Best Approach Shoes 2021 | Lightweight, Comfy And Grippy Shoes For Scrambling And Hiking - Outdoors Magic

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Best Approach Shoes 2021 | Lightweight, Comfy And Grippy Shoes For Scrambling And Hiking

Whether you’re taking on a long mountain hike, a gnarly graded scramble or a technical climb, a good pair of approach shoes can serve you well. Here are the best options.

Approach shoes are a type of hybrid footwear, fusing characteristics of both walking shoes and climbing shoes. Like walking shoes, they are sturdy, comfortable and supportive. But like climbing shoes they also have a close fit and a sticky rubber sole. This gives improved footing on rocky terrain. In addition, the best approach shoes usually feature a rubber toe cap, or ‘rand’. This helps to protect the foot when jamming into cracks or crevices.

Approach shoes were once the preserve of the climbing community, used on the walk in – or, if you will, the ‘approach’ – to crags or cliffs before a day of climbing. In such circumstances, approach shoes provide climbers with an ideal middle-ground, a shoe that is sturdy enough for rugged, steep hiking terrain but comfortable enough to move quickly and easily.

“More recently, however, approach shoes have been gaining in popularity with scramblers and hill-walkers”

Just as some outdoor enthusiasts are switching their heavy, high-ankled walking boots for hiking shoes or trail runners, many are switching to approach shoes. In fact, in many cases, the line between a walking shoe, trail runner and approach shoe is blurred. But, however you categorise your pair, it is clear the versatility of approach shoes offer multiple benefits. Their fine balance between comfort, support, weight and grip make them a great choice for your outdoor adventures, whether you’re hiking, scrambling or climbing.

The Best Approach Shoes Reviewed

But with dozens of options out there, what should you look for? This group test includes a half-dozen of the best approach shoes around, comparing features and performance. We’ve picked out an overall best buy and highlighted other top picks.

  • Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX – Best Approach Shoes
  • Hanwag Makra Low GTX
  • Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 GTX
  • La Sportiva TX4
  • Keen Venture
  • Salewa Wildfire
  • Scarpa Mescalito

Note: Prices and weights are given per pair.


BEST BUY: Salewa Mountain Trainer 2 GTX

Price: £165
Weight: 919g
Best for: Scrambling, technical routes, via ferrata
Key attributes: Gore-tex membrane, rugged outsole, climbing zone, good rand

A second generation of the Italian brand’s classic approach shoe, Salewa’s Mountain Trainer 2 GTX  is an extremely solid shoe designed for technical scrambling and hiking on rocky mountainous terrain. The toe ‘climbing zone’ is great for edging, and for via ferrata there’s a special tread zone for ladder rungs, while the robust Vibram outsole – which features aggressive lugs and a deep heel breast – provides good traction. Or, in other words, the Mountain Trainer 2 inspires confidence over the gnarliest of mountain terrain.

Being relatively heavy and stiff with a close-fit, these shoes aren’t ideal for gentler terrain or long-distance walking – a lighter, bendier shoe with a broader fit would make you faster and more nimble. They are a tad pricey too. But that is being pedantic. Ultimately these are superb approach shoes with excellent credentials.

A durable 1.6mm suede leather upper with 360-degree rubber rand ensures abrasion resistance, while a Gore-Tex lining and clever ‘stretch gaiter’ under the laces provides waterproofing. The climbing lacing can be fine-tuned for a snug fit, complemented by Salewa’s 3F system – a thin metal cable, housed in rubber, that connects the top lace eyelet, instep and heel for tailored flexibility, fit and firm support. A PU midsole also provides decent shock absorbency and rebound.


Hanwag Makra Low GTX

Price: £165
Weight: 910g
Best for: Ridges, technical scrambles
Key attributes: Grippy outsole, sturdy construction, Gore-Tex

Hanwag has been making hiking and mountaineering boots since 1921. The Bavarian firm has poured all of that history and expertise into the Makra Low GTX approach shoe. It is a technical, robust and flexible approach shoe made for demanding terrain. Its best feature is an aggressively-designed Vibram Pepe sole, with a honeycomb-structured tread and a ‘climbing zone’ at the tip. The result is first-rate friction and hold on rock and scree.

Like most technical approach shoes, the Makra also includes a reinforced rubber toe box for protection. But it also has strong heel support for stabilising your foot and ankle on uneven terrain. In addition, a Gore-Tex membrane ensures you won’t have to put up with soggy socks all day. The shoe’s upper is made from a mix of suede and Cordura fabric. The soft, trainer-like cuff improves comfort.

Clearly, then, a lot of thought has been put into the design, and the Makra has a host of other technical features too. These include ‘optimised ghilly lacing’ (a system of webbing loops and rings) and a special last for improved fit and reduced pressure points. At £165, Hanwag’s Makra Low GTX is slightly on the expensive side. However, for that money, you are getting almost a century of expertise and one of the best approach shoes around.


Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 GTX

Price: £120
Weight: 708g
Best for: Hillwalking, general hiking
Key attributes: Comfort, Gore-Tex

The MQM here stands for ‘Moving Quickly in the Mountains’ – and that’s exactly what you’re expected to do with these trail shoes. Designed to combine all of the best features of a trail runner and a hiking shoe into one fast, light and protective shoe, the Merrell MQM Flex 2 GTX is second generation upgrade of one of Merrell’s best-selling trail shoes.

