoes have a midsole that is laced with EVA to give long term support and cushioning and have a sockliner that molds to the foot, all of which will increase your comfort tremendously. The soles have a very good, high traction rubber to them which will help give you grip in less than ideal conditions.  They also have lugs to help you navigate various terrains, too, should you encounter that.  With a toe guard upfront, you will be kept protected to a degree from stubbing your toe and getting niggling injuries and pains.  These are some of the lighter approach shoes you will see, so if you are climbing a lot, you’ll want to avoid them.  But their comfort makes them great on the hike, so that’s why they make the top here.

Pros:

  • All day comfort
  • Great for longer hikes and small climbs
  • Lugs and excellent traction
  1. Vasque Men’s Juxt Multi Sport Shoes

If you want a combination of approach with hiking shoes, then these are the ones to go with. The Juxt has a sole that is made to help you go ‘off the grid,’ utilizing patterns beneath and lugs on the sides to provide grip and traction wherever the trail takes you. With a strong toe guard built into the front, you’ll have protection and be able to grab onto rocks just a bit better than most.  In the midsole, there are a couple of agents at play.  One of them is EVA, which will help give you the cushioning you need without weighing you day too much.  Then, you have the TPU plate, which adds stability and solidity to the mix.  This will help lock you in and give you a feeling of security.  These are made to be super durable, using suede leather.  This, though, will not be the best choice for breathability, unfortunately.

Pros:

  • Protective and great traction
  • Strong, supportive midsole
  • Very durable
  1. Scarpa Men’s Mojito Casual Shoes

If you want something that will help you on the climb and on the hike and to be stylish in a ‘groovy,’ outside of the box way, then these shoes will be the ones for you. These look like bowling shoes, already causing them to stand out. Apart from that, though, they do have a use on your journey.  They have two layers of EVA cushioning foam in the midsoles, giving you plenty of cushion and support.  With all of that lacing to them, they look strange, but it does serve the purpose of giving you more adjustability and being supported from the top, which make the pressure more even throughout the shoes.  On the bottoms, they use the Vibram Spyer compound, which does what it sounds like: gives excellent traction to the wearer.  There is even a toe cap to them, too, which further demonstrates that these are not just ‘casual,’ shoes as the name or looks might indicate.

Pros:

  • Laces bring support
  • Great traction via Vibram
  • Supportive and cushioned
  1. Scarpa Men’s Gecko Approach Shoes

Scarpa immediately comes back onto the list with a much more conventional look for an approach shoe here. These shoes are made to be light yet supportive on the climb and can also help you on the hike as well. The upper uses suede, emphasizing comfort and durability by giving you a strong material and a bit of flexibility at the same time.  The toe has a rand to it, though it does not extend all the way around, making these lighter as a result, all the while helping them resist abrasions and helping you get a grip in that area.  The laces also go all the way to the toes, though the design isn’t as off putting as the previous Scarpa was!  With EVA in the midsole for cushioning and even some visible units in the heel, you can definitely tell that these were made with more than just one singular purpose in mind.

Pros:

  • Durable and flexible
  • Strong toes but light
  • Cushioned heels and midsoles
  1. La Sportiva TX4 Approach Shoes

We have seen some lighter weight approach shoes so that’s not a surprise, but what this one does differently than the others so far is that it uses an extremely low cut to them in the heels. This makes them easier for you to maneuver in and lighter as well, since you don’t have that weighting you down and pushing into you. Made from leather in the upper and laced with Gore-tex, these shoes are made to be super durable while still giving you breathability, remarkably.  The upper wraps the foot as well, helping to deliver more stability and comfort by giving you a more precise fit that serves climbing and hiking well.  The soles utilize Vibram’s megagrip, which will help you be safer on the move by helping you come to a stop and then starting back up again safely.  The toes are wide as well, contrary to many of their offerings, which do happen to run fairly small, so that is a welcome sight for many to see.

Pros:

  • Wide toe box
  • Super durable shoes
  • Excellent grip and support
  1. Vasque Men’s Grand Traverse

The word traverse has a certain connotation to it, and these shoes from Vasque certainly hold up to it well with these shoes, which will help you do just that. They are good for specific types of climbing, but they are extremely adept at hiking for very long periods of time. This is because they have utilized materials here that help give you the best of both worlds in terms of durability and breathability.  We haven’t seen a ton of breathable pairs here so far, but these have it via the sides, which have mesh to them.  The durability comes in at the upper, which is mainly synthetic leather.  This helps them to be resistant to water and flexible, too.  The sole is quite chunky, so you get a lot of protection and support from it but it does cost you a bit with the weight.  Not only do you have a guarded toe but you also have a heel ‘lock’ in the back to help reduce the likelihood of blisters, a definite must-have if you are going to be on your feet all day long.

Pros:

  • Great for long hikes
  • No blistering
  • Quite breathable

Cons:

  • A tad bit heavy
  1. La Sportiva Men’s Boulder X Approach Shoes

One of the longest lasting companies on the market, La Sportiva makes it way back to the list here with the Boulder X, a great choice in terms of value and function as well. These shoes do come at the cost of being heavier and being more bulky than many of their counterparts, but they don’t do so for no reason at all. They have insoles that are engineered to be super comfortable, Vibram soles to help you with your grip, and a lacing system (Mythos) that helps them to have a ton of adjustability and comfort.  They use leather up top on the upper, promoting that over the cause of breathability.  The soles deserve more talk, too, since they are exceptionally good at helping you come to a halt when you are walking, no matter what the weather conditions are like at the time.  Many also like that they feel like a glove, so that’s a big plus, too!

