Approach shoes by their very nature are versatile. Not only do they provide sticky grip on rocks, but they’re designed for long days on the trail, too. They’re a do-it-all hybrid between a climbing shoe, a hiking boot and a trail-running shoe: sticky, supportive and comfortable. That’s a powerful trifecta.
But which approach shoes are the best for your needs? We enlisted 21 testers across the country to slog uphill in them with heavy packs, smear against rock slabs and jam their feet into the tiniest cracks available to bring you reviews of the best approach shoes available at REI.
We’ve got recommendations for both shorter and longer approaches, options that can pinch-hit for your rock shoes, and one that we think can do it all. So read on to find the perfect kicks for you.
Find our quick recommendations here or read on for the full breakdown of our round-robin of the best approach shoes.
- Best All-Around Approach Shoe: La Sportiva TX4 (Women’s, men’s)
- Best Approach Shoe for Shorter Hikes: Black Diamond Mission LT (Women’s, men’s)
- Best Approach Shoe for Longer Hikes: Scarpa Crux II (Women’s, men’s)
- Best Approach Shoe for Technical Terrain: Arc’teryx Konseal AR (Women’s, men’s)
Other Top Performers
Best All-Around Approach Shoe & Editors’ Choice Award Winner
La Sportiva TX4 Approach Shoes
Weight 1 lb. 4.8 oz. (women’s 37), 1 lb. 10 oz. (men’s 42)
Test Results: If we drew a Venn diagram depicting support, comfort and climbing prowess, the La Sportiva TX4 would fall right into the centered sweet spot. Plus, it's a REI Co-op Editors' Choice Award winner. Unlike other shoes, the upper completely wraps around the midsole, helping increase stability on uneven terrain. But thanks to the compression-molded EVA foam midsole, the TX4 bucks the plywood-stiff feeling common in approach shoes and instead offers a cushioned ride that rivals standard hiking boots. A plush ankle collar adds to the overall comfort, while the solid Vibram® Megagrip outsole (one of the brand’s stickiest compounds) makes the shoe worthy of a rock wall. “The TX4s are bold and solid; they really shine while climbing slabs,” said one New Hampshire-based tester after five pitches near Webster Cliff.
Protection is also quite bold. The nubuck leather upper wraps around the entire foot, easily brushing off jagged rocks and brambles. A rubber rand encircles the shoe for more armor, and a beefier toe bumper offers protection for your toes when edging. Trade-off: Without any mesh, the TX4 does not vent well, as one tester discovered after a 50-mile trek on Washington’s Cathedral Pass Loop.
Fit is a bit looser than other approach shoes on this list. A wide toe box lets the dogs breathe during long-haul approaches, though some testers felt the roomier forefoot made the TX4 a little sloppy while climbing. Buy here.
Bottom Line: The hardy support, all-day comfort and sticky traction of the La Sportiva TX4 make it a versatile approach shoe for your one-boot quiver.
- Total distance hiked: 225 miles
- Testing states: Nevada, New Hampshire and Washington
- Best testing story: One co-op member logged a personal achievement on the walk-off descent. “We opted not to link the second and third pitches, and that resulted in my first-ever hanging belay—on a trad anchor no less,” she says of her experience on Olive Oil, a six-pitch route in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon. “I became acutely aware of just how much air was under me, and I questioned why I ever took up climbing in the first place. Ultimately, I powered through and was filled with a mix of immense relief—and pride—when we reached the top.”
Best Approach Shoe for Shorter Hikes
Black Diamond Mission LT Approach Shoes
Weight 1 lb. 3.9 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 6 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: At less than a pound per foot, the featherlight Mission LT primes you for fast-moving days in the mountains. Unlike with other approach shoes in our test, Black Diamond slashes ounces in the upper of the Mission LT. In lieu of leather, the brand uses a tightly knitted, breathable (non-waterproof) mesh, which is wrapped with a rubber rand all the way around. The takeaway: fresher legs during long-haul adventures. “I still felt good at the end of my biggest days,” says one tester who logged an 18-mile backpacking trip in California’s Desolation Wilderness while wearing the Mission LT. Another plus of that mesh? When combined with the perforated foam ankle collar, it makes the Mission LT the most breathable option in this lineup—great for folks with sweaty tootsies.
