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Best Approach Shoes: Get A Running Start

Best Approach shoes
Mark Foster
Written by Mark Foster

The best outdoor gear is hard to find and often there is an overwhelming number of options. Finding the best approach shoes are no different. Shoe manufacturers are working hard to find a shoe that has the best of two worlds: hiking and rock climbing.

Finding which approach shoe will work best for you is a bit more difficult. Whether you are an avid hiker or professional rock climber, those two activities go hand-in-hand. To get to the amazing cliffs and bluffs you want to summit, you have to hike and often while hiking we are confronted with climbing in some way shape or form.

Climbing in the Alps

Weighing the pros and cons of each shoe and matching your specific needs will save you money and space by purchasing one pair of approach shoes instead of buying two separate pairs of shoes for hiking and climbing.

BrandWeightTerrainClimbing rateHiking ClassMaterialPrice
Five Ten Men’s Tennie Leather Approach Shoe4-6 lbs eachClimbing preference5.0 - 5.9Class 4 TerrainNubuck leather mixed with synthetic materialCheck price on Amazon
La Sportiva Boulder X Men’s Climbing Shoe1-2 lbs eachHiking preference5.0 - 5.4Class 3 TerrainLeather mixed with meshCheck price on Amazon
Evolv Men’s Cruzer Approach Shoe0.8 ounces eachHiking preference5.0 - 5.4Class 3 TerrainCanvas with microfiberCheck price on Amazon
Salwea Men’s MS Trainer Hiking Shoe1 - 1.5 lbs eachHiking preference5.0Class 4 TerrainLeather with Gore-Tex fabricCheck price on Amazon
Scarpa Women’s Crux Approach Shoe1.5 - 2 lbsClimbing preference5.0 - 5.8Class 4 TerrainRecycled Mesh/PolyesterCheck price on Amazon
Five Ten Women’s Guide Tenie Approach Shoe1 lb eachClimbing preference5.0 - 5.8Class 4 TerrainNubuck leather with meshCheck price on Amazon
Scarpa Men’s Zen Multisport Shoe1 lb eachHiking preference5.0Class 4 TerrainSuede leather with VellutinaCheck price on Amazon
Vasque Men’s Performance Hiking Shoe6 ounces eachHiking preference5.0Class 3 TerrainLeather with meshCheck price on Amazon

Features to Consider When Buying?

Some of the main factors to consider when making the choice on which approach shoe to buy are weight, terrain specialties, materials and durability, and the hiking class and climbing rating they are given.

Weight

When contemplating which approach shoe is better, weight will become a factor. Whether these shoes are carried in combination with other shoes or on your feet, they need to be durable, comfortable, and lightweight. Neither hiking nor climbing calls for a heavy shoe.

Approach Shoes Material

There are variations of shoes that are more durable and heavy or less durable and light, and finding a balance for you can be done with a little research and confidence.

Terrain Specialties

Terrain specialties refer to what types of activities would be best for this shoe. Obviously, hiking and climbing are two main reasons you are considering an approach shoe, but what else can they do? Are they made more for hiking but have good qualities for climbing or the opposite? Are they better climbing shoes that you can hike in if you need to?

Best Approach Shoes terrain specialties

Checking the specialties of the shoes you are considering will prevent a lot of pain and even potential injury. If you are purchasing a pair that is made more for hiking and find yourself doing more climbing, the shoes will be uncomfortable and could hurt your feet.

These shoes may be lightweight and flexible and actually may be dangerous when used to climb more. Likewise, buying a pair of shoes that are heavier, tougher, and more narrow, which are specialties for climbing, but you end up doing more walking and hiking, these shoes will cause blisters and foot pain during your adventures.

Doing research on each type of shoe is highly important and doing research on the trails you will be hiking and trekking is also very important.

Material & Durability

Material and durability are sometimes contrasting points. It’s hard to have a shoe that has a strong yet flexible material but that is also durable and comfortable. These are the issues that every shoe company runs into when designing approach shoes.

Arcteryx belay approach shoes

The mesh is going to be the main component of a shoe that is lightweight and breathable. Whereas a tougher, and close-knit material that is waterproof will be used for a more protective shoe.

Each of these offers different weights as well. Additionally, the durability factor is important when hiking or climbing, but each activity calls for more or less durability to be satisfactory. The main component that will measure the shoe’s durability is upper material that surrounds the foot, and the lining material on the inside.

