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, or jump to the category you’re looking for. At the end of our list, be sure to check out our buyer’s guide.
The Best Approach Shoes of 2022
Thanks to its supreme durability and all-around performance, the Arc’teryx Koneal FL (Fast and Light) 2 ($145) is our favorite approach shoe on the market. We’ve been testing the same pair for a full year, and they’re showing zero signs of wearing out.
Many approach shoes fall into one of two camps: stiff and sturdy or light and nimble. The Konseal FL sits proudly in the middle of this spectrum. An average-size men’s option weighs just 1 pound, 6 ounces — impressive given its stiff profile and robust outsole. The Konseal FL manages to be lighter than many of its direct competitors, without sacrificing durability, comfort, or climbing ability.
The Konseal’s upper is made from a single piece of breathable synthetic material. It’s supple and breathable, and resists wear far better than many other synthetic uppers on the market. Our feet rarely overheat in these shoes — even on grueling midsummer approaches into the alpine.
We’ve climbed just about every kind of rock in the Konseal, and it rarely falls short. The underside of the Vibram outsole features an effective climbing zone, and while hiking through mud and fallen leaves, the shallow-yet-aggressive circular lugs provide a confident grip.
Arc’teryx is known for its steep prices, but the Konseal is competitively priced. For the technical features this shoe provides, we think it’s a solid value — the best approach shoe at the price range. The brand calls the fit “standard,” but we found that the toebox is better for those with narrow-to-average feet.
- Weight: 1 lb., 6 oz. (men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Synthetic
- Outsole: Vibram Megagrip
- Top-notch climbing ability
- Slightly narrow fit
While most high-quality approach shoes are priced between $130 and $170, the La Sportiva Boulder X ($120) offers high performance at a slightly reduced price point.
The Boulder X is one of the cheapest shoes on this list, but it’s also one of the most comfortable. The plush padded tongue and heel-hugging shape provide a cozy feel that most approach shoes don’t.
We wore this shoe as a daily driver for a full year, and the leather upper held together without issue. Thanks to the thick padded construction, the Boulder X can function as a warm, three-season option. In the summer months, the lack of breathability is apparent, as our feet sometimes overheat in these on longer hikes.
Ridge scrambles and steep trails are no problem for the Boulder X, but they aren’t the best option for fifth-class climbing. The shoe sits relatively high on a thick foam platform, which limits feel and is not ideal for precise and technical footwork.
In a men’s size 10, the Boulder X weighs well over one pound per shoe. They’re clunky, too, so we don’t recommend carrying these up a multipitch.
Overall, if you’re looking for an approach shoe that will handle endless miles of trails without breaking the bank, the Boulder X is easily the best approach shoe for the price.
- 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
When the climbing objective calls for tough and sturdy footwear, lace up the TX4s.
La Sportiva’s TX series dominates the approach shoe market, and the TX4 ($140) is the burliest of the lot. Combining a maximally stable sole with a robust leather upper, the TX4s are the best approach shoes for hauling heavy loads through rugged terrain.
When carrying a full pack of climbing gear and slogging through a talus field, supportive shoes are essential. The TX4s deliver the protection and stiffness of traditional hiking boots in a relatively lightweight package. If you’re seeking even more support and protection, the TX4s are also available with a mid-ankle cut and a GORE-TEX membrane.
We recently wore these while scrambling over volcanic talus in central Oregon, and they worked like a charm. The outsole is grippy enough to smear and edge with confidence, but it’s also thick enough to prevent foot fatigue. Even when walking on jagged basalt, the sharp contours of the rock didn’t hurt our feet.
The TX4s have a precise climbing zone and a streamlined shape. We climbed several pitches of low fifth-class cracks, and the leather upper was unaffected. Footjamming takes a toll on most approach shoes, but the TX4 is one of the few models that can handle it.
Even without a waterproof membrane, the leather uppers kept our feet dry in shallow puddles and light rain. As with most leather shoes, the TX4s lack ventilation, and our feet got sweaty in these when the conditions rose above 70 degrees. If you’re prone to warm feet and don’t mind sacrificing waterproofing, the La Sportiva TX3s are a good alternative.
Overall, we think these are the best approach shoes for rugged terrain.
- Weight: 1 lb., 8 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Leather
- Outsole: Vibram Megagrip Traverse
- Long lasting
- The size fluctuates when wet
- Not the most breathable
The Scarpa Rapid ($159) is a hybrid between an approach shoe and a trailrunning shoe. Many rockclimbers are also trail runners, and many trailrunners do a bit of scrambling on their “runs.” A hybrid style just makes sense, and Scarpa understood the assignment when designing the Rapid.
Straight out of the box, the Rapid feels lighter and more supple than the average approach shoe. If you’re used to wearing lightweight running shoes, the fit of the Rapid will feel familiar.
