Approach shoes are designed for both walking and, to an extent, climbing. Since the better they are at one, the worse they'll probably be for the other, any approach shoe is going to be a compromise. But that's not to malign their usefulness. Whether you're scrambling up to a hard-to-reach mountain crag, or out on a summer scramble or via ferrata, an approach shoe will be lighter and more nimble than a boot, yet more supportive and technically capable than a running shoe. With a good fit and a decent sole, it might even do you for easy multi pitch climbing.
In this group test our review team check out ten models from leading brands.
Our review criteria, sent to brands:
Shoes need to be comfy for all day use, perform well on technical rock, and provide grip on the typical UK mix of mud and wet grass. We are more interested in durability than lightness. Models with no waterproof lining preferred.
Look for a sole with a good grip on a broad range of terrain from rock and scree, to mud and steep wet grass. For the more technical ground, sticky rubber and a flat 'climbing zone' at the toe are essential. But for use in muddy Britain, aggressive lugs are also required. Some approach shoes, particularly those designed for a drier climate, have a flatter sole with a low-profile 'dotty' tread. While these soles offer loads of contact with the rock, they are less than ideal on wet ground, so for this UK-centric review we've marked these shoes down.
Support versus flexibility
Approach shoes tend to be stiffer than trail shoes, and this makes them both better able to hold an edge when scrambling, and more supportive underfoot when you're carrying a heavy crag pack. But even within this category there are marked variations in the amount of flex on offer. A softer shoe will feel more forgiving on the foot, and will tend to be better for smearing once you get onto slabby ground; on the other hand a more rigid shoe generally provides more protection and support, and offers a more secure platform when edging. Whether you go more for flex or stiffness is largely a matter of personal preference. We've tried not to make value judgements on the comparative stiffness/bendiness of the models on review here, but have noted which are better for edging and support, and which for smearing and a nimble-footed feel.
Different styles of upper each have their pros and cons. Leather is sturdy, but may not be quick drying; synthetic materials may be very breathable (particularly if there's a lot of mesh) but don't always offer the same levels of protection and longevity. The addition of a protective rand is a good idea, both for your feet and for the lifespan of the shoe.
Waterproof-lined, or unlined? We all have our preferences. The test team is evenly split between fans of waterproof-lined shoes in all situations, and those who would never wear waterproof shoes even in the rain. The obvious advantage of a lining is that you keep your feet dry when crossing boggy ground; the disadvantages include added cost and weight, a sweatier shoe in hot weather, and one that's far slower to dry if you do manage to flood it. We asked for unlined shoes in this review, but some were supplied with a GTX lining nonetheless. Where waterproof and non-waterproof versions of the same model are available we've noted it here.
While we are more concerned in this review with durability and performance than lightness, all else being equal a lighter shoe is clearly going to be preferable to a heavier one - especially once you change into rock shoes and clip your approach shoes to your harness. We have criticised the heaviest shoes for their weight, but not made weight a primary consideration when deciding which models to award a 'highly recommended'.
This is of paramount importance. We all have different feet, so not all shoes will fit every user equally well (to put it mildly). If a particular model is not a decent fit on you, personally, then it doesn't matter how good we've said it is - look elsewhere. This review should be a useful part of your shoe shopping process, but in the end there is no substitute for exhaustively trying on every make and model until you've found something that really works.
An approach shoe has to fit closely for climbing performance - you want a nice precise feel at the toe, and no heel lift when edging. At the same time it has to be comfy enough for long days and big distances on your feet. Most of the time you'll be walking in your approach shoes, after all, not climbing. Look for that ideal combination of sufficient width and volume at the toe to accommodate a bit of foot spread, plus a comfortable cuff that holds the heel snugly and firmly but without pressure on the achilles.
A good - albeit tough - question we've asked of these shoes is: could I comfortably traverse the Cuillin Ridge in them? With several thousand metres of ascent on unremittingly rough terrain, many hours on your feet, sustained hard scrambling and some technical climbing pitches, a route like this would be the ultimate test of an approach shoe, pushing its walking comfort, overall support and technical climbing performance to the max.
Here we've tested men's shoes, but where a model is also available in a women's (or low volume) fit, we've noted it.
Weight: 760g/pair size 42
Pros: Superb fit and performance on all-round mountain terrain
Cons: Less good for edging than more supportive rivals
Weight: 680g/pair size 8.5
Pros: Light and sensitive, yet surprisingly supportive
Cons: Weakness at flex point; poor grip on wet ground; price
Weight: 752g/pair size 7
Pros: Excellent climbing performance, and very supportive for edging
Cons: Sole is lethal on wet grass; not the most refined or comfy for long days
Weight: 850g/pair size 42
Pros: Comfortable and hard wearing; quite flexible for walking comfort
Cons: Expensive, quite heavy and poor laces
Weight: 660g/pair size 8.5
Pros: Lightweight, comfortable
Cons: Not quite as supportive as some on test; poor grip on wet ground
Weight: 944g/pair size 7
Pros: Comfortable, bombproof
Cons: Heavy, bulky, not good for technical climbing
Weight: 800g/pair (Salewa's weight, size unclear)
Pros: Cool and breathable for hot weather
Cons: Very narrow fit won't suit some users; not a lot of support
Weight: 790g/pair size 42
Pros: Well built and solid, with an excellent sole for more technical rocky ground
Cons: Quite expensive, and there are better soles for wet terrain
Weight: 960g/pair size 42
Pros: As solid as they come. Lots of protection and good for edging.
Cons: Very heavy; stiffness won't suit everyone; sole can be slippy on grass
Weight: 910g/pair size 8
Pros: Well built, supportive and good for edging; excellent all-round sole
Cons: Fit won't suit everyone; expensive; heavy
With its leather upper, wrap-around rand and general build quality, the TX4 is a robust shoe for its relatively modest weight. It has one of the better soles for mountain walking, and while this shoe is softer and less supportive for edging than some of its really stiff rivals, its balance of smearing and edging performance makes it a competent all-rounder on scrambling ground. Overall, this is a very strong offering from La Sportiva, and competitively priced for the amount of shoe you're getting.
