Best Approach Shoes: Top 2017 Options for Men & Women

Click here for the best women’s approach shoes.

Approach ShoeRetail Price
Top Pick: Five Ten Guide Tennie$$
Best Value: Scarpa Crux Canvas$$
Budget Buy: Evolv Cruzer$
Top Gore-Tex Option: Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX$$$
Best for Hiking: Scarpa Zen$$
Approach shoes, as a footwear category, are pretty unique. Sometimes jokingly referred to as rock hiking shoes, they are a mix between hiking and climbing shoes. They are designed to be able to withstand tough, technical terrain on the approach to the crag and double as a climbing shoe on easy routes or problems when it would be inconvenient to change into climbing shoes.

This guide to the best approach shoes of 2017 covers a variety of potential options. We have given our top overall pick as well as the best options for particular scenarios, such as the best climbing approach shoe. At the bottom, we also list the best women’s approach shoes.

Note that many of the options below have related versions, such as mid and/or Gore-Tex versions.

Top Pick: Five Ten Guide Tennie

The Five Ten Guide Tennie approach shoeThe Five Ten Guide Tennie is our top pick because it is an impressive mix of climbing and hiking ability. At its heart, the shoe is a true all-arounder that can perform well whether scrambling on boulders or climbing easy multi-pitch routes.

The Guide Tennie was the world’s first approach shoe and was released in 1985. You wouldn’t think that a shoe released 30 years ago would be relevant today, but the minor redesigns that Five Ten has made to the Guide Tennie over the years have kept this shoe at the top of the category.

Today’s version of the Guide Tennie is durable, supportive, and decently lightweight (each shoe is a little under one pound). The shoe sports Five Ten Stealth rubber which makes it great for edging and smearing. It can handle some of the toughest approaches and doesn’t get too uncomfortable during them.

The Guide Tennie is also a popular option for aid climbing and easy sport climbing since it can handle routes with more forgiving footholds. It’s good for tackling challenging approaches or hiking trails because it is comfy and supportive even with a heavy pack on or tough terrain under your feet.

The Guide Tennie is a great approach shoe at a great value. We have chosen a separate approach shoe, the Scarpa Crux Canvas which retails for less, as our best value pick, but if you are willing to spend a little morefor the Guide Tennie you won’t be disappointed.

Best Value: Scarpa Crux Canvas

The Scarpa Crux Canvas approach shoeIf you’re looking for some bang for your buck, the Scarpa Crux Canvas is our pick for the best value approach shoe. The shoe retails for a fair price and is as well-rounded and durable as any top approach shoes.

The Crux Canvas is good for hiking, climbing, scrambling, smearing, and any other use you might have for them. Some people even wear them as street shoes since they are so comfortable. The comfort factor makes them great for approaches of any length and even long hikes. The edging and smearing capabilities help with gripping difficult terrain on the approach. On the wall, the Crux Canvas can be used for easy 5th class climbs.

There is another version of this shoe simply called the Scarpa Crux. It is also a great deal and retails for about the same. Approach shoes made out of canvas are more breathable and usually slightly lighter than their non-canvas counterparts. Increased breathability is good for keeping your feet cool during hot months, but also doesn’t retain as much heat during cold months. The original Scarpa Crux is a good option for those who will be hiking and climbing a lot in the cold.

Budget Buy: Evolv Cruzer

The Evolv Cruzer approach shoeSometimes, you just don’t want to spend a lot of money. A lot of the options above cost a fair amount, so if you’re not looking to drop too much dough you’ll need to consider a budget approach shoe. The Evolv Cruzer retails is an affordable approach shoe that satisfies many of the basic needs people have when looking for approach shoes.

The Cruzer is lightweight enough to be easily carried to and from the crag. It doesn’t take up much space, either, so it’s ideal for carrying in your climbing pack. The rubber on the shoes is sticky and can help you navigate rocky trails or boulder fields. The Cruzer can also pass as street shoes if you want to slip them on quickly before you head out the door.

However, as you might expect, the Cruzer isn’t very durable and can wear out quickly. It doesn’t have much support, either, so you can get footsore before long. This shoe can’t do it all, but for the climber looking for a good approach shoe on a budget, it is the best option.

Top Gore-Tex Option: Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX

The Salewa Mountain Trainer GTX approach shoeThe Mountain Trainer GTX can handle the toughest of terrains. Does it snow a lot where you live? Are your approaches long and arduous? Do you carry a heavy pack? The Mountain Trainer could be your solution if so.

Since Gore-Tex is waterproof, the Mountain Trainer GTX is, in turn, a waterproof approach shoe and ideal for snowy or wet conditions. The Gore-Tex also makes the shoe super durable so it will hold up for years.

The shoe edges well but smears poorly. It is better for scrambling than climbing any serious route or problem. You might be able to get away with wearing them during a light warm-up, but any climbing beyond that will require a change of footwear.

As for hiking, the shoe is a little stiff and not the best for long, easy approaches. Indeed, wearing the Mountain Trainer GTX for too long can cause foot fatigue. Since the Mountain Trainer is a little pricier than most approach shoes, we recommend you get it if you need a waterproof approach shoe or one that can withstand heavy loads or extremely tough conditions. In other words, get it for extraordinary approaches. Approaches of average length and difficulty don’t warrant the ruggedness and durability of the Mountain Trainer GTX.

Also note that the toe box on the Mountain Trainer GTX is wide so this is a great approach shoe for wide feet.

Best for Hiking: Scarpa Zen

The Scarpa Zen approach shoeSome people might not need an approach shoe that can climb well. They’re just looking for a shoe that can handle the long, rocky hikes to the crag and some scrambling on boulders. If this is you, the Scarpa Zen is the best approach shoe for your needs.

The Scarpa Zen’s comfort level is unmatched by other approach shoes (hence the name, maybe?). Yet, it also has the sturdiness and support to handle miles on rocky trails. Together, these qualities form one of the best approach shoes for hiking. You can lace the Zen up whether you’re hiking a quarter of a mile down a paved trail or trekking half a dozen miles into the backcountry. It’s design also makes it versatile enough to wear in more casual social situations.

All the hiking performance does come with some trade-offs, though. Mainly, the Zen is not among the best climbing approach shoes. It is mediocre at edging and not designed for small footholds. Smearing is not its forte, either. Some climbers have climbed up to 5.10 or V3 in these shoes without much issue, but any route or problem calling for a footwork maneuver other than edging or smearing will give you issues. Like with the Mountain Trainer GTX, you could get away with wearing these for your warm-up, but not much else. On the other hand, you could easily scramble all day in this shoe.

The Scarpa Zen fits best for people with narrow feet. It is also one of the most durable options on the list and will likely last you years of even the toughest approaches.

Best Women’s Approach Shoes

All of the above approach shoes are for men. Here are the women’s versions for female climbers looking for their next (or first!) approach shoe.


Photo Credit: Amazon

About the Author:

Alex is the owner of 99Boulders and has been blogging about the outdoors for over two years. When he isn’t working on the site, he can be found backpacking around South America or at the bouldering gym using his 6’5″ wingspan to skip all the hard holds.

  • Hannah

    So you title the article best approach shoes for men and women but you give women 5 links to out of date Amazon pages that open in new tabs. No reviews, no recommendations. Can see where your priorities lie. At least be honest. What a waste of time.