The Short Answer: No.

If you haven’t found getting around in your daily climbing life wearing whatever shoes you have to be difficult or dangerous, then likely you don’t need them.

The Long Answer: It Depends…

There are a lot of reasons to have specialty shoes. That is to say they exist and were created for a reason. But do those reasons matter to you? Does your day to day require you to wear approachies? Let’s find out.

What are Approach Shoes?

Approach shoes are a type of hiking shoe that has been designed (at least partially) with rock climbing in mind. The hike or ‘approach’ to a rock climb can be more strenuous and involved than what a typical shoe is designed to handle. These shoes really come into play when you leave the dirt trails and are climbing over rock to get to the base of the climb.

Things like talus fields (large broken chunks of rock; think fridges and microwaves), scree fields (smaller, looser and more flowing; think toasters and big gravel) or 4th class slabs and ridges (scrambling) often require a climber to use more technical footwork with a more technical shoe. This is the work the approach shoe was invented for.

5th class scrambling
Approach shoes can make scrambling more secure than regular shoes.

Do Approach Shoes Make Climbing or Hiking Easier?

Because they are made with scrambling and climber’s trails in mind, approach shoes all have a flattened area at the front of the sole known as the Climbing Zone. When scrambling up an unprotected sandstone slab with a ton of gear in your bag for example, you have a natural propensity as a climber to smear the way you would while climbing. This area of the shoe allows that smear to increase friction and perform better than the square lugs of a typical hiking boot tread. The climbing zone on approach shoes gives us the ability to use our climbing skills without needing to stop and switch to climbing shoes.

The Climbing Zone
The sole of an approach shoe must have a flattened climbing zone (highlighted green) at the toe made for smearing and edging.

Approach shoes excel while going over rock and are good to great at hiking. They offer a bit more for the climber than a typical shoe. The lugs are usually shaped to maximize grip on rock and they often come with stickier rubber than non-approach shoes.

Depending on the terrain, approach shoes can also offer added protection from rubber around the toe and heel called randing. In loose dirt or scree, this extra bit of rubber reduces wear from rocks and debris on the upper fabric of the shoe, but can also add some rigidity and stiffness in the shoe when performing edging and jamming moves.

Rand on an Approach Shoe 1
The rand (highlighted green), can cover the front (sides, or back) of the shoe and protects the shoe when it scrapes against rock. This is especially helpful when you jam your foot between two rocks.

Over long distances you’ll want to make sure you have an approach shoe with a stiffer midsole and more support, but for most <1hr crag approaches many climbers find that any well fitting approach shoe improves their agility on an approach hike.

Are All Approach Shoes the Same?

Because every climbing area and objective is a little different, you will find that there are a few different styles of approach shoe out there. These types are built for varying situations and differ depending on things like the distance and technicality of the approach, the weight you’re carrying, and the amount of daily wear you expect.

Technical Approach Shoes

Technical approach shoes make up the 2/3rds of all the options out there. They are generally the type most climbers think of when they hear the term ‘approach shoe’. This style will usually have a thicker sole, more rubber lasting around the toe and heel, and a thicker, more robust upper than other approach shoes.

Anna and Ty in the Black Canyon, Núu-agha-tʉvʉ-pʉ̱ (Ute) lands
Technical approach shoes offer more rugged protection and stiffer midsoles for long tough days of climbing. Photo by Anna Bryniarski

Technical shoes will be more likely to have reinforcing in the midsole for rigidity and longer wear comfort, which is great if you’re expecting long hikes into the backcountry or carrying heavy loads like haulbags. If you’re looking for a mid rise shoe for ankle protection and support or need waterproofing technology for muddy, wet slogs, this is the type of shoe you’ll want to seek out.

See all Technical Approach Shoes

Casual Approach Shoes

Though there are more than twice as many technical approach models to choose from, the casual approach shoe is a category that is quickly growing. As more climbers have entered the scene over the past couple of years, we’ve seen brands adding a wider range of shoes with features that are not made for the technical approach, but rather in the day to day life of a climber who may live and work in a city and recreate in nearby crags.

Casual shoes focus on comfort and style a bit more. With features like flat lacing for cleaner looks to foldable heels for a quick kick on/off for a gym belay, the intent is to feel lighter and more comfortable, as the midsoles aren’t as stiff.

Casual approachies are ideal for wearing around a campsite or on the chill trails of developed crags. Due to their less rugged builds may start to falter (or wear out faster) on longer craggy, rockier hikes. A casual shoe will likely have thinner soles and may have less lugs and a smaller climbing zone than a technical boot. Casual shoes are made to be the stylish everyday choice for getting to and from the gym or on short easy approaches to the crag.

See All Casual Approach Shoes

Running Approach Shoes

This category is the smallest (less than 20 options), but has some very specific benefits. Many climbing shoe manufacturers have been making trail and mountain running shoes for years. With the focus on light weight, tough and flexible soles with waterproof and breathable uppers, it is no wonder that some climbers have found trail shoes to be useful for their time in the backcountry. Now some brands have begun pairing soles with climbing zones and techy uppers to make what is essentially a hybrid mountain runner approach shoe.

See All Running Approach Shoes

If going light and very fast across streams and 4th and 5th class terrain for your ambitious car-to-car mountain challenge sounds like your cup of tea, this style will be beneficial.

How to Choose Approach Shoes

The bottom line when it comes to picking a pair of approach shoes comes down to a few simple things: how technical the terrain is, how heavy or light you plan to be, and what you feel about the overall look. If fast and fashionable is your game, something from the growing list of running or casual shoes is likely a good bet. Looking to hike 70Kg (154.324 Lbs) haul bags the 2 miles from the bridge to the base of Moonlight Buttress? You’re likely going to benefit from a stiff, rugged technical shoe.

If you need something in between, it is time to start digging! One great way to really narrow down your search is to use our filters on the approach shoe page of where we’ve collected the stats on every approach shoe. You can pick the features and materials that are important to you like leather, synthetic, mesh, and vegan. Once you narrow the list of nearly 150 models down to a handful, you can use the ‘Compare’ function to view them all side-by-side and find exactly the shoe you are looking for.

2022-04-11 15.39.54EDIT 2
Photo by Helen Brown
See Every Approach Shoe on WeighMyRack

So do You Need an Approach Shoe?

If none of the features and filters mentioned above seem to solve a problem for you, then you are likely fine using whatever crocs, chacos, trainers, or cowboy boots you are already getting around in. If your climbing life is taking you in new directions that sound like they align with what approach shoes are built to do, then it might be worth taking a look. Wearing approach shoes to the grocery store won’t help you find where they moved the peanut butter, but they might just signal to that cutie in the produce section wearing the taped up puffy that you’re into a belaytionship.

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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