- Available in: non-lined £130; GTX £155; men's & women's fit
The TX4 has quite a high volume overall. The width is interesting, with a fairly narrow heel and mid foot but quite a flared-out shape towards the front, and a wide rounded toe. This suits our broad-toed reviewer perfectly, and has come in particularly welcome on longer hill days, when the TX4 can accommodate a bit of foot spread. Users with narrower feet might want to try this shoe carefully, as there's a chance it may prove too spacious at the front.
Lacing runs down towards the toe (but not quite as far as some), so you can to an extent pull the fit in tighter at the front when you get to the more technical ground. However, right at the toe end there's not much spare width between the lace eyelets, so you're not going to get a lot of play here. Overall the lacing runs smoothly, and can be taken in tight without causing discomfort across the bony top of your foot.
Padding is fairly minimal compared to some rivals, so you don't get that bulky feel around the ankle cuff and the tongue - and we think that makes for a slightly more precise and nimble feel when you're picking your way across tricky ground. The comfort here is superb anyway, with just the right level of give. On our reviewer the heel is held firmly in place with absolutely no lift when walking uphill or edging, and at the same time there's no uncomfortable pressure on the achilles. The arch of the foot is gently but firmly supported too, which we like for big days on your feet compared to a flatter-soled shoe.
Its suede leather upper feels good quality, and with minimal seams and stitching it ought to last well. A high all-round rubber rand protects the upper from scuffs, and your foot from sharp jabbing rocks. While the TX4 is also available in a GTX version, we've been using the unlined model; with its slightly breathable tongue, this feels relatively cool and un-sweaty on warmer days. Even with the non-waterproof version the leather manages to shrug off a bit of light moisture, so if you're wading through wet vegetation the shoe will not instantly saturate - and the high all-round rand helps in this regard too.
The TX4 is an interesting combination. Its midsole provides quite a lot of lateral stiffness for support on rough ground, but at the same time you get a very springy forefoot flex for walking comfort and nimbleness. It's a much softer feel than some of the more tank-like rigid shoes in this review. For long mountain days on your feet this works really well since you don't feel like you're plodding along in stiff clogs. However there's always a tradeoff, and in this case it's apparent as soon as you get onto more technical ground. The pronounced forward flex makes the TX4 rather less of an edging shoe than its rigid rivals, and to hold a smaller edge a good bit of toe strength is required. The converse of this is that it's really good for smearing, and on slabby ground it's a joy. We really rate it for all-round scrambling, but on steeper rock it may not be everyone's cup of tea.
A Vibram Mega Grip outsole offers really good friction on the rock. You get a flat 'climbing zone' at the toe, then a series of rubber studs. This tread is slightly deeper than on some alternative models, especially at the heel, and this equates to more grip on softer surfaces like mud and wet grass. For use in the British hills this is a major advantage. The TX4 is also rare in this review for offering a really decent deep heel breast, of a size you might expect to find more on a walking boot than a shoe. For downhill braking this is invaluable, and that only adds to the feeling of security on steep ground. In short, the outsole of the TX4 is properly mountain-worthy.
This is a reasonably sturdy and supportive shoe, but at just 902g/pair in a size 47 (La Sportiva say 760g/pair 42) it's far from heavy for what you're getting. When hanging from your harness, on its oversized and easily-clipped heel loops, it's not a weight that's likely to bother you.
La Sportiva say:
Leather shoe designed for technical approach routes and via ferrata, part of the Traverse X approach series: ideal for prolonged use by mountain guides and all those who work in the mountains. Every detail has been studied to guarantee grip, comfort and protection during approach routes and to encourage technical use right up to the base of the wall.
- Sizes: 36-47.5 (men) 36-42 (women)
- Weight: 760g/pair size 42
- Upper: Suede leather and protective 1,5 mm PU TechLite rand and rubber toe for extra protection.
- Lining: Mesh
- Outsole: Mega-Grip Vibram sole with Impact Brake System and climbing zone at the toe.
- Midsole: Shock absorbing, injected EVA
- Footbed: Ortholite Approach 4mm
For more info see lasportiva.com
The Konseal FL GTX is typically Arc'teryx, insofar as it has a slick and refined appearance, features an innovative design and technology, and - perhaps unsurprisingly - is at the upper end of the pricing spectrum. At 680g (UK 8.5) this is one of the lightest models on review and the shoe itself has what is undoubtedly the lowest profile on test. When it comes to durability Arc'teryx have nearly achieved the impossible with what looks to be both a durable and a light shoe - but for one area of weakness that cost the Konseal a highly recommended status.
- Available in: GTX (£160) or a non-lined version (£130); men's and women's fit
The fit is at the lower volume and narrower end of the spectrum, feeling quite compact for their size, and with a narrow heel. However, due to the full length nature of the lacing they can be modified to accommodate a wider and higher volume foot, but it is undoubtedly something you would need to try on to make sure of. Another thing to be warned of when trying them on is that they feel a little stiff out of the box, but this does pass as they begin to wear in. We found this was particularly relevant around the heel due to its narrow fit and design (n.b. our reviewer was at the upper limit of what was possible fit-wise, but ended up loving them once they were worn in).
We've already mentioned the fact that the laces come all the way down, but we haven't mentioned the fact that they are very thin, and are also very round. The two of these things together mean that a) they're quite awkward to lace-up and b) they're quite prone to coming undone.
When it comes to padding there is very little at all, except for a luxurious feeling liner around the rim of the sock liner. Having worn a variety of shoes without a tongue, one potential issue that can crop up is how difficult it is to actually get your foot inside the shoe, but given that our reviewer is fitting a wide foot into what is realistically a narrow shoe, this doesn't seem to be a problem here.
All-in-all it's a very minimalist feel - in a good way.
The uppers feature a unique single piece ripstop mesh, which feels incredibly burly, but also very light. This is then reinforced at key wear areas front and back, with a particularly noteworthy toe cap that is perfect when jamming your feet; however, were there to be one point of weakness it is the synthetic nubuck overlay at the flex point. This has doubtless been added because it flexes, but it is clear that this is going to be the point at which the shoe breaks, compared with the rest of the shoe which feels like it would last a whole lot longer. Maybe we're wrong, but in the several months of intense use we've given them so far we can already see the signs, whereas we can barely see a sign of wear anywhere else.