For approach shoes, this is mostly a matter of tread, thickness, and coverage. An approach shoe will have tread in certain places for grip and hiking and lack tread in the toe section to slide the toe into crevices while climbing.

Terrain Specialties

The thickness of the rubber sole will also add a lot of weight for the hiker, but is very important for the climber for grip and cushion. The coverage will also change from shoe to shoe. Some shoes will have more rubber and be more durable and some will offer less rubber to be lighter and offer a more breathable material.

Hiking Class Rating

There are five hiking classes, and they provide different types of terrain in regards to what you will be ascending or climbing. To ensure that you are always safe and prepared, approach shoes will often have a hiking class rating, informing you about which type, or types, of hiking class this shoe would be best for.

Some shoes have a particular rating for safety reasons to ensure you are not expecting more from the shoe than it can deliver, while some focus on what will be most comfortable in these shoes. The different hiking classes are:

  • Class 1: Walking on an easy, established trail.
  • Class 2: Hiking up a steep ascent- use of hand or objects for balance may be required.
  • Class 3: Climbing up a steep hill; mostly used without the need of a rope.
  • Class 4: Exposed, open climbing area, could be followed by a ledge. A rope would be used to maneuver such places and falls could be lethal.
  • Class 5: This is the area of real technical rock climbing. Protective gear and training are necessary for people partaking on this type of hike.

Approach Shoes Hiking Class

Keep in mind there are informed suggestions from the designers and manufacturers and that not all shoes are created equal.

Climbing Rating

Along with hiking classes, there are also climbing ratings given to shoes, such as the approach shoe, to consider before buying.

This rating, paired with the hiking class rating, will give you an idea of what the shoe can handle and what you will be able to accomplish with the shoe safely and comfortably. The rating scale is from 5.0-5.15 and goes up with difficulty:

  • 0-5.4: Climbing up a ramp or a steep section with acceptable holds.
  • 5-5.10: Steeper, more vertical climbing, but still on good, but small holds. As the numbers grow it means that the climbing is more sustained, and there may or may not be a slight overhang and require some sustained practice.
  • 10-5.15: Very sustained climbing. Mostly with very small holes and larger overhangs. These require lots of practice and are not for inexperienced climbers. Climbers need to be strong enough to make quick and powerful moves along these ranges and require great balance. The number goes higher and the climb becomes much more difficult. 5.14 and 5.14 are some of the hardest in the world and very few climbers get to this level.

Approach Shoes Climbing Rating

Of these ranges, most approach shoes will say in the 5.0-5.4. This is still very important information to know before buying and taking them on the trail. Each shoe is made with specifications that make it more suitable for different hiking and climbing ranges. For example, larger toe boxes are better for hiking because they allow more room, whereas smaller, more narrow toe boxes fit into narrow cracks for better climbing.

Top-Rated Approach Shoes You Can Buy

Let’s take a closer look at a few of the best approach shoes and see where they compare and contrast with one another.

Five Ten Men’s Tennie Leather Approach ShoeFive Ten Men's Guide Tennie Leather Approach Shoe

Price: Approx. $140

Weight: Approx. 4-6 lbs. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Climbing Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Nubuck Leather; Lining Material- Synthetic

Hiking Class: Class 4 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0- 5.9

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: The Five Ten Men’s Tennie Leather Approach Shoe is a heavy-duty pair. The tread on the bottom is made with C4 dot rubber for excellent grip on even the smoothest rocks to prevent slipping.

This shoe has full-length lacing, which means the laces go almost all the way to the toe. This allows the user to tighten and secure the shoe around all parts of the foot, not just the arch and ankle. This shoe does feature an edging pad made for climbing but is not a strong as other approach shoes.

It also features a taller toe which is great for larger cracks, but won’t fit well into smaller crevices. The forefront of the shoe is very stiff- ideal for climbing and has a sticky rubber sole for a larger surface area and better gripping.

The midsole of the inside of the shoe features some light cushioning that will aid in hiking, but overall this shoe has more a climbing preference. They are fairly heavy and not something you want to walk numerous miles in alone. If your terrain involves more climbing than hiking, these might be the shoes for you.

