Toby Archer reviews some rough and tough approach shoes that are well-suited to UK terrain, with soles that grip both well on mud and grass and on dry, clean rock.
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Related UKC Forum discussions
Sticky soles are great when abbing down to collect gear from failed attempts!
TobyA, Sep 2012
© Toby Archer I suspect that most climbers wear 'approach shoes' (otherwise known as 'chunky trainers') perhaps once a week to approach where they're going climbing. 90% of the time I wear them for going to the shops, going to work, going for a stroll with kids and all the other bits of normal life where 'smart shoes' aren't required. I can definitely confirm that for all that 'normal' usage, the Evolv Capitans are perfectly fine. They even look quite cool to my mind, although they could lose the fake carbon fibre look to the heel stabilising insert*. But then most trainers are fine for all that, while still 'lookin' fly'. It's the other 10% - the walking to cliffs bit - where the Capitans go from being perfectly alright to bloody brilliant.
The Capitans look like they were halfway to evolving into hiking boots but found a environmental niche where they excelled, so stopped to inhabit it. Sort of hiking boots, sort of trainers; but what makes them work so well is the soles. Many approach shoes show their American heritage with friction based soles offering little in the way of tread. Great for hiking open expanses of granite or sandstone in California or Utah; kinda hopeless on a steep, wet hillside of grass, bracken and sheep poo in Cumbria or Gwynedd. The Capitans have a lugged sole that bites into mud well. The edge of sole is a nice right angle, just the thing you want for edging into the muck that fills the back of so many descent gullies - invariably way more frightening than the climb you've just done.
The own-brand Evolv Trax rubber, when you actually get out of the mud and onto clean rock, is impressive sticky. I've never owned a pair of Evolv shoes before, so can't comment on their rock shoes, but this Trax rubber is really impressively good on hiking shoes. The Capitans feel noticeably stickier than other trainers and approach shoes I've used down the years including a couple of pairs of 5.10s with Stealth rubber soles.
"Many approach shoes show their American heritage with friction based soles offering little in the way of tread. Kinda hopeless on a steep, wet hillside of grass, bracken and sheep poo in Cumbria or Gwynedd."
The uppers are leather; nice and firm and plenty water resistant. They have no waterproof lining, which is great for me because liners invariably make my feet disgustingly sweaty. The leather kept water and mud out on wet days, but the shoes were still perfectly comfortable on some of the hottest days of the summer. They have a gusseted tongue that keeps gravel and mud out, but being just mesh, not water. Don't walk in deep puddles and you'll have dry feet but don't expect them to keep water out like a full leather hiking boot.
Many lightweight and ultra-light backpackers are now using superlight fell or trail shoes that offer no waterproofing at all. I find this great in summer, particularly if you are on dry, non-muddy trails. But add in some mud and water, or cooler temperatures, and I'll happily take the few hundred grammes extra of the Capitans rather than spend the day with soggy socks. And as soon as it gets rough and rocky, particularly walking on scree, the Capitans really come into their own providing loads of protection to your feet in comparison to trainers or fell shoes.
Evolv Capitan Approach Shoes
I've had the shoes for less than two months, but have worn them most days during that time and they still look as new. I can't promise they'll last for years, but durability looks really good. I always worry that high friction soles made with climbing rubber wear away quickly, but so far the soles on Capitans are showing no signs of wear. It's worth noting that Evolv have used basic laces (that go down to the toe allowing a tight fit when necessary) that go through metal reinforced holes. Having either ripped out plastic eyelet or cut through webbing loops for laces in the past on at least North Face, Montrail and Sportiva shoes or boots that I can remember, I've come to the conclusion, simple laces and metal eyelets are the way to go if you want years of usage out of your shoes.
Sometimes in the UK (and here in Finland) proper walking boots or, indeed, wellies are what you really need for getting to cliffs with dry feet. But as approach shoes go, the Capitans seem great for British conditions. They have the best sole for walking in muddy, wet conditions of any approach shoe I've owned, whilst at the same time remaining impressively sticky on clean dry rock. They might not climb as well as the most climbing-oriented approach shoes, but then you are far more likely to avoid the embarrassing falling-on-your-bum-in-the-mud cliche as you slither back down the hill from the crag!
At 90 quid, the Evolv Capitans aren't cheap, although they are very much in the same ballpark as similar shoes from the other manufacturers. But, with the proviso that the shoes continue to wear as well as they have so far, I think the Capitans are the best approach shoe I've used for getting to cliffs in wet and muddy Northern Europe - while still looking fine for all your non-climbing activities during the rest of the week.
*if it really is carbon fibre, then my humble apologies to Evolv!
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