Finding the best approach shoes is like trying to find a dating partner. You want someone (or rather, something) that complements the intricacies of your lifestyle – and finding the best approach shoes is unique to each person. Like many dating profiles, there’s so much choice out there, and many you’re best advised to swipe past… So where do you begin?
The best starting point is with an assessment of what you require from your shoe in order to enjoy the adventures you want to engage in. It’s important to understand exactly what an approach shoe is intended for, and whether you’d be better with a pair of approach shoes or hiking shoes.
While approach shoes are traditionally designed to be protective, stiff and grippy – for use on more rocky, precipitous and technical terrain than hiking and off-road running shoes – there is some crossover, and brands occasionally incorporate features from trail-orientated footwear. To reflect this, we have included a range of designs here, from classic approach shoes favored by rock climbers, peak baggers and scramblers, through to shoes that can comfortably be used for longer treks across mixed terrain.
Our guide looks at the various features and functionalities of the best approach shoes available. Whether you’re wearing these for your next walk-in ahead of a day at the crag, or simply hiking a rocky trail, the best approach shoes have to be durable and versatile, as they need to serve more than one use.
From footwear produced by well-known go-to climbing brands like Black Diamond, Scarpa, La Sportiva and Five Ten to exciting alpine-inspired products from Salewa and Mammut, via the fusion between trainer and approach shoe made by Columbia and Salomon, these designs represent a cross selection of the best approach shoes available today.
The best approach shoes available right now
The best approach shoes for all-rounders
Super lightweight, high performance approach shoe suitable for the most rugged mountain environments, and designed to be easy to clip onto a harness or pack
RRP: $150 (US) / £140 (UK) / €185.90 (EU) | Weight (average, per shoe, men's): 387g / 13.65oz | Weight (average, per shoe, women's): 330g / 11.6oz | Materials: Ortholite Approach last; breathable non-slip mesh lining; water repellent nubuck leather upper; dual-compound Vibram MegaGrip and IdroGrip tread sole, with a climbing zone at the toe and Impact Brake System blocks at the rear | Colors (men's): Carbon & yellow / Clay & kale | Colors (women's): Clay& Kale, Carbon & Yellow / Cloud & LovePotion | Compatibility: Hiking, climbing, scrambling, fastpacking
Combining the light feel and tight-fitting capability of a high-performance rock climbing shoe with the desired stiffness and extra protection of a decent approach shoe, the La Sportiva TX Guide Leather is proving a popular choice for outdoor users who care about weight.
Keen technical fans will note that the climbing-inspired protective edge is made of lightweight PU-TECH Lite material. Uneven and rocky terrain is easily tackled thanks to the double Eva midsole with shock-absorbing compression on the heel and stabilizer on the forefoot, also co-molded with a TPU layer that acts as a stabilizer at the climbing zone, medial shank and rock-guard layer on the forefoot. Similar to the Scarpa Crux, the TX Guides use Vibram MegaGrip but alongside an Idrogrip sole to provide both grip during climbing, and durability and confidence when you need to brake going downhill.
The TX Guides certainly pack a punch – and as an approach shoe that combines technology with low weight and high comfort, it's one of the best approach shoes for taking you in pursuit of those high-octane adventures.
The trainer’s soft high collar and padded liner keep you comfortable, but will you keep them clean and mud free? That depends on the adventures you take them on, but let’s face it, if you’re using them as intended, there’s zero chance of these boots staying super pristine for very long.
Salewa Wildfire Gore-Tex Shoes
A precise-fitting, stiff-soled, comfortable and technically capable approach shoe
RRP: $170 (US) / £160 (UK) / €170 (EU) | Weight (per shoe, men's): 395g/14oz | Weight (per shoe, women's): 345g/12oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 11mm | Materials: Exa Shell Over Injected 3D Cage upper with a breathable Gore-Tex mesh; EVA midsole; Ortholite footbed; Pomoca Speed Mountain outsole | Colors (men's): Black / Black olive & walnut / Green & black / Myrtle & flux green | Colors (women's): Blue/Grey | Compatibility: Technical approach
Salewa ooze alpine coolness, and the Wildfire blends traditional approach-shoe components with modern, climbing-shoe influenced design to result in a shoe built for agility and confidence on technical scrambling approaches and day walks (as opposed to long, arduous days out in scorching weather).