A nylon rock plate bolsters the firm EVA midsole, adding support and protection underfoot, which minimizes foot fatigue when rock hopping. Grippy traction is a standout in scree fields, too. High-performance proprietary rubber and shallow, diamond-shaped lugs help you cling to dry rock and slabs. “I never questioned my footing, even on the most precarious rocks and angles,” said one tester after a class 3 scramble along the 2-mile-long Pyramid-to-Price Traverse in California’s Desolation Wilderness.
A sock-like bootie serves up a snug fit, but there’s extra room in the toe box. Our testers praised it on longer approaches but conceded that the Mission LT isn’t the most precise with tight moves on rock. Note: The Mission LT runs small so plan on sizing up at least a half size. Buy here.
Bottom Line: The lightweight Black Diamond Mission LT is a svelte approach shoe ideal for fleet-footed days in the mountains, thanks to breathable mesh upper and tacky outsole.
- Total distance hiked: 122 miles
- Testing states: California
- Best testing story: For one tester, the Mission LT is the perfect hybrid shoe for her regular climbing-hiking romp in Fort Collins, Colorado. “I climb the unnamed ridge on the backside of Horsetooth Mountain from my backyard a couple times a week, and the Mission LT is my go-to,” she says. “It’s a three-quarter-of-a-mile, off-trail hike that gains roughly 700 feet and is bisected by a rock band. The Mission LT is hardy enough for negotiating scree and a fine grit, but it's still tacky and stiff enough to handle a couple of class-5 moves if I take the sporty way over the rock band.”
Best Approach Shoe for Longer Hikes
Scarpa Crux II Approach Shoes
Weight 1 lb. 6.8 oz. (women’s 37), 1 lb. 10.8 oz. (men’s 42)
Test Results: If you’re the friend at the trailhead who offers to haul that extra climbing rack, the Scarpa Crux II shoes are for you thanks to a moderately stiff dual-density EVA midsole that pleased even the most discerning of the crew. “It’s not painfully rigid like other approach shoes, but I still felt supported when shouldering monster loads to the crag,” said one tester after a mixed day of climbing in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The crux of the Crux: It’s a board-lasted shoe, which means the upper is attached to a flexible board that sits on top of the midsole and adds stability. A burly suede upper also adds support—and weight. While the Crux II isn’t the heaviest shoe we tested, we still aren’t likely to clip it to our harness.
Like with others in this guide, Scarpa opts for a Vibram® Megagrip outsole—one of the stickiest—making the Crux II a worthy contender on dry slabs and moderate climbing routes. But the comfortable (and somewhat flexible) midsole means it's not well suited for technical terrain: “These don’t edge like a climbing shoe, so I can’t use them on any routes with micro pockets,” says a Canada-based tester after a weekend in Ontario’s Calabogie Crags.
Nice touch: The Crux II fits well out of the box, an uncommon highlight for leather shoes. Credit the extra-padded tongue for the break-in-not-required. Still, the toe box isn’t as wide as others in the test, and one tester reported heel slippage on steep terrain (but it was easily fixed with a thick sock). Buy here.
Bottom Line: Thanks to a forgiving fit and a sturdy midsole, the Scarpa Crux II is a top selection for aid climbers or folks carrying hefty loads from the trailhead.
- Total distance hiked: 276 miles
- Testing states: New York and Washington, plus Ontario, Canada
- Best testing story: One co-op member cameos as an instructor working with beginning climbers. “I had to constantly caution my group to be careful on the approach so that they wouldn’t slip,” laughs the Canada-based tester. “The good news: I can easily climb a hand-crack pitch in these shoes. The bad news: I have to remind my students that I’m not showing off!”
