Below you’ll find the results of testing Black Diamond’s approach shoe line (casual and technical) for over a year throughout the West. This review covers the Black Diamond Circuit, Session, Technician, and Mission LT.

First, it’s good to know the type of approaches that these shoes are designed to go on are different. The Circuit and Session approach shoes fall under the casual lifestyle footwear and are geared more as an everyday shoe that you could wear from the gym to the crag to the bar. The Technician and Mission LT fall under technical performance footwear and are designed for long approaches and difficult terrain.

Black Diamond Approach Shoes 1
Left to Right: Session, Technician, Mission, Circuit

Circuit Approach Shoe (lifestyle)

The Circuit approach shoe has a soft and comfortable feel due to the low profile and soft midsole. The fit is similar to that of a simple tennis shoe, but the heel does not have an official heel cup (an added piece of material in the heel to keep the heel high and foot mobilized in the shoe). In return, when you step on the heel it stays down and does not impact the quality of the shoe. I found this very useful between burns on a project when I wanted to give my feet just a few moments of rest.

It is BD’s lightest approach shoe coming in at 8.99 oz. It has BlackLabel Street rubber on the sole and a rubber toe cap which provides additional protection on easier approaches. The Circuit is great for a daily commuter shoe and holds up in an outdoor lifestyle. Street shoe size fit perfectly.

I tested this shoe for short approaches, gym days, and even bike rides and it worked well. I biked 74 miles around Lake Tahoe in this shoe and I was so impressed at how well the Circuit breathed and stayed comfortably on my foot. These days, I wear the Circuit shoe in town or when bouldering off the side of the road. I recommend the Circuit for commuting, covering simple/easy terrain, and nights at the local brewery – to signal it’s likely you’re a climber.

Circuit toe Spooner Crag in Tahoe NV 2
Photos of the Author (she/her) in BD Circuit's taken by Steven Tata (he/him) at Spooner Crag in Tahoe, NV
Circuit Spooner Crag in Tahoe NV 3
Circuit Biking South Lake Tahoe CA 4
Circuit Biking South Lake Tahoe, CA

Session Approach shoe (lifestyle)

The Session approach shoe was designed to be an everyday shoe – from gym to crag. It has durable and breathable knit material on the top of the shoe for temperature control. On the sole, it has Black Diamonds signature BlackLabel Street rubber – not as sticky as the Mountain rubber but fine for casual use. The Session is also very lightweight, weighing in at 9.98oz and has a sock-like fit. I chose my street shoe size and it was ideal.

One of the most convenient things about this shoe is the elastic heel strap. Not only is it extremely easy to get on and off but it actually collapses down so you can wear this as a slip on. I found this feature handy but slightly uncomfortable initially as the elastic strap didn’t sit right under my heel when it was down.

The Session is my favorite of the 4 shoes I tested. I still wear it almost every time I go cragging. Stepping on the heel without hurting the integrity of the shoe makes it super easy to slip on/off while switching from belaying to climbing to belaying to climbing. The durability has been excellent and the rubber toe cap especially helps for longevity.

The Session is great for everyday urban use or as a great shoe to have at the crag or boulder field. Not recommended for long distances or abusive approaches.

Session toe Zephyrs in Tahoe NV 5
Photos of author (she/her) taken by Steven Tata (he/him) at the Zephyr’s in Tahoe, NV
Session Zephyrs in Tahoe NV 6
Session heel dropped Zephyrs in Tahoe NV 7
Zephyrs in South Lake Tahoe CA 8

Technician Approach Shoe (technical)

The Technician is Black Diamond’s most climbing specific approach shoe as the name implies it is meant for technical terrain.  The bottom is armed with Blacklabel Mountain rubber which is a higher-performance sticky rubber that gives maximum grip. The toe shape was constructed so the rand overlaps the sole of the shoe to allow for edging. The midsole is thin for sensitivity, which personally for me added a lot more feel and awareness while scrambling. (A pro or con depending on your needs).

One of the most interesting aspects of this shoe is the lacing system. It features an upper foot lace lock with mid foot cords that tie to the bottom and allow you to have a tight lock down fit. This certainly has the potential to give it a more aggressive performance than many approach shoes. This was also it’s downside, for me. I ordered my normal street shoe size (like all other BD approach shoes that fit great), and this one was literally painful to get on because of the tightening mechanism. I could manage to get it on, for the sake of testing, but I would recommend going up at least a half or even a full size up from your street shoe size to be able to get your foot it it. Because of the sizing discrepancy, I haven’t worn this shoe as much.