PROS:

  • Heavy-duty hiking/climbing shoe
  • Tread made of C4 dot rubber
  • Ideal for climbing
  • Great grip

CONS:

  • Slightly heavy for long-distance walking

Related: Five Ten also designed the Five Ten Women’s Guide Tenie Approach shoe as well. Just like the men’s model, it’s made with leather and a high-friction stealth C4 Dotty tread for exceptional grip. It also comes with compression molded EVA midsoles for extra comfort.

Check the price on Amazon

La Sportiva Boulder X Men’s Climbing ShoeLa Sportiva Boulder X Men's

Price: Approx. $84

Weight: Approx. 1-2 lbs. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Hiking Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Leather; Lining Material- Mesh

Hiking Class: Class 3 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0-5.4

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: La Sportiva Boulder X Climbing Shoe uses specially formulated Vibrum Idro-grip on its sole which has been proven to be one of the stickiest rubber materials out there. This rubber material is also ideal for wet conditions and will ensure you’re not slipping on the rocks.

This shoe does have more of a hiking preference, though, because it features high insoles to aid in flexibility and cushion during a hike, and lack the stability during climbing.

It features microcellular rubber along the bottom to help absorb the shock of jumps and landings. These approach shoes also feature full-length lacing from the ankle to down near the toe area for ideal fitting and tightening.

These shoes don’t have the same durability through the upper body of the shoe because they are lined with a mesh material which allows for movement and breathability but could cause foot slippage when climbing. These approach shoes are high in comfort and still mildly stiff in the forefront to work through any low-grade technical climb.

PROS:

  • Vibrum Idro-grip
  • Ideal for wet conditions
  • Shock absorbent
  • Breathability
  • High range of motion

CONS:

  • Not ideal for climbing
  • Not as durable as other hiking shoes

Related: There’s a women’s model of the La Sportiva Boulder X Approach shoe as well. It’s made of the same materials and structure, it;s simply designed for the female body. It’s a great shoe for scrambling, rock hopping and approach.

Check the price on Amazon

Evolv Men’s Cruzer Approach Shoeevolv Men's Cruzer Approach Shoe

Price: Approx. $75

Weight: Approx. 8 oz. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Hiking Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Canvas; Lining Material- Microfiber

Hiking Class: Class 3 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0-5.4

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: The Evolv Men’s Cruzer Approach Shoe is one of the only hiking/climbing combo shoes made of canvas. This allows the shoe to be extremely lightweight and helps it maintain super flexibility as it almost becomes one with your foot.

The downside to this is that it lacks real protection and stability. They feature a folding heel so you can easily slip them on around camp. They have a thin cushioned insole that aid in hiking and comfort, but lack the rubber and protective tread needed to do any medium grade climbing.

They are barefoot friendly and have a great design that wicks moisture quickly from the foot. They are missing a lot of the sticky rubber near the toe and bottom to prevent slipping and could actually cause injury if used outside its capabilities. The plus is that these shoes are great-looking on both men and women and are very minimal in their appearance, often being compared to the look of “Toms” shoes.

PROS:

  • Extremely lightweight
  • Highly flexible
  • Beautifully designed
  • Made with canvas material

CONS:

  • Lacks stability
  • No real protection
  • No rubber tread
  • Not ideal for climbing

Related: There’s also a women’s version of the evolv Cruzer Approach shoe. It’s built the same as the men’s model, however, is designed for the female body. It comes with a collapsible heel for slip-on use and it’s easy to wear.

Check the price on Amazon

Salewa Men’s MS Trainer Hiking ShoeSalewa Men’s MS Trainer Hiking Shoe

Price: Approx. $128

Weight: Approx. 1-1.5 lbs. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Hiking Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Leather; Lining Material- Gore-Tex Fabric

Hiking Class: Class 4 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: Salewa Men’s Trainer Hiking Shoe has a clear hiking preference. A little taller shoe through the ankle does provide great support but a minimal range of motion when maneuvering up a cliffside.

As many others do, these shoes also feature full-length lacing down to the toe to help tighten all the way down the foot. This keeps the foot from sliding inside the shoe during a hike or climb. This hiking shoe is highly water- resistant and features quality Vibram rubber along the lower outside of the shoe.

These do well in wet conditions because of the sticky rubber. Unlike others, these shoes have a removable insole to help the shoe seem wider or more narrow depending on the task at hand. Removing the insole give the shoe more room for great hiking and inserting the insole allows it a tighter more snug fit for climbing.

