We’ve gone through and put to the absolute test some 50+ pairs of approach shoes to give you our top picks.
Do you need a low-elevation climber that does it all, even on the trail? Perhaps you would like to own something light to breeze through your approach routes? Or a pair of affordable kicks, maybe? Whichever way you roll, our strong recommendations—each with a corresponding alternative—await you down below.
Stiff and comfortable for walking up and down inclines
Comfortable without socks
Difficult to put on
Not for hot weather
Not great for all-day wear
Finally, an approach shoe that can pretty much do it all in the outdoors—the TX4 by La Sportiva!
Testing over 50 approach kicks is no joke. That said, coming away with a stellar piece that is the TX4 made all our hard work very much worth it.
Now, the TX4 eats scree for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With that, you should be able to tell its sheer magnificence on rocky steeps. Its climbing zone effortlessly clung to whatever surface we used it on, whether smooth or rough.
We loved its technical climbing performance, too. Smearing on it was quite impressive, and it’s all while getting excellent protection courtesy of its end-to-end rubber rand.
As for comfort, the La Sportiva TX4 felt great almost on day one. It’s the kind of pampering you’ll get no matter where you are or what you do—be it walking on trails or scrambling to ascend slopes. Yes, it has the stiffness of a hiker without skimping on flexibility.
And have we mentioned how fantastic a fit the La Sportiva TX4 has? Indeed, our top pick held our feet like a glove, lending us responsiveness and precision all over!
Lock your sight on this one because it doesn’t get any better than the TX4!
Less imposing in design yet still powerfully effective on trails and rock, the Scarpa Crux has what it takes to up your approach game!
A shoe that can be mistaken for a sneaker, the Crux is a traction machine. We smeared on inclines with fantastic forefoot purchase in it, particularly around the big toe section. Its lugged outsole got us scrambling like real champs, too!
But is it comfy? Without a single doubt, yes! Its glove-like fit wouldn’t have been, well, glove-like, hadn’t for the Crux’s supple confines. We found its nicely padded collar and cushy insert (footbed) especially impressive in this regard.
About its heel cup, we experienced no slippage at all in it. Its toe box, on the other hand, kept our piggies in place without ever giving us that squishing feeling. In other words, toeing precision was what we got out of it, minus the pain.
The Crux did a fine job warding off light moisture, as well. Yes, our tootsies remained dry throughout our trail-to-rock expedition. And despite its impressive water-repellency, the shoe managed to keep everything on the inside free of stuffiness!
It could be better on edges if we’re being too nit-picky about it.
And here it is—La Sportiva’s reigning champ in the scrambling ring, and it’s none other than the sexy TX Guide!
Yes, this scrambling genius encouraged us to be bolder with our foot placements on extra-steep rock and slopes. It flexed and bent with our feet effortlessly, allowing us to negotiate the route in front of us with a wider breadth for creativity (and maybe even style)!
Underfoot, the TX Guide’s Vibram outsole allowed us to mount on edges with extraordinary grip. On flatter terrain, it connected to a variety of surfaces without a problem, including dusty tracks and moist mulch.
Speaking of edging, the La Sportiva TX Guide did a swell job of supporting our feet. Case in point: We didn’t end up with tired lower legs after a series of edging tests.
But is the TX Guide comfortable, you might ask? Yes, and it’s the combined effort of its plush and flexible sole unit and soft lining. During our break-in period test, which lasted only a couple of days, we felt no rubbing around the ankle or forefoot. Fantastic!
So, as far as scrambling on inclines is concerned, the TX Guide has your back!
No steep boulder nor craggy slopes can keep you away from your climbing spot in Five Ten’s Guide Tennie!
Suction cups—this is how we’d describe the lugs on the Guide Tennie’s outsole. They are noticeably low-profile in construction, yes, but they work like a charm on smears. Couple the shoe’s sticky outsole with the midsole’s flexibility, and you got a recipe for scrambling success!
More on the Guide Tennie’s midsole, we found it greatly supportive, not just for ascents but also for level-ground traversals. We even hiked in the shoe for approximately 3 hours while hauling a light pack, and we didn’t get achy arches or legs after the deed.
Toe jams were a cinch in the Guide Tennie, as well. Its rubberized bumper stuck like a magnet on pockets. It also protected our precious toes from bumpy roots and bigger rocks.
As for comfort, the Five Ten Guide Tennie offered tons. We want to highlight its richly padded collar for spoiling our ankles for hours on end. That said, its pampering confines weren’t available to us from the beginning, as it took us several days to break in the Guide Tennie completely.
Nevertheless, this shoe rocks and is a compelling alternative to the TX Guide!
Do you want to approach your rock-climbing site with as much carefree agility as possible? Then don the maniacally lightweight La Sportiva TX2!
What you’re looking at here is a 280-gram approach hiker per shoe. That’s insane because it’s even as light as some aggressive climbing shoes!
The lightness of the TX2 should not be mistaken for a ho-hum performance, though. While its barely-there weight transformed us into speedy ninjas on and off the trail, the shoe’s arch still gave us the support we needed. The result was a safe and painless ride.
The circular lugs of the TX2’s outsole also floored us. They stuck to virtually every surface we tested them on—whether smooth rock, rough slab, or grassy hillside. Its climbing zone kept us smearing and edging like real pros, too. Yes, the TX2’s surface traction is deserving of 5 stars!
As for comfort, all we want to say is that the La Sportiva TX2 felt like a dream the moment we put it on. In our case, we didn’t need to break it in, which was a big plus. Kudos to its plush collar for not rubbing on our ankles, too!
Yup, what you see here is the Session from Black Diamond, and it’s as impressive on the lightness front as it is looks-wise!