The non-Gore-Tex version is £30 cheaper, and bound to be more breathable than the GTX model we reviewed here. This features the same last and construction, so may be worth bearing in mind if you find waterproof shoes sweaty, or just want to save yourself some money.
Arc'teryx have opted for a Vibram Megagrip sole unit, which coupled with the shoe's construction makes for an extremely low profile affair, and you feel about as close to the rock as you could possibly get without wearing a climbing shoe. The lugging is at the lower to mid end of the spectrum, lending itself more towards dry rock than mud or grass. For all-round UK use this is a big disadvantage, and as with other 'dotty' soles you will have to tread carefully on steep wet ground. We can't really recommend a shoe with a tread this flat for a lot of situations you'll find yourself in on British crags or scrambles.
However, aside from this concern it's good for walking more generally. Considering just how low profile the sole is, it still offers a surprising amount of support courtesy of the TPU mid-foot chassis and the EVA midsole. All-in-all this turns something that should seemingly be quite floppy and slender into something with a whole lot of torsional support - great if you're out on a long day's walk, or carrying a heavy pack.
At 680g for a pair of 8.5 the Konseal FL is one of the lightest on test, which is impressive given that it's not scrimped on performance or features. As a result of its light weight it definitely has a more sensitive feel whilst on the rock.
The clip-in loops at the back are also some of the largest on test, which is actually really useful, as it can often be annoying having a tight clip as not only is it awkward to get a carabiner through but it also makes them hang on your harness in an obtrusive way.
Light and agile footwear designed for technical approaches and day hikes offering stability, comfort, and the waterproof, breathable protection of GORE-TEX. The versatile outsole using Vibram® Megagrip rubber provides excellent traction and the minimalist design sheds unnecessary weight.
- Sizes: 6.5-12.5 (men) 3.5-8.5 (women)
- Weight: 680g / pair size 8.5
- Upper: Breathable synthetic upper
- Lining: Gore-Tex (unlined version also available)
- Outsole: Vibram Megagrip
- Midsole: EVA foam
For more info see arcteryx.com
Five Ten's Guide Tennie has been around a long time, and the latest version is a popular and well-priced shoe. Its stiff and supportive sole is great for edging, and overall the performance on rock is excellent. For dry weather scrambling, technical crag approaches and even easy-graded rock climbing, this shoe does the business. Its C4 Stealth rubber makes this one of the grippiest outsoles of any approach shoe, on dry rock, but the lack of tread is a serious issue on wet grass and mixed mountain terrain, and this casts quite a cloud on the Guide Tennie for all-round use in the rainy UK. Overall it feels quite basic compared to some of the higher priced alternatives, too, and a definite step down in terms of walking comfort.
- Available in: men's and women's fit, non-waterproof lined only
This shoe comes in both male and female fit. Five Ten's sizing across different countries/systems is a bit odd. The Guide Tennie also seems to come out small for the stated size, particularly at the toe, and we'd recommend considering going up a half size on your usual.
Our large-hoofed reviewer originally tried them in a UK11.5 (EU 46 2/3) and found the tightness at the front a show stopper. Going up to 47.5/UK12 might normally risk too loose-a fit at the front, at least for climbing, but not in this case. In fact, although the toe looks rounded we've found that it's deceptively narrow, particularly on the outside edge where the little toe is a bit squashed. It's quite a low-volume fit too. For climbing and shorter crag approaches this narrowness and limited volume is not an issue for us, but on a long day's walk, particularly the downhills, it's hard to miss.
Lacing extends well down the toe for a fine-tune-able forward fit. While the toe is close-fitting, the heel is extremely broad, and comparatively unstructured. The heel cup seems lower than most too, and almost reminiscent of a skate shoe. In order to hold your foot in place it relies entirely on a huge depth padding. While we were initially sceptical, it does seem to work OK in practise, and heel lift has been no issue. However, if the cushioning were to bed down over time then the fit might potentially be compromised; also, of course, all that padding does feel warm. Overall, this shoe may best suit feet that are narrow at the front but broader than average in the heel (an odd shape, but surely this describes someone, somewhere).
Compared to some rivals the Guide Tennie has a flat-footed feel in the mid-foot, so if you want some arch support (it can be nice on a long day, carrying a heavy crag pack) then you'll have to add your own insoles; we've found that replacing the footbed with Superfeet has also freed up a bit of depth in the toe.
These thick, lined suede uppers are warmer and sweatier than some other leather shoes on review, such as the La Sportiva TX4, something we've noticed walking in to crags on mild days. The padded tongue, for instance, is not particularly breathable. For a long day in hot weather the Guide Tennie would not be our first choice. The leather doesn't feel particularly high quality, and is already looking a bit scuffed after fairly light use in this review. A high rubber rand at the front provides plenty of toe protection, and also helps protect the upper a bit. But unlike some rivals this rand doesn't extend right around the foot, so you do get less protection when clumping about in scree etc. In the rain, or walking through wet grass, meanwhile, the brushed suede upper instantly soaks up any moisture.
With a compression-molded EVA midsole, the Guide Tennie offers good foot support on rough ground, plus some shock absorption for pounding hard trails
There's a lot of stiffness in the midsole, which is especially noticeable in terms of the relative lack of forward flex compared to some rivals in this review. We think this makes the Guide Tennie a superb shoe for edging, offering plenty of security on small holds. For use on graded rock climbing ground, the Guide Tennie would be one of our top choices, since it's nimble, supportive and grippy. A flat under-toe climbing zone helps in this regard, giving you maximum rubber on the rock. There's a slight upturn at the toe, which helps allow for a reasonable rolling action; but when you're on tiptoe on small holds this underfoot curve doesn't seem to impair the edging performance. When walking, the lateral stiffness makes for a good supportive shoe for rough ground. However the overall walking feel is still a bit clog-like compared to more flexible offerings from other brands.