The lining material of these shoes is super breathable Gore-Tec fabric, but they also do very well in wet grass, mud, and even snow. They have a stiff forefront and a large toe-box for average climbing conditions but may have trouble with more technical and smaller foot holes.

PROS:

  • Water-resistant
  • Vibram rubber
  • Removable insole
  • Gore-Tec fabric
  • Large toe-box

CONS:

  • Not ideal for technical climbing

Related: If you’re a fan of Salewa, they also have the Men’s Firetail 3 hiking shoe. You’ll be able to hike through ice, snow, rocky, muddy and technical terrain. It comes with a Vibram sole and the patented Salewa technology ensures a perfect fit.

Check the price on Amazon

Scarpa Women’s Crux Approach ShoeScarpa Women's Crux Hiking Shoe

Price: Approx. $119

Weight: Approx. 1.5-2 lbs. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties Climbing Preference

Materials: Lining Material- Recycled Mesh/Polyester

Hiking Class: Class 4 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0-5.8

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: The Scarpa Women’s Crux Approach Shoes is yet another approach shoe that features full-length lacing. It also boasts a durable, and highly sticky, rubber sole made from Vibrum rubber.

These shoes have more of a climbing preference since they include additional supportive webbing along the inside liner to help have flexibility without a loss of control. The narrow toe-box is perfect for tight spaces in a more technical climb.

They feature an insole for additional walking comfort and also a cushion near the toe to prevent banging during descents. When it comes to climbing and hiking, this shoe has the comfort and flexibility of a great hiking shoe with the stiffness and strong rubber of a great climbing shoe.

PROS:

  • Durable
  • Vibram rubber sole
  • Suitable for technical climbing
  • Flexible
  • Narrow toe-box for climbing

CONS:

  • Short tongue
  • Not enough rubber protecting the upper

Related: If you suffer from sore feet after a hike, try out Dr. Frederick’s Original Metatarsal Pads. With these gel pads they help eliminate pressure points and provide you with instant soothing.

Check the price on Amazon

Five Ten Women’s Guide Tenie Approach ShoeFive Ten Women’s Guide Tenie Approach Shoe

Price: Approx. $140

Weight: Approx. 1 lb. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Climbing Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Nubuck Leather; Lining Material- Mesh

Hiking Class: Class 4 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0-5.8

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: Five Ten Women’s Guide Tenie Approach Shoe also features a women’s pair of Guide Tennie approach shoes. They have high-friction tread for added stability and grip and a low ankle for added mobility of the joints.

They have created a specially formulated toe-box with a tough rubber cover that is perfect for edging and scrambling on the hillsides. This is a fairly narrow shoe with a molded insole for a tight feeling and minimal foot movement inside the shoe.

The insole along with typical full-length lacing create one of the tightest climbing shoes out there. With additional mesh for breathability and the fact that they are fairly water resistant makes these shoes a great approach shoe all around, but maybe more suited for climbing than hiking alone.

PROS:

  • High-friction tread
  • Great stability and grip
  • Toe-box with rubber cover
  • Highly breathable
  • Water resistant

CONS:

  • More suitable for climbing rather than hiking

Related: If you’re looking for urban wear, Five Ten has the Urban Approach Hiking Shoe which is suitable for both hiking and casual walking. It comes with a collapsible heel, synthetic footbed and dotty tread outsole with a climbing zone toe.

Check the price on Amazon

Scarpa Men’s Zen Multisport ShoeScarpa Mens Zen Multisport Shoe

Price: Approx. $149

Weight: Approx 1 lbs. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Hiking Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Suede Leather; Lining Material- Vellutina

Hiking Class: Class 4 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: Scarpa also makes a men’s model call the Zen Multisport Shoe. This shoe features a reinforced arch for extra foot support and foam cushioning in the insole for added comfort. The lining is made with Vellutina which is a moisture-wicking material that also allows for superior breathability.

The outer sole is lined with the same tough Vibrum rubber as many other approach shoes and the upper material is a strong leather. The toe box is taller, but more narrow which works well for climbing, but it’s almost too tall and bulky to be as helpful as it could be. These are better for inclined terrain and rocks, and not real, technical climbing.

The rubber tread does well in wet conditions and on wet surfaces, and the small holes in the tread have a tendency to pick up small pebbles which could be dangerous and cause slipping. They are known to be long-lasting and durable and are another approach shoe with full-length lacing.

