Whether you’re looking to ease crag access or need sticky rubber for a summer alpine ascent, we’ve narrowed down the best approach shoes to ensure that a lack of traction doesn’t ruin your day.
From the car to the cliff, a good pair of approach shoes can help you reach your rocky objective in style. Approach shoes combine characteristics of hiking boots and climbing shoes to create versatile footwear that excels in rocky terrain.
Climbing shoes are useless for hiking, and hiking boots aren’t suitable for technical climbing. With sticky rubber outsoles and trail-ready comfort, approach shoes are the best of both worlds.
In recent years, approach shoes have become an essential tool for climbers, hikers, and ridge-scrambling peak baggers alike. There are many different types of approach shoes, and each has a unique set of pros and cons. Some approach shoes prioritize technical rock climbing ability, while others are robust enough for backpacking and may even come with a mid-height ankle cuff.
On this list, we’ve organized the best approach shoes on the market into several distinct categories. Whether you need footwear for quick jaunts to the crag or multi-day slogs through the mountains, our list has you covered.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, and at the end of our list, be sure to check out our buyer’s guide. We’ve also included a chart for side-by-side comparisons, and wrap things up with with some frequently asked questions.
The Best Approach Shoes of 2023
- Best Overall Approach Shoes: La Sportiva TX4
- Best Budget Approach Shies: Black Diamond Session Suede
- Most Durable Approach Shoes: La Sportiva Boulder X
- Best for Light and Fast Objectives: The North Face Cragstone Pro
- Long lasting and durable
- The size seems to fluctuates when wet
- Not the most breathable
- Weight 1 lb., 5 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material Suede leather
- Outsole Black Diamond Black Label-Street
- Trendy appearance
- Not ideal for technical climbing
- Not very supportive
Most Durable Approach Shoe
- Weight 2 lbs., 3 oz. (pair, men’s 10)
- Upper material Leather
- Outsole Vibram Megagrip Idro-Grip V Smear
- Good value
- Not the best for fifth-class climbing
Best for Light and Fast Approaches
- Easily adjustable fit
- Not ideal for foot jamming
The Best of the Rest
- Dragontail Tech GTX Specs:
- Weight 2 lbs., 3 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material Suede leather
- Outsole Michelin Offroad rubber
- Dragontail Tech GTX Specs pros:
- Extremely supportive
- Dragontail Tech GTX Cons:
- Minimal breathability
- Weight 1 lb., 8 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material Synthetic durable knit
- Outsole Black Diamond Black Label-Mountain
- Great for long hikes
- Nice looking
- Not ideal for fifth-class climbing
- Requires a short break-in period
- Well-equipped for technical climbing
- Not the most breathable
Approach Shoe Comparison Table
|Approach Shoes||Price||Weight||Upper Material||Outsole||Best For|
|La Sportiva TX4||$159||1 lb., 8 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)||Leather||Vibram Megagrip Traverse||Technical edging and jamming|
|Black Diamond Session Suede||$150||1 lb., 5 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)||Suede leather||Black Diamond Black Label-Street||Urban use and mellow approaches|
|La Sportiva Boulder X||$149||2 lbs., 3 oz. (pair, men’s 10)||Leather||Vibram Megagrip Idro-Grip V Smear||Long-term durability|
|The North Face Cragstone Pro||$169||1lb., 3 oz. (pair, men’s 10)||Spectra mesh||Vibram Litebase||Light and fast objectives, hot weather|
|Garmont Dragontail Tech GTX||$200||2 lbs., 3 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)||Suede leather||Michelin Offroad rubber||Aid climbing and foot jamming|
|Black Diamond Mission LT 2.0||$160||1 lb., 8 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)||Synthetic knit||Black Diamond Black Label-Mountain Rubber||All around use|
|SCARPA Mescalito||$229||1 lb., 12.2 oz.||Suede leather||Vibram Megagrip||Technical edging and jamming|
Why You Should Trust Us
The GearJunkie team is full of climbers, from weekend dabblers to recovering dirtbags. And, like most modern climbers, approach shoes are a key part of our standard attire. Sticky rubber at the ready, we approach the office, we approach the grocery store, and when we’re lucky, we approach the crag.