Unsurprisingly, the Guide Tennie is more edgy than smeary, but if you get a nice flat foot on then it tends to stick, thanks to the grippiness of the C4 Stealth rubber outsole. This high friction compound, as used on Five Ten rock shoes, works a treat on the rock. It is comparatively soft and fast-wearing though, which is soon going to show on a shoe that you'll spend more time walking in than actually climbing. The dotty rubber outsole is fine on dry rock, but with a very shallow tread it is a lot less confidence inspiring on mud, grass and wet ground. With no heel breast, there's very little downhill braking. For a bone-dry approach to a Spanish sport crag, or something in the US desert, this sole makes sense; but for mountain use on the mixed terrain you'd routinely encounter in the UK it's far from ideal, and this alone casts a cloud on the Guide Tennie as an all-round approach and scrambling shoe.
We weigh these as 952g/pair in a size 47.5, or 752g for a pair of size UK7. That's lighter than some; but perhaps thanks to its stiffness the Guide Tennie doesn't feel like a particularly light shoe in use.
Five Ten say:
Cling to rocks and slick climbing surfaces. These shoes feature a C4 Stealth® rubber that provides unbeatable traction when edging and powering off slender ledges. An outer climbing zone offers additional friction. The stiff midsole gives you stability and control on mixed terrain.
- Sizes: 3-11 inc half sizes, 12, 13 (men) 2.5-8.5 (women)
- Weight: 752g/pair size 7 (our weight)
- Upper: Split-suede leather upper with extended rands
- Lining: Textile
- Outsole: Stealth® C4 rubber outsole for unbeatable grip; Climbing zone on outsole
- Midsole: Stiff midsole
For more info see adidas.co.uk
This is a solid option from Scarpa, as we'd have expected. It is mid-range in stiffness and slightly wide on fit, which will either suit you or it won't. It also benefits from excellent construction. The lack of panel stitching makes it durable but weight saving on the sole might compromise that long term, although so far there is no evidence of this. It is suitable for easy scrambling, steep crag approaches and ridge walking and comes in waterproof GTX and non-GTX models. Overall this is an excellent well-built and solid shoe at quite a high price tag, but let down slightly by the laces.
- Available in: ... ; men's and women's fit
The Mescalito comes in both male and female versions, the Mescalito and the Mescalito WMN and these appear to be fairly typical sizing although the ranges are a little limited for men with small feet and women with big feet. The fit is slightly wide especially in the forefoot area, but not overly so. The laces go right down to the toe so any slack in the wider foot section can be taken up although our reviewer did find there was a small baggy area just above the toes. This could be because his feet are a little narrower than optimum for this shoe.
The heel is deep and supportive giving a firm fit with no lift. Running around the back of the shoe is Scarpa's heel tension system that is designed to give some added heel stability. There is little to no movement when out walking or running and it just feels like the perfect level of support for these types of activities.
The Mescalitos are in the mid-range of stiffness for an approach shoe. They aren't floppy lightweight things, but they also aren't big tanks that protect your feet in all terrain. Out of the box they feel a little stiffer than this but quickly soften up after a day or so of use. Our previous tester in the dedicated review had some blisters initially, but this time, with a different tester, they were fine. It might be worth taking it easy though as you break them in just to be sure.
The laces provided on the Mescalito aren't the best. They are thin and very slick and do seem to have a habit of becoming untied, especially if you're running. Obviously they are easy to replace, although it's slightly annoying in a shoe of this price.
It's a high quality upper, and with its high all-round rand it feels sturdy and protective. In our dedicated review we had the non-waterproof model, while this time we have the GTX version. This is personal preference with the waterproof trade off being a slightly more sweaty foot and hence reduced comfort in the GTX model. The upper on the Mescalito is suede with stitching around the edges but it is basically a single piece with no panels. There is a high rubber rand above the sole which will be waterproof in both models so small puddles and wet grass should be okay even in the non-GTX model.
The stretch-fit tongue is big and well padded. We did experience some slightly slippage to the outsides from the tongue after prolonged use although this could be because of the less than optimum size.
The sole of the Mescalito has a flat climbing section on the toe and front inside edge to assist on more technical ground. This probably doesn't extend as far as you might want it to though, and we would have liked more inside edge coverage. Unlike many other shoes, the sole is a single piece of rubber and not the dual density style used in some approach shoes. The Megagrip rubber compound gives good traction on both dry and wet rock. The lugs are a decent depth for grip on most walking terrain, and there's a little bit of a ledge at the heel for downhill braking.
In terms of its performance on the rock, there are probably better options, however it is certainly adequate and confidence inspiring on most low-grade scrambles (as in the photo above). For lower grade routes such as ridge walks with a lot of walking and scrambling and only occasional pitches of full-on graded rock climbing, the balance struck by the Mescalito is excellent.
In order to reduce weight the sole uses Vibram Litebase which reduces the thickness of the sole by about 40-50%, and this in turn reduces the weight by around 25-30% according to Vibram. Nonetheless, at 850g per pair (size 42) these aren't the lightest shoes around; this is our measured weight - Scarpa claim 780g for size 42. The sole is pretty thin, but considering this, the longevity has been impressive so far.
The Mescalito is a technical shoe designed for long approaches and more technical scrambling.
The Mescalito is built around the new Vibram Dynamis sole unit using Lite Base technology, which significantly reduces the weight of the shoe. This is combined with a bi-density EVA midsole which gives great cushioning, especially compared to more traditional approach shoes. The outsole is Vibram Megagrip for maximum grip and traction on smooth surfaces.
The upper is constructed from a thermo-embossed suede, which gives a very individual fit without stretch. A new lightweight, lateral PU rand shields the shoe from scuffs and scrapes, and a rubber toe cap offers grip as well as protection. The lace to toe design combined with the stretch fit tongue ensure the best possible foot hold.
- Sizes: 40-48 (men) 36-42 (women)
- Weight: 850g/pair size 42 (our measured weight - Scarpa claim 780g)
- Upper: Thermo-embossed suede leather and protective lateral PU rand shields.
- Outsole: Vibram Dynamis sole unit using Lite Base technology.