PROS:

  • Reinforce arch for extra support
  • Foam cushioned insole for comfort
  • Moisture-wicking material
  • Durable
  • Treads well in wet conditions

CONS:

  • Not ideal for technical climbing

Related: Perhaps you’re a fan of Scarpa, however, you’re not wanting a hiking boot but rather a more casual shoe. Scarpa Men’s Mojito Casual Shoe is a great option that you’ll be able to wear around town. It comes with a Vibram sole and dual-density foam as well.

Check the price on Amazon

Vasque Men’s Performance Hiking Shoeevolv Men's Cruzer Approach Shoe

Price: Approx. $89

Weight: Approx. 6 oz. each (depending on size)

Terrain Specialties: Hiking Preference

Materials: Upper Material- Leather; Lining Material- Mesh

Hiking Class: Class 3 Terrain

Climbing Rating: 5.0

Best Use: Hiking, Climbing, Backpacking

Description: The Vasque Men’s Performance Hiking Shoe is our final approach shoe. With the usual sticky Vibrum rubber, these shoes are great for scaling, but not always great for edging or using small holes and crevices.

They are an all-around great looking athletic shoe but are missing the full coverage of a proper climbing toe-box, although the toe does feature an abrasion-resistant rubber. These shoes have more of a hiking preference even with a narrow sole and toe box because the missing rubber along the edges and over the top of the toe could cause injury to your feet when climbing.

They are highly breathable and with the full-length lacing could be even more breathable when loosened or tightened in spots along the foot. They are not the most durable of approach shoes and are missing the stiff forefront and additional support from a tough rubber surrounding, but are extremely lightweight at only about one pound for a pair! They also feature a dual-cushioned insole that adds yet another reason to take them hiking.

PROS:

  • Abrasion-resistant rubber
  • Great for edging or small holes/crevices
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Dual-cushioned insole
  • Affordable

CONS:

  • Not ideal for climbing

Related: If you’re looking for a sturdier shoe that you’ll be able to wear during harsh weather conditions, then we recommend the Hi-Tec Men’s Altitude IV Waterproof hiking boot. Leather with a rubber sole, you’ll be able to wear these hiking boots during rough terrain without any problems.

Check the price on Amazon

Approaching A Decision

When it comes time to make a decision on which approach shoe will be best for you, there are a number of things to consider before buying. Consider your own experience. If you are a beginner hiker or climber, it might be best to learn in an appropriate shoe.

Most approach shoes would work for either hiking or climbing when fitted to the right person. Some approach shoes are heavier which cause more difficulty hiking or have more lightweight mesh material which causes difficulty when climbing.

Approach shoes really are the best of both worlds. They are a combination of light and tough, durable and breathable. Taking into consideration where you may be hiking or climbing is also an important factor when choosing a shoe.

Man with approach shoes

So have you tried wearing a pair of approach shoes before? Or perhaps, you have a favorite pair that you care to share? Let us know in the comments!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Foster
Mark Foster

Mark Foster loves to push his limits when it comes to survival in the wilderness. He might go for a 30-days adventure without any food or equipment except for a survival kit and a knife. We should mention that his survival kit has 122 items in it, so he know what he is doing. Mark is working on his book to share with the world all his experience gained during those brave adventures.

  • Millie Anderson

    I’ve owned both the Scarpa Cruxes and the Guide Tennies. Currently favoring the Cruxes – they seem to outperform the Guides in a lot of ways. Don’t get me wrong, they’re both great approach shoes, it’s just the Guides are heavier and don’t cope well with wet surfaces. The Cruxes, on the other hand, are great on all terrain. I got caught in a surprise snow storm – in the desert no less – and they survived sand, rock, snow, ice and water with no issues.

  • Mark Foster

    I think choosing a product really depends on your needs. Like your requirements in choosing a pair of approach shoes may be different from mine. It’s great that there are superior products that can meet all our requirements, don’t you think so?

  • Stefan Sanga

    I wear the La Sportiva Boulders. Whilst they do fit true to size, they seem to be tighter around the middle of the shoe. When you add in the lacing system, this adds up to a snug, comfortable shoe. The soles are very sticky and ensure that you have grip on a wide range of rugged terrains and in all weather. The only complaint I have with them is the fact that they are not waterproof. For the price you pay this is somewhat of an issue.

  • Mark Foster

    Well, they do offer a snug fit and though they may not be waterproof, I do believe they are water-resistant so your feet stays dry.

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