We wore the Rapid while cragging in California and Utah, and we also took it on a few non-climbing runs. The Vibram outsole performed well on all surfaces, and was particularly grippy on wet gravel and mud. Though the Rapid does have an outsole with a climbing zone, it never seemed overly bulky. If you choose to use this as a pure running shoe, you’ll be perfectly happy.
Due to the lightweight profile and thin mesh upper, the Rapid is less protective than other shoes on this list. We climbed a few cracks in it, and the upper immediately began to show minor abrasions. It isn’t super-stiff either, so we don’t recommend it for carrying heavy loads or aid climbing.
On the plus side, the breathable upper is ideal for hot conditions. Even in 80+ degrees, our feet didn’t sweat while hiking, jogging, or climbing. If you’re looking for a do-it-all hybrid shoe for summer excursions, the Rapid is one of the best approach shoes you’ll find.
- Weight: 1 lb., 5 oz. (men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Synthetic mesh
- Outsole: Vibram Agility
- Great for running
- Not the most durable upper
- Not ideal for carrying a heavy pack
Walk into any climbing gym, and you’ll likely see a few pairs of Evolv Cruzers ($79). Though these are technically approach shoes, it seems that urban settings are their primary habitat. Over the past few years, Cruzers have become part of many rock climbers’ standard in-town wardrobes.
When the Cruzer first came out, it carved out a unique and new product category. Rather than a traditional approach shoe, it looks and feels more like something out of Vans’ or Toms’ lineup. Still, this shoe proves to be very handy in various climbing scenarios.
It’s a great everyday shoe for gym-goers, but it also works beautifully at crags and boulder fields with short and moderate approaches. When it’s time to belay your partner or shift the pads around, it’s great to have a pair of these to quickly slip on.
As a lightweight descent shoe for multipitch climbing, the Cruzer is our favorite shoe on this list. A pair of men’s size 9.5s weigh a little over a pound, and the large pull-on loop is easy to clip with a carabiner.
Due to the thin upper material and soft outsole, the Cruzer is not great for arduous approaches. The Trax rubber will get you to your objective, but the material won’t hold up to frequent abuse. Instead, the Cruzer is a relatively affordable approach shoe that makes a versatile addition to the city-dwelling climber’s lifestyle.
- Weight: 1 lb., 4 oz. (men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Canvas
- Outsole: Trax Enduro Rubber
- Stylish (for an approach shoe)
- Lacks support and climbing ability
- Not the most durable
Best of the Rest
Garmont Dragontail Series — Tech GXT & Limited Edition
Italian mountain-footwear brand Garmont is perhaps best known for its ultralight ski boots. In recent years, the brand has branched out into the North American market with a range of hiking, mountaineering, and approach shoes. During our testing for this roundup, we tried two approach shoe styles from Garmot’s Dragontail line, and both performed exceptionally well.
The Dragontail series includes a range of shoes that share basic design elements but offer very different features. We tested the Dragontail Tech GTX ($200) and the Dragontail Limited Edition ($140). The Tech GTX is a waterproof approach shoe with a stiff outsole and a rugged Michelin Offroad outsole. The Limited Edition has midrange flex and comes with Garmont’s own Diamante outsole.
We tested both Dragontail styles on a big wall climbing trip in Zion National Park. Big wall climbing involves very heavy packs and lots of time spent standing on your feet in uncomfortable nylon ladders. Through all of this, the Dragontails offered plenty of support and protection.
The Tech GTX in particular is an ideal choice for the relentless manual labor that is aid climbing. It’s as stiff as a board and the rubber outsole is both sticky and durable. The only major downside is the weight. At 2 pounds, 3 ounces (pair, men’s size 9.5), the Tech GTX is significantly heavier than similar burly options.
The Limited Edition Dragontail is much lighter (1 pound, 12 ounces per pair), but it’s still a bit heavy for its class. Also, the rubber isn’t quite as sticky as the Tech GTX and the upper isn’t very breathable. Still, the Limited Edition is a classic-looking, durable approach shoe for all types of hiking and the occasional third- or fourth-class scramble.
Both shoes will fit the rigorous needs of aid climbers, and each meets the overall criteria to be some of the best approach shoes around.
Dragontail Tech GTX Specs:
- Weight: 2 lbs., 3 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Suede leather
- Outsole: Michelin Offroad Rubber
- Extremely supportive
- Minimal breathability
Dragontrail Limited Edition Specs:
- Weight: 1 lb., 12 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Suede leather
- Outsole: Garmont Diamonte Outsole
- Nice looking
- Good value
- Not the stickiest rubber
- Minimal breathability
The Black Diamond approach shoe lineup has hugely expanded in recent years. One of the standout models in the Session Suede ($134) — a “performance lifestyle” shoe designed for the crag and city streets alike.
We’ve worn the Session to the climbing gym and the sport crag, and we’ve even carried it up a few multipitch routes. It isn’t easy to create an urban/approach shoe hybrid, but Black Diamond has made an impressive attempt with the Session.