- Midsole: Bi-density EVA midsole
For more info see scarpa.co.uk
The Alnasca Knit Low is officially the lightest on test, coming in at just 660g a pair in UK 8.5. In spite of this it hasn't scrimped on features, with a proper sole unit that features a Michelin rubber outsole, a supportive 3D moulded TPU heel, and rubber reinforcement around the toe cap. Overall it's designed more with rock in mind than steep wet ground, with shallow flat lugging that doesn't do well on mud or steep grass - and this lack of all-terrain versatility unfortunately costs the shoe a 'highly recommended' for UK use. On the upside its mesh uppers and sock lining are nice and breathable, meaning that it doesn't get too sweaty on a hot day and also dries quickly once wet.
- Available in: Gore-Tex Low, Gore-Tex Mid, unlined low, and both Men's and Women's versions
The Alnasca features a 3D knitted sock construction, meaning that it has no tongue. Thankfully the material has a good amount of stretch to it, meaning that it's not too difficult to get your foot in (sometimes a problem with shoes of this nature) and once on it seams to seal nicely around the top of your foot when laced. It's got a good width to it too so will naturally favour those with medium-high volume feet, but this can be varied courtesy of the lacing, which goes down right to the end of the shoe.
There's padding around the heel and across the top of the foot, which gives the shoe an instantly comfortable feel. Throughout use these areas seem to have stood up well, but we suspect the area around the back of the heel will be subject to wear faster than the rest of the upper.
With their double-layer construction, a sturdier outer combined with an elastic inner sock, there's quite a lot going on with the uppers. But there's also a lot of stitching and overlay, making them quite a complex affair. Whilst we haven't seen any signs of wear to date our concern with such elaborate designs is that more seams mean more wear and tear; however, we need to stress that after several months of use no damage has yet begun to manifest itself (unlike with Arc'teryx's offering, where it most certainly has). There are also a few things which seem a little cosmetic and unnecessary, such as the fact that there are two rear loops; one is for pulling the shoe on, the other for clipping it to your harness - but really one loop could have performed both roles. Maybe we're being unduly critical, but this is a review after all.
The lacing, as mentioned earlier, goes all the way down the end of the shoe, making volume adjustment quick and easy. The laces themselves are at the thinner end of the spectrum, and they're round - hence are more prone to coming undone than a chunkier/flatter set would be.
When it comes to abrasion resistance there's plenty across the toe, back and sides, making for all-round protection. The knit/weave used throughout the rest also seems quite rugged and durable.
The Michelin® Rock Tech sole unit is quite low profile, making it better on rock than it is on wet grass. You do get a reasonably deep heel breast for downhill traction, but other than that there's not much to bite into soft terrain. This is something to be very aware of if you're on soggy ground at the top of a crag. As with all the flatter-lugged shoes in this review, the Alnasca Knit Low is hard to recommend for typical UK mountain crag and sea cliff approaches since it offers comparatively poor security on steep grass/mud. The outsole features a flat area around the front and sides that makes it ideal for edging, although the 'dual tech' midsole isn't the most supportive on review, with quite a lot of flex. This bendiness doesn't come as a surprise, because ultimately for a shoe this light the weight savings had to be made somewhere. Bearing the bend in mind, the Alnasca is better for smearing than edging - it's up to individual preference to say whether this is a pro or a con.
Coming in at 660g for UK 8.5 (Mammut say 700g!) the Alnasca is the lightest shoe on test. Durability-wise it's certainly not going to outperform some of the heavier contenders, and on rough ground it feels like it provides a little less torsional support than some too, but overall if it's weight you're looking to save then this is undoubtedly going to feel a whole lot better on the back of your harness than some.
The Alnasca Knit Low combines state-of-the-art technology with proven components to create a comfortable, grippy climbing shoe. Its double shell construction means that it offers the perfect fit, a high level of protection and abrasion resistance. The elastic sock design is made from modern 3D-knitted material and means that the shoe fits precisely. The abrasion-proof outer material and rubber toe cap offers protection from sharp rocks and scree. The generously cushioned SOFtech™ EVA wedge in the heel and the Michelin® Rock Tech sole, made from extra-grippy OCX rubber, improve comfort and grip when climbing and on the approach to the rock face.
- Sizes: 6.5-13 inc half sizes (men) 4-8.5 (women)
- Weight: 660g / pair size 8.5
- Upper: Elastic knitted sock construction
- Lining: Stretch mesh
- Outsole: Michelin® Rock Tech
- Midsole: EVA at the heel; Poro wedge under the forefoot
For more info see mammut.com
The Boreal Sendai is a very comfortable and durable all-round outdoor shoe, at a decent price. It has a high volume and is particularly wide around the heel, making it better suited to those with wide feet. The whole shoe is quite bulky and, as such, pretty heavy (1090g pair UK 10, our measurement). On more technical ground it's really not the best, being quite clumpy and imprecise. Although it may not score highly in the climbing and weight categories it's a great shoe if you're looking for something bombproof and comfortable which you can wear to the shops as well as for general walking in the hills.
- Available in: non-lined only; men's and women's fit
The Sendai has a high volume and width, particularly around the heel where it is quite wide. It does have a Heel Fit System which uses a sculpted piece of foam to keep your heel comfortably in place but despite this our reviewer finds that, with fairly slim heels, his heels lift a bit unless the shoe is laced up as tight as possible. Despite this the fit in the forefoot is good and there is not too much movement there. The laces extend to the start of your toes and do a good job of tightening the shoe tightly. When putting weight solely through the toe (i.e climbing), our reviewer found that his heel often lifts out of the shoe, so the Sendai is better suited to approaches than actual technical climbing.
The Sendai, given its high volume and interior padding, is an extremely comfortable shoe which is easy to slip on when unlaced and is a pleasure to wear when walking. There is a women's version of the same name.
The upper on the Sendai is 2mm of split leather with something called Teramida SL. It's nice and breathable and is permeated with lots of air holes. As you would expect it's not waterproof, in fact any water comes straight in once it gets over the sole. You don't get the option of a waterproof-lined version, which some users won't mind while others will. On the upside the upper is thick enough to ward off any fleeting moisture being transferred to your foot from wet grass. It also feels thick and robust - it's not going to tear or scuff any time soon.
