Do You Need Approach Shoes? Finding the Perfect Footwear

If you’re a fan of climbing, hiking, or exploring all kinds of terrain, you’ll know how important the right shoe can be. Footwear is one of the most important things to consider for any athlete. However, if you’re a climber or spend a lot of time on rough terrain, your shoes can also be the key to staying safe. 

Most outdoor activity stores will have a section dedicated to approach shoes. These unique kinds of footwear are specially designed to support technical climbing fans who need something in between a hiking and a climbing shoe.  

Here’s what you need to know when choosing comfortable shoes for your favorite activity!

Why Do You Need Approach Shoes?

So, what makes an approach shoe so valuable compared to a standard hiking shoe or climbing shoe?

Approach shoes have a unique design that makes them very appealing to a wide range of athletes. The unique outsole of the approach shoe means that they provide excellent traction for your foot and a more comfortable footwear style. 

Most approach shoes will look similar to terrain running shoes. Unlike the standard hiking boot, which has a heavier outsole and not a lot of breathability, approach shoes feature a lighter and flatter outsole. There are smaller lugs and usually better traction than you’d get with a trail runner. 

Some approach shoes come with a climbing zone element for better edging when you’re rock climbing or handling different types of rocky terrain. The rubber sole of an approach shoe is also usually a lot softer, which means that you get more flexibility than you would get from another kind of mountain trainer. 

The same rubber covering the bottom of your approach shoes will usually cover the heel and toe for increased traction and grip. 

Are Approach Shoes Worth It?

There are many different kinds of shoes out there for climbing, hiking, and rough terrain. However, a technical approach shoe is more likely to give you the right experience when handling mountains and hiking in different environments. 

Approach shoes are best for semi-technical hiking and climbing. You’ll be able to make the most of the rubber outsole on technical terrain. Depending on your climbing ability, you’ll also find that these shoes are well suited for fourth or fifth class rocks. 

Aside from offering a good climbing experience, approach shoes are also good for wet terrain and everyday hiker adventures. However, they don’t work best for backpacking or longer hikes, and they can struggle with some of the more challenging climbing spots. 

For decades, brands like toe box, Scarpa crux, Salewa, and Vibram idrogrip have offered approach shoes as the ultimate solution for hikers and climbers. There are products out there, ranging from the La Sportiva Boulder X, to the Eva Midsole approach shoe. 

Approach shoes help you to master different kinds of terrain on virtually any terrain. The sticky rubber of the approach mountain trainer combined with durable materials like leather allows for a great foot experience that doesn’t compromise on breathability. 

Your approach shoes will be best on semi-technical approaches to climbs, which is why they’re often called a “climbing approach shoe.” While the body of the footwear is like a running shoe, the grip around the outsole is still excellent. 

If you’re looking for better traction on your mountain trainer however, then even high-ranking materials like Vibram rubber won’t do you much good. These approach shoes aren’t generally designed for longevity on more challenging climbs. 

What are the best approach shoes?

The best approach shoes will always be the ones that give you the right blend of breathability, durability, and performance. Ideally, it’s a good idea to try your approach shoes on before you buy them. Although Vibram sole shoes, Evolv Cruzer shoes, and the Salewa mountain trainer all have good reviews, only you can decide how the shoe feels. 

Remember that having a well-fitting approach shoe is the best way to take your climbing or hiking experience to the next level. You’ll need to make sure that the shoes aren’t too tight around the toe and that the sticky rubber makes you feel confident as you move through any trail. Footwear comes in lots of different shapes and sizes, so it’s best to test a few different options. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re looking for the ideal approach shoes:

  • The Perfect sole: A smooth patch of rubber covering your toe can make it easier to climb on low-class rocks, whether you’re edging or smearing. You’ll also need a heel brake that helps you with down-hill descents. Make sure that your rubber rand goes all the way around to the back of your shoe. A flat and sticky sole provides more traction on crag and rock trails. Plus, the right lug pattern is essential too. Smaller lugs are ideal if you climb regularly. 
  • Climbing ability: Approach shoes need to climb well if you plan on using them on technical rock frequently. You can tell how well the footwear you choose will be able to climb by looking at the lug size and pattern. Thinner lugs are ideal for climbing, while thicker lugs help with hiking. Your rubber should also be grippy enough to let you scramble and climb in different environments. Remember to think about how your shoe will perform against wet and dry terrain too. 
  • Hiking ability: If you spend a lot of time on the trail and less time on the rocks, you’ll need your footwear to reflect this. Before you start looking at brands like Scarpa Cruz and Evolve Cruzer, make sure that you have comfort in mind. A pair of approach shoes need to be stable and supportive when you’re walking. This is important if you’re going to be carrying heavy gear on the trail too. It may be a good idea to switch to hiking boots if you’re looking for something that you can wear for longer. 

Other Features to Look at When Shopping for Approach Shoes

There are a lot of elements that can combine to deliver the perfect approach shoe. Although focusing on the sole’s quality and the shoe’s grip is important, you also need to think about comfort and extra features. For instance, most approach shoes come with a heel loop on the top of the shoe. This makes it easier to get your footwear on and off. 

It’s also worth paying attention to the materials used throughout the shoe. Aside from rubber, do you have the right leather for long-term performance on your approach shoe? Some people may find that leather is too hot, so they prefer to go with canvas and mesh for breathability. It’s even worth thinking about the lacing on your footwear. Standard laces are common, but you can find straps and BOA lacing too. 

Check the midsole to ensure it can support longer hikes and remember that it’s rare to find an approach shoe that can offer you everything without compromises. For instance, you can get a breathable shoe that uses more lightweight materials, but this will also mean that your footwear might not last as long as a pair of leather approach shoes. 

Focus on the features that are most important to you. For instance, do you need your approach shoes to be:

  • Waterproof: Although approach shoes aren’t always the best on wet terrain, it’s hard to predict the weather. Looking for approach shoes that can hold up to moisture when you’re hiking or climbing is crucial. Plenty of rubber will help with this; however you might find that waterproof shoes are a little heavier than their counterparts. 
  • Lightweight: If you want less to carry when you’re out on the trail, then you need to make sure your approach shoes don’t weigh too much. Even if you love the style of a Toe Box, Scarpa Crux, or Evolv Cruzer shoe, don’t buy anything until you know it doesn’t feel heavy on your feet. 
  • Durable: You don’t want your shoes ruined at the end of every hiking or climbing experience. Make sure that the shoes you buy can handle virtually any terrain, no matter what happens. Robust materials that can withstand a lot of abuse are crucial for a good pair of approach shoes. 

Find the Perfect Fit

If you decide that you need a good pair of approach shoes to make the most of your climbing and hiking activities, it’s essential to find the right footwear for you. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach shoe out there that will work for every foot. You’ll need to think about the features that matter most to you when getting a perfect fit. 

Remember, opt for shoes that offer plenty of volume and width for your feet, so you don’t feel any discomfort on the trail. You shouldn’t have any heel lift when you’re working, and you might need to go for snugger shoes if you plan on climbing often.