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Group Tests and Best Buys

Best Approach Shoes Reviewed 2015

We review eight of the best new outdoors approach shoes for spring / summer 2015.

Approach shoes are brilliant, in varying degrees for general walking, scrambling, maybe even some easy trail running and there’s now a huge choice of options all with different fits, strengths and weaknesses. In particular shoes that are best for, say, scrambling and easy climbing, tend also be less good for all-day walking due to their closer fit and stiffer soles.

Meanwhile, trail-running shoes – we’ve included one in our round-up of new 2015 shoes – can also double up for walking use, but tend to be too cushioned and flexible underfoot to stand on smallish rock ledges while climbing.

In our round-up of some of the best new shoes from spring 2015, we’ve tried to give you an idea of what works best for what, but as ever with footwear, you need to make sure the shoe fits your foot for optimum comfort and performance and that means trying before buying.

The Shoes

In all we’ve mini-tested eight shoes and you can either scroll through the images in order or jump straight to the review you’re interested in using the links below:

Arc’teryx Acrux2 FL GTX | Ecco Biom FL Trail | Haglöfs Rocker | Meindl X-SO 30 GTX | Merrell Capra Sport Gore-Tex | Millet Switch Low GTX | Salewa Speed Ascent Gore-Tex | Scarpa Zen Pro

Scrambling Shoes

If you’re looking for a shoe weighted towards the scrambling end of the spectrum, you might also want to check out our look at Five of the Best Scrambling Shoes for some more options.

Arc’teryx Acrux2 FL GTX – £225 / 497g (per shoe 42)

Arc’teryx Acrux2 FL GTX trail running shoe. Photo: John Doran

We’ve been using the non-Gore-Tex version of the shoe for several months now and we really like it as a close-fitting but comfortable all-rounder that’s happy to walk all day but has enough underfoot stiffness and grip to romp up easy rocky stuff. That cushioned, stretchy inner really does seem to work.

The ride is firm rather than super cushioned, but the pay off is stability on uneven ground and precision on scrambles helped by grippy rubber. We found we had to use the second of the two top lace holes to stop our heel from lifting, but once we’d one that, the shoe was fine.

The top-end Gore-Tex version also has a removable liner which you can use as a hut slipper, but even the base version is deceptively water resistant thanks to the PU-coated fabric of the outer shoe. It dries fast too and in winter you can fit an optional warmer liner.

Yes it’s relatively expensive, but as you’d expect from Arc’teryx, it’s also rather good. Overall it’s more scrambly than walky – there’s a more hiking-orientated mid, the Bora also – but will still tackle both.

Pros

Innovative design, good grip, stiff and stable underfoot, but still walkable.

Cons

Relatively expensive. Slightly weighty for a shoe.

More Information

Brand website: arcteryx.com

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Ecco Biom FL Trail – £120 / 358g (per shoe 43)

Ecco’s Biom FL Trail shoe is a great approach shoe. Photo: John Doran

We’ve been using these since the shoe was launched last year. We love the close, but comfortable fit on our very British feet and while we’d say they’re a little firm underfoot on harder surfaces like tarmac when running, on softer ground they do just fine and the flexible construction makes them very natural to run in.

For walking, the cushioning works well enough if you like a light, flexible shoe. The real benefits of the PU cushioning should shine through with extended use retaining resilience when EVA has long ago deteriorated and that should offset the high-ish price.

Pros

Excellent fit and good grip underfoot, promise to be tough durable too.

Cons

Slightly expensive, firm ride when running on harder surfaces.

More Information

Brand website: shopeu.ecco.com

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Haglöfs Rocker – £100 / 410g (per shoe 43)

Haglöfs Rocker approach shoe. Photo: John Doran

Take three on scrambling shoes for Haglöfs and the most all-round useable so far from the brand. They cushioned and decently comfortable for walk-ins and still decent on the rock we’ve tried so far and we like being able to tweak the lacing for one or the other.

We wouldn’t buy them for pure hiking use, but if you’re planning on mixing it up and mainly in dry conditions – we’re talking lug depth rather than sole compound here – they’re a good option. Also available in more interesting, brighter colours too and as a Gore-Tex lined version.

Pros

Decent heel cushioning, precise forefoot fit and lacing, good breathability from uppers.

Cons

Shallow tread may struggle on softer ground.