To compile this list of recommendations, we checked out a broad spectrum of approach shoe brands and models. We made sure to try shoes from leading brands and smaller upstarts. Every pair went through a visual inspection, weight check, and multiple days out climbing.
There are many different kinds of approach shoes. Some are hefty and technical, and others are light and flimsy. While making our assessments, we considered each shoe’s intended purpose according to the manufacturer. Still, we hiked, scrambled, and climbed vertical rock up to fifth class in every single pair.
Our recommendations are always in flux. As we continue to test new models, we will update this list to include the best of the best.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Approach Shoes
What Are Approach Shoes?
Though our list of recommendations includes a broad spectrum of features, approach shoes generally have a few key characteristics. Most importantly, they have a sticky rubber outsole. To earn a place in the “approach” category, a pair of shoes must have some capacity to stick to rock and execute relatively technical movements.
Many approach shoes come with a built-in “climbing zone” — which is a patch of smooth rubber near the toe that can be used to smear and stand on small footholds. Accessing the base of climbing routes often requires fourth or low-fifth-class climbing — this is where approach shoes shine.
Along with durable sticky rubber soles, approach shoes should also have a durable upper and offer some baseline stability. From long slogs on the trail to boulder hopping up talus, approach shoes must put up with serious wear without falling apart. If they’re too flimsy or thin, they probably can’t withstand the abuse that a true approach shoe should. Ultralight trail runners and legitimate approach shoes are not the same.
While hiking shoes tend to hand a curved, rocker profile, technical approach shoes usually have a flat sole. A flat sole makes it easier to channel power into your toes and stand on small footholds.
All of the shoes on this list are proper approach shoes. Some are light and nimble, others are super supportive and robust, but they’re all built to meet the needs of climbers on a mission.
Climbing Ability and Outsole
By design, approach shoes are far more suited for technical climbing than hiking shoes. For the most part, the superior grip and climbing ability come from a soft and sticky rubber outsole. As climbers know, super soft, tacky rubber is the ideal material for climbing rock with confidence.
Approach shoes have hybrid outsoles that combine climbing shoe and hiking boot features for maximum versatility. Approach shoe rubber is relatively soft, but it should still maintain traction on the trail.
When shopping for climbing shoes, it is important to consider where and how you will use them. If you plan to wear your approach shoes while scrambling on steep terrain and climbing 4th and 5th class rock, be sure to choose a shoe with soft rubber and an ample climbing zone. If you’ll mostly be hiking on low-angle trails, general performance and comfort should be greater priorities than technical climbing features.
If you are a well-rounded mountain goer, we recommend approach shoes with a customizable fit that you can adjust according to the activity at hand. For maximum customization, look for a lacing system that runs the length of the upper and all the way down to the toe.
On this list, the La Sportiva TX4 is an approach shoe with ultra-impressive technical climbing ability. For moderate terrain and casual multi-pitch days, the Black Diamond Mission LT 2.0 is a good comfort-forward option.
Upper Material: Synthetic or Leather?
A shoe’s upper is the material that makes up the top of the shoe. In the approach shoe category, most uppers are made from either leather or synthetic material. Both options have their pros and cons, and neither is strictly better than the other.
Leather uppers, similar to those found on traditional hiking footwear, offer supreme durability. We’ve long-term tested both leather and synthetic approach shoes, and the leather styles seem to hold up to more rugged use.
Leather also has an advantage when it comes to water resistance. It naturally repels water and doesn’t fully rely on a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) treatment to keep your feet dry.
In warm conditions, leather does not breathe especially well and can cause uncomfortable, hot feet. If you plan to wear your approach shoes for desert climbing in places like Joshua Tree or Red Rock, leather may not be the ideal choice.
Leather also stretches, while synthetic does not. If you purchase leather approach shoes, it is important to realize that they will become a bit roomier over time.
Approach shoes are meant to be worn in rugged and rocky terrain, and long-term durability is a must. In our experience, the upper materials on approach shoes wear out long before the rubber outsoles do.
As the outsole wears, the tread becomes smooth and shallow, but the shoes can typically go on functioning without issue. Plus, many approach shoes can be resoled. When the upper falls apart, however, the shoes no longer function as needed.
When climbing on rock or standing in aid ladders, the toe-end of approach shoes take a lot of abuse. Most shoes on this list have a sticky rubber rand that wraps up and over the toe which adds durability in a key area — just about all of the longest-lasting styles have it.
