The La Sportiva Xplorer approach shoe is a well-rounded option that is particularly adept at the hiking and scrambling portions of approaches. It isn’t the best approach shoe for edging but it does smear and “smedge” incredibly well out of the box.
Our hands-on La Sportiva Xplorer review lasted over four months and concluded that this is a great option for the boulderer or sport climber looking for a solid all-around approach shoe.
It can double as your pair of hiking shoes (it does for me) and I’ve flashed easier boulder problems in them. You could even do your entire outdoor warm-up in these shoes.
The Xplorer is in the middle of the approach shoe price range, and, with its hiking and climbing performance, you get your money’s worth.
If you want to compare the Xplorer to other top options, check out article on the best approach shoes.
Climbing & Scrambling Performance
EDGING (3.5 / 5)
The Xplorer sports a Vibram X-Traction outsole with a designated “climbing zone” that can grip on larger edges easily.
The shoe isn’t stiff enough or asymmetrical enough, though, to edge on little nubs — you end up having to “smedge” on those footholds. Overall, the Xplorer has decent edging ability but, at the end of the day, the toe box is a little too thick and clunky for it to excel here.
SMEARING (4.5 / 5)
The sheer grip on the Xplorers is impressive. Just last weekend, I climbed a V1 slab problem in these shoes. Now, V1 might not seem that impressive, but it was a V1 friction slab that was near-vertical and whose largest foothold was probably the width of a dime.
It was also the middle of summer in humid North Carolina.
I had to smedge and smear my way up the rock and was able to flash the problem in these shoes. What’s more, this was all with my shoes being tied a little loose.
Just check out the grip these shoes have on them. The grip works well on the trail as well as the rock.
There hasn’t been a point yet where I have distrusted my feet while smearing in these shoes. You end up having to do a lot of smedging in them, and it all feels pretty secure if you can get enough of your shoe’s surface area in contact with the rock.
SCRAMBLING (4.5 / 5)
One of the main benefits of approach shoes is there scrambling ability. When approaching your climb you could be crossing streams, navigating boulder fields, or simply scrambling up alpine terrain. To test out the La Sportiva Xplorer, I did all of those things and not once did my shoes lose grip or slip out from under me.
In the Xplorer I was able to stick to wet river rock (though I’d recommend you avoid stepping on wet rock whenever possible). I also could scramble up and quasi-climb large, slabby boulders with ease.
Thanks to the grippy sole, these shoes felt much more secure on the rock than my pair of tennis shoes and, thanks to their sneaker-cut, much more nimble than my bulky pair of hiking boots.
At first, the La Sportiva Xplorer felt a little stiff when hiking — stiff to the point that it made my feet sore after two miles of easy hiking. However, after breaking the shoe in with about a dozen miles of trekking, it became a pleasantly comfortable and capable hiking shoe.
I have yet to develop a blister in these shoes and they easily handled miles of me carrying both a crash pad and a climbing pack (about 20 lbs total). In fact, they’ve become my go-to pair of shoes for bouldering trips and day hikes of roughly seven miles or less.
Sizing & Fit
I wear a US size 13 in street shoes and the US size 13 (EUR size 47) Xplorer fit my foot perfectly. Obviously, you won’t get the ultra-tight fit of a normal climbing shoe, but at your street shoe size they will be appropriately tight for hiking.
If you’ll be doing more climbing than hiking in your pair you might be able to size down half a shoe size if you’re looking for better climbing performance. Otherwise, go for your regular size.
As for fit, the La Sportiva Xplorer fits similarly to any regular hiking shoe. One difference is that the laces extend further down the shoe so you can get an even tighter fit in your toe box — a feature which helps you edge better.
Here you can see how the La Sportiva Xplorer fits compared to a tennis shoe of the same size — they are nearly identical in length. The La Sportiva Xplorer’s laces also extend much further down the shoe.
I’ve worn the Xplorer for over four months now and during that time have clocked dozens of miles in them — from casual day hiking to scrambling to slab climbing. So far, the shoes have yet to show any signs of wear.
The sole is still grippy, the laces have yet to fray, and the mesh upper is intact.
Comfort & Support
After my pair of Xplorers broke in (it took about a dozen miles) they became almost as comfortable as a pair of tennis shoes. At first, my feet would be sore from a couple miles of hiking in them, but just this past weekend I wore them for an entire day of bouldering (albeit removing them periodically in exchange for climbing shoes) and had only very minor foot soreness.
And the foot soreness I did have could probably be attributed to being on my feet all day as opposed to the shoe.
The La Sportiva Xplorer has decent arch support. I have a history of plantar fasciitis and, without insoles, the shoes gave me arch pain. This is typical of almost every shoe I own, though. If I wear my Xplorers with insoles I don’t have any arch pain.
For the climber with typical arch height and no history of arch pain, the Xplorer will likely have sufficient support for you. If you have high arches or are prone to arch pain, consider another approach shoe or wear your Xplorers with your favorite pair of insoles.
- Weight: 13.4 oz / 375 g
- Upper: AirMesh, Hi-Wear mesh, synthetic leather, Vibram rubber rand
- Lining: mesh
- Sole: Vibram Idro Grip X-Traction
After our hands-on La Sportiva Xplorer review, we recommend it to anyone looking for a well-rounded, comfortable approach shoe. The Xplorer isn’t the best approach shoe for edging, but it is a durable option that works well for hiking, scrambling, canyoneering, and climbing on easy routes or problems with large footholds.
Bottom line: the Xplorer — including the rubber, laces, and stitching — has held up and performed well during our four months of testing. As this is our first in-depth approach shoe review, we are currently unable to compare the Xplorer to other shoes.
However, we still feel comfortable recommending it to anyone looking for a well-rounded approach shoe since it performed so well during out testing period.