The Sendai has a Vibram Password sole, with shock absorbing EVA midsole. With a fully board lasted construction and a fair bit of rigidity it gives plenty of support to the foot on rough ground, while that midsole soaks up the pounding on harder surfaces.
The toe, instep and heel of the sole have climbing rubber, as does the rand. A nice feature is the reinforced toe which protects your toes when walking and climbing - it's also handy when you're kicking mud or snow off your shoes. The climbing-friendly Megagrip rubber is sufficiently sticky on dry rock. However the lugs on the sole are shallow, there's no heel breast for downhill traction, and there's quite a lot of flat rubber at both the toe and heel, so overall the Sendai is not a super stable or grippy shoe for walking on wet ground. It does feel like a bit of a blunt instrument on more technical ground too, and we wouldn't particularly rate it for scrambling.
On the upside, the sole is thick and has been very durable so far, and like the rest of the it should last you a long time!
At 1090g for a size 10 pair (Boreal say 944g size 7) the Sendai is a hefty pair of shoes. The weight means that you wouldn't voluntarily carry the Sendai on your harness when climbing and, given that they're also very bulky, they would take up a lot of space on your harness if you did. Being able to carry your approach shoes on an occasional multi-pitch climb is a big plus but unfortunately the Sendai don't fit this category. They feel comparatively heavy and clumsy on the foot too, so overall they seem more a 'general purpose' shoe than an approach shoe designed first and foremost for more technical mountain use.
All day, every day and nearly everywhere too! Our new and improved Sendai is a tough and multi-purpose approach shoe which is comfortable and stylish enough to use every day. Boreal Sendai will take you from the office to the mountains and everything in between.
- Sizes: 6-12 (men); 4-8 (women)
- Weight: 944g/pair size 7
- Upper: High quality 2mm split leather with Teramida SL. HFS padded heel system for a perfect fit. Rubber toe cap for protection
- Outsole: Vibram Password with Megagrip rubber
- Midsole: Boreal PXF with shock absorbing EVA layer
For more info see borealoutdoor.com
It's nice to see something that breaks from the tank-like suede-upper approach shoe formula, but while looks shouldn't matter we do find this a very ugly shoe. However it does have some good practical features, with a close and precise fit (mostly), a decent grippy sole on the rock, and a highly breathable mesh upper that makes it arguably the top choice in this review for hot weather. This soft shoe is better for smearing than edging. The narrow shape won't suit everyone, so do try before you buy.
- Available in: Non-lined £135; GTX £150; men's and women's fit
This shoe is available for both men and women. In the men's version we've found it an unusual fit, which feels oddly long and thin in our reviewer's standard size 47. The Wildfire has a fairly average volume overall, but with a lot more volume (ie depth) just at the front. Given the need for a precise fit at the toe in an approach shoe, this seems the wrong place for lots of volume; while the lacing extends a long way forward to help bring in the slack, we find this leads to a bit of bulging on top. The overall width is on the narrow side, especially at the toe (weirdly, given the volume), so our broad-footed reviewer gets squashed toes on the outside edge. On him it's a borderline fit for days on the hill, so as ever we'd urge potential buyers to try them on in the shop.
On the plus side we like the fit everywhere but the toe. With its heel-wrapping '3F system' and foot-hugging shape, the shoe holds the foot snugly in place, gently supporting the instep and locking down the heel to prevent any lift.
Made almost entirely of mesh, the upper of the Wildfire has to be the coolest and most breathable of any shoe in this review. The tongue is an open mesh too, so it really is well ventilated. That soft mesh is reinforced with a crisscross plastic overlay (EXA Shell technology in brand speak) and while this does add a little structure the upper is notably softer and more flexible than most. It almost feels sock-like. While this is nice and forgiving on the foot, it doesn't provide much support or guard you from sharp rocks. To that end there's a big rubber toe cap, plus a softer rand around the side; but despite these, the foot feels less well protected on rougher ground than it would in a burlier shoe.
We've been using the non-lined version, which is definitely the one to go for if you value cool feet in summer. For use in more mixed conditions, a Gore Tex-lined model is also available for an extra £15.
The Wildfire has one of the softer soles in this review, with loads of forward flex and not a lot of lateral stiffness. In this regard it feels more like a trail shoe than a traditional clumpy approach shoe. This makes it quite a comfy and forgiving shoe to walk in, though on rougher ground it clearly provides less of a supportive platform for the foot than its beefier rivals. As a result of its flex, edging performance is only so-so, but on the other hand it's handy for smearing when you want to get lots of sole in contact with the rock. We've found that thanks to its sheer length and bendiness, it's overall climbing ability isn't up there with the best, but it's still fine for rocky crag approaches, easy scrambling and the like.
Most rivals use a Vibram outsole of one sort or another, but in this case Salewa have gone for something called 'Pomoca Butylic', a rubber compound we'd not heard of before. This is good and grippy on dry rock, with a flat climbing zone at toe and heel. Since it's quite soft we're not sure how well it'll last in heavy use - we'll have to report back later. On the trail the diamond pattern lugs seem to grip reasonably well on most surfaces, though they do have a tendency to clog with mud. The tread is deeper than some rivals, but not up there with the best when it comes to traction on soft/wet ground. When walking down off the crag, for instance, you don't get much of a heel breast.
Despite its relatively insubstantial upper, the Wildfire is - surprisingly - not the very lightest shoe on review here, at 938g/pair size 47 (Salewa say 800g/pair, but don't specify for what size). Still, we don't find it heavy enough to feel like a major encumbrance hanging from your harness. And in use, their softness helps them feel lighter than perhaps they actually are.
The Wildfire is a comfortable tech approach shoe, equipped with a versatile POMOCA Speed Mtn sole for grip, traction and sure-footed climbing precision on technical mountain approaches, scrambles, traverses and easy climbs. It has a climbing zone at the toe and ensures good edging performance. Its POMOCA Butylic compound rubber provides better grip on rock in both dry and wet conditions, while the aggressive tread lugs offer improved traction on mud and softer terrain. We make the precise-fitting upper from robust mesh and give it an EXA Shell technology injected cage for enhanced torsional stability. It works together with our 3F system to wrap your foot for flexibility, fit and firm ankle and heel support. To cope with warmer conditions, the Wildfire has a breathable mesh lining. Climbing lacing further supports the wrapping fit, especially at the forefoot and allows you to fine-tune the toe for greater precision in technical terrain. Inside, the breathable OrthoLite footbed provides superior cushioning and wicks away moisture, helping to keep your feet cooler and drier.