More Information

Brand website: haglofs.com

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Meindl X-SO 30 GTX – £145 / 402g (per shoe 43)

The Meindl X-SO 30 GTX shoe. Photo: John Doran

We’re still waiting for weather hot enough to work out just how well the new Gore-Tex Surround technology works, but in a nutshell, it uses underfoot membrane and an air-permeable spacer to increase breathable area by around 30% while still remaining fully waterproof.

You wouldn’t know that from the outside as the Meindl’s styling is relatively conventional compared to some brand’s take on the technology, which we quite like. Other than the Surround, it’s a comfortable, nicely made outdoor hiking trainer with good underfoot cushioning and a reassuring stable feel.

Pros

Stable, comfortable, reasonably light and with promised added breathability and waterproofing.

Cons

Jury still out on Surround, not aftermarket footbed or orthotic friendly thanks to the technology.

More Information

Brand website: meindl.co.uk

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Merrell Capra Sport Gore-Tex – £125 / 424g (per shoe 43)

Merrell’s Capra Sport Gore-Tex. Photo: John Doran

Another shoe with a metaphorical foot in both camps. The sticky rubber makes for good grip on scrambles, big comfortable fit and decent underfoot cushioning means you can hack the walk-ins as well and so far we’ve found it a really good all-rounder.

We suspect you’ll either love or hate the in your face styling. We like the stylised rubber rand and the Spanish national coloured webbing details, but not everyone will relish the slightly disco vibe, but think of it as a classic Merrell approach shoe, but with the bonus of sticky rubber and you won’t go far wrong.

Pros

Comfortable, solid and cushioned with that reassuringly grippy Vibram rubber Megagrip outsole.

Cons

Love it or hate it styling may not appeal to the quieter crowd.

More Information

Brand website: merrell.com

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Millet Switch Low GTX – £124 / 394g (per shoe 43)

Millet Switch Low GTX approach shoe. Photo: John Doran

Millet’s alpine background comes out in this fast hiker. It’s roomy solid and comfortable with lots of underfoot cushioning and protection, though it’s not soft and bouncy in feel out of the box. On hardback, smooth-surfaced paths it feels comfortable and dependable, but the thick heel unit means you’re further off the ground than with most of the other shoes here and that makes it feel a little less confident on more uneven terrain. Great for hammering down endless alpine descents though and comfortable and solid all round.

Pros

PLenty of underfoot protection and solid all-round comfort.

Cons

Fat sole is less confidence inspiring on rougher terrain. One for an alpine hiking holiday maybe?

More Information

Brand website: millet.fr

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Salewa Speed Ascent Gore-Tex – £125 / 389g (per shoe 43)

Salewa Speed Ascent Gore-Tex approach shoe. Photo: John Doran

Once you get beyond the eccentric appearance, the Speed Ascent turns out to be a really nice shoe for moving fast on firmer paths. The feel is slightly disconcerting at first, but the curve on the sole really does feel like it rocks your forward and after an hour or so, the slightly odd feel from that aggressively upturned sole is forgotten. It’s more the absence of toe-off that you notice initially.

Where they really work is on sustained, steep climbs where the toe is already in contact with the ground as you move up. They’re without a doubt oddly specialised shoes, but we do really like that distinctive rolling push-off feel.

Pros

Lovely fluid walking action if you move fast, solid grip on hardback, glove like fit from quick lace system, decently stable.

Cons

Novel looks and feel take some getting used to, work best on steeps and hardback.

More Information

Brand website: salewa.co.uk

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Scarpa Zen Pro – £130 / 498g (per shoe 43)

The Scarpa Zen Pro is a great trail running shoe. Photo: John Doran

More of a Grand Tourer than a minimalist sportster of a shoe, you sort of relax into the Zen Pro like a well worn sofa. Some of that is down to the generous fit, some the internal padding and some again due to the adoption of the excellent Scarpa Sock Fit technology where the tongue wraps sensuously around your foot – or something like that.

In any case, they’re very comfortable and ideal if you’ve just slipped off a pair of tight rock boots we reckon. The Zen Pro is also reassuringly solid with plenty of underfoot protection for staggering across rubbly terrain. The soft Vibram rubber helps here too.

What the Zen Pro isn’t, is the most precise and climbiest of approach shoes, though a snugger fit might have helped with that aspect of things, but padding panther-like up easy slabs to the base of a climb or just meandering along a rocky path, it’s in its element.

It also looks rather cool making it a happy pub-goer and general pares-outdoor choice as well.

Pros

Luxuriously comfortable, roomy fit, stable and solid underfoot, grippy rubber outsole.

Cons

A little clumpy on actual rock despite the grip from the sole.

More Information

Brand website: scarpa.co.uk

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