In this comparison review we take a look at eight different pairs of approach shoes and quite literally put them through their paces. From muddy walks, to rocky scrambles, and even a few easier routes, we see if they have the grip required to get you to and from the crag and after a bit of wear we see if they are still in one piece!
We've weighed them all on the UKC scales at a big size of EU 45 (UK 10.5) and we've dunked them all in the river (sometimes not quite on purpose...) to see how well they hold up to the waterlogged hillsides of the UK's mountains.
Here are our findings...
Salewa – Mountain Trainer Pro GTX £135
Weight: 1100g pair (size EU 45)
Grip: Due to the sturdy, almost boot-like, construction of the deep lugged Vibram sole unit the Mountain Trainer Pro is build to withstand the mountain environment. Being comparatively stiff, it lacks a little sensitivity on wet/slippery rocks but excels on small edges. In muddy (and even snowy) conditions it really came into it's own.
Fit: With lacing right down to the toe it is possible to get an accurate fit across a broad range of foot types, but as a guideline it is ideal for a pair of standard-wide feet. The boots are supplied with a 'multi-fit' footbed which features two layers - one standard and one removable (yellow) - that can be used to add/subtract volume.
Comfort: Due to the boot-like construction we did find that the Mountain Trainer Pro required a little more breaking in, but once broken in were comfortable enough for repeated big mountain days.
Water Resistance: Having used Mountain Trainer Pro for over a year and a half we cannot claim to have had wet feet once as a result of faulty waterproofing, but as with any Gore-Tex lined shoe your feet definitely get a little sweater/warmer.
Climbing Prowess: The stiffness and support that the shoe offers make them a good choice for scrambling/easy climbing. The lateral support across the shoe also made them ideal for wedging into cracks. The flat 'climbing zone' edge on the front further aided stability on more technical ground, however the stiffness and lack of sensitivity did mean that gritstone smearing and rounded boulder style problems were a little tough. These are approach shoes after all!
Summary: The nearest a shoe can get to a boot, with all the support that goes alongside that. As a result it is also one of the heavier shoes within the review, but in turn – even after a year and a half of solid use – they show little signs of wear/tear.
More info: Salewa Website
The North Face - Verto Plasma II GTX £120
Weight: 1020g pair (size EU 45)
Grip: The Verto Plasma II GTX feature an exclusive Vibram sole which we found to have good grip on general terrain, coping reasonably well on mud, rocky paths, wet grass etc. The grip on wet rock was reasonable, but not exceptional.
Fit: The Verto Plasma GTX II were medium width in the front and wide fitting at the back. The cut around the ankle was well designed. They seemed almost spot on for a EU 45, if perhaps a tiny bit on the big side. The heels really did feel very big to us, and we got a lot of heel movement inside the shoe.
Comfort: The lining of the shoe was well put together with a clean finish and gave no rub spots. The shoes have 'Northotic Pro 2' footbeds/insoles, which were quite high quality for a standard insole. The shoes themselves were very stiff, and quite hard underfoot when striking the ground.
Water Resistance: The Gore-tex liner worked perfectly and the shoes were 100% waterproof up to the height of the top of the tongue.
Climbing Prowess: The shoes were quite clunky when climbing and didn't give a lot of feel on the rock. Not an ideal scrambling shoe. Certainly capable of rocky terrain when approaching the crag, but we wouldn't opt to do many easy routes or scrambles in these.
Summary: A reasonable all round waterproof approach shoe with good grip on most terrain. Quite stiff and clunky when climbing and a lot of heel movement inside the shoe. Well put together. If you're after a Gore-Tex or waterproof approach shoe - these are worth a look if they fit you.
More info: The North Face Website
La Sportiva - Xplorer £110
Weight: 860g pair (Size EU 45)
Grip: The La Sportiva Xplorer has a Vibram sole with a funky tread pattern that has a 'climbing zone' at the front (an area of smoother tread, for more surface on the rock) and an 'impact brake system' which is the lugs being angled forward and backward slightly to increase traction and reduce impact. We found the shoes to be excellent on all terrain from wet grass to polished limestone. The grip of the shoes was so good it gave confidence when rock-hopping on streams etc. and was a real plus feature of the shoes.
Fit: We found the Xplorers to be an excellent fit, medium to narrow width but not as narrow as we have expected some La Sportiva shoes ot be. The sizing was accurate at EU 45 for us but we felt they were a tiny, tiny bit smaller than some of the other shoes on test at the same size.
Comfort: The Xplorers were exceptionally comfortable straight from the box. The liners were great on the feet, the insoles/footbeds were not too firm and the cushioning underfoot was very comfortable without being too spongy or bouncy. A great feeling shoe that we instantly liked.
Water Resistance: The water resistance of the shoes was low. The lower part of the uppers shed water ok, but the upper part (being made of essentially a tightly woven mesh face fabric) let water through. This did mean that the shoes felt light and airy when in use, but if you're looking for 100% waterproof shoes, these aren't for you.