- Sizes: 6-13 inc half sizes (men);
- Weight: 800g/pair (Salewa's weight, size unclear)
- Upper: Breathable mesh / Exa Shell Over Injected 3D Cage
- Outsole: POMOCA Butylic compound rubber
For more info see salewa.com
The Kayland Gravity is a stylish approach shoe which is quite stiff and solid and offers a wide fit. It is arguably better suited for approach walks and less so for actual scrambling or climbing, although the excellent 'climbing zone' makes it perform well when edging. It has a solid build and should last well although the soft 'climbing zone' rubber may wear out faster than the main tread section.
- Available in: non-lined £129.90; GTX £149.90; men's and women's fit
The Gravity comes in a men's and women's fit with a good size range. Compared to most this is wide shoe, including the heel section. The lacing system is excellent which allows you to cinch it up along the full length but those with narrow feet might still find them a little baggy for the correct shoe length.
The heel cup is well padded, as is the tongue, which makes them feel comfortable from the off. We wore them on a few relatively long walks when new and had no problems with sore patches or discomfort bedding them in.
The Gravity is a solid shoe which is at the upper end of the stiffness scale. It offers excellent protection and feels closer to what you would expect from a walking boot, but with the trade off that you have less flex in the sole for walking comfort.
The upper consists of a mix of fabrics. It is said to use 'Ekso Tech technology' which consists of an "external micro-injection that acts as a skeleton for the shoe, controlling lateral torsion of the foot without affecting its mobility". This manifests as a grid on the outside of the upper which initially looks like a cosmetic design detail. How much actual torsion this grid applies is questionable. That said, the upper is exceptionally well made and solid with mostly stitched panels between the various fabrics and a wrap up toe cover for extra protection.
It comes in four colour schemes for men - two bright ones in red and orange, and two less striking but nevertheless stylish options in black and the blue/grey we had. Women get the blue/grey plus a couple of much more colourful purple and yellow options.
We've been using the Gore Tex-lined version of this shoe, but if that is not to your taste (our review team are split on this issue) then a non-waterproof-lined model is also available. As well as letting both the sweat out and the rain in more effectively, this is slightly cheaper than the lined model.
The Vibram Gravity outsole is a plus point for this shoe. For the front and rear of the shoe it is something called Idogrip, which is slightly softer for better friction where it most counts when scrambling; meanwhile the middle section is Megagrip rubber, with a good dotted profile which offered excellent grip on a variety of surfaces in our testing. The climbing zone is generously moulded to give a good big inside edge, and even a bit of outside edge coverage. As mentioned, these shoes are quite stiff which makes them less friendly for smearing but on the other hand makes for a more secure edging feel - you pays your money and takes your choice on that. However, those without a snug fit at the toe could experience a bit of roll at the toe when edging, so make sure they work for you.
Stud depth, and thus grip on soft ground, is good enough for UK use though in that regard the Gravity is still slightly outshone by shoes with an even more aggressive tread.
At 790g a pair (size 42) the Gravity is mid weight by the standards of this review, but perhaps lighter than you might expect for something that feels so solid. The sole is relatively thick, and the upper feels well built and durable, so there must be some weight saving in the midsole.
Uppers of ergonomic design made of fabric and microfibre, highly resistant to wear, equipped with special Ekso Tech technology. The technology has an external micro-injection that acts as a skeleton for the shoe, controlling lateral torsion of the foot without affecting its mobility. Gore-Tex® Extended Comfort membrane for complete protection and breathability. Exclusive Vibram® Gravity sole with differentiated compounds: Idrogrip™ in the climbing and braking area and Megagrip™ in the middle.
- Sizes: 39-47.5 (men) 35.5-42.5 (women)
- Weight: 790g/pair size 42 (our measured weight)
- Upper: Superfabric - Stretch fabric
- Outsole: Vibram® Gravity sole - Idrogrip™ in the climbing and braking area and Megagrip™ in the middle
- Midsole: Thermo Moulded Eva
The Crodarossa GTX is a substantial tank of an approach shoe that gives superb protection in rocky terrain. Its construction gives confidence in its longevity. This is an approach shoe for those who really want to protect their feet on rocky ground! It is less suited for scrambling, being slightly too bulky and inflexible for increased friction when smearing. Its weight also makes it a less attractive option for those wanting to carry them up multi-pitch routes, though lighter versions are available. The sole gives good grip on rock but it's poor on wet ground, which undermines its attraction for UK use. This shoe comes at a decent price considering that they will probably last well.
- Available in: GTX and non-lined versions. These are substantially different in construction and have very different uppers. In this review we have used the GTX model which comes in at £5 less per pair than the no-waterproof model, but is quite a bit heavier. A 'Lite GTX' is also sold. Available in both men's and women's fit.
First impression of the Crodarossa is that of a Landrover rather than a Ferrari - these are substantial shoes with a solid feel. They give a wide fit along the full length but not excessively so. The lace system is slightly unconventional, being a solid main lace threaded through smaller loops rather that through the fabric of the upper - described as 'slipknot' lacing by Dolomite. The design makes cinching up the lower section of the shoe a little awkward should you want to tighten it up for extra stability. Unfortunately the laces also want to come undone all the time.
Once on, we've found there is little internal movement. Even on long walks we found these shoes comfortable out of the box, with no rubbing or soreness. The thick upper padding helps in this respect since the tongue is extra thick, and the side walls thicker than on many shoes.
As expected for such a substantial shoe, they are on the stiff side. Compared to most they sit much more towards the walking boot end of the spectrum, and favour protection over sensitivity.
The main upper is stitched suede in panels, with a series of fabric darts to aid flex. A high rubber rand offers protection at the front, while at the rear you get an external tension strap. The shoes offer substantial padding which extends right down to the base of the side panels where most shoes are much thinner. This makes them feel quite bulky in use, and also hotter than most.