Best Approach Shoe for Technical Terrain
Arc'teryx Konseal AR Approach Shoes
Weight 1 lb. 12.1 oz. (women’s 7), 1 lb. 15 oz. (men’s 9)
Test Results: “I jammed, smeared and scrambled my way through a variety of terrain,” says one Alaska-based tester of the Konseal AR approach shoes. For climbers looking to tackle technical approaches, these Arc’teryx kicks are a solid choice. The always-popular Vibram® Megagrip rubber outsole sticks to slabs and choss, while shallow lugs provide more surface contact than deeper tread. The result: full-contact, tacky traction that allowed one tester to confidently lead moderate climbing routes.
Arc’teryx typically opts for a tight fit, so testers were pleased to find some wiggle room in the toe box. However, those with narrow feet found the space excessive. “I felt sloppy on tiny ledges,” says one climber. And, thanks to the beefy leather upper, the break-in period is substantial. It’s a tradeoff, though: The burliness helped the Konseal AR score the best in our test for durability. On its own, the non-waterproof suede upper resists abrasion but Arc’teryx designers took durability to the next level. A TPU film wraps around the sides and the heel of the shoe while a 3D-molded toe cap protects the forefoot and eliminates the seam where delamination typically occurs. “I wore these heavy and they still look good enough to wear to work,” said one tester after 75 days and nearly 250 miles in the Konseals. Trade-off: While the leather handles sharp rocks, it also invites sweaty feet in temps above 70°F. Buy here.
Bottom Line: The Arc’teryx Konseal AR is the choice for climbers wanting to tackle tougher terrain thanks to a high-quality build and impressive grip.
- Total distance hiked: 342 miles
- Testing states: Alaska, Colorado, Nevada and Utah
- Best testing story: “These shoes pulled double duty to give me traction at the craps tables,” said one tester after a trip to Red Rocks outside Las Vegas. “They performed great on the dangerous streets of the Vegas Strip, helping me edge around the slot machines and stylishly sit down at the poker tables.”
Other Top Performers
La Sportiva Boulder X Approach Shoes
Weight 1 lb. 12.8 oz (women’s 37), 2 lbs. 2 oz. (men’s 42)
Test Results: If you want a lot for a little, reach for the La Sportiva Boulder X. For the lowest price in our test, you get a durable, sticky, comfy approach shoe that’s perfectly adequate at all things. Dubbed “sturdy and robust” by one tester, the Boulder X uses a beefy rubber rand to wrap and protect your feet, plus a fully leather upper. The Boulder X earns high praise for its unique lacing system (nicknamed the “Mythos”), which uses one long lace to pass around the ankle collar before continuing down the toe of the shoe for a precise and snug fit. “When you crank on these laces, it’s like a bear hug for your foot,” says one California-based tester. But fast-and-light they are not: The Boulder X tied for the heaviest boots in the bunch. Buy here.
Scarpa Zen Pro Approach Shoes - Men's
Weight 2 lb. 2 oz. (men’s 42)
Test Results: Folks looking to push their approach shoes into backpacking duty should snag the Scarpa Zen Pro. “I’ve been borderline abusive to these shoes and they just won’t quit,” says one Alaska-based tester after nearly 200 days and 350 miles in the Zen Pro. The burly leather upper doubles as a fortress thanks to the polyurethane-injected reinforcements, and an EVA foam midsole and more flexible forefoot makes walking in the Zen Pros feel natural. It straddles the line between true approach shoes and low-cut hiking boots more than others on this list. But the Vibram® Spyder II rubber outsole struggled on technical smears, and the bulkier fit makes tight edges feel cramped. Buy here.