Climbing Prowess: Pretty good we thought! I wouldn't fancy shoving them in to wide cracks day after day, as the wear on the lace hoops might prove too much, but for a bit of scrambling, or even whipping up a really easy route, we found these shoes to give good support and feeling - they're not rock shoes, but they aren't bad on the rock for an approach shoe.
Summary: A great all round approach shoe. Light, airy, comfortable and in blue and yellow - pretty funky looking. We're hoping the lace pull tags on the heel stand up to abuse, and overall we liked the shoes a lot. Not ones for the puddle splashers out there.
More info: La Sportiva Website
FiveTen - Camp Four £110
Weight: 1026g pair (size EU 45)
Grip: The FiveTen Camp Four has a Stealth S1 rubber sole which has always been one of the main attractions of this long-standing favourite. The 2014 model has a more studded profile which gives better grip on rough terrain but leaves less rubber in contact with the rock/ground when climbing. Overall though these shoes are top performers on virtually any wet or slimy rock and grass.
Fit: The fit is a little on the wide side and the removal of the chunky heel cup (a major positive feature of the previous model) has made the shoes feel less solid around your foot. Sizing wise it is probably best to go small to avoid the shoe feeling too baggy, if you can get the right length.
Comfort: The insole is quite hard and there is not much cushioning around the heel. We found that to get a snug fit the laces needed to be tightened a lot which can give some pressure across the top of the foot.
Water Resistance: They have good water resistance for quick submersions, although they aren't designed to be waterproof. They are slightly more water resistant than the old Camp Four model.
Climbing Prowess: The superb Stealth soles mean that you will almost always get excellent grip when on rough rocky terrain. For actually climbing though the slightly baggy fit means that it is hard to get precision on small edges so it is best to keep these for just approaches and very easy scrambles.
Summary: A decent shoe which has an excellent rubber. We thought that the new model seems to have lost out on some of the comfort and robustness of its famous predecessor.
More info: The FiveTen Website
Also see our UKC stand-alone review.
Scarpa - Crux £99
Weight: 902g pair (Size EU 45)
Grip: The Scarpa Crux approach shoes have a Vibram sole that has a smooth toe end part for climbing. This works brilliantly, giving a lot of grip when you're bashing around on the rock at the base of the crag or whatever. They also gripped well on all other terrain we threw at them from rock to mud and wet grass. Verdict: Brilliant.
Fit: A medium width, great fitting shoe. As with all shoes this is individual preference, but never have we had a shoe where so many of our testers have all said the fit is spot on.
Comfort: Excellent underfoot cushioning, nicely padded uppers, clean design and super build quality all make for a supremely comfortable shoe. We found them to be airy enough to stop the feet from over heating, not too sweaty - thanks to not being Gore-tex lined, and over all exceptionally comfortable in most situations, from long bus journeys through to actually approaching the crag on a rocky uphill grind. Top marks again Scarpa.
Water Resistance: The Scarpa Crux approach shoes are not Gore-tex lined, so are not 'waterproof' but the tough suede upper gives more of a water barrier than the mesh style shoes on test.
Climbing Prowess: Great. These were top class in terms of climbing ability for an approach shoe. The grip, the feel of the shoe (they felt quite dainty on the foot) and the toughness of the uppers for ramming in to gritstone cracks, all added up to a quality product.
Summary: Best in Test winners the Scarpa Crux were pretty damn good at everything we threw at them, and we certainly did put them through their paces. Hard wearing, nice styling, good grip, high quality. Thumbs up from the UKC Test Team.
More info: Scarpa Website
Boreal - Flyers £110
Weight: 1150g pair (Size EU 45) - the heaviest shoes on test.
Grip: Boreal's own Zenith Dura sole has a small dotted tread pattern and a very shallow heel lug; the soles are almost flat. We found the sole to grip very well on dry stony ground and on dry rock. Wet grass and wet ground was more testing of these shoes and we felt that they weren't the grippiest when stuff got slimy.
Fit: The sizing was accurate - these were spot on for a EU 45. The width was medium to wide, with plenty of room in the heel area and toe box.
Comfort: The shoes had a nice feel to them from the leather uppers and tongue. The shape of the shoe around the ankle was also very comfortable. They were harder than some underfoot and we would have preferred a little more cushioning under the heel.
Water Resistance: These shoes are not waterproof, having no membrane or liner, and the suede uppers did wet out quite a bit when we dunked them in various streams and walked in to a few crags in heavy rain. They coped averagely with wetness, and took a while to dry out after a soaking.
Climbing Prowess: High! On dry rock, and actual rock climbing, not mossy wet scrambling, we found the Flyers to have really good grip and, due to the small tread pattern on the sole and the fact that the laces go all the way down to the toe end of the shoe, they climbed a lot like an old school comfy rock shoe, albeit heavy ones. The uppers seemed very tough and could stand up to the abuse of rock climbing without much bother. Good on the vertical - maybe one for those MIA / Guides out there for boshing up easier routes with clients.