Heavier than our top pick by 3 g (yes, this shoe weighs 283 g!), the Black Diamond Session keeps things light and casual at the same time. Having this approach kick on is like sporting a pair of tennis shoes or sneakers. You can wear this under some cargo pants, and your friends wouldn’t get the slightest hint that you like climbing!
Equally astonishing is the Session’s otherworldly comfort. While we needed to go through a day or two for its honeymoon phase, our first few hikes and climbs in it were blister-free. Its lining served its purpose of pampering our precious feet without rubbing. Props to its collapsible heel, too, for giving us slipper-like comfort around camp.
But is the Session’s underfoot grip sufficient, you might ask? More than enough, we’d say. While its lugs aren’t as deep as the TX2’s, they still managed to give us a reassuring amount of adhesion on rock. We wouldn’t dare ascend on this shoe where it’s extremely muddy, though.
Nevertheless, the Session has its aces and is a great second choice in case you can’t get a hold of our top pick.
After testing over 50 approach-centric hikers, we’re convinced that the Salewa Wildfire GTX is the king of the waterproofing hill!
Lined with Gore-Tex’s anti-weather technology, the Wildfire GTX’s snakeskin-like upper deflected every drop of moisture through shallow waters. Leaving it in a puddle of about 2.5 inches deep for roughly five minutes turned out a success. This approach kick really is one watertight gem!
Super-comfy on day one, the Wildfire GTX didn’t give us a chance to complain. Our feet were met with excessive pampering right from the start, and blisters didn’t break out anywhere on our fresh tootsies. We’ve nothing to report about bunching or hotspots, either.
The Wildfire GTX’s outsole with diamond-shaped lugs did us mighty good on various surfaces out in the wild. We tried it on a steep slab, and we didn’t slip. We also clawed our way across grainy slopes, and we trampled on them without losing our footing. Downhill engagements were also a cinch in the Wildfire GTX thanks to its incredible heel brake!
And let’s not forget how the shoe remained scratch-free in the entirety of our approach-oriented testing. We link the hiker’s abrasive-proof design to its protective overlays around the vamp and instep sections.
Coming in hot from La Sportiva, and also another doozy in inclement conditions is the TX4 Mid GTX! Over-the-ankle collar design isn’t very common in approach shoes, yet for this bad boy, it works—especially where deeper puddles are involved.
We tested the TX4 Mid GTX in moderate rain and about 3 inches of water, and we came away impressed with its super-impermeable shell. No moisture seeped in throughout our route-busting adventures. Excellent!
Since this La Sportiva shoe is actually a boot, we were eager to check out the supportiveness of its collar. We are glad to report that the TX4 Mid GTX exceeded our expectations on the support front. Yes, this offering is something you’d want to wear if you have mildly shaky ankles.
On the traction side of things, the TX4 Mid GTX blew us away just like our top pick. We were particularly impressed with the way it effortlessly anchored in our every step while going down this one rocky slope. Yes, its heel brake stole the show for us in this area.
And dare we leave out the TX4 Mid GTX’s plushness! “Comfy everywhere” is how we found its generously padded interior. That said, as pampering as it is, we don’t recommend the shoe for summer use.
Now this one came as an absolute surprise! A La Sportiva approach shoe that costs no more than $120 MSRP? Yes, and it’s none other than the humble-yet-beefy Boulder X!
This budget-friendly must-have is a force of nature on low-level ascents, particularly where edging is involved. Considering that it has a full-fledged midsole, we got tons of support out of it during our ledge-hopping adventure.
Speaking more of its midsole, it’s moderately stiff. With it, we navigated standard trails pretty easily, as if we were wearing La Sportiva’s brawny hiking shoes!
With the Boulder X’s Vibram outsole, we got to our climbing destination without ever slipping. The trail we tested this on featured slick slabs and rough boulders, mind you. Most impressive about its outsole was the amount of grip it gave us on smears.
As for its upper-to-surface grip, the Boulder X’s heavy randing provided us with plenty. We were able to pull off sideways climbing transitions quite easily because of it. Lateral smearing was also a cakewalk with the hiker’s towering rubber rand.
So, yeah, you can’t go wrong with the Boulder X, and the value it offers is smiting, to say the least!
Low budget? No problem! The Cruzer Psyche, with its 80-dollar (pre-deal) price tag, is here for you!
An exemplar of simplicity design-wise, the Evolv Cruzer Psyche is a straightforward affair on the lightness front. At around 480 g per pair, this approach kick will leave you speechless by how much agility it can give you, whether on rock or on the beaten path.
“Sneaker-like” is the term we’d use to describe the comfiness that is the Cruzer Psyche. Past its relatively short break-in phase, we were pampered all over with not a trace of blistering anywhere.
We were quite floored by the shoe’s excessively breathable upper, too. We’d even go so far as to say that, had it not for the Cruzer Psyche’s highly ventilated confines, the shoe wouldn’t be as comfortable!
Now, sticking to a wide variety of surfaces is also part of the Cruzer Psyche’s main game. We had no issues with its blocky lugs on boulder-type terrain, and smearing with its extra-wide climbing zone left a very positive impression on us. That said, we’d steer clear of super-muddy terrain if we were you.
Over the past 20 years, Paul has climbed, hiked, and ran all over the world. He has summited peaks throughout the Americas, trekked through Africa, and tested his endurance in 24-hour trail races as well as 6 marathons. On average, he runs 30-50 miles a week in the foothills of Northern Colorado. His research is regularly cited in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Geographic, etc. On top of this, Paul is leading the running shoe lab where he cuts shoes apart and analyses every detail of the shoes that you might buy.