If durability is a priority for you, we recommend a pair of heavy-duty approach shoes with a rubber toe rand and a leather upper. Leather does get warm in summer conditions, but it also tends to last longer than synthetic material. On this list, the La Sportiva Boulder X is an impressively durable and long-lasting approach shoe.
Support and Stiffness
Climbing gear is heavy, and hauling a fully loaded backpack calls for supportive footwear. Backpackers tend to wear stiff and supportive boots for stability, and in many ways, climbers have similar needs.
Additionally, stiff shoes tend to work better for standing on small edges and climbing cracks. Aid climbers also tend to prefer stiff shoes — standing in slings is downright painful in floppy shoes. On this list, the La Sportiva TX4 is on the very stiff end of the approach shoe spectrum.
Not all approach shoes are stiff and supportive. While super stiff shoes may be nice while hiking with a full rack and a rope, they have some downsides.
Firstly, stiff shoes sacrifice agility and flex, which can come in handy while scampering up a talus field or soloing an easy approach pitch. If you’re looking for a soft and nimble approach shoe, check out the Black Diamond Session Suede.
Approach shoes are built for the outdoors, but many climbers choose to rock them as their go-to, do-it-all footwear. While aesthetics aren’t the main purpose of approach shoes, some recent styles have become quite spiffy.
On this list, shoes like the Black Diamond Session Suede have a lightweight profile and modern styling that looks great in the climbing gym and other front country settings.
Approach shoes vary in price from about $60 to over $200. However, an approach shoe’s value is not purely based on the price. The less expensive shoes on this list are great in many ways, but they won’t last as long or perform as well on rugged approaches. For the best overall bang for your buck, check out the La Sportiva Boulder X.
Weight and Packability
When multi-pitch climbing, it is common to clip a pair of approach shoes to your harness to wear while rappelling or hiking back to the base of the route. For this reason, we love when approach shoes are light and packable.
Light shoes come in handy, but it’s important to maintain a balance between total weight, performance, and durability. Super light approach shoes like the North Face Cragstone Pro are not the most stable or long-lasting. Burly and stiff shoes like the La Sportiva Boulder X can foot jam beautifully, but they take up lots of space on a harness.
If you’re looking for a good middle ground, the Black Diamond Mission LT 2.0 is light and fairly supportive. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that you can just clip to your haul loop and forget about, the Session Suede weighs just over one pound per pair. Plus, the heel collapses down so they’ll take up less space on your harness.
Hiking and approach shoes are similar, but there are a handful of key characteristics that differentiate the two categories. While hiking shoes are designed for waking on relatively flat surfaces, approach shoes are made to venture into rocky and technical terrain.
In general, approach shoes have a flat sole with a soft and sticky rubber outsole that is similar to a climbing shoe. The soft rubber conforms to rock and provides lots of friction when smearing or edging. Hiking shoes tend to have a rockered profile and a harder rubber compound that prioritizes durability and works well on dirt and mud.
Approach shoes have semi-shallow tread patterns that are far less aggressive than the deep lugs of most hiking shoes. While climbing or scrambling over rock, shallow tread maximizes surface contact and increases friction.
Many approach shoes have a “climbing zone,” which is a completely flat plane of sticky rubber underneath the toe. This feature is great for climbing rock, but it can also be a detriment while hiking through mud or sand.
Ultimately, there is a lot of overlap between hiking and approach shoes. In many cases, you could use hiking shoes as approach shoes and vice versa.
The shoes don’t make the climber. The climbing ability of any shoe depends on the skillset and comfort level of the user. With that said, all of the approach shoes on this list are designed to handle technical, rocky terrain. Some, however, are far more capable than others.
Of the numerous shoes that we tested, the La Sportiva TX4 has the most impressive climbing ability.
Not all approach shoes are designed for running. Many of the shoes on this list are simply too stiff and too heavy to work well at high speeds. If you’re looking for approach shoes that can double as trail runners, check out The North Face Cragstone Pro.
Weighing in at only 1 pound, 5 ounces, the Cragstone looks and feels like a mountain running shoe. When it comes time to scramble or smear, the Rapid’s sticky outsole and generous climbing zone are plenty capable.