La Sportiva Xplorer Approach Shoes

Mike Kann tests these rugged all terrain approach shoes designed for scrambles, easy climbs and alpine routes.

Approach shoes are a tricky business. They will always be a compromise as people's demands of this type of shoe are so varied, ranging from kicking around a campsite to climbing easy routes. As a result there is a similarly broad range of shoes, some which are perfect for climbing but rubbish for kicking around in, some which would balk at the idea of bare rock. This was the dilemma I was faced with when going to the Dolomites and Italian Alps for a three week romp. I needed shoes with climbing ability, that would be comfortable on tricky approaches and descents, would be light when I needed to carry them, dry quickly if we encountered one of the famous Dolomites Storms, and would also look good for wearing around town.

High in the Val di Ferro above Val di Mello, 99 kb
High in the Val di Ferro above Val di Mello
© Katherine Sydney

The La Sportiva Xplorer caught my eye - a gleaming azure blue with bright yellow highlights, some might call it garish, but I immediately liked them. I approached the shop counter and asked for my size. Half an hour later, after having tried others, I parted with my hard earned dough. £110 of it. It was more than I had intended to spend, but the Xplorers fitted snug as a bug in rug, they felt supportive despite their light (375g) weight ... basically love at first sight had transformed into a deep lust. These were the ones.

"The La Sportiva Xplorer caught my eye - a gleaming azure blue with bright yellow highlights, some might call it garish, but I immediately liked them."

I later developed doubts about the snug as a bug part. I'd bought these shoes really snug. The sort of snug that will either lead to a long and happy marriage in which you grow old together, or one that will end in a blistered bitter divorce not long after first aquaintaince. Would it work out?

Looking out over Val Masino shortly before a 1800m descent, some of the most awkward I've come across, 121 kb
Looking out over Val Masino shortly before a 1800m descent, some of the most awkward I've come across
© Katherine Sydney

All I can say is an uncatagorical 'yes'. The beauty of these shoes is that the lacing system is truly excellent. The long laces tighten using plain, solid eyelets which go right down to the toe and this means that the fit can be adjusted to your foot and your requirements. When a tight precise fit for climbing is what you want, pull them tight at the toe and you are rewarded with a fantastically close supportive fit that allows you to edge easily and smear on small rugosities. The grip afforded by the X-Traxion rubber climbing zone is as close as I've ever found to climbing shoe performance in an approach shoe.

La Sportiva Xplorer, 34 kb


Toe box 'Overwrap' technology rand construction controls foot creep when edging and smearing. Dual density EVA midsole is soft under the heel for all day comfort and end of the day trudging. Sticky Vibram Idro-Grip rubber is amazing on the rock. Highly compressed EVA RockGuard in the forefoot.

  • Weight: 375g
  • Last: Dynamic Tech
  • Upper: Airmesh/ Hi-Wear mesh/ Synthetic Leather/ Vibram rubber rand
  • Lining: Mesh (back half and tongue only)
  • Midsole: Dual Density MEMlex / TPU Stabiliser
  • Sole: Vibram 'Idro Grip X-Traction' / 'Impact Brake System'
  • Sizes: 38 - 47.5 (half sizes)
  • Colours: Directoir Blue is the only colour available in the UK

More info on the La Sportiva Website.

My happiness didn't stop there, as the way in which the lugs on the rest of the sole are designed is also truly superb, giving the best stopping power in descent I've ever come across in a lightweight shoe like this. Once you've slackened the toe box off the heel cup, which is a narrow and close fit, really helps support your ankles in spite of the light weight of the shoe. Although before my trip I had serious sprained my ankle, I always felt stable even when extremly tired and on a mammoth 1800m descent. These lugs also proved themselves on rugged grassy traverses, limestone scree and granite slabs in Mello and Via Ferrata.

So what else is there to say about the Xplorers? The synthetic mesh upper is thin but quite surprisingly water repellent. There is no doubt that in a heavy downpour you would get wet feet. But they are designed to drain well and dry quickly, which they achieve very well. It wears well for such a lightweight material, in part due to the rugged rubber rand around the toe box, which coped perfectly with kicking steps in limestone scree for hundreds of meters one night. The laces are a touch vulnerable, but they have in fact lasted well.

High on the via ferrata Brigata Tridentina, 201 kb
High on the via ferrata Brigata Tridentina
© Katherine Sydney

The tongue is a well padded affair with a lightly stiffened upper and an assymetric lace keeper which prevented it from sliding into the wrong position. The heel tabs are made of lace encased in a clear pastic tube, perhaps a little light and difficult to use, but as there are two per shoe, this was not a massive problem. The level of cushioning seemed low on first inspection: minimal directly under foot and a dual density section under the midfoot and heel, but it performed excellently on several long descents. I had tingling feet after particularly long drops but this soon faded.


At £110 the Xplorers aren't cheap by any stretch of the imagination, but I can't say I regret having parted with my cash. They are a really solid piece of kit and they will last well, I have no doubt. As a technical item, they fulfil their brief perfectly.

Mike Kann, 117 kb

About Mike Kann

I've been mucking about with ropes and falling off stuff since my very first visit to Pontresina, when my mum bought me a whole metre of red 5mm cord. Since then I've been moderately obsessed, with trips all over the Alps, the Dolomites, the US, Jordan and of course around our little island. In real life I design and build machines for a very poor living and really would much rather be out climbing...

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