Approach Shoes: Buying Advice
If hiking boots and rock climbing shoes had a baby, the result would be something like approach shoes. This hybrid shoe is designed for rock climbers who need to shoulder heavy loads of gear across rocky terrain to reach climbing routes but can work just as well for hikers in dryer climates. So, what criteria should you consider when purchasing an approach shoe? Here are the key factors.
In general, approach shoes boast a softer rubber outsole than those found in hiking boots. Softer rubber is stickier and grips rocky surfaces better, so it’s a requirement of approach shoes. However, the trade-off is that soft rubber wears down faster than harder rubber, and it is likely that you will burn through approach shoes quicker than your hiking boots.
Of course, the tread pattern matters, too. Outsoles with shallow, smooth lugs (like the La Sportiva TX4 or the Arc’teryx Konseal AR) provide more surface friction so they stick to dry rock better. Tread pattern with angular lugs (like the Scarpa Crux II) hold better on wet rock or muddy trail conditions where a deeper bite promotes traction.
How much cushion do you want?
Before you buy, determine how you’ll be using the shoes the most. Approach shoes with stiffer midsoles are better for climbing as they can support your weight on small ledges and cracks without folding over, but the lack of cushioning often causes foot fatigue while hiking long miles. If you’re more focused on climbing, we recommend a stiffer approach shoe like the Arc’teryx Konseal AR. If you think you need more of a hybrid shoe or one better suited for the hiking approach, consider options like the Black Diamond Mission LT or the Scarpa Zen Pro.
When it comes to shoes more suited to the actual approach, also consider how much weight you’ll be hefting. If you think you’ll be carrying a day pack or a modest load, prioritize breathability and weight (like the Black Diamond Mission LT). If, however, you plan to haul overnight loads or multiple racks, you may prefer the additional support of a more well-rounded shoe like the La Sportiva TX4 or the Scarpa Zen Pro.
Decide on the upper: synthetic or leather?
You’ll typically see two materials used in the upper of approach shoes: leather or synthetic. Leather (as seen in the La Sportiva TX4 or Scarpa Crux II) offers more durability and protection while also providing natural weather resistance. However, it weighs more than synthetic materials (like that with the Black Diamond Mission LT) and typically costs more, too. While synthetic materials are prone to snagging and abrasions, they weigh less and are more breathable.
Finally, it’s good to consider the fit. Synthetic shoes will fit true-to-form almost immediately, whereas leather tends to take longer to break in but will loosen over time.
In the summer and fall of 2020, we enlisted two dozen co-op members from around the U.S. and Canada to hit the trails and crag, trudge up slopes and scramble ridges. They tried out the best approach shoes available at REI, logging serious miles everywhere from Alaska to New York to Canada. After six months of hard use, we asked our team to give feedback on support, climbing prowess, durability and overall comfort. These six approach shoes are the highest rated in the field; testers rated each approach shoe on a 100-point scale for each metric. The scores listed here are the testers’ averages.
After we busted out the calculators and added everything up, the La Sportiva TX4 tallied the highest overall score, earning it a place among the greats in our Editors’ Choice Awards. The Black Diamond Mission LT, Scarpa Crux II and Arc’teryx Konseal AR scored the next-highest, tallying high marks in all categories. The La Sportiva Boulder X and Scarpa Zen Pro scored high in the majority of the categories, doing especially well in a few specific niches.
Article by Heather Balogh Rochfort. Heather is a freelance writer and author specializing in the outdoors and adventure travel, particularly as they apply to women and families. Her organization WildKind educates and empowers families to find their wild. As a lifelong Colorado resident, Heather loves Type-II fun above treeline where the sun is hot and the oxygen depleted. Things she does not like: rock climbing. REI member since 2008, which she thought was impressive until learning that her husband was a member before he was old enough for a bank account.
Photography by William M. Rochfort, Jr. Will is a freelance writer and photographer based in Carbondale, Colorado. His hobbies include backpacking, bikepacking and skiing with his wife and daughter, but he is mainly known for his rare ability to double-fist milkshakes prior to meals. REI member since 1998.