The uppers are made from hard wearing and water-resistant suede and should last for years if looked after.
On the sole there’s Vibram’s relatively new ‘Litebase’ technology. With this, the long running shoe sole makers from Italy have managed to shave a fairly large amount of weight off the overall weight of the Megagrip outsole without affecting the levels of grip.
“Vibram Litebase allows for a reduction of about 40-50% in thickness, from 1.7 mm to 0.5/0.9 mm depending on the type of sole, with a consequent reduction in the weight of the tread of 25-30%”, write Vibram on their website.
OM editor Will, who tested out Scarpa’s Mescalito approach shoes last summer, wrote in his review that he “found the Mescalito wasn’t far off having 100 per cent straight-out-of-the-box comfort – and you don’t get that often with approach shoes.” He also said that it “gives a supportive, close fit that isn’t too restrictive, and there’s just the right amount of flex in the sole for middle distance hikes on rocky and uneven terrain.”
Read our full Scarpa Mescalito review
Best for: Technical routes, scrambling, mountain approaches
Key attributes: Precise fit, outsole traction, sturdy build
Salewa’s Wildfire is another technical approach shoe that fuses the best features of both climbing and hiking shoes. It results in a classic hybrid, with all the features you need for a range of activities. This could include technical mountain approaches, scrambles, traverses and easy climbs.
Testing the pair on the High Level Route and Shamrock Traverse on Pillar in the Lake District, I found the sole gave excellent traction for sure-footed scrambling. The aggressive, diamond-shaped lugs gripped well, even on greasy rock. And while I’m no Alex Honnold, the ‘climbing zone’ at the toe enabled me to practice ‘smearing’ on rock slabs. There is the usual rubber toe box for edging too, while the precise, snug shape fits like a glove. This enables greater feel and sensitivity for climbing.
But the Wildfire doesn’t feel like it’s designed only for technical pursuits. Salewa’s 3F system, which provides flexibility, fit and firm ankle and heel support, means there is just enough protection for longer hikes. The upper is made from a breathable mesh combined with a criss-crossing, wraparound grid structure. Salewa calls this an ‘EXA Shell technology-injected cage’. That sounds like gobbledygook, but I guess you’re allowed to spout pseudo-technical jargon when you’ve created such a technical, high-performing approach shoe.
Meindl Ontario GTX
Weight: 800g (UK size 8)
Best for: Scrambling, technical routes, hillwalking
Key attributes: Gore-Tex lining, suede and mesh upper, Meindl Magic Active outsole, Variofix lacing
There is a lot to like about the Meindl Ontario GTX, with some high-end features, clever design touches, and everything you’d expect from a good, traditionally-styled approach shoe. The Gore-Tex lining will keep your feet and socks dry, the suede and mesh uppers strike a nice balance between sturdiness and breathability, and the Meindl Magic Active outsole grips well over gnarly mountainous ground.
Other impressive features include the strong toe rand, solid heel capture – courtesy of the Variofix lacing system, which pulls the heel to the back of the shoe, giving a close fit and a secure hold around the ankle – and the all-round ruggedness of the approach shoe design. You also get Meindl’s Air-Active footbed, designed to ensure the foot is kept dry and the shoe is well ventilated at all times.
Comfort and underfoot cushioning are decent but not spectacular, and we’d prefer deeper, more aggressive lugs in the outsole – yet perhaps this is to be expected from an approach shoe. Ultimately, these aren’t shoes for multi-day, big mileage hikes. Instead they are well-suited to day walks, particularly those that encounter technical and rocky terrain and graded scrambling.
Scarpa Vortex XCR
Weight: 920g (EU size 42)
Best for: Big hill days, easy scrambling, wet conditions
Key attributes: Vibram outsole, multi-directional lugs, fabric and suede upper, Gore-Tex membrane
A classic in Scarpa’s extensive range, the Vortex XCR could not accurately be described as light and streamlined. Instead it is the opposite. This shoe is all about being tough and supportive, with the “durability of a boot but the easy walking comfort of a shoe”, as Scarpa put it. The standout feature is the chunky Vibram outsole (an exclusive to this model), which has specifically been designed for wet and slippy British terrain. It is certainly a brawny, muscular unit with a complex pattern of multi-directional lugs, and traction is without doubt a strong point of the Vortex XCR. The bonded and lasted construction further enhances the outright durability and bombproof credentials of this shoe.
Other features include a fabric and suede upper (for enhanced comfort), a Gore-Tex waterproof membrane (for those wet days in the fells), climbing-style lacing (for a fine-tuned fit), and good all-round hold of the foot (for support). When required, the shoe can also be re-soled – a more eco-friendly solution compared to buying a new pair.
Some hikers and scramblers might find the Vortex XCR a tad heavy and bulky – and they certainly aren’t the prettiest-looking things we’ve ever seen (they’re rather squat and lacklustre) – but if you’re after a reliably strong, long-lasting and protective approach shoe, this hits the nail on the head.
Black Diamond Mission XP Leather
Weight: 666g (UK size 9)
Best for: Scrambling, approach walks, drier conditions
Key attributes: Suede leather upper, rubber outsole and toe rand, dual density EVA midsole
American climbing and alpine brand Black Diamond is well-known for its technical mountaineering equipment, and this extends to its range of approach shoes. New to this range for autumn and winter 2021 is the Mission XP Leather approach shoe, which features a suede leather upper, grippy rubber outsole, toe rand, gusseted tongue and EVA midsole with stiff forefoot shank plate.
According to Black Diamond, the shoe has been “engineered to handle long approaches where precision, durability and comfort are clutch” and provides “security and comfort…for long days in the mountains with rough terrain and off-trail ascents.” The upper is made from durable suede leather with a liner for improved fit and comfort, as well as welded TPU synthetic overlays and a rubber toe rand for added durability and protection against rough terrain and sharp rocks.
The gusseted tongue keeps out debris and ensures your foot is locked down, while the dual density EVA midsole with rigid shank delivers added stiffness, elevating this shoe’s performance when it comes to edging and technical scrambling manoeuvres (but potentially reducing all-day comfort for longer hikes). The outsole is made from BlackLabel-Mountain rubber with diamond-shapes cleats, designed to ensure “sticky” traction no matter where you venture. You also get plenty of tagging and stowing options for when the approach ends and the hard climbing begins. This shoe isn’t waterproof, but the leather uppers deal with dew and puddles pretty well, regardless, and the overall weight is impressively light as well.
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