Pros:

  • Great value for the money
  • Super durable
  • Stops on a dime

Cons:

  • Heavier than many
  1. Scarpa Men’s Crux Approach Shoes

One of the main pluses that you’ll find with the Crux model is that these shoes are absolutely awesome at giving you both comfort and absorbing shocks each time you change footholds. This doesn’t seem like much, but if you multiply that out over the course of a long, hard day on the climb, it really does add up and help you retain energy. The upper is made out of suede and synthetics, which is going to help increase durability while helping give you some much-needed flexibility while on the move.  There are no pronounced lugs, making these better for the climb, but they still have good grip due to using a Vibram grip on the soles.  The laces, as you could guess, extend down to the toes, and the rand there works to keep you nice and safe all at the same time.

Pros:

  • Excellent shock absorber
  • Very durable
  • Top-level grip
  1. Five Ten Men’s Access Mesh Approach Shoes

If you are looking for something that doesn’t scream hiking or outdoors on it, and you just need a pair of shoes that will help you on long hikes and treks, then these are the ones for you. These are not made with the purpose of much climbing at all in mind, bu they are very useful for the approach, on flatter lands, due to the prevalence of mesh used in them. With it all around, these shoes are going to have extreme breathability, something the others on the list do not have the capability of boasting.  Even if they do emphasize being light, they still have a rand to protect the toes with and a lacing system that uses an ‘exoskeleton’ to make them more supportive over the entirety of the foot.  They may not look like climbing shoes, but they do have a sole that can help you with that, too, so that’s a nice bonus to have if you must.  Durability is an issue with these, so be aware of that.

Pros:

  • Looks like a sneaker
  • Tons of mesh for breathability
  • Very supportive lacing

Cons:

  • Not very durable
  1. Evolv Zender Men’s Approach Shoes

If you want a pair of shoes that are super comfortable and good for a wide range of things, then these are a good bet to go with. They are light, flexible, and freeing, which makes them awesome for long approaches. They are not the world’s best shoes for long, arduous climbs, as they are not sensitive enough to move ever so slightly when on tougher rocks, but they can help you through long hikes quite capably.  They try to make up for their lack of weight by giving you a full leather upper to help increase durability, making for an interesting dichotomy to be sure.  They even have a very soft micro EVA foam in the midsole to help give you comfort, support, and cushioning over the long haul.  They’re also one of the more affordable approach shoe options available on the market, so that’s something you’ll no doubt be looking into and having a think about.

Pros:

  • Very light shoes
  • Supportive leather upper and strap
  • Super affordable option

Cons:

  • Not great for climbing

Conclusion And Final Approach Shoes Recommendations

Finding the exact perfect pair of shoes for climbing is never the easiest task.  You have so, so much to consider.  And for those that are looking for a combination of traits, you seemingly have a harder time.  But that’s not the case with approach shoes.  They can give put an emphasis on one thing a little bit more than another, or they can give you a mixture of it all, such is their usefulness.  No longer do you have to throw your hands up in disappointment.  Instead, you can slip on a pair of approach shoes and get out there and get to having fun.  After our guide today, you’ll be informed about everything there is to know and will know where to begin your search.  So, get to it then, why don’t you?

FAQ’s About Approach Shoes

Can’t I Just Use Hiking Shoes?

The temptation will be there to just get a pair of hiking shoes, but that isn’t the best policy here at all, really.  Hiking shoes have the ankles fully covered, whereas approach shoes do not.  This seems like a very small difference, but those high sides will bind and restrict your climbing ability if you need to do.  Hiking shoes also weaken the ankles a bit, so you can have the bonus of working on your ankle strength a bit with them.  The added weight and pressure is going to tell after a period of time, so it’s just a good idea to go with an approach shoe during an approach and only pick a hiking shoe if you are… well… hiking.

Is a Heavier Shoe Better?

This is a question that will depend totally on what you like and feel you need.  If you are climbing a lot of rocks, then a little bit more weight is not going to be terrible since you have to have that support to get through it all.  Sure, you will have to bear through it if it’s a long day, but it can and will help you. Then again, it’s a negative, at least partially, if you have a long hike ahead of you and relatively flat ground with no climbs.  This type of adventure is best to be done in conjunction with a lighter shoe, since you’ll be freer, more flexible, and have more energy for the road ahead.

Can I Wear Them For Trail Running?

Technically, you could wear approach shoes for trail running, but you wouldn’t be the most comfortable doing so.  Shoes are made nowadays for very specific reasons, and companies have made them that way because they are best for those scenarios.  You can’t get the same usefulness out of everything.  With that being said, you can get a lot more durability out of approach shoes than most trail runners.  So if you didn’t mind a lack of performance, then you could end up finding yourself with a long lasting solution… if you want to be creative about it, that is.

What Else Can I Use Approach Shoes For?

Honestly, the extent of approach shoes should be using them for climbs and hikes.  That’s it.  If you are just wanting something to wear around or to have to show off to others, this is not it.  It’s not a hugely versatile shoe that can be used for anything, so it is best if you just use them for what they are supposed to be used for.

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