Summary: A bit on the heavy side, and could do with a little more under heel cushioning, but these shoes from Boreal look cool, and scramble around on routes as well as any others. A real climbers' shoe, not a hiker's first choice.
More info: Boreal Website
Mammut - Redburn Low GTX £120
Weight: 1001g pair (Size EU 45)
Grip: The Mammut Redburn Low GTX shoes have a 'Gripex' rubber sole, with a climbing zone (smoother, less tread) at the front and a reasonable sized heel lug on the tread pattern at the back. We found them grippy on all terrain giving a good all round feel. They're not the best on rock, but then again, they can cope well with grass etc. - a good all around hiking shoe style grip.
Fit: We found the fit to be medium in width, and they felt like a close fitting, snug shoe holding the foot in position well, a very secure feeling.
Comfort: The Mammut Redburn GTX were amongst the most comfortable shoes in the review, with an extremely neat liner, good shape, and a well cushioned sole. Actually we found that they felt quite high in the heel, as if the sole was very thick, which gave good cushioning without too much spring, but compared to some of the flatter shoes in the review did feel a little high of the ground on technical terrain or rocky ground.
Water Resistance: GTX meaning Gore-tex, these shoes were totally waterproof. And we found that they did actually breath okay and felt quite light on the feet.
Climbing Prowess: Medium. The climbing specific tread pattern on the front of the shoe no doubt helps with extra rocky grip, but the style and feel of the shoes is more hiking than climbing. That's not to say they aren't a good choice for an approach shoe, but we wouldn't be soloing easy routes on the grit in these.
Summary: A great waterproof approach/hiking shoe. Not too sweaty for a waterproof shoe, very trim looking with understated grey and red. A smart approach shoe that works well, keeps your feet dry and looks good in the pub. We liked them and would be keen to try out more Mammut shoe offerings as these were certainly high quality.
More info: Mammut Website
Millet - Switch Low GTX £125
Weight: 852g pair (Size EU 45)
Grip: The non-climbing specific Vibram sole does a good job on the whole range of outdoor terrain, but doesn't excel in any one area. The shoes are the least climbery of the test, and don't grip better on rock than normal trail running shoes. Of course normal trail running shoes are perfectly capable of getting you to the crag.
Fit: The fit was roomy and medium in width. We felt there was plenty of room in the toe box and the heel was held in position very well.
Comfort: One of the more springy shoes in the test, these felt more akin to some well padded trail-running shoes than to a simple leather-upper approach shoe, and gave a lot of cushioning on big downhills. They were great for longer walk-ins and just hikes. In fact we used them for some long distance trail walks and they were superb. The big cushioned soles do mean that sensitivity on technical ground isn't quite the same as some of the other shoes tested here.
Water Resistance: 100% waterproof - we splashed in some streams, stood in some puddles and they did us proud. And at 852g per pair, these were the lightest shoes on test, even though they have a waterproof liner.
Climbing Prowess: Low. The Switch Low GTX from Millet were the least climbing specific shoe on test and climbed like a slightly stiffer trail running shoe. Not terrible on the rocky stuff, but not designed with rock climbing in mind. More of a mountain hiking shoe we thought.
Summary: The least 'climby' and most 'runny' shoes on test, despite coming from France's major Alpine brand Millet (pronounced 'mee-ay'). Great for long trail walks, and will of course get you to the crag and will keep your feet dry too. Very light, a bit of a plasticy feel to the uppers, overall a good all round shoe but don't go soloing gritstone slabs in them.
More info: Millet Website
Salewa – Mountain Trainer Pro GTX
A tough, rugged waterproof shoe that is almost a boot. A bit heavy but dependable. Good stiff support means scrambling is no problem. Not a lightweight round town shoe.
The North Face - Verto Plasma II GTX
Wide heels. Waterproof. Not the best climber. A solid feel, but a hard strike underfoot.
La Sportiva - Xplorer
Brilliant shoes. Slightly more trail than rock, but great all round approach shoes and if you want a lighter weight shoe than the Scarpa below, this could be the one for you.
FiveTen - Camp Four
Great sole. Slightly baggy fit and not as good as the old model but has the famous Five Ten rubber and it really is sticky.
Scarpa - Crux
Best in Test winner, a fantastic approach shoe that was super comfortable, climbed well, looked good and did the business for under a hundred quid.
Climbing all the way with the Boreal Flyers. A heavy but robust upper gives confidence when ramming them in to cracks. Not the best on wet ground.
Mammut Redburn Low GTX
A really good option for those doing long hikes and wanting a waterproof shoe. Felt great on the feet and looked sharp. Very well made.
Millet Switch Low GTX
More suited to cushioning your big hill descent than climbing a gritstone VDiff, never the less these light weight shoes were comfy on the trails.