The MQM Flex 2.0 GTXs have a Gore-Tex membrane which, as you will know from the well-known brand, offers waterproof and breathable performance. The type of Gore-Tex used here is known as InvisibleFit, with a lightweight, breathable construction that doesn’t feel sweaty or constricting. The upper of the shoe is made from a waterproof mesh, while the tongue has a ‘bellows’ design – a wide-folding tongue attached at the sides to the upper – to keep debris (and water) out. There is a protective TPU toe cap, keeping your toe safe on rocky terrain; and the tongue-integrated lacing system enables fine-tuning of the fit and does everything you need it to.

In terms of the Flex 2.0 GTX’s structural composition, the FLEXconnect midsole is designed to enhance ground connection; a rock plate, positioned between the outsole and midsole, provides underfoot protection from sharp rocks or anything that could hurt your foot; and the Merrell Air Cushion – a sealed unit located in the heel – absorbs shock (up to four times your body weight, according to Merrell), adds stability, and helps to correctly align the foot within the shoe for a more comfortable and stable walk or hike.

And finally there’s the insole and outsole. The insole is a removable, contoured Kinetic Fit BASE insole, which Merrell says provides ‘flexible support’ to your foot, while the outsole is a Quantum Grip sole with a 5mm lug depth. The latter features an impressive lug layout, with braking section at the heel for easier slowing during your descent, a grooved contact area at the toe, and two types of multi-directional cleats for enhanced grip.

Our overall verdict? A good all-rounder of a trail shoe for hiking and running, ticking most of the boxes you need: grip, stability, support, waterproofing and breathability. For some they won’t be specialised enough. But for others the Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 will be the one shoe that does it all, proving ideal for all of their adventure and outdoorsy needs.

Read our full Merrell MQM Flex 2.0 GTX review



La Sportiva TX4

Price: £130
Weight: 760g
Best for: Scrambling, technical mountain routes
Key attributes: Superb grip, comfort, lightweight

Of all the approach shoes tested here, La Sportiva’s TX4 are those most reminiscent of a traditional climbing shoe. The Italian brand states they are designed for ‘technical approach routes, via ferrata and hiking’. It adds that they ‘guarantee grip, comfort and protection… to encourage technical use right up to the base of the wall’. It is, therefore, a practical choice for experienced climbers and more hardcore scramblers, rather than the average hillwalker.

The TX4 has a Vibram MegaGrip sole, with grippy circular lugs in the centre, a flat ‘climbing zone’ at the toe for edging and an ‘impact brake system’ at the rear. As such, the grip is superb. There is also a wraparound rand, which encircles the entire shoe, and a rubber toe box that protects your feet. Pleasingly, however, this has more give than others on test. Meanwhile the suede leather upper is flexible but also hard-wearing and durable.

The fit is close and comfortable too. At 380g per shoe, the TX4 is very light, and they feel perfect for nimble and quick moves on rocky terrain. These aren’t really the best approach shoes for a long hike in wet conditions. However, when you’ll be doing lots of traversing and climbing, these are perfect. La Sportiva says the TX4s are ‘the ultimate expression of moving in the mountains in comfort, speed and safety’ – and we wouldn’t disagree.



Scarpa Mescalito

Price: £160
Weight: 780g
Best for: Scrambling
Key attributes: Grippy lugs, good lacing, rigid sole, rubber rand

The Scarpa Mescalito is the very definition of a trail shoe. All the typical elements are there: that rigid and sturdy sole, the thick rubber rand, grippy lugs and right-to-the-toes lacing.

It’s designed to attack rocky and technical trails and to assist those who’ll be spending a fair amount of time on a mixture of walking and scrambling routes. For the bare rock mountains of Snowdonia it would be perfect.

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 



Keen Venture

Price: £124.99
Weight: 948g
Best for: Hillwalking, general hiking
Key attributes: Modern look, comfort, price

The offerings here from Salewa, Hanwag and La Sportiva are technical approach shoes geared towards the all-out scrambler or climber. Keen’s Venture shoe, on the other hand, is an everyday shoe for the everyday adventurer. It is suitable for everything from gentle lakeside ambles or long-distance hikes to graded scrambles and rocky mountain ascents.

Unlike other brands, who turn to specialists such as Vibram and Gore-Tex for their soles and materials,  Keen does things in-house. The ‘Keen All Terrain’ rubber outsole has deep, aggressive, multi-directional lugs for high-traction grip. Inside the shoes, the ‘Keen Dry’ membrane is both waterproof and breathable. The ‘Konnectfit’ heel provides a locked-in fit for added stability and protection.

The removable Keen insole also provides good arch support, while the midsole provides good cushioning. I used and abused a pair of the Keen Ventures during an extended Munro-bagging expedition. I always found them grippy and comfortable, no matter how rough, wild and rocky the terrain got. Available in a series of bright, eye-catching colours, the Venture by Keen isn’t for technical climbing. But if you’re after well-priced, everyday shoes for a variety of outdoor adventures, these are the best approach shoes for you.



Salewa Wildfire

Price: £135
Weight: 800g
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.


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