With their fell running heritage, Walsh have taken a different direction to trail and approach shoes to that used by climbing shoe manufacturers. Essentially they've beefed up their lightweight fell running shoes and this has produced a range that works very well in the UK mountain environment.
Most climbing footwear companies now include 'approach shoes' in their ranges, with the general design featuring reasonably stiff, smoothish soles with beefed up fabric and leather trainer-style uppers. While this general design works brilliantly for the alpine terrain – rocky trails, via ferrata etc of their manufacturers' heartlands - they can sometimes struggle on UK mountain rock approaches where bogs, steep grass slopes, steep mud slopes and more bogs are a recurring theme.
Walsh's Spirit range all feature an almost completely studded fell running derived sole unit made from a soft sticky rubber compound (Walsh are rumoured to guard the secret of their rubber almost as jealously as climbing shoe makers). Above the sole is a compressed EVA foam midsole, topped off with a lightweight, all synthetic upper.
The range all have slightly different uppers. I tested the lightest version (oddly enough called the 'lite') which features a minimal reinforced mesh upper, with the other models giving options of a slightly more supportive upper, a waterproof/breathable lining or a high ankle. All except the low cut waterproof/breathable 'React' model feature a handy heel pull on loop which takes a krab for easy carrying on a harness. A removable footbed allows the use of custom orthotic footbeds if required.
How did they perform?
In short - brilliantly! Use has included lots of days in the mountains and crags, from evening raids through to a midsummer Lake District 'alpine day out' of ten routes on five mountain crags.
The studded sole gives excellent and reassuring grip on steep grass, mud and spring snow, and great friction on rock, though the sole will wear quickly if used lots around town or on roads. The midsole gives reasonable cushioning on paths and scree while remaining very light and flexible enabling the whole sole to contact and grip the ground on steep ups or downs. The uppers are very breathable and let the shoes drain and dry quickly.
Overall, their light weight (around 30% lighter than more conventional approach shoe designs) makes them great for moving quickly in the hills and carrying up long routes for the descent.
And how do they climb?
As mentioned previously, the sticky sole gives great friction on rock. Due to their flexibility the spirits don't edge as well as conventional stiffer 'rock-shoe' based designs but especially as the studs wear down a bit they smear very well. On scrambles and easy climbs (classic VDiffs and the like) they perform brilliantly, and on harder routes their lightness makes them easy to carry clipped to the harness for descent.
A different take on approach shoes with many advantages (light weight, quick drying, very grippy sole) for use in the UK mountains especially for fast moving days, long boggy approaches and crags where taking shoes up the route for descent is required.
MORE INFO: On the Walsh Website
I've been climbing for a bit over ten years, and am currently based in Edinburgh having escaped from the southern flatlands. Climbing highs include Scottish winter climbing, a couple of trips to the Alaska Range, classic alpine routes, sunny ski touring, cragging in the UK and abroad, and beers and craic in the pub afterwards. Lows include Scottish winter climbing, alpine bivies, base camp blues, midges and the UK weather... I guess I'd like to be a jack of all trades and I'm definitely a master of none, but most enjoy the great variety of climbing and look forward to trips back to old favourites and hopefully many new and different places.