A dual-density compression-molded EVA midsole cushions your feet nicely on rugged trail surfaces. The breathable mesh upper and well-designed EXA shell over injected 3D Cage provide both protection, stretch and torsional stability for feet.
The Wildfire has a climbing zone at the toe, which ensures good edging performance – ideal in committing technical terrain. The Pomoca Butilic compound rubber outsole provides great grip on rock in both dry and wet conditions – supplying sure-footed climbing precision on technical mountain approaches, scrambles, traverses and climbs – while the aggressive tread lugs offer improved traction on mud and softer terrain.
The Gore-Tex lining provided sufficient waterproof and breathable protection, which meant my feet felt comfortable despite their narrow fit. Climbing lacing further supports the foot with a 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. Best-suited for technical approaches when a B1 boot might be deemed overkill, the Wildfire is a full-featured approach shoe that has the technical design and performance to provide security to tackle the next ridge you walk along.
Mammut Ultimate Pro Low GTX
A precise-fitting, comfortable trainer-like approach shoe
RRP: $149 (US) / £140 (UK) | Weight (per shoe): 150g / 5.3oz | Materials: Non Sew TPU Hybrid-Shell upper with Gore-Tex membrane; TPU midsole; EVA wedge & Base Cage self-cleaning gripex tri-traction outsole | Colors (men's): Marine / Black / Olive | Colors (women's): Black / Dark deep taupe | Compatibility: Approach, hiking and climbing
If you're looking for the best approach shoes on the market right now, the Mammut Ultimate Pro Lows are definitely up there. These shoes provide some pretty distinctive comfort-focused features in the form of a lightweight padded tongue, foam cushioning and lightweight, round laces.
A hybrid shell and protective rubber border combines trainer-like comfort with the durability of a traditional approach shoe, yet the Ultimate Pro Lows have none of the bulk and awkwardness of a chunky shoe.
Having worn these shoes over a long testing period, they also felt one of the most comfortable thanks to the shoes’ TPU support elements in the center of the midsole area, which provides support over the longitudinal arch of the foot while increasing sure-footedness, comfort and reducing fatigue.
Finally, for people with feet that have a tendency to pronate, the Ultimate Pro Low GTX differ from super rigid approach shoes by incorporating a patented Mammut sole concept that allows the foot to naturally roll, rather than preventing any foot movement, thus reducing overall fatigue and the danger of twisting ankles.
The Gripex outsole technology also copes with tricky rocky conditions, from scrambling up the side of a coastal mountain to downclimbing to an abseil station. It’s clear the features have been designed for the outdoor user who doesn’t want to swap shoes between their activities – this is a high-performance shoe that’s lightweight and comfortable. A great all-rounder.
Heel-hugging comfort – a reliable pair of approach shoes for sunnier climates
RRP: $140 (US) / £103 (UK) | Weight (per shoe): 312g/11oz | Materials: EnduroKnit upper; Web lining; Tuned EVA midsole; Nylon rock plate; BlackLabel-Mountain sticky rubber outsole | Colors (men's): Eclipse blue & amber / Nickel & ultra blue | Colors (women's): Anthracite & wisteria / Ice Blue & alloy | Compatibility: Approach, walking, climbing, lifestyle
Roses are red, violets are blue, Black Diamond have decided to make a purple shoe... Whatever one’s preconceptions about a women’s specific purple (Wisteria) colored shoe might be, these approach shoes are as far from a fashion-orientated piece of apparel as you can get. Putting comfort and grip at the heart of the design, these are reliable shoes that combine innovative features with laces that bind over the arch of the foot, using an evenly distributed system to ensure the pressure isn’t just focused on the lacing near the top of the foot and can be easily adjusted without having to dig your fingernails in.
Webbing ‘grabs’ the lacing, meaning the laces also last for longer and ensure a tight, snug fit. The Black Diamond mission LTs are many people’s go to approach shoes thanks to the Black Mountain rubber offering high performance grip.
A highly breathable chassis is made with Black Diamond’s signature EnduroKnit, which is a one-piece, ultra-breathable upper for lasting temperature regulation that’s hyper-durable for season after season of abuse. A tuned EVA midsole provides ample stiffness for technical precision, while remaining comfortable. The nylon rock plate provides extra protection.
