Scrambling's a peculiarly British activity - not walking, but yet not quite climbing either. Or maybe easy climbing. But generally on mountains, with a bit of a walk-in to reach it. Which means that on paper, the best scrambling shoe or boot is an odd platypus for sure.
It needs to have enough comfort for a longish mountain walk, possibly covering some soft ground, be grippy enough to give traction on slippery and non-slippery rock, but not wear out ridiculously fast, and ideally - on harder grade two and three scrambles at least - have enough stiffness to stand easily on smaller holds without either flexing or rolling off.
Of course you can scramble in ordinary walking boots, but they tend to be flexible underfoot and not always very grippy. Or you can use stiff-soled mountaineering or alpine boots, but they tend to be clumpy and imprecise - am I on the hold or not?
Which leaves us with a select bunch of 'neither fish nor fowl' shoes and boots like the five we've tested here from five of the top brands.
adidas Scope GTX - £125
Previous adidas approach shoes were somewhat hampered by rubber that was somewhat less than stellar in the stickiness department, so when the giant sportswear brand bought Five Ten a year or so back, the next step was logical - adidas approach shoes with the impressive Stealth rubber compound.
The Scope GTX is the result - there's also a smoother-soled Solo - and an impressive one. For a start it has that impressive Stealth rubber compound, the grippiest here we think, but adidas has also added proper lugs and a pronounced heel with big grips and Adiprene cushioning.
There's a de rigeur toe rand and rock boot lacing too along with the excellent tongue-top stiffener we first saw on the original solo. Up front there's plenty of bend for comfortable walking, and it is, we think surprisingly comfortable, but the lack of EVA and lots of lateral stiffness means it edges really well with a proper precise feel.
Initially we thought the lack of padding up front would make for uncomfortable walking, but that doesn't seem to the the case and we reckon the shoe should be well up to longer walk-ins. The Gore-Tex liner should help on damper days too.
Early signs are excellent. The rubber compound is impressively grippy, the serious looking forefoot edges nicely and the shoe is both comfortable for walking in and has enough lugs that it should cope with softer terrain as well as the rocky stuff. How well the Stealth rubber wears remains to be seen, but we reckon the Scope works really well on the rock, but is still comfortable enough to reach it in the first place. Impressive so far.
For more information visit www.adidas.co.uk.
Hanwag Approach II GTX - £150 / 535g
The first thing you notice about Hanwag's newly updated scrambling and via ferrata shoe is that it's solid - it weighs about 100g per shoe more than the Mammut and a whopping 150g per shoe more than the Scarpa and while it shares styling cues with both those shoes, it's arguably a whole new level of seriousness.
For a start there's an all-round sticky rubber rand for crack jamming and abrasion resistance, then there's a semi-sticky Vibram outsole and finally, and most obviously, serious underfoot stiffness despite the mix of EVA and PU mid-sole padding. Fit is reassuringly snug aided by a down-to-the-toe, slick-running lacing system.
Realistically it's been designed to cope with prolonged via ferrata use, but as a bonus it also feels happier on smaller edging holds than either the Mammut or the Scarpa shoes. And while it's a little clumpy underfoot, the cushioned heel section and a pronounced rocker to the sole means it's not uncomfortable to walk in either given the board-like stiffness of the sole unit.
Finally the shoe has a reassuring feel of top notch build quality.
It's heavy for sure, but the pay-off is a shoe with a really solid sole unit that much happier on edgy holds than more flexible trainers. The stiffness means it's less comfortable for general walking, but it'll still get you to the bottom of the crag or mountain scramble route in reasonable comfort. A serious scrambling weapon, with limited use off the rock we reckon. Gore-Tex liner should help on damper days.
For more information visit www.hanwag.de.
Mammut Redburn Pro - £100 / 440g
Like the Crux, Mammut's Redburn Pro approach shoe is designed with more than a nod at the traditional rock boot. That means toe rand, lacing that reaches far down towards to toe for improved forefoot hold and a pronounced, asymmetric fit.
Also like the Crux, it uses a sticky rubber sole unit with a smooth climbing zone. In this case the rubber is Mammut's own Gripex APX compound, again with a smooth climbing zone at the toe and some added heel grip. Expected off-road life is 600 miles says Mammut.
Padding underfoot is EVA, though the board-lasted Mammut feels slightly stiffer than the Crux. It also has a snugger fit thanks to both a sleeker last and slicker lacing which makes it easier to snuff things up.
It's a nice all-round outdoor trainer and the semi-sticky sole gives reassuring grip on pure rock plus a little more underfoot stiffness than the Scarpa, but it still struggles to stay on smaller holds thanks to the EVA mid-sole.
Interestingly, Mammut has just launched a new slightly stiffer approach shoe, the Ridge which might make more sense for full-on scrambling and via ferrata use.
