Approach shoes are supposed to be the ultimate technical all-rounders. In theory they should be comfortable enough to walk in to the bottom of the crag, route or via ferrata, grippy and capable once you're on the rock and still have enough grip to cope with descents on iffy terrain and the walk out.
Sounds easy, but the balance is hard to get right, but to help you, here are some general guidelines followed by quick looks at three different top approach shoes, the new Scarpa Crux, the unconventional adidas Terrex Solo and theHaglöfs Roc Legend.
What To Look For?
Sole Units An ideal approach shoe sole unit will have sticky rubber, maybe not quite as sticky as a full rock boot, but certainly with enough tack to give enhanced grip when you are on the rock. It's not just about rock grip though, you also want enough of a lugged tread pattern to cope with softer terrain that you might encounter walking out from a route. Many technical soles also have a block of smooth rubber at the toe to maximise the amount of rubber in contact with the rock when climbing.
Cushioning A lot of approach shoes use the EVA foam cushioning favoured by running shoe makers. Great to save weight and for cushioning but prone to distort badly when standing and particularly edging on narrow holds. it's also liable to soften with use and scuffs badly with abrasion. Ideally you want rearfoot cushioning for walking comfort mixed with thinner layers at the front of the boot for climbing precision.
Stiffness More compromise here. A flexible forefoot will feel good for walking, but again, less stable when standing on small holds. A really stiff sole unit may work better for edging, but be less effective when you're smearing on slabs.
Uppers It's alll about fit. A loose boot will tend to allow your foot to move around making the shoe feel imprecise. Look for a snug fit with a rock boot-type lacing system going down to the toe for a snugged-up feel when you do reach the rock. Loosen off for walking.
Rands A protective rubber rand at the toe will both reduce scuffing to the upper on rocky terrain and scree and give extra grip if you need to stuff the toe of the shoe into a crack in the rock.
Overall It is all about balance - in general terms, the better a shoe is on rock, the less comfortable it's likely to be when you're walking about, so you need to make a decision based on how you're going to use the shoe and your own personal abilities. What works for one person, may not be right for someone else.
Scroll down the page to find out more about the three scrambling shoes.
Scarpa Crux - £99.99
New for this spring, the Crux is a lightweight approach shoe that marries Scarpa's expertise in technical climbing footwear with their trail shoe experience. That means light but tough, rock boot-styled suede uppers with close fit and forefoot hugging external webbing mixed with a trail-running style EVA mid-sole.
The really interesting bit is the sticky rubber Vibram outsole which is not only super grippy with a smooth 'climbing zone' at the toe, but also has proper tread lugs at the heel end for descending slippery grass slopes with something resembling confidence.
It's early days but our initial feeling is that they walk comfortably with some real cushioning from the thicker EVA area in the heel, but should still climb decently too. That said, on narrower holds, the flexible forefoot and thin EVA layer still tend to fold under bodyweight. For most scrambles though, these seem like a really decent balanced solution which should allow you to walk comfortably in and out again and still give extra grip on the rock.
Haglöfs Roc Legend - £109.99
The Roc Legend is noticably weightier than either the Scarpa or adidas shoes, our test 43s weigh a serious 518g per shoe making a pair over a kilo which gives them a really solid feel that's either reassuring or off-putting depending on your point of view.
We're not entirely sure where all that weight comes from - the uppers are cut and styled like a traditional climbing shoe with serious rubber rands fore and aft plus narrow, easy to tighten, laces which swoop round to reach the end of your big toe in a rock boot stylee.
Theres a fair bit of internal but compressible padding inside the shoe as well giving a snug but comfortable fit that you can crank up to 'tight' with those thin laces. There's also a Sole footbed, which comes along with the shoe, as with other Haglöfs footwear. We like the mouldable Sole's feel and support, but it's slightly ironic that Haglöfs has opted for a thin mid-sole to optimise 'feel' then added a beefy footbed.
It's down below that things get interesting. The sole unit is the most climbing orientated of the three, not so much because of the sticky Vibram sole unit with it's regular tread pattern - no climbing zone here by the way - more because the midsole padding is incredibly hard and dense and more or less non-existent in the front part of the boot.
The pay-off for this is that there's far less sole roll when edging and you can stand more comfortably on smaller holds than with the Crux and there's a definite precision to them a little like a board-lasted rock boot or something like the old Scarpa Mescalito. They'd be great for Via Ferratas and harder grade scrambles we reckon.
The downside is that there's so little cushioning that walk-ins, particularly on harder surfaces, are just uncomfortable. Fine if you're tackling something close to the road, not so clever if you have a few hours of trekking before you reach the rock.
Oh, and lastly, while the shallow lugged sole is fine on rock and dry surfaces, it doesn't get on well with soft, slippery terrain and wet grass.
Overall the Roc Legend looks cool in a slightly retro sort of way and, once you're on the rock it performs pretty much like a stiff-soled, albeit slightly clumpy rock boot with better edging performance than the Scarpa Crux, but the downside is pretty limited cushioning underfoot and, as a result, very limited walking comfort.
More info at www.haglofs.com.
Adidas TERREX Solo - £85.00
At first glance the TERREX Solo looks suspiciously like an adidas trainer from the 1990s, but don't be fooled, it's the result of a development project with sponsored athletes including the Hüber brothers and a lot of work has gone into it.
Like the Crux it's nice and light at 389g per shoe and again the uppers give a close, rock boot-like fit with lacing pulling on mid-foot tensioners to give maximum tension when required. And of course there's an obligatory toe rand or in this case, more of a bumper.
Underneath there's a specially designed adidas Traxion scrambling sole unit with a front end smooth 'climbing zone' and a bitier heel section for walking, though it's less pronounced than the Scarpa version. Adidas says the rubber is a 'semi-sticky' compound, but it's nowhere near as grippy as the Vibram sole units on the other two shoes, either underfoot or in the highly scientific thumbnail test.
It's decent enough and the smooth zone helps to up friction on rock, but it's just not as confidence inspiring overall. That's a bit of a shame as the rest of the sole unit seems pretty well thought out. There's underfoot EVA and adiprene cushioning, but with a protective shell to avoid abrasion damage and, as with the Crux, while it's thick enough to give decent cushioning for walking use at the heel end of things, it tapers away to almost nothing under the front of the foot, which makes it feel more sensitive and also gives better edging performance than the Scarpa.
Overall it's a pretty decent compromise between walking and climbing, but we'd love to try a version with some sticky rubber, perhaps the new Continental compound on this year's TERREX FAST-R would suit. Oh, and one last word of caution, we went down twice wearing these on a slippery, wet grass descent, so while the hiking heel grip section is a nice idea, it's not always completely effective.
More info at www.adidas.com.