Ultimately, this shoe makes more sense in town than in the backcountry. The minimalist suede upper and soft, flexible structure isn’t ideal for long hikes in rugged terrain. The mid and outsoles are thin, and the bottom of your feet will feel every root and boulder through these shoes. Over many miles, the flimsy profile is a recipe for sore feet.
Still, for such a light and packable shoe, the Session can handle moderate approaches and short scrambles fairly well. It takes up minimal space on a harness and works perfectly as a multipitch descent shoe.
The Session has a collapsible heel, so you can easily slip it on and off without untying the laces. When it comes time to belay your partner or move the crashpads around, quick footwear transitions are much appreciated.
Overall, the Black Diamond Session Suede is one of the best approach shoes for city dwellers, gym-goers, and weekend warriors who want to show up to the crag in style.
- 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
The Black Diamond Mission LT ($139) is comfortable right out of the box. Traditional approach shoes tend to come with a narrow-fitted toe box, but the Mission LT bucks this trend with its roomy, yet customizable fit.
Based on our testing, the Mission LT specializes in hiking. It has decent technical climbing ability, but it really shines during long hikes on dirt, gravel, and talus. We also felt confident scrambling third- and fourth-class terrain in this shoe. Though it wouldn’t be our first choice for technical rock and vertical routes, it will do the job if you’re in a pinch.
The Mission LT has a rockered profile, which allows for a comfortable and natural stride while walking. When it comes time to climb, the rocker shape makes it slightly challenging to stand on small footholds with confidence. We appreciate that the lacing system continues down toward the toe, which allows the wearer to adjust the fit and increase precision.
For overall comfort and versatility, the Mission LT is a top pick.
- Weight: 1 lb., 6 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: EnduroKnit
- Outsole: Black Diamond Black Label-Mountain
- Great for long hikes
- Nice looking
- Not ideal for fifth-class climbing
- Requires a short break-in period
The Salewa Wildfire Edge ($169) is a stiff approach shoe geared toward technical climbing. Of all the shoes we tested, the Wildfire Edge was perhaps the stiffest of the bunch. A built-in toe plate adds extra rigidity, which came in handy on fifth-class terrain with relatively small footholds.
This shoe features innovative technical design elements that initially come across as a bit strange. Cords and laces are running in every direction, and the upper is covered in flat rubber sleeves. In our opinion, it isn’t very sleek-looking, but this shoe has a very technical aesthetic — it looks very odd in any setting that isn’t the trail.
The Wildfire Edge has two modes: hiking and climbing. Users can alternate between modes on the fly using Salewa’s Switchfit adjustment system. Climbing mode pushes the foot forward so that the toes can apply power to the edge of the sticky rubber climbing zone. In hiking mode, the foot sits further back against the heel and leaves the toes with room to wiggle.
We tested the Wildfire Edge at various Wyoming sport climbing areas. On the approach, we laced up in hiking mode, which certainly did open up the toebox. Climbing mode slightly squeezed our toes together and did improve the shoe’s edging ability. The Pomoca Speed Mtn outsole wasn’t the stickiest, but it still held firm on limestone edges and slick granite smears — especially in climbing mode.
Overall, this is a great shoe for carrying a heavy pack on long approaches with sections of fourth- and fifth-class terrain. It’s heavy, sturdy, and highly durable approach shoe.
- Weight: 1 lb., 14 oz. (pair, men’s 9.5)
- Upper material: Suede leather with Exa Shell Over Injected 3D cage
- Outsole: Pomoca Speed Mtn
- Very stiff
- Impressive technical ability
- Unusual design
- Requires a lengthy break-in period
Why You Should Trust Us
From weekend dabblers to recovering dirtbags, the GearJunkie team is full of climbers. 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.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Approach Shoes
What Are Approach Shoes?
Approach shoes are a cross between hiking shoes and climbing shoes. They combine the best traits of both parent categories to maximize performance between the car and the crag.
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 capable for technical climbing than hiking shoes. For the most part, the superior grip and climbing ability comes 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 go-er, 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 multipitch days, the Black Diamond Mission LT 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 the 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 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 Arc’teryx Konseal FL 2 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 Salewa Wildfire Edge 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 Evolv Cruzer Psyche.
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 Evolv Cruzer Psyche and 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 cheaper shoes on this list, such as the Evolv Cruzer Psyche, 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 multipitch 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 Scarpa Rapid are not the most stable or long-lasting. Burly and stiff shoes like the Salewa Wildfire Edge 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 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.
What Is the Difference Between Hiking Shoes and Approach Shoes?
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.
Which Approach Shoes Are Best for Technical Climbing?
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 Arc’teryx Konseal FL 2 has the most impressive climbing ability.
Can I Run in Approach Shoes?
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 Scarpa Rapid.
Weighing in at only 1 pound, 5 ounces, the Rapid 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.