Approach shoes are a unique type of footwear invented for a specific and specialised purpose – climbing rocks! Any serious outdoorsman or woman needs a pair of these in their closet.
With characteristics of both hiking boots, rock climbing shoes and trail runners, each shoe is designed to better suit a purpose, whether it be bouldering, sports climbing, scrambling, traditional (or trad) climbing and more.
The approach shoe is highly versatile and capable of handling the toughest conditions around. Whether it be rain, hail, snow, mud or desert, you need a shoe that will keep its grip and hold.
Unlike most outdoor sports shoes, approach shoes tend to be far more stylish and eye-catching than usual. Think no more of bland browns, greens and blacks. Think red, bright blue, orange, aqua, yellow, etc. Just as sneakers have seen an explosion of colour in recent years, approach shoes have been the recipient of similar treatment.
You are now able to choose from a wider variety of brands, colours and style than ever before. And with each and every pair of shoes being designed with a singular purpose in mind, you are sure to find the right shoe for the job – no matter what it is!
They are tailor made and designed for a singular purpose – approaching rock! But what kind is up to you and the shoe you choose.
The History & Evolution of Approach Shoes
It might be best to think of the history or timeline that has led to modern Approach Shoes in terms of “generations”, with each new generation building on the past with new ideas and better technology.
With this line of thinking, we can trace back their history to the early mountaineering boots used by the original mountain climbers. Typically, these were heavy-soled boots with metal cleats and hobnails.
Next came boots with Vibram soles and a pattern of rubber studs. These were first developed by an Italian inventor by the name of Vitale Bramani in the 1930’s.
After the end of World War 2, Britain saw a surge of new rock climbers and mountain climbers, Joe Brown being a prime example of the talented new generation coming on the scene. Joe used Plimsolls (which are rubber-soled canvas sneakers, think Converse), sometimes with woollen socks to enhance the grip.
It was around this time that the French climber, Pierre Allain, begin experimenting with different shoes to find the best solution for rock-climbing. He came upon rubber soled canvas boots. Pierre launched his “PA” boots to the world and by the 1950s became a hit with climbers all around the world.
It wasn’t long though before another French inventor and fellow rock climber introduced the “EB” boots. These rock-climbing boots had softer rubber soles and were very popular with the new generation of rock climbers in the 60’s and 70’s.
What came next? The “Fire” style of boots from a Spanish company called Boreal. The company introduced their new style of climbing shoe in 1982. They were shoes with a sticky rubber sole. It is these shoes that might be the closest to modern Approach shoes. These are widely considered to be the father of all modern rock climbing shoes.
In the three decades since then, the variety and range of climbing footwear have exploded beyond what these early pioneers may have ever dreamt was possible.Indeed, it’s absolutely amazing what is available to climbers these days. With brands, such as La Sportiva, Mammut, Arc’teryx and Salewa bringing out shoes of dazzling quality, outdoor enthusiasts are spoiled for choice.
What Are the Benefits of Approach Shoes?
· They use a sticky type of rubber which maintains a solid and safe grip for when you are traversing up the side of a cliff or boulder.
· This unique type of rubber used in the soles means that it is also soft and flexible, which allows it to conform to the small deformities in rock, allowing the climber a shoe better suited to reaching or bending to grip the hard-to-reach spots of rock.
· The lugged tread that most brands use is specifically designed for optimal purchase on trail runs. This means the runner can maintain speed and agility without having to worry about unsure footing. No matter the type of trail being traversed.
· The underside of the toe and the inside of the forefoot are designed to have a flat and smooth area of rubber which has been built for edging on technical terrain.
· Approach shoes often have a breathable upper area that protects a climbers’ feet from loose talus (the large bone in the ankle). The added bonus is how amazingly breathable it is and therefore not so prone to sweat as many other sports sneakers are.
· Most brands have built their shoe to lace right down to the toe. What this allows for is that the wearer can better control exactly what kind of lacing style, tightness or constriction is required or best suited to their style or the climb they are facing.
· The midsole is fully supported as well, which allows for carrying heavy loads over long distances. This is an important point, for not only do they need to carry your weight but that of your backpack too.
· As mentioned earlier, they also come in some very cool and creative patterns and colours which are not at all common to other types of sneakers or climbing boots.
Our Favourite Brands
· La Sportiva recently won the Editor’s Choice Award over at www.climbing.com for their Helios SR Approach Shoe. A uniquely designed shoe that is built to be lightweight, breathable and well suited for gripping in tough conditions.
· A brand that tends to prefer less colour and pizazz than some other brands, Mammut nevertheless has crafted many light, supportive and sturdy shoes. Think durability, like with the Sloper Low Approach Shoe.
· Arc’teryx wins points for versatility and groundbreaking innovation. Their approach to climbing shoes is unlike any other brands out there. You should check out the Arc’teryx Alpha FL Approach Shoe because it is hard to describe just how unique this brand can be.
· There’s one brand that does speed better than the rest. That would be Salewa. Their proprietary technology allows for an upturned shape that is truly unique. What this creates is a shoe that is built for the sole purpose of speed – on all terrains.
You are now able to choose from a wider variety of brands, colours and style than ever before. And with each and every pair of shoes being designed with a singular purpose in mind, you are sure to find the right shoe for the job – no matter what it is! They are tailor made and designed for a singular purpose – approaching rock! But what kind is up to you and the shoe you choose for just like is the case with any other kinds of shoe, what appeals to one person may not necessarily appeal to you.