The shoes come in a GTX model and an unlined version. However there is a big difference between the two models and we only saw the GTX model. The normal model has no suede on the upper and appears to be less padded and comes in at 140g lighter a pair. The GTX model are in a very stylish orange and grey or an even brighter full red. There is also a 'lite' model although it is only an 80g saving and not as light as the non-GTX version.
The Vibram Ibex sole consists of a single piece, with the standard moulded eva mid-sole. There is a moulded climbing zone around the toe and heel area for added friction where it counts. They offer good grip on most rocky surfaces but are a little too solid and inflexible for the more technical climbing moves like inside and outside edging and high-angle smearing; they feel more like boots than rock shoes, basically.
Underfoot, the stud pattern is not as deep as some and though you do get a bit of a heel breast for downhill braking the sole offers less traction than we think is ideal on wetter ground. We've found them a bit slippy on steep grass for instance. Bearing this in mind, there are better approach shoes for UK mountain use.
These are heavy shoes at nearly a kilo for the pair in a 42, and consequently you will probably want to consider something else if lightness is important. Although the protection they offer makes them superb on rocky scree descents the fact you have to carry them up the route first makes them a less attractive option. The non-lined verison is lighter, as is the similar Crodarossa Lite GTX; these might be worth a look if weight is an issue.
Agile, light and ultra-comfortable. It's the Crodarossa: our versatile boot for Mountain Approach category which combines top-notch construction materials with extreme control, grip and sensitivity for the feet. A true all-round shoe: perfect for the most demanding trails and mountaineering activities, it makes no compromises with cushioning and protection, thanks to the Ibex Vibram® lug sole, made of Megagrip.
- Sizes: 37-47 (men) 37-47 (women)
- Weight: 960g/pair size 42 (GTX mens model)
- Upper: Thermo-embossed suede leather and protective lateral PU rand shields.
- Outsole: Dual-density moulded Eva, Vibram® Ibex bottom.
- Midsole: Moulded Eva
For more info see dolomite.it
The Makra Low is a really well made Gore-Tex lined approach shoe, with a superb lacing system down to the toe for a precise fit at the front, and a solid Vibram sole that gives an excellent platform for edging. Given the stiffness on offer they may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for rough ground this boot-like sole is extremely good and has no problem dealing with scree runs or rocky scrambling. We've even used the Makra Low with snow spikes, not something we'd recommend with many approach shoes. They are a fine looking approach shoe and overall they're lighter than appearances suggest. However the price is high and the fit most definitely won't suit everyone.
- Available in: GTX only; men's and women's fit
This is most definitely a shoe to try before you buy, paying particular attention to the potential for toe strike/squeeze and heel lift. One reviewer had to pass on the field test as he could not use them even after trying on different sizes. The second reviewer had reservations at first too, but soon found that once broken in after a few uphill miles on the fell they performed well.
Both the men's and women's (ie low volume) lasts are available in a good range of sizes, including half sizes. Despite this we've found the fit a bit strange. An assymmentric last and quite a pointed toe makes for a narrow feel at the front, something that soon crippled our wider-footed initial reviewer even walking around the house. But at the same time the heel cup is very wide, and the soft cuff so relaxed that reviewer number one found heel lift an issue. The marriage of a stiff sole and fairly soft upper doesn't help in this regard either - your foot wants to flex, as does the upper, but the rigid platform underneath much less so.
However the second reviewer found that once a few miles had been put on the clock the shoe performed well. A couple of adjustments were necessary: the first was to make sure the lacing was supportive towards the top of the shoe; the second was to replace the insole, since after some hot hiking the one supplied slipped forward in the shoe leaving a gap at the heel which soon started to be felt.
A higher boot version of this shoe is also available, the Makra Combi GTX. While we haven't tried it, in principle we suspect that this proper boot upper should pair well with the Makra's rigid sole, since it ought to be better at locking down the heel. If you're after a solid scrambling boot, rather than an approach shoe, it may well be one to look at.
The suede-and cordura upper feels good and tough, and it's protected at the front with a substantial rubber rand. Hanwag footwear always seems to be built to last, and the Makra Low appears to be no exception, performing well in the test and showing absolutely no signs of wear during the test period which included a lot of scrambling, via ferrata, scree running and boggy walking.
The Gore-Tex lining will be an advantage in wet conditions or an alpine setting when the occasional scraps of snow might be encountered. As with all lined shoes though, they will inevitably be hotter and sweatier than an equivalent unlined model. For warmer conditions it's a shame that a non-waterproof version is not available, since opinion is so divided on this issue (both amongst our review team and the buying public).
We've already said it's stiff, but just to re-emphasise the point, the Makra Low is one of the most rigid-soled shoes in this review. Those who prefer a boot-like supportive feel for edging will get on well with this shoe, but fans of softer more smeary footwear are not going to be as impressed; as ever, it'll come down to personal preference. If you were spending a lot of time on hard-packed trails then it might feel a bit clog-like, but for lots of rough ground a stiffer and more supportive sole often has advantages. With its chunky tread, the Vibram Pepe outsole is well up to the rigours of all-round mountain use on the full gamut of UK ground conditions. There's a flatter climbing-oriented area at the toe, and a nice pronounced heel breast that is good for downhill grip. Top marks to Hanwag on their choice of outsole!
At 910g/pair (size 8) these are among the heavier shoes on review, though not quite the very heaviest. Given their solidity underfoot, Hanwag have arguably done well to keep the weight under 1kg. Still, it's a shoe you'll probably prefer to wear rather than carry on your harness.
Newly developed robust and flexible approach shoe for demanding terrain. Aggressive sole construction for optimized climbing; Innovative mix of materials for a significant loss of weight; Optimized Ghillie lacing in the toe area; Soft cuff with honeycomb structure for additional comfort; Ultra lightweight construction.
- Sizes: 6-12 (men) 3.5-9 (women)
- Weight: 910g/pair size 8
- Upper: Suede / cordura with a GTX membrane
- Outsole: Vibram Pepe
For more info see hanwag.com