Getting a new pair of adventure shoes is usually the first step toward crafting summer plans. Like spring, it awakens the senses and stirs wanderlust. This year, I picked up a pair of Patagonia’s Rover Approach shoes, a lightweight cross trainer that fits somewhere between approach, trail runner, and climbing shoe.
The $125 Patagonia Rover is light — just shy of 9oz. per shoe — which puts them on par with trail-runners. It sheds weight by pairing an abrasion-resistant mesh upper to a 4mm-drop EVA midsole. But light doesn’t imply fragile. The high-wear areas are protected with synthetic leather and the toe and heel are wrapped in sticky rubber. A thin foot plate protects the forefoot from rough trail.
A gusseted tongue snugs the foot in the shoe and keeps out most debris. And the variable “toe-to-toe lacing system” can adjust the Rover from a tight climbing fit to a roomier, running-friendly toe box.
The fit is a bit narrow — I wear a 9.5 street shoe and a size 10 running shoe. I opted for a 10 in the Rover; the shoe felt long and didn’t tie super snug over the toes. But I had room to run and spread the toes over the course of a long day.
The Rovers’ do-all nature comes at the price of compromise. This summer I put them through a series of rigorous tests to itemize their strengths and weaknesses and have been surprised by their versatility.
Cycling: My first spin in the Rovers paired them with flat pedals and 150 miles of desert road by mountain bike. The low tread pattern and grippy rubber kept the shoe centered on the pedal. Yet it still had enough cushion to dampen the chatter. And unlike my partner, who wore a pure trail runner, the foot plate prevented my feet from feeling numb at the end of a long day.
Running: I purchased the shoes with a slight bias for running, matching my tendencies for off-trail scrambling. Compared to a traditional trail runner, the flat foot sole slapped against the trail rather than rolling fluidly over it. The shoe certainly isn’t a distance runner but it excelled on blocky rock scrambles. I capped them at 14 miles, and realistically, if you are racing—even adventure racing—you’ll want a different shoe. But for more stop-and-go, fast-packing and hiking trips, the shoes provided all day comfort second to none.
Climbing: A runner first and climber second, I still managed to take the Rovers up and down the local gym wall and out to City of Rocks park to climb. Inside and out, the Rovers climbed well into the 5.8 zone, but they began to show limits at 5.9 and above, where thinner lines demanded more careful footwork. The shoe is incredibly pliable, and hence it won’t hold an edge on thin flakes. The sole doesn’t smear as well as a pure climbing shoe. But the rubber heel hooked well and the toe box did indeed cinch down, but not enough to stabilize the foot in the shoe on rock requiring precise placement.
Water Sports: Here’s perhaps where the Rover secretly excelled most. The air-mesh upper is super breathable and drains exceptionally well, providing all-day comfort in amphibious environments. I took them pack-rafting down Owyhee River and over a 14-mile fly-fishing run on the North Fork of the Boise River, where I split my time running crushed granite trails and wading across algae stained river stone. The Rovers provided excellent traction on both surfaces (and a good toe bumper for the sloppy run back to the truck).
At just under 9 ounces, Patagonia nailed the adventure shoe. While not a master of anything, it’s capable of most everything you want to sling at it. They stay comfortable over the course of a long day in the hills and wear well over repeated abuse (I’ve washed them and had people mistake them for new). But even if your adventure starts and ends at getting the kids to and from daycare, I found the Rovers were civilized enough to wear to work.