What Are Approach Shoes?
Working at the Next Adventure Bargain Basement I tend to get the same question again and again "are these hiking shoes?" and I look up to someone holding a pair of approach shoes. “Yes and No, kinda, they’re approach shoes,” I answer. “What are approach shoes,” they (or you) ask. Approach shoes are a hybrid of hiking and climbing shoes. They are made for the approach, or the hike & scramble up to the start of rock-climbing areas. This means they must navigate both walking on the forest floors as well as gaining purchase on slippery rock so that they can prove useful on any part of an approach.
Approach shoes are like hiking shoes in how their uppers are constructed: they're durable, sometimes water repellent, and provide protection and support for the top of the foot. Approach shoes also fit similarly to hiking shoes: they aren't meant to be tight with your toes curled at the end like a climbing shoe and unlike climbing shoes, are worn with socks. They are supposed to be relatively comfortable, with your foot laid out flat like in a hiking shoe.
The bottom of an approach shoe is the part that is more like a climbing shoe: it has the same kind of sticky rubber. Though not rounded and foot shaped like on a climbing shoe, the sticky rubber on an approach shoe serves the same purpose: to stick to rocks. This allows the wearer to scramble or even do easy climbs and still have purchase. (I don't know if you've ever tried to rock climb in running or hiking shoes, but it's not easy. Hiking shoes are made for normal ground and the soles utilize a harder rubber that tends to slip off when used for rock climbing or scrambling.) Another way that approach shoes are similar to climbing shoes is that their soles are much more rigid. This allows the wearer to do more vertical rock scrambling or climbing in them but makes them less comfortable for long distance hiking.
So, who has approach shoes? Should I get approach shoes?
Well, that depends. Approach shoes are usually owned by outdoor climbers, those who need its sticky rubber and hiking shoe-like upper to reach a climbing location. When climbing in Squamish I found my approach shoes almost essential: many approaches required scaling vertical rock walls with a fixed line or chain, without my approach shoes I likely would have slipped (not to my death or anything but it sure would have been inconvenient). At other times they have been less essential but rather just very helpful, like one rock scrambles on my way to a climb. I've even used them on low grade climbs when I don't feel like jamming my foot into a climbing shoe.
Should you get approach shoes for your average hiking?
Probably not. Because of their stiff soles, they aren't as comfortable to wear as normal hiking boots, especially on long hikes. There are a lot of great options for hiking shoes, like boots or trail runners, that would probably be more comfortable and quicker to dry if they got wet. If your hikes are more like Grade 4 rock scrambles, then maybe approach shoes would be the thing for you after all.
What should I look for in an approach shoe?
Try them on. Though practically every item in the store has awesome features that us Next Adventure employees love to nerd out on there are a few things where fit is more important than anything: this is arguably one of them. Though it isn't as vital as with hiking shoes that approach shoes fit you well, having a properly fitting pair will serve you best, while an ill-fitting pair can cause discomfort and pain. No one approach shoe fits everyone perfectly, so finding the right one means trying them on to see how they fit your foot specifically.
Approach shoes are purpose-built for getting to a climb without issue. A hybrid of hiking and climbing shoes they have the best of both worlds: the comfort and protection of a hiking shoe with the sticky rubber and rigidity of a climbing shoe. They're a great asset to outdoor climbers and Next Adventure carries them both new and used.
Check out Reuben's review of the Evolv Cruzer Psyche Approach Shoe here: nextadventure.net/blog/gear-review-evolv-cruzer-psyche-climbing-shoes