The best approach shoes for scrambling
Lightweight, ultra versatile approach shoes that cope with dirt, gravel and water
RRP: $130 (US) / £120 (UK) | Weight (per shoe, women’s size 38): 370g/13.05oz | Materials: stretch textile lining; Vibram Vertical Megragrip sole; 1.8mm water-resistant suede upper | Colors (men's): Shark / tonic | Colors (women's): Shark/Blue radiance | Compatibility: Technical approaches, scrambling, hiking
Nimbly walking the line between high performance and extreme comfort, the Scarpa Crux Women’s approach shoe offers stability, protection, grip and a snug fit in roughly equal measure, although the scales are tipped slightly in favor of grip. The combination of two rubber materials in the outer sole adds muscle to the grip, and it’s worth noting these approach shoes use the Vibram Megagrip outsole, the stickiest of all the Vibram rubber compounds, making them perfect for technical scrambling.
The folks at Scarpa have made sure to design the Crux to cope with covering a range of uneven terrain. ACTIV impact technology at a construction level ensures the materials are able to absorb the negative impact of groundshock to avoid placing greater stress on the lower limbs, while a full rubber rand around the toe which gives excellent grip as well as protection and durability against scuffs and confidence to trust the shoe to perform in scenarios which require precise footwork.
Lastly, Scarpa’s technologies include eco considerations in their choice of processes and materials, specifically chosen because they have been deemed environmentally friendly.
The best approach shoes for climbing
Brash and bold approach shoes for dirtbag-inspired coolness and wide comfort
RRP: $120 (US) / £100 (UK) | Weight (per shoe): 400g / 14.2oz | Materials: Leather upper; Textile lining; EVA Midsole; Stealth S1 rubber outsole | Colors: Night cargo, Coe black & active orange / True green & real magenta / Khaki, core black & hazy yellow | Compatibility: Approach, climbing, outdoor general
The original approach shoes – the Five Ten ‘Tennies’ – are back (now owned by adidas) and they’ve danced into the room in dazzling display of colors. For dirtbags who like their approach shoes as relaxed as their outlook, these are comfortable, wide-footbed approach shoes that feel almost slipper-like, meaning they are perfect for running in and out of the van, and messing about below the crag.
Having evolved into a multi-functional shoe, Five Ten ‘Tennies’ are now seen on mountain-biking tracks and forest trails, as well as on the feet of people walking in to sample some gritstone.
They’re easy to slip on and off, thanks to the elasticated cuff at the top of the foot, with a padded tongue. The laces are flat and chunky, meaning they hold well and are easily adjusted, thanks to the eyelets that hold the shoe well. A rubber rand, typical of the Tennies, help with the shoes’ overall resistance to scuffs to rough terrain.
Tennies have evolved plenty over time, and while it can be easy to dismiss them in favor of more ‘technical’ approach shoes now available, they still pack in a lot of features. The high-friction Stealth S1 rubber outsole, for example, provides unbeatable grip in wet or dry conditions, and supplies security when walking across dry rocky terrain, whether it be a quartzite boulder or a rocky strewn path.
Whilst they are up against La Sportiva and Salewa shoes designed more for high-octane adventures than the more casual lifestyle the Tennies were conceived to facilitate, these iconic shoes still have a place as a single pitch, easy-going comfortable approach shoe, and will continue to have a firm following.
The best trainer-like approach shoes
Salomon OUTline Prism GTX
Modern, breathable hiking style shoe that’s super flexible and able to cope with rough terrain
RRP: $130 (US) / £120 (UK) | Weight (per shoe, men's): 310g / 11oz | Weight (per shoe, women's): 260g/9.2oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 9mm | Materials: Synthetic textile upper with Gore-tex lining; OrthoLite insole; Contagrip MA rubber outsole | Colors: Almond cream, stormy weather & black / Flint, ebony & tropical peach/Black & Quiet shade / Blue indigo, navy blazer & icy morn | Compatibility: Walking, Running, Approach
When does a running shoe become a hiking shoe? And when does a hiking shoe become an approach shoe? Although making no over claim to be an approach shoe, Salomon delivers a bit of both in the form of the OUTline Prism GTX, which adapts to any of the tough tricky terrains where one shoe that’s able to cope with a multitude of settings is exactly what’s needed.