Comfortable, close-fitting and with decent grip, the Mammut works well for general walking about in rocky terrain and is happy enough on easier scrambles, but the sole, like the Scarpa, can fold on smaller holds. Nicely made though and a good outdoor trainer.
For more information visit www.mammut.ch.
Scarpa Crux - £99.99 / 384g
Scarpa's Crux is a lightweight approach shoe with a sticky Vibram sole unit, a reasonably generous amount of underfoot EVA padding and a rock boot-style toe rand. The styling's got definite climbing heriate with lacing down to the toe and a reasonably snug fit.
Compared to the rest of the shoes here, it's pretty flexible underfoot and while that's fine for wandering in to the bottom of a crag or simply chilling out and not so bad for padding your way up easy slabs, its not great if you try to edge on smaller holds when the combination of underfoot EVA and lack of lateral stiffness means the shoe simply rolls off.
We've also noticed that with wear, the suede upper can get a tad baggy. On the plus side, the semi-sticky sole unit gives decent enough rock grip, the shoe's comfortable in a well-worn trainer sort of way and it uses a decent proportion of recycled material in the liner, laces and even the outsole.
If you want a stiffer Scarpa option, the new Zodiac looks like an interesting beast. It's effectively the lower half of a B1-graded boot, so super stiff and with a Vibram Mulaz sole unit plus a close fit thanks to Scarpa's Sock-Fit technology. Looks serious.
Many Scarpa-loving scramblers still pine for the long gone Mescalito scrambling boot, but the Crux is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Decently comfortable, but underfoot flexibility counts against it when standing on smaller holds. As with the good old Mescalito, the suede upper isn't too happy in the wet either.
For more information visit www.scarpa.co.uk.
Zamberlan Monster GTX - £200 / 745g
An odd platypus of a boot in the midst of a whole bunch of oddness, the Monster GT is an interesting sort of halfway house between a lightweight alpine boot and a dedicated scrambling shoe. The sole unit is a laterally stiff affair but with enough lengthways flex for a bit of walking comfort and dual-density EVA adds cush for comfort on harder surfaces.
The fit is proper close and technical too with a rock boot-like precision as a result, but still comfortable, and while the Zamberlan rubber's not as outright sticky as the Stealth compound it's decent enough and gives reassuring rock grip. Edging ability is good too as is grip on softer ground thanks to deep-ish lugs and a well-defined heel.
It'll take a crampon as well if you need to cross a snowfield en route to a via ferrata for example. The downside is the price tag of £200 at SRP, which is a hefty whack unless you're very serious about your scrambling. If you are though and prefer the feel of a boot to a lower-cut shoe, it's a great choice.
It may technically be a boot, but the Monster GTX has an excellent glove-like fit and general compactness that gives it real precision on the rock with none of the clumsiness you get with some heavy mountaineering boots. Add in comfortable walking and it's a great call for a hard day's scrambling.
For more information visit www.zamberlan.uk.com.
Advice on sticky rubber
Quite a few approach shoes and scrambling shoes now use a variety of sticky rubber similar to that on rock shoes. It ranges from the Five Ten Stealth rubber used by adidas, an of course Five Ten itself - through less tacky, semi-sticky compounds from Vibram and own brand soles.
You don't absolutely need the stuff but it's nice to have particularly on harder grade routes and in the wet. The difference from ordinary rubber is that the sticky stuff moulds itself round the tiny irregularities in the rock and gives better traction.
The extra grip is confidence inspiring and very nice to have. Try twisting your foot with your weight on it and you'll instantly realise how much harder the rubber grips. Top tip: if you are using sticky rubber on slippery holds, try weighting your foot for a second or two before transferring full weight onto it. It gives the rubber time to conform to the surface and can be enough to make the difference between slipping and not.
Advice on scrambling soles
It's not just about the rubber though. You get the best mechanical grip on rock with a completely smooth sole, which is why rock boots have no lugs, but that's impractical for a shoe used for normal walking as you'll simply slide around on soft ground, wet grass and the like.
Check out the shoes above - left to right: Scarpa, adidas, Mammut, Hanway and Zamberlan - and you'll see that all of them have a smoother 'climbing zone' under the toe area to improve grip on rocky holds when climbing. The rest of the sole unit has lugs of various depths and there's generally some form of heel as well to add traction when descending on slipper slopes.
Finally, most scrambling shoes - often developed for use on via ferratas - have stiffened soles which protect the foot from rocks and standing on staples and ladders, but also allow you to edge on smaller holds. That said, on many approach shoes, the EVA form in the forefoot will simply fold over on really small ledges, but taking it out can cause discomfort when walking - Haglofs Roc Legend for example, is good on rock, but has no forefoot padding making it uncomfortable for longer walks.
As ever it's a balance, though one that the adidas Scope might just have got right.