The Technician weighs 9.98oz so it is still light weight and initial testing suggested it’d be a good to pick for longer strenuous days.

Technician - Caples Lake near Kirkwood CA 9
Photos of author (she/her) taken by Steven Tata (he/him) at Caples Lake near Kirkwood, CA
Technician closeup- Caples Lake near Kirkwood CA 10
Technician back - Caples Lake near Kirkwood CA 11

Mission LT (technical)

The Mission LT is designed for speed on long mountainous approaches. It has Blacklabel Mountain rubber with a more aggressive tread pattern for more grip. This shoe has a rockered bottom that helps to protect your feet from stones and bruising. For fit it has a webbing reinforced system that is supposed to give a sock-like bootie fit – but that alone does not hold it on your foot. I tested this shoe on countless approaches in the High Sierra, Yosemite, Sawtooth Wilderness, and Red Rocks. With all the miles I put on these I would say for the most part they deliver on what Black Diamond was trying to achieve, but still falls short of their obvious competitor, the La Sportiva TX4.

They are very light at 11oz and are also extremely stiff (more than the TX4). As far as the fit goes for hiking (I chose street shoe size), I think it is on point, but for technical scrambling or climbing I had a hard time cinching the laces down tight enough. As the approaches went on, I would continuously have to stop and retie the laces – one one 7 mile hike I had to stop twice to re-tighten.

I even wore these on a big wall in Yosemite to see how they would fare, and I had to continuously stop and retighten them for fear my foot would pop out. Let me just say, it was frightening to feel like you were about to loose your shoe on a big wall, and I basically stopped wearing these shoes afterwards because of that experience.

The other stand-out issue was the fabric on the upper portion of the shoe was not as durable as I expected. Within 3 strenuous approaches, each shoe developed a hole in the knit material where it met the rand on the toe. One hole from a bouldery approach and the other hole from a class 3 chimney. In the end, between the lack of durability on the mesh and the loose lace issue, I can’t recommend this shoe – especially when compared to the La Sportiva TX4.

Mission LT - Pigeon Cliff in Susanville CA 12
Photos of author (she/her) taken by Steven Tata (he/him) at Pigeon Cliff in Susanville, CA
Mission LT side - Pigeon Cliff in Susanville CA 13
Mission LT bottom - Pigeon Cliff in Susanville CA 14
Black Diamond Mission hole 15
Note the hole on the left foot.
Black Diamond Mission Aider 16
Scary experience with the BD Mission - feeling like it was going to fall off as the laces loosened.
La Sportiva TX4 Aider 17
A much nicer big wall experience with the La Sportiva TX4.

Notable Notes

  • The Technician and Mission have BlackLabel mountain rubber on the sole (more sticky) and the Session and Circuit have BlackLabel street rubber (less sticky) on the sole
  • The Technician and Mission both come with an extra set of laces
  • All four approach shoes have loops on the heel for hanging off harnesses or bags
  • All four shoes have rubber toe protection shaped around the toe box
Sawtooth Wilderness ID Black Diamond Mission 18
Photos of author (she/her) taken by Zoe Caliendo (she/her) at Elephants Perch in the Sawtooth Wilderness, ID

Summary Notes

As of this writing, Black Diamond now has 10 pairs of approach shoe options for women and 11 for men (you can see them all on WeighMyRack and compare them to other brands too). This review will continue to update when we’ve tested more pairs. For now, here are the results:

Shoe Cost USD Weight Pros Cons Use
Technician  $134.95 9.98 oz Durable and tight locked down fit Can be very stiff for edging until broken in Long technical approaches
Mission LT  $139.95 11 oz Offers great support for long approaches and excellent traction The Enduroknit on the top of the shoe can easily be ripped and it is hard to tighten the laces tight / keep them tight Designed for speed on long approaches
Session  $119.95 9.9 oz Lightweight and can handle easy terrain well Does not offer much support and not built to last in the outdoors very long Best on short easy hikes and errands around town
Circuit  $99.95 8.99 oz Comfortable yet supportive sole and breathable material Sole of the shoe easily slips out when taking off and laces can become untied if not cinched down Easy to moderate approaches. Bonus: Great for biking