A lightweight, breathable shoe that’s got the flexibility of a running shoe, waterproof Gore-Tex membrane protection and the active all-terrain grip of a hiking shoe – as well as some built-in protection against scrapes and bumps – the OUTline Prism GTX will tolerate a great deal of abuse when hitting the rough and unexpected paths. High performance EVA foam delivers shock absorption, stitch-free upper construction provides a smooth, glove-like fit and feel, and an OrthoLite insole supplies superior cushioning, breathability and durability, upgrading the comfort and performance of the footwear. It’s feature- and tech-heavy, yet combines high performance with modern looks to feel like a well-designed trainer.
Columbia Facet 15 OutDry Trainer
A running shoe–influenced, design-conscious, waterproof trainer
RRP: $162 (US) / £115 (UK) | Weight (men's): 390g/13.5oz | Weight (women's): 290g/10.5oz | Heel-to-toe drop: 8mm | Materials: Ballistic textile upper with welded overlays; OutDry breathable waterproof membrane; Techlite midsole; Omni-Grip non-marking traction rubber outsole | Colors (men's): Abyss & right red / Dark grey & bright gold / Black | Colors (women's): Deep purple & dolphin / Dark Grey & dolphin | Compatibility: Hiking and urban adventures
Columbia has brought a new vision, design ethos and construction approach to running and hiking footwear markets and, true to form, the new Facet 15 OutDry Trainer pushes all sorts of boundaries. This visually arresting trainer (which might remind you of a futuristic bouldering wall) is constructed from a high percentage of recycled materials, and it’s made in a manner that pushes the edges of trainer technology.
Offered in various bold colors, the Facet OutDry isn’t only interested in making a fashion statement. While not strictly designed as an approach shoe, it has features that lend it to crag approaches and trail walking, including foot-cradling cushioning, a stabilizing heel for optimal control, and grippy outsole with a traction pattern that provides a secure, stable platform for hiking on uneven terrain.
A generous midsole, padded liner and elasticated, reinforced tongue keep the wearer comfortably cushioned on long days out – whether on the trail or off-piste on claggy mud – but we found the fit a bit sloppy (best suited to people with wide feet).
As the name suggest, the Facet 15 OutDry is waterproof, using a one-piece breathable waterproof membrane to help keep muddy puddles and damp grass out. On test, however, we found the padded tongue allowed water to penetrate and seep in from the ankle.
Choosing the best approach shoe for you
Working out how to choose the best approach shoes for you is a fairly involved process, but only because the range is so rich and personal preference is such a big factor.
Of course, what constitutes the best approach shoe depends on whether you're planning on using them just for walk-ins to the crag, or as general all-purpose trail walking shoes too.
Ask yourself how much you would like your shoes to do – do they need to be versatile enough to use across a range of activities, from day-to-day wear, to hillwalking and technical, rocky scrambling.
Support, rigidity and weight
Approach shoes generally don't offer as much ankle protection as a hiking boot, but many such shoes provide a greater range of rigidity to allow the ankle to move with the terrain, preventing over-pronation.
For those who enjoy technical scrambling, a stiffer sole might suit you best, while people who are aiming to go fast and light may prefer a more trainer-like feel to their approach shoe.
If you are intending to do a lot scrambling and ascents that involve edging, then good toe and heel protection is every bit as important as rigidity, and it’s worth paying a weight penalty to have all of these features. The ability to keep your feet dry is good, so a breathable waterproof membrane like Gore-Tex is a massive bonus.
If your local trails are steep, rocky and often wet, then prioritising a shoe with good lugs that offers great grip is an excellent idea. If you’re going to be doing a bit of running enroute to your nearest trails, perhaps choose a shoe with a slightly less aggressive outsole, that can cope well with a wide variety of surfaces in a mixture of wet and dry conditions.
A former brand ambassador for Merrell and current Ordnance Survey #GetOutside Champion, Jessie Leong’s lifelong outdoor odyssey began with Duke of Edinburgh’s Award walks in the Peak District. This segued into long hill hikes in the Yorkshire Dales, multi-day treks in the Lake District, scrambles in North Wales and adventures scaling alpine pinnacles. When not walking, she can be found rock climbing, wild swimming, cycling, photographing, filmmaking, writing and modelling. Jessie’s most recent claim to fame is playing a Miss World contestant in the 2020